You can still watch films.
by Michael Bergeron
The year is 1973. Christmas Day rolls around and one film premiering is “Magnum Force”; the anticipated sequel to “Dirty Harry.” (Other films opening that holiday season included “The Sting” and “The Exorcist.”)
I was attending with my friend Mark and we ran into our co-worker Nancy. We were all in high school and we all worked at Jack In The Box. While she wasn’t snide, Nancy did point out that she was on a date and we weren’t.
Good or bad, memories of Christmas are subjective and usually involve going to the movies in this household. 2020 offers some promising titles with one movie being a kind of sacrificial goat for day-and-date release by a major studio: Warner Brothers’ “Wonder Woman 1984” henceforth referred to as “WW84.”
Other titles include Universal’s “News of the World,” “The Dissident “ from Briarcliff Entertainment (both previously reviewed by Testset) and from Focus Features “Promising Young Woman.” These latter three films will be exclusive to theaters and roll out on VOD early next year.
A brief glance at websites for local theaters shows all those titles pre-selling very well indeed, especially “WW84.”
If “WW84” is anything it’s a crowd-pleasing film. With rousing superhero flourishes and surprise cameos the real thrill of the second stand-alone Wonder Woman flick comes from the ability to elicit waves of fresh recognition from the dated conventions it uses.
The question remains how many people will choose to bypass the movie theater experience and watch “WW84” in their living rooms as the premiere du-jour on the streaming service HBO Max.
The publicity machine has made sure that people are aware of “WW84” nearly everyday even if it’s through a crass commercial pollination of corporate inspired infonews such as star Gal Gadot being from Israel and trying Taco Bell® for the first time. What is this, “Demolition Man?”
Then again, superhero movies are the fast food of cinema.
A rousing intro opens on the Amazon stronghold of Themyscira during an athletic competition featuring the young Diana Prince (Gadot), a sequence that doesn’t really add any texture to the film but gives it a perfunctory training-for-the-big-mission feeling.
Switch to Washington D.C. in the mid-1980s as our heroine, working for the Smithsonian, meets what will become her dual nemeses – co-worker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, at first dorky like Pfeiffer in “Batman Returns” before transforming into a confident, sleek villain) and entrepreneur Max Lord (Pedro Pascal, a barely disguised version of Trump).
An ancient stone that has the power to grant any wish manifests itself into physical reality as Lord literally incorporates the stone’s power into his mortal being.
Plotting and action sequences aside the parts of “WW84” that really work are the ones that establish the era using music from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Duran Duran and Gary Numan along with the fashion of the day.
Another scene, actually lengthy and seemingly thought out has Wonder Woman just flying through the air. Gadot poses with different arm formations like she’s swimming. At one point Wonder Woman seems to be doing the backstroke. It’s not unlike the helicopter sequence in “Apocalypse Now.” There’s a casual yet studied attention to the details of being airborne and possessed with above-average abilities to which Gadot and director Patty Jenkins seem to adhere.
As a movie maven your humble scribe wants to be seeing a movie like “WW84” on the largest IMAX screen available and feel the noticeable waves of enthusiasm by hardcore fans aware of The Invisible Jet or the Easter Eggs hidden in the credit role.
At the same time there’s a part of my attention span that drifts to the best film made with Wonder Woman, which would be “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women.” It’s a wonderful small-scale film that checks off both ménage à trois and period drama on one dance card. Luke Evans plays academic William Marston who created Wonder Woman in the 1930s using his mistress and wife as inspirations.
In addition to the two Wonder Woman films helmed by Patty Jenkins (who made be best known for her current output but whose film to be remembered is the 2003 “Monster”) the distaff warrior appears in “Batman v Superman” and “Justice League.” Warner/DC has yet to achieve the synthesis that Disney/Marvel made with its decade long run that culminated in the assembled Avengers movies. It’s easy to say that WB blew it when they pulled the plug on a George Miller helmed Justice League movie that was in pre-production in 2007.
Yet that just leaves room for the Justice League zeitgeist to become a thing in say five years. It’s like building a sports team.
In the current climate of world upheaval movies are not at the top of the list of life changing events. However, it wouldn’t surprise if Disney bought Universal from Comcast and made the Wonder Woman adventures and the Fast & Furious shenanigans part of the same universe.
Promising Young Woman
Carey Mulligan plays Cassandra, a delicate victim of trauma seeking retribution against men. The trick to “Promising Young Woman” rests on a perilous balance of light humor and black humor.
Writer/director Emerald Fennell (debut feature but with a long resume of acting credits including “The Crown”) doesn’t always display the stability a story like this demands. Yet she hits the sweet spot when it comes to revealing the grand plan Cassandra has for the world.
“Promising Young Woman” doesn’t have the energy to be the new “Ms .45” a 1981 revenge thriller both violent and over the top. But different times require new approaches.
Cassandra can attract men as across the spectrum as Adam Brody and Christopher Mintz-Plasse with equal intent and similar payoff. Bo Burnham (writer/director of “Eighth Grade” only adding credibility with his meek appearance) plays perhaps the one male to which Cassandra can actually relate.
Mulligan gives a sense that her character’s trying to grapple with her issues but with the stubborn conviction to play out her destiny.