For Reel

Wonder Woman (2017)
August 10, 2017, 3:33 pm
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Director: Patty Jenkins
4 Stars
Wonder Woman.jpgAlthough Wonder Woman‘s final act spectacle is a familiar hodgepodge of comic book movie pitfalls (lame villains, unintelligible action sequences, and distancing CGI), the film is otherwise pleasantly resistant to blockbuster trends. Screenwriter Allan Heinberg and director Patty Jenkins don’t so much stretch to reinvent Wonder Woman for the modern age, but rather explore just what it is that makes the material unique. When the film places Diana (Gal Gadot) in 1918 London, the film both services the weight of human suffering and engages in genuinely satisfying screwball comedy moments. That is, unlike the dour Batman films, Jenkins treats the material with a heavy sincerity while simultaneously recognizing the value of levity in character interactions. Diana and pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) both come alive as characters during their sexy banter and the confrontation of their opposing ideologies. If Diana’s personality is wrought as rigid, the contrast between her optimism in human goodness and Trevor’s recognition of wartime reality is what leads to the film’s most interesting bits of characterization—their love comes from not only their sexual interest in each other, but the fact that they’ve literally influenced the other to see the world through new eyes. Had Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) remained the primary antagonist, the film would have better explored the impersonal violence of the modern age, but for what it is, the film is a pleasing romance that intelligently considers the implacability of evil.

The Lovers (2017)
August 10, 2017, 3:27 pm
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Director: Azazel Jacobs
3.5 Stars
The LoversThe Lovers is a story that might have attracted Ernst Lubitsch nearly a century ago—it is a comedy of remarriage in which two cheating lovers (Tracy Letts and Debra Winger) rekindle their passions for one another. Whereas the trope was familiar in old Hollywood, dead-end relationships and the subsequent break-up is now often a starting problem for an idealist protagonist to overcome. Azazel Jacobs’ satirical screenplay wisely observes what really drove the couple apart in the first place—a ceaseless longing for something better, which it turns out is only a reflection of each partner’s individual unhappiness. Letts’ Michael is the more abrasive of the personalities (a late appearance by the couple’s son (Tyler Ross) reveals that the child thinks of his father as a tormenting monster), but they are both grounded as sad people looking for something more. Although Jacobs gives the drama a heft through the staging, editing, and musical score, the key developments happen through glances and body gestures. When Letts and Winger wake up face-to-face, the scene doesn’t play as a rekindling of their sexual romance, but rather the couples’ mutual understanding that they are being cheated on. Unfortunately, the overly-theatrical third act abandons these quiet revelations in favor of shouting matches, but the way the relationships resolve themselves feels just right.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
July 5, 2017, 1:05 am
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Director: James Gunn
4 Stars
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.jpgIt is fitting that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2′s new character, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), is considered an empath—that is, not only is she especially perceptive to what a person is feeling, but with her touch she can even temporarily change those emotions. While the intergalactic setting and lightness of tone makes the franchise play as a suitable alternative to the studio’s tentpole Avengers series, what really sets the Guardians films apart is how much they are about self-acceptance, love, and family. While the casual, business relationship of Iron Man and Captain America came to blows in Captain America: Civil War, in the Guardians films it is established that the partnership between the heroes is founded in genuine affection—that is, to these outcasts, the team makes them cope more successfully with their individual struggles. This is a comic book movie where characters relate to each other in interesting ways and even have interests. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) loves classic rock because it connects him to his past and his home—who can name one thing that Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow finds pleasure in? The Guardians series, no matter how ludicrous it might appear on the surface, is more grounded in its characters’ relationships with the world and with each other than anything else Marvel is producing right now. If this latest installment felt to some like a “transitional” film, it was also one wherein each character (both major and supporting) had identifiable character arcs that mattered. If director James Gunn is willing to poke fun at the absurdity of his world, his characters are one thing he takes completely seriously, and for that reason the audience does too.

Logan (2017)
April 24, 2017, 8:02 pm
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Director: James Mangold
3.5 Stars
LoganWhereas many superhero movies are advertised to showcase their new villains (the last film of the X-Men franchise took the villain’s name as part of its title), Logan is unusual for the genre in that it is decidedly fixed on its protagonist, eschewing the promise of new, bigger conflicts and instead marketing itself as a celebration of the myth of its lead. The villains in Logan are plentiful, to be sure, but they are limited to bureaucrats, scientists, and forgettable thugs—their only defining quality is that they are relentless and entirely self-interested, which furthers the understanding that Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a man on the run from a world that is catching up to him. Jackman’s portrayal over the years has been as limited as it has been enjoyable—this is no fault of Jackman’s, who consistently shows that Wolverine’s ferocity is an off-shoot of his own misery, but rather that the filmmakers have failed to give him a story that doesn’t involve recycling the same tragic tropes. Loss may again be the theme that permeates Logan, but here it is the sense of cumulative loss. Whereas Wolverine’s cynicism has much to do with knowing that those around him will die, in Logan he is confronted by the fact that his team is either long dead or presently dying. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is in such rough shape that his dementia has classified him as a weapon of mass destruction. While this slight difference seems even darker than previous incarnations on the surface (and, in moments, it certainly is), Logan is more interestingly a movie not simply about rage, but about coping. That is, whereas Wolverine has a history of handling loss with nothing but anger, his journey in Logan attempts to teach him that while life is indeed unfair, simple human decency is the remedy.

Get Out (2017)
April 23, 2017, 3:19 pm
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Director: Jordan Peele
4.5 Stars
Get OutThe success of Get Out is not that it simultaneously balances the contradictory genres that are the social farce and the horror film, but rather that it develops a horror film organically from the social farce. When Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) meets his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time, he is patient with them while recognizing their discomfort. As upper class liberals, they (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) seek to prove that they are post-racial because they insist that they would have voted Obama for a third term. Similarly, when more family arrives, Chris is told about one man’s experiences with Tiger Woods and later is teased about the size of his genitals. As open as he is in discussing the awkward interactions with his girlfriend, Chris hangs in there until the passive prejudices get to be too much. Before long, the forced manners become the thing of suspicion and horror. Director Jordon Peele isn’t cleverly linking genres—he is arguing that, in this context, they are one in the same. That both the horror elements and the social comedy elements create the same discomfort in the viewer is a convincing argument (a black man walking through a presumably all-white neighborhood similarly works as both a comedic subversion of expectations and as a horror setpiece). Beyond Peele’s clever method of turning social discomfort into the thing of suspicion and dread, the fact that his horror has much to do with methods of mind control complicates further—in addition to the horror of “otherness” in Get Out is the horror of losing control of one’s identity, provoking the idea that control can be exerted beyond merely physical means.