Wonder Woman (2017 movie)

wonder_woman_ver5The future of justice begins with her.

Before I start this review, I want to give you a couple of disclaimers.  I went and saw this on Friday with my boyfriend, not because I was necessarily interested in it, but I did owe him because he saw Beauty and the Beast on opening night for me.  And because I love him and wanted to see him happy, I put on my big-girl pants and went to go see a super hero movie I had very little interest in.  (This will become slightly more evident throughout the review.)

I’m just gonna assume y’all know who Wonder Woman is and a little about her, so we’ll just skip to the review.  (This movie is basically her origin story.)  Ok, moving on.

Like I said earlier, I’m not really into super hero movies.  The only one I’ve seen and liked was Iron Man and that came out what, like a decade ago?  (2008, I just checked.)  Personally, I think they’ve only gone downhill from there.  So take all of this with a grain of salt, but I had a hard time getting into the movie.

(Quick story to prove I have no idea what I’m talking about with super heroes.  So like an hour into the movie when it became obvious Chris Pine had a crush on Wonder Woman, I turned to my boyfriend and asked, “Is that a thing?  Captain American and Wonder Woman?”  After the initial what are you talking about?, he informed me that Chris Pine is not Captain America.  Needless to say, I was embarrassed.)

It’s a pretty typical example of a hero’s journey, if you’re at all familiar with Greek mythology or literally any story with a “hero,” super or otherwise.  They are living their life, the get a call to action in the form of someone needing help, and then they go through a lot of self-discovery and fighting and learning.  Blah blah blah.  (Again, to me, this is utterly predictable.  It’s probably the same sense of predictability guys feel in romantic comedies.)  So Diana is an Amazon princess, training away, and then she meets a *man* for the first time.  *GASP*  From there, she sets off to end World War I basically on her own.  Apparently this is a change from the comic books, where she jumps into World War II.  As a history buff, I approved of this change.  World War II is way overdone.

(Ahem…my sarcasm may be a little thick…I’m going to try to tone it down a bit.)

Anyway, I found the plot to be slow on top of being predictable.  There’s a ton of background info, lots of scenes that I felt weren’t totally needed, and some that were a bit too long.  (The running time for this movie is roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes.)  And all the fighting sequences?  Did they really have to be in slow motion half the time?  Ugh.  Slow-mo fighting is the worst.

I will say, even though most of the movie seemed predictable to me, there were moments where I was taken by surprise.  There’s one really good one where my reaction was, “Oh, cool.  Now we’re talking.”  And then it went into another slow-mo fight scene.

What I did actually like were the characters.  This greatly enhanced my movie experience.  Gal Gadot does a very nice job playing Diana as fierce and passionate while also completely out of her depth and innocent.  And Chris Pine definitely steals more than a few scenes with those big eyes and snarky humor.  Those two definitely made the movie worthwhile.  There was character development (which is my weakness) and it made sense to the story.

From the beginning, I had high expectations about this being feminist and full of strong female characters, etc.  That’s how it’s been hyped up in the media.  And to an extent, that was true.  I’m thrilled that there is now a female super hero for girls to look up to that isn’t like, Black Widow.  (Nothing against Scar-Jo, but Black Widow’s not exactly a role model.)  Wonder Woman is an idealist and tends to see the best in things, and she’s incredibly brave and determined to make the world a better place.  Having an entire village of Amazon warriors also played up this feminist approach.

Was it perfect?  No.  I wish there had been another female lead character, because after the first half hour or so, it’s just Gadot up there.  Her team, of sorts, includes 4 men and a female secretary who is probably in about 15 minutes of the film.  I mean, couldn’t there have been a female smuggler?  You can’t tell me women couldn’t hide a number of things under those Edwardian dresses.  And being female wouldn’t have stood out any more than the ethnicity of some of the characters.  (One is Turkish while another is Native American.)  Heck, why not cast a Turkish woman or Native American woman for the part?  It’d have the same effect.

And there were still lines or scenes that still felt slightly uncomfortable because of how the men in the story saw Diana.  I’m not talking about the typical, “You stay back while we take care of it,” macho approach.  I expected that, especially given the time period.  No, there’s one scene where a man sees Diana fighting for the first time and says, “I’m both afraid and aroused.”  Seriously?  That was necessary to this film?  It got a laugh from the predominantly male crowd, but I didn’t like it.  I literally could not stop thinking about that line for the rest of the movie whenever that character popped back on the screen.  Which was fairly frequently, considering he was a main-ish character.

Perhaps ironically, there was another scene in the movie toward the very end that kind of made me uncomfortable, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.  It wasn’t sexist or demeaning at all.  (It’s kind of a big twist in the story, so I can’t tell you what it is.)  Anyway, it finally dawned on me why it made me feel off.  Normally in super hero movies, it’s a female’s action.  The fact that a man was doing it threw me off and I didn’t even realize it for over 12 hours.  It flipped things on me and once I realized that, I had more respect for it.

Look, I’m one person, and I know that every woman, man, feminist, or Amazon is going to have a different take on how well this portrays women.  Here’s what I’m truly most excited about: the crowd for the movie was predominantly male and it was busy.  This means this movie is going to do fairly well for itself in box office totals AND that men truly don’t care that this movie stars a woman, was directed by a woman, and all this other stuff the media keeps hyping up.  Hopefully this means that more movies like this will be green-lighted because there is an audience out there.

From the reactions of my boyfriend and the other men in the theater, this was well-worth seeing.  My biased self?  Worth seeing once, but I’m certainly not going to rush out to see it again.

(Personally I’d give it a 3, but my boyfriend urged me to post this review and I’m pretty sure he’d give it a 4 or 5, so I’m going to average that out and give it a 4, since he knows more about super hero movies than I do.)

Beauty and the Beast (2017 Movie)

movie_poster_beautybeast2017_95e8117fBe Our Guest.

I saw it last night, guys.  You ready for this?

(I’m not even going to give you a synopsis of this movie because I truly hope that no one needs an explanation of what this movie is about.  That would just be so sad.)

Let’s start by talking about the story itself.  Obviously, probably about 85-90% of this movie is the same as the original.  (Some of the dialogue is word for word the same as well, a fact that I know because I have the original animated movie completely memorized.)  Your basics are all there: Belle goes to the castle, Gaston is the bad guy, “Be Our Guest” is a huge production, etc.  The plot is essentially the same.

However, there are some differences to the story, and I won’t go too far into specifics because the discover of it was just so much fun as I was watching it.  Some of the differences have been well-publicized, like Belle being the inventor rather than her father, or Le Fou’s gay scene.  (We’ll talk about that later.)  Belle definitely feels like more of a stronger heroine than the original does, and that’s thanks in large part of Emma Watson’s insistence that Belle not be a damsel in distress.  I liked that she was more willing to be part of the fight rather than just watching it happen.

I was happy with other differences as well.  Disney did a nice job trying to fix some of those plot holes from the original (like the much talked about age of the Beast, since the rose would bloom until his 21st year, etc.).  But we also get backstories on Gaston, Belle, the Beast.  It was great.  And more interactions with the enchanted people in the castle!  You’re going to enjoy Stanley Tucci’s new character.

Oh!  And I almost forgot.  For those of you very familiar with the original tales of Beauty and the Beast from about 200 years ago (or the Robin McKinley retellings), you’ll be pleased with a few changes to the story.

I was also very happy with the music.  Obviously, most of the songs you know well are in this movie again.  (I noticed one or two were cut, but they were reprises or additions to the anniversary edition of the movie.)  The singing voices for the main characters were a little bit different than I was expecting, like how Emma’s voice is a bit airy, but I liked the way it sounded.  And I’m a huge fan of Josh Gad, so his singing is always phenomenal.

There are a few new songs added to the movie, but you’ll be pleased to know Alan Menken returns for this and the additional lyrics were written by Tim Rice, who is a longtime lyricist for Disney.  (Howard Ashman, who wrote the original lyrics, died from AIDS before the 1991 movie was released.)  Some of Ashman’s original lyrics, which were cut from the 1991 film, were added back in for this movie.  So even the new songs and verses feel like classic Disney songs.

Now for the acting.  I thought that Emma Watson did a wonderful job as Belle (partly because Emma is Belle in so many way).  Dan Stevens plays the Beast in a way that makes him seem tough but also soft at times.  As I already mentioned, I love Josh Gad for his humor and vocals, and this did not disappoint.  Gad is hilarious as Le Fou.

But you know who the surprises were?  Luke Evans as Gaston and Kevin Kline as Maurice.  I had heard that Evans wanted to play Gaston in more of a way that made him seem like a human before doing a bait-and-switch style shift in his character.  Of course, Gaston is still a complete narcissist, but he’s not as conceited as he is in the original.  And his shift into a monster is more unsettling for that reason.  And Kline gives Maurice more of a backbone (and more intelligence).  One of my issues with the original Maurice is how flighty and helpless he seems, but Kline did a nice job of still keeping Maurice a bit absent-minded but still respectable.  I understood him more.

Of course, I can’t leave out the enchanted cast either.  Audra McDonald is always a favorite of mine, so insert glowing praise here.  Ewan McGregor is fun as Lumiere, Ian McKellen is great as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson does fantastic justice to Mrs. Potts, and the ensemble of Plumette and Chip are scene-stealers.

I was well-impressed with this movie.  Sure, when you know what’s going to happen next, it takes out a little of the excitement and suspense, but it was still a lot of fun to see it all on the big screen.

I enjoyed myself while watching this movie.  And my boyfriend (who not only came to see this with little complaining AND bought me a replica of Belle’s necklace in the ballroom scene) enjoyed himself too, even if he denies it.  From a male perspective, he enjoyed Gaston’s character a lot and the inclusion of “X-Men and Hobbits” in this movie.  (He caught McKellen’s voice immediately and recognized Luke Evans, but it took him until the credits to identify McGregor.)  He was rooting for Gaston nearly the entire time.

Have fun going to see this yourself, friends!  Let me know what you thought!

Hidden Figures

mv5bmjqxotkxoduyn15bml5banbnxkftztgwntu3ntm3ote-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Meet the women you don’t know, behind the mission you do.

Hey guys!  So I saw this movie last night and I really wanted to let you guys know what I thought about it, since I haven’t been posting any book reviews lately.  (I’ve been reading a massive biography on Washington and while it’s excellent, it’s taking forever.)  So in case you were curious, let’s talk about Hidden Figures.

The year is 1961 and the United States has been beaten in the Space Race.  Sputnik has gone into orbit while America can’t even get a rocket off the ground without it burning up.  What NASA needs most comes in the form of three African American female geniuses.  These women are “human computers” who have to calculate the trajectory of flight patterns to ensure that the lives of the first astronauts are safe.  (Looking at you, John Glenn.)  Together, these three will change the nation, one step at a time.

A little background on the women: we mostly follow Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a super computer of the highest caliber.  Her friend Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) acts something like a supervisor to the women of the West Computing Group (which is where these women worked, separated from the rest of NASA).  Finally, we have Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who was determined to be an engineer, despite all of the legal hoops she had to jump through.  We good?  Because now I’m going to start breaking down their performances.

Henson, I thought, did a fabulous job as Katherine.  Katherine has this dichotomy of wanting to rise through the ranks at NASA because she enjoys her work and it’s worthwhile, but she’s also terrified that one wrong step is going to cost her her job.  I mean, they basically tell her right before she starts that her new boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) has a high turnover rate with “computers”.  Also, this is 1961 and the height of segregation and discrimination.  Which also plays a large role in this movie.  But Henson does a nice job of playing Katherine as an intelligent, hardworking single mom.

Spencer’s acting was, as always, fantastic as Dorothy Vaughan.  Vaughan has a bit of desperation to her character at the beginning, since she is more or less in charge of a group of 30 women who could be fired at any moment for no reason.  But she turns that desperation into determination and tenacity, which was fantastically done with Spencer’s trademark realism and tongue-in-cheek comeuppance for those who stand against her.  Trust me, you did not want to get on Dorothy’s bad side.  It was a delight to watch.

Perhaps the most interesting character, though, was Janelle Monae’s Mary.  Whereas Katherine and Dorothy were more reserved and more cautious when dealing with bosses and segregation, Mary was like a bull charging through the gate.  She was gutsy and funny, saying what was on her mind when the others wouldn’t.  I really like that character trait, and Monae’s performance was just so endearing.

The supporting cast also had a lot of offer.  I thought Costner’s performance was great as a demanding, exacting boss who didn’t care who did the work so long as it got done quickly and correctly.  He had little patience for segregation if it meant slowing down the numbers he needed to ensure that men stayed alive in space.  There were also minor roles by Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst, but I thought those felt a little flat.  I was hoping for more out of Parsons especially, but he’s basically been typecast because of his role as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory.  He’s basically Sheldon but with no character growth.

I really enjoyed the plot as well.  It managed to weave together so many elements in a way that felt natural and interesting.  Not only were we looking at NASA and the Space Race to get men like John Glenn and Alan Shepard into space safely, but we follow elements of the Civil Rights movement, Katherine’s private life with her three daughters, Dorothy’s workplace ambition to make herself and her girls relevant, and Mary’s dream to become an engineer.  I mean, this is a lot to follow in a 2 hour movie, but the movie did a nice job with it.  Obviously, the NASA part is the crux of it all, but it was really nice to see the other elements as well.

This is basically a feel-good movie.  Obviously, though, not everything is happy and light, though.  There were moments in the theater where I was tense or sitting on the edge of my seat.  (There were even times when the audience did a collective “ooohhh”.)  But there are laugh-out-loud funny parts and parts that deserve a chuckle or a smirk.  It’s got drama with a bit of comedy, but it’s mostly uplifting.  And, being a PG rated movie, it’s great for all age levels.  (They only curse twice in the whole movie.)

I really enjoyed this.  This is definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.

The DUFF (Movie)

the-duff-poster06Every duff has their day.

Alright, disclaimer: I have never read the original novel this is based on.  But I saw this trailer and thought it would be fun to watch anyway.  And I thought it would be a strange experience, considering I almost always read the book before I see the movie.

Bianca is a happy senior, content to binge-watch cult classics and hang out with her two best friends…until someone points out that she’s the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) of her group.  Determined to change that label and land a date with her crush Toby, Bianca recruits her neighbor and jock Wesley to help her look prettier and land the guy.  But what happens when things don’t turn out the way she expects?

I found this to be incredibly enjoyable.  Like, I was giggling and riveted the whole time.  It’s just a feel-good kind of movie.  (And, from what I hear, also very very different from the source material.  Apparently they have very little in common besides the name??)

Bianca, our DUFF (played by Mae Whitman), is what I affectionately call a weirdo.  She has her own sense of self, of style, of what she likes.  She makes references to things others don’t get.  She’s brash and smart.  I adored her attitude and the way she’s actually really shy underneath all of that.  It was cute.

robbie-amell-tomorrow-peopleI was also a big fan of Wesley (and I felt a little weird crushing on him until I found out he’s actually 3 years older than I am, making him something like 27 when it was released).  Wes (played by Robbie Amell) has a softer side that I found endearing.  He may have been popular, but he was just as much of a weirdo as Bianca in his own way.  I thought it was cute.  He’s cute.  Mmmm.

The plot was interesting.  Until she found out she was a DUFF, Bianca was happy to be a weirdo.  Once she finds out what everyone thinks of her, she makes a deal with Wes: she’ll tutor him in chemistry (because he’s failing and can’t play football) if he’ll teach her how to talk to boys and land dates.  On the side, they’re dealing with Wes’s ex-girlfriend Madison, the school Queen B and mean girl who is a master at manipulating everyone and everything her way.

This movie does take a semi-serious look at cyber-bullying while still retaining its humor.  There’s a huge fall-out from a video to the point where the school steps in.  As a teacher (and a decent human being) I truly hate cyber-bullying and I was kind of pleased with how this movie dealt with it.  Did it truly solve the problem?  Of course not.  But Bianca found a way to come out ahead.

But what I loved most about this is its sense of humor.  Bianca constantly has moments of word vomit, where something does not sound right in the least once it’s out.  The whipped cream and cherry on top are the combined talents of Allison Janney (playing Bianca’s divorced motivational speaker mother) and Ken Jeong (playing Bianca’s journalism teacher).  Oh my gosh, those two stole nearly every scene they were in.  So funny, so weird.  I love them.

Overall, I found this to be super entertaining.  And it had a great theme at the end: be happy being the weirdo that  you are.

Vampire Academy (The Movie)

vampireacademy-posterfinalThey Suck at School.

Wow.  Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve done a movie review?  …Neither do I.  Forever, at least.  But I couldn’t pass up reviewing this, when it’s one of my favorite book series.

Basic plot: Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir are BFFs, but it’s more than that.  Rose and Lissa have a bond that allows Rose to actually be inside Lissa’s head and feel her emotions.  It’s definitely helpful, since Rose is one day going to be Lissa’s guardian (or bodyguard, in human terms).  But after having gotten into serious trouble for running away from school, it’s tough to reintegrate into high school without everyone spreading rumors about you.  And Rose has a lot of catching up to do to get back into tip-top physical shape, which means loads of extra hours with her new mentor, Dimitri, a guardian god.  When someone begins to target Lissa, Rose is going to do everything she can to neutralize the threat.

I don’t totally feel like I did that justice, but like I said, this is one of my favorite stories.  So I’m seeing like, 20 plot points in my head and wanting to point out who Christian is, etc. etc.

Look, I know this movie got panned.  It flunked the box office like it was a middle schooler taking college calc.  But honestly, I thought it was actually kind of adorable.

Were the actors and actresses exactly like I pictured?  God no.  But they rocked it anyway.  They fit the role, if not all of the physical characteristics I thought they should have had.  Zoey Deutch does a great job bringing sarcasm, wit, and attitude to Rose, which was all I truly asked for.  Lucy Fry slowly grew on me, partly because she was the furthest from what I pictured of the main characters.  It took some time, but we got there.  But seriously, Danila Kozlovsky.  My God.  Who would have thought Russians could be so hot?  (Then again, I was already crazy in love with Dimitri, so…)

The movie does stay fairly true to the book.  There are a few deviations, but I usually attribute those to the time constraints of the movie.  It happens every time.  But everything else was pretty close, a fact that I appreciated.

But I will say that this is one of those books that may be hard for someone unfamiliar with the book to fully understand.  I can’t be objective enough to really judge that, though.  There were just some places where I knew that I knew more than the movie was telling.

So then why did it do so badly at the box office?  Here’s my theory: I think it wasn’t marketed right.  Even looking at the movie poster, it’s using all these neon colors and talks about how awful high school is, etc.  The trailer also seems a bit…off to me, and I know the story backwards and forwards.  Even though I love this story, I never went to see it in theatres.  It just didn’t look like it was going to be like the story I knew.  And that is what I think went wrong.  Fans of the book may have avoided it thinking it wasn’t going to be faithful and the normal moviegoer probably didn’t quite know if it was a romance, an action movie, or just all about vampires.

In the end?  I liked it a lot.  It was really awesome to see the story come to life.  I’m a little disappointed that there won’t be more movies (Shadow Kissed would be a killer movie), but I’m also ok with keeping this series with me the way it currently is.

Insurgent (Movie)

One choice can destroy you

I saw this over Spring Break with my mom (who read the book ages ago and didn’t remember much about it) and one of my brothers (who had never read it).  I’m hoping I can use this review to reflect their feelings about this movie as well as my own.

Every choice has consequences, and no one knows that better than Tris.  She constantly fights to protect her family and friends, regardless of the costs…and those costs are quickly adding up.  Jeanine isn’t going to let Tris go without a fight.  In times of war, everyone must pick a side.  But with war also comes deadly consequences…

My reactions:

Even though it’s been a few years, I remembered a fair bit about the plot of the book.  So I knew pretty quickly that the movie changed/cut out a lot.  But it really didn’t bother me much because I thought it still told an entertaining story.  It just wasn’t quite the original, though it stayed true to Tris, the others, and the city.

There was a bit too much violence for my taste, particularly with the loud gun blasts from the amped up theater speakers.  (The sounds of guns that loud makes me anxious.)  But I still thought it was true to the story.  Oh, side note, the action-to-romance ratio is something like 10:1.  For every 10 scenes of guns and fights, there is one cutesy scene.

I was glad to see some of the minor characters either play a larger role or show up for the first time. For as much as I hated him in the book, I freaking love Miles Teller’s portrayal of Peter.  He’s a complete enigma.  And this also brought in characters like Uriah and Naomi, who were both super compelling given their limited screen time.

But ever since Shailene Woodley shot to fame, I feel like I’m playing “One Degree of Shailene” in this movie.  Like “Oh, there’s Ansel Elgort, who played Augustus to her Hazel Grace in TFIOS.  Oh, there’s Miles Teller who played Sutter to her Aimee in The Spectacular Now.”  Seriously, I had a hard time getting pictures of her kissing those boys out of my head to remember she was with Four.

Still, I rather enjoyed the movie.  Though looking back, it’s probably not going to be one I decide to pop in while I’m alone on the weekends.

My mom and brother’s reaction:

They were bored.  The storyline was repetitive to them and it never really got exciting.  I think one of them nearly fell asleep in the movie.  I guess maybe I spent the whole time replaying the book in my head and just anticipating what would come next?  And they didn’t/couldn’t.  It got old fast.

So there you have it.  Two people who didn’t know/remember Insurgent as a book were bored with the movie, but I enjoyed it at the time.  It wasn’t the best YA adaptation ever, and Divergent was better, but I didn’t think it was awful.

Romeo & Juliet (2013)

The most dangerous love story ever told.

I’m just going to start this by admitting that I’ve read this play roughly 4 times (and nearly all of that because of schoolwork) and that, while the story does seem romantic at times, Romeo and Juliet are kind of idiots.  I love the story, but you can tell they’re just kids making dumb decisions.  Ok?  On with it.

Do I really need to break down the plot for this?  Please tell me I don’t.

Ok.  We’ll start with the good.  First of all, the settings/set design for this movie is fabulous.  This is something I generally don’t pay attention to, but my God, it was all stunning.  I think it’s partly because it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the 60s version of this movie and more historically accurate than the Baz Luhrmann version.  It was striking.  It was beautiful.

Also, this was adapted/written by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame and it shows.  This is the only version I can think of where characters like the Nurse and Friar Lawrence (called “Father” Lawrence in this movie) have a real chance to shine.  Most movies cut them out to give our main kiddos more love scenes.  But it was just fantastic to see the more minor characters (even Lord and Lady Capulet!) step a little further into the light.

I thought that the casting was also excellent.  I really liked Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Juliet (though I have seen other reviews that said she wasn’t pretty enough?  I though she was pretty.  And besides, Juliet’s only supposed to be like 13 and trust me, 13-year-olds have not grown into their looks).  And Douglas Booth was great as Romeo, though I admittedly spent more time looking at his cheek/jaw bones rather than actually paying attention to his acting.  That boy has a very pretty face.

But the most surprising casting choices that soared were those of Lord Capulet, Father Lawrence, and Nurse.  Damian Lewis brings a light-hearted attitude to Lord Capulet that does occasionally turn dangerous.  But it’s perhaps the first portrayal of Lord Capulet where I really felt like he loved his daughter.  Nurse (played by Lesley Manville) was funny and charming and caring.  I loved that she had a bigger role than usual.  And Paul Giamatti as Father Lawrence…who would’ve thought that would work?  Giamatti brought to the role this quick wit, hope, and just enough shifty-eyed attitude to make him seem like he’s always scheming up something.

Even through all of this, there were some things that were…well, not what I expected.

For example, there is very little Shakespearean dialogue in this movie.  A lot of it that is here comes from the most famous lines.  The balcony scene.  The chorus introduction.  The death scene.  And a few random lines between here and there that are famous.

And some of the scenes were changed.  Like how the whole movie starts off out a jousting match between Tybalt and Mercutio.  Here I was quoting along with the chorus in the first two minutes of the movie before I had to stop and figure out exactly what was happening.  A joust?  Really?  Admittedly, the movie is usually quite close to the play, but there are definitely striking differences at crop up.

So to sum up: great casting and set design, little of Shakespeare’s actual words.  But hey, there are also some pretty kicking sword fights.  I guess that makes up for something?