Review of “Wonder Woman”

On the island of Themyscira, hidden by an invisibility shield, the Amazons, a race of female warriors, live in peace. Led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the Amazons are immortal, created by the King of the Greek gods Zeus to battle his son Ares the god of war who was jealous of his father’s creation, humankind. Ares was narrowly defeated and went into hiding but Zeus was mortally wounded. His last act was to create a weapon that could kill a god in the event Ares returned. Hippolyta’s daughter Diana (Gal Gadot) has wanted to be trained as an Amazon warrior since childhood but her mother refused. Secretly the Queen’s sister Antiope (Robin Wright), the greatest warrior of the Amazons, has been training Diana and she is showing a level of ability that actually frightens her sister Amazons. One day the peace of Themyscira is shattered when a German plane crashes just off shore. The pilot is an American working as a spy for the British named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Diana witnesses the crash and saves Steve but soon a group of German soldiers come through the invisibility shield and attacks the island in an effort to capture the spy. The Germans have guns but the Amazons have centuries of battle experience and soon defeat the soldiers but Antiope is killed in the battle. Steve wants to return to the war in Europe known as the war to end all wars as he has evidence that General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) a leader of the German military has been working with Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) a chemist that makes chemical weapons and they have a new weapon that could kill millions but Hippolyta refuses to release him for fear of exposing the island. Diana believes Ares is responsible for the war and wants to go with Steve back into the world and slay Ares with a sword she calls the God Killer believing that will end the war. Diana gathers various weapons, including a lasso that compels those caught in it to tell the truth, a shield and the God Killer, and intends to leave with Steve in secret on a small sailboat but Hippolyta catches them. She knows she can’t stop her daughter from leaving with Steve and tells her she may not be able to return to Themyscira. Diana understands and she and Steve leave. Hippolyta is concerned for Diana’s safety, fearing Ares will find her but also worried that Diana will find out a secret the Queen has been keeping from her.

A movie version of “Wonder Woman” has been in the works for 20 years. Several directors and writers including Ivan Reitman and Joss Whedon have been involved at one point or another. Every A-List actress from Sandra Bullock to Angelina Jolie has been rumored to be up for the lead. Making this movie has had more twists and turns than an overwritten comic book. Now, after all the time and effort, we finally get to see the Amazon princess on the big screen. It was worth the wait.

“Wonder Woman” is successful primarily due to the performance of Gal Gadot. While the audience wants to see the super heroic daring do, the script by Allan Heinberg gives us a Diana that is certainly unprepared for everything other than fighting. The role of women in the 1910’s is certainly foreign to the Amazon as well as the fashion of the time. The hierarchy of government and the military also doesn’t make much sense to her as well as the cold reality of letting soldiers die to avoid upsetting the armistice negotiations. We watch Diana not only discover her place as a hero, we see her learn about a world that isn’t as black and white as life and Themyscira. Some of these are harder lessons than she is expecting and Gadot manages to avoid playing the role like a child. Diana asks legitimate questions that still have no satisfactory answers to this day.

Chris Pine is also very good as Steve Trevor. The spy with skills but and “aw shucks” attitude transforms from a pretty good guy to a very good person over the course of the film. It’s nice that some of what makes Diana a hero rubs off on the soldier. It is a subtle but convincing performance that never strains your willingness to believe.

What might shake your confidence is some of the CGI during the battle scenes. Of course the actions shown on screen would be impossible in real life but the CG characters don’t look real at times especially when Diana is throwing people around with the lasso. While the movements are impressive, the visuals are lacking. I would have preferred something that was maybe a bit less showy and looked more realistic.

The story also drags a bit early on when Diana and Steve are in London. While I enjoyed the humor of the scenes of Diana trying on clothes and questioning how she could be expected to fight in them they did go on too long. Also, when our main characters are reporting what Ludendorff and Maru are plotting to the government that also feels a padded out. Maybe the idea was to hammer home the inequality women faced no matter how qualified or experienced they might be but it seemed like unnecessarily beating a dead horse.

“Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content, sequences of violence and action. Since the film is set in World War I there are scenes of battle and shooting with people shown dead or with significant injuries including missing limbs. We also see people shot and killed with arrows. Wonder Woman also doesn’t mind ending the life of a bad guy and does so in various ways including with her sword but no gore is shown. A male character is shown nude covering his genitals with his hand. There is little to no foul language.

Unlike “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Wonder Woman” is actually lighthearted at times. The uncomfortable but sweet chemistry early on between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine is adorable and parts of Diana adjusting to the human world are funny. I hope this signifies a change in tone for future DC films as a superhero movie shouldn’t make you want to end your life. We’ll have to wait and see if the lighter trend continues when “Justice League” comes out in November. Until then we have a DC film that is actually enjoyable with only a few minor issues that don’t include a humorless tone and confusing editing. What a nice change of pace.

“Wonder Woman” gets four stars out of five.

This week things that go bump in the night, four-legged loyalty and the possible beginning of a new monster movie franchise are arriving on screens near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

It Comes at Night—

Megan Leavey—

The Mummy—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Star Trek Beyond”

Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in the third year of a five year mission on board the United Federation of Planets Starship Enterprise. The day to day life of traveling from planet to planet, engaging in diplomatic missions and seeing the same faces among the crew every day is beginning to feel monotonous. An opportunity for promotion to Vice-Admiral and taking over operations of the newest starbase named Yorktown has Kirk thinking of a change of direction in his career. First officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also considering a change, leaving Starfleet and settling permanently on New Vulcan to help reestablish and repopulate his culture. While docked at Starbase Yorktown a small vessel appears out of a nearby nebula. The sole occupant, an alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) says her ship was disabled and crashed on a planet inside the nebula. She managed to escape in an effort to find help. Kirk and his crew are sent on a rescue mission to retrieve any survivors. Electromagnetic emissions from the gas in the nebula make communicating with Yorktown impossible. As they approach the planet, a swarm of small ships numbering in the thousands approach the Enterprise. Moving in a coordinated way, the ships crash into Enterprise, tearing her apart. Some ships are manned and soldiers begin attacking the crew. The leader of this attack is named Krall (Idris Elba) and he is looking for something onboard the Federation ship. Despite all their efforts Enterprise is lost and Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship. Some of the escape pods make it to the surface while others are intercepted by the alien ships and carried off. Kirk figures out what Krall is looking for, a piece of alien technology, and he hides it before abandoning ship. On the surface he runs into Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the pair begin looking for surviving shipmates. Spock and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) wind up inside one of the manned alien ships and manage to take it over but still crash land on the planet with Spock being severely injured. Communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and helmsman Sulu (John Cho) are among a group of other crew being held captive by Krall and his men. Chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) was in an escape pod alone but is found by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) on the surface. She explains her family was killed by Krall’s right hand man Manis (Joe Taslim) but she managed to escape and lives in the remains of a crashed Federation starship named Franklin that went missing over one-hundred years earlier. Krall has a deep hatred for the Federation with plans to exact his revenge…but why?

“Star Trek Beyond” had some goodwill to restore after the less than enthusiastically received “Star Trek Into Darkness.” All the secrecy and misdirection surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch and who he was playing, along with other story issues, left a bad taste in the mouths of fans. This on top of the controversy caused by the first film blowing up the cherished and nearly 50 year old timeline had long-time Trek fans grumbling how the reboot had ignored everything good and important about the original series (or TOS as it is called) and turned it into just another special effect and stunts filled summer popcorn franchise. I can’t argue against any of their complaints and I even share some of them; however, strictly looking at “Star Trek Beyond” as a bit of populist entertainment it is the best of the rebooted series so far.

While there is action and special effect aplenty in the film what makes this movie work best is the relationships between the characters and how they interact under the stress of the situation. The standout of these is Spock and McCoy. These two frequently bicker like an old married couple and nothing changes during their time lost on the planet while trying to keep from being captured. The pair also manages to show a level of caring and respect for one another that turns their trying time into a kind of relationship counseling. While still managing to insult one another in some of the most amusing ways possible, Spock and Bones strengthen their bond as both crewmates and friends.

The script from actor Simon Pegg and writer Doug Jung does a great job of isolating the crew from one another and allowing our main players to explore their relationships on a more intimate level. It turns the film into an examination of the dynamics at work amongst the crew and allows for more heart and humor than one might expect given the situation in which they find themselves.

If the film has an issue it is in the motivations of the bad guy. Krall is all anger and revenge that isn’t very well explained. Even once his reasons and the plot twist (spoiled by an online trailer) are revealed it doesn’t make that much sense. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling it but Krall has some history with the Federation and feels abandoned by the union of civilizations. His desire is to tear it apart but the reasons given for his hatred and all-consuming thirst for revenge don’t seem to add up to killing millions. Of course we’ve seen what little it takes for someone with a handgun, a rifle or even a truck to decide that as many people as possible must die. Still, Krall’s desire for blood isn’t supported by what’s in his story.

“Star Trek Beyond” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Phasers and other weapons are fired appearing to at least injure if not kill some background characters. One character has the ability to suck the life out of people, leaving them withered. There’s a rather brutal scene of hand to hand combat between two characters near the end of the film. The swarming spaceships that destroy Enterprise could disturb some younger children. Foul language is very limited and mild.

The death of Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in the TV series and an older version of Zachary Quinto’s Spock in the first two reboot films is handled with a great deal of class and sensitivity while also offering an olive branch to the fans of the original cast. It’s the kind of gesture that buys the new version of “Star Trek” a great deal of goodwill. It also helps that the filmmakers have put together a very entertaining and exciting film. While the good old days of “Star Trek” tackling difficult societal issues is probably long gone (except possibly in the new TV series coming in 2017), looking at all the movies in the series shows none of the theatrical releases was much more than an action/adventure movie set in space. Those that argue against the rebooted “Star Trek” films as just another special effects-heavy popcorn film aren’t wrong; but they’ve never been the heady and socially conscious expressions that the best of the TV episodes were. Fans should just enjoy that a crew with familiar names is traveling the cosmos onboard a ship we’ve dreamed of boarding one day.

“Star Trek Beyond” gets five stars.

This week, maternal comedy, covert action and social media tension are the subjects of new films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Moms—

Jason Bourne—


Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Into the Woods”

The fairytale characters of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), her handsome Prince (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), his mother (Tracey Ullman), their cow and a beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp), Rapunzel (MacKensie Mauzy) and her Prince (Billy Magnussen) are all connected to the childless couple of the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) and the witch (Meryl Streep). Each is looking for their “happily ever after” but does that end the story?

Based on the Broadway play of the same name, “Into the Woods” is a star studded film made with the cooperation of writer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His witty use of language is on full display in the songs that fill the movie, informing the audience far better than standard dialog could. While the movie musical is a fairly rare event, “Into the Woods” is a worthy addition to the list.

Meryl Streep is perhaps the main reason to see “Into the Woods” in a theater instead of waiting for it to arrive On Demand. Her performance is big, wild and thoroughly entertaining. The film really comes to life when she pops on the screen. Her wild hair tinged with blue and grey is similar to the whirlwind in which she disappears. While comical, the witch is the heavy of the story, setting it in motion years before when she put a curse on the Baker’s father. Now, she gives the Baker and his wife an opportunity to lift the curse and allow them to become parents by gathering items from each of the fairytale characters mentioned above. Her plan is devious because it will also restore her youthful beauty once the curse is lifted. Her urgency as the time ticks down for the Baker and his wife to find all the items belies this fact. Streep, who showed off her singing ability in “Mamma Mia,” easily handles the big, theatrical musical numbers. Her talents truly seem to know no bounds as she also wrings her part for all the emotional strength it has as she deals with Rapunzel who believes the witch is her mother. If it was up to me, Streep would be nominated for yet another Oscar.

James Corden and Emily Blunt are both terrific as the Baker and his wife. The little spats they have as they run into problems gathering all the items sound almost real as each gets on the other’s nerves. Corden and Blunt have a very comfortable chemistry together, like they’ve been in each other’s lives a long time. They are also able to convey to the audience that these two people really love each other. It’s a sweet relationship that takes a bit of a dark turn late in the film. This change in tone was unexpected (as I was unfamiliar with the source material) and really caused me to sit up and pay attention. I don’t want to give away too much but it sets one of them back on their heels and causes that character to question how they will continue in his/her life. It’s a turn that kept the story interesting for me at a point when it could have started to become dull and predictable.

If the film has any issues it’s with the Rapunzel section of the story. It doesn’t feel fully realized like in adapting the musical for the screen part of the story was left out that would have made it make more sense. According to the movie’s Wiki page, there was a major plot point that was changed because studio executives didn’t think it would go over well with audiences. Perhaps this revision was so vast it lessened the impact and value of her story. I’d have to see the stage version to know for sure but her story feels unfinished.

This is a minor quibble when looking at the film as a whole. All the cast from the primary leads right down to the actress who plays a giant that we barely see is excellent in their roles. Anna Kendrick plays the conflicted Cinderella who isn’t sure a life in the castle with the terminally confident Prince, played by Chris Pine, is what she really wants. While all the characters she encounters question why she doubts her life with the Prince would be amazing, she is steadfast in her reservations. Chris Pine’s performance as the supremely self-assured Prince reminded me at times of a certain actor as he strutted and preened on screen. I couldn’t help but think Pine reminded me of William Shatner, the first actor to play James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek. Pine has taken over the role in the rebooted film franchise and the two couldn’t be more different in look and style; however, Pine seems to be mimicking, consciously or subconsciously, the speech patterns and acting style of Shatner. While this took me out of the story for a few seconds, I just accepted it as his interpretation of the Prince. Little Red Riding Hood is a precocious child played by Lilla Crawford who is both confident and inexperienced which puts her in danger when she encounters Johnny Depp’s Wolf. The dynamic between Red and the Wolf strays uncomfortably close to a creepy pedophilia vibe. Again, according to the movie’s Wiki page, that aspect of the characters interaction was actually toned down from the staged version. I can’t imagine it getting much creepier and still being something an audience would accept. Perhaps the distance between the audience watching the stage play and the intimacy of a camera up close to those same characters in a movie lessens how uncomfortable those viewing the scene would feel. While I understood the Wolf was referring to consuming Red and her grandmother, it still made my skin crawl a little. Despite this, Depp is entertaining as the Wolf as he both sweet-talks and threatens Red. Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard all make the most of their limited screen time and make the supporting characters as entertaining as any other.

“Into the Woods” is rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material and fantasy action and peril. The concept of a childless couple, the abandonment of a father, the stealing of a child and the death of parents might confuse or upset the very youngest viewers. The suggestive material is just a couple kissing in the woods. The fantasy action and peril is very mild. Even the deaths of characters are handled off screen.

While many find the movie musical to be somewhat off-putting, “Into the Woods” actually benefits from having the characters burst into song at the drop of a hat. The fantastical setting, characters and situations are best handled and explained in a song. The talented cast and often witty wordplay of the lyrics makes this an experience even anti-musical people should enjoy unless they’ve had a curse placed on their heart by an evil witch.

“Into the Woods” gets five stars.

I also watched the troublemaking satire “The Interview” starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. While I understand the North Koreans are a prickly bunch, I can’t see why they would put up a stink over such a silly film. While Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg have stuffed the movie with a huge number of jokes and humorous situations, the film is eventually overcome by its own lightness. The concept is pretty ridiculous as well with the CIA giving the job of killing Kim Jung-un to a talk show host and his producer. Exhibiting their incompetence from the outset, there’s no way the plan would have continued past the preliminary stages. Of course, one must ignore common sense when dealing with a film like “The Interview.” It doesn’t waste any time or energy on logical thinking in either the story or the acting.

“The Interview” gets two and a half stars out of five.

January usually is a dumping ground for movies the studio has no faith in being either a commercial or critical success. That makes the first month of the year a perfect time to catch up with the movies that are making awards season waves. Several have just opened in Knoxville, TN and I’ll see about reviewing as many as I can before the trophies are handed out.

Big Eyes—



The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death—

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