“Wonder Woman: Rise of the Warrior”: who needs (cis, virile, manly) men anymore?

Patty Jenkins gave a passionate interview on, as I recall, ABC’s “Good Morning America” to explain her new DC Comics action film, “Wonder Woman: Rise of the Warrior”, from Warner Brothers.  She wanted to show a female heroine who was the equivalent of a Christ figure (my analogy), not “just” a Virgin Mary.

Indeed, the Amazonian society shown in the early 20th Century as the film starts seems to be all female (parthogenesis, perhaps), that doesn’t need men. The future wonder woman Diana (Lilly Aspell, then Gal Gadot as an adult) grows up as a warrior.  It looks like it came right out of the Burroughs Tarzan series, with women warriors.

There is some pagan mythology here.  Diana’s mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to protect her daughter, who is determined to become a hero worthy of a future Star Wars. The overlord god Zeus loved mankind, but Ares considered man corrupt and let man play “survival of the fittest tribe” with increasingly destructive wars.  Finally, Antilope (Robin Wright) convinces Hippolyta that daughter Diana can become the comic world equivalent of a Navy Seal. (I recall Hippolyta as a name in high school.  A high school friend once mailed me a huge post card of little tunes and signed it Hippolyta.  I wonder if the card is somewhere in the attic.)

The story starts moving when  Diana rescues a British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from drowning. There’s a little skin shown here, and it looks like the encounter with her  laser-emanating “lasso of truth” costs Steve his chest hair.  Steve educates her about World War I, the War to End All Wars, or The Great War.

The remainder of the plot seems to deal with a desire of the British (David Thewlis) to make an armistice with Germany to stop the war, while a villain (Elena Anaya), with a mask to cover a burn-scarred face that would scare off crows and inspire Hannibal Lecter, concocts an unprecedented deadly poison gas that dissolves everything.

So here we have alternative fact history.  Wonder Woman and Steve’s interventions keep the Allies together until the Americans enter (although nobody gets into the politics of Woodrow Wilson, the draf, and his sedition laws) and in the end, England celebrates victory, only to brace for battles to come in two more decades, needing a wonder gay man (Alan Turing) to save them with “brains over brawn” (like “The Most Dangerous Game”)

This film has been popular in the gay community the week before Capital Pride.

Generally, I’m not as interested in the alternative comic book world presenting history as the real history itself.

The symphonic poem during the closing credits by Rupert Gregson-Williams was interesting.

Name:  “Wonder World: Rise of the Warrior”
Director, writer:  Patty Jenkins
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1, 3-D, Imax
When and how viewed:  AMC Courthouse Plaza, Arlington,, 2017/6/8, late, moderate audience
Length:  141
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Warner Brothers, DC Comics
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, June 9, 2017 at 2:45 PM)

“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”: can a young man be a god and not know it for a little while?

Can a young man first born in the American Midwest to a seemingly average pair of young lovers find out that he is supposed to become a god and be immortal?  Can one be a god or angel  (or human-looking alien from another planet) and not know it until some initiation in young manhood?  Maybe Chris (or Christian, like in the Sibelius King Christian Suite) is the best name for such a character or the Hollywood star who plays him.  Donald Trump would never suspect a thing; his travel bans won’t apply to UFO’s from other planets.

That seems to be the gist of the new franchise sequel, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” written and directed by James Gunn (based on the Marvel comics series by Dan Abnett).

Minnesota-born (from the Iron range) Chris Pratt (remember him as the teenager “Bright” in the WB Series “Everwood”) plays the archtype superhero Peter Quill, or Star-Lord.  Chris, approaching 38, does look a little more weathered, and as I recall had at one time gained weight, which he shed. Now, well post-adolescence, there is a mop of hair decorating the middle of Chris’s chest, which is at risk from the laser probes through his bod toward the end.  (That also happened to the young Clark Kent on Smallville near the end of Season 2, resulting in a keloid scar for a few episodes.)  Chris’s character needs to add some art to his people skills: how about singing bel canto, playing piano, directing plays, and making short films.  He does carry others on his back.

After a prologue set against the disco radio music of 1980, we jump to 2014, when Peter (who, without relativity, would be the same age as Jesus during his ministry) visits the High Priestess (that was the name of a friend’s cat when I lived in NYC) on a golden throne in a golden palace in a city on some other planet looking like Dubai.  He’s sent on a quest to find his father and his ancestry. How he gets past the speed of light barrier is not explained.  Does he rent a digital holographic replica of his body from Hertz when he streams instantly to a new planet?  Oh, they show in him spaceships with a co-pilot Rocket, a talking raccoon with voice of Bradley Cooper.  And there is a little wood spirit (whose learning abilities play a critical role in the resolution at the end) with voice of Vin Diesel.

There are some other planets, like one with an open market in what looks like a town in Siberia, but he finally meets his real father, Ego, played by a foppish but aging Kurt Russell.  Ego has created his own living planet in his name, the size of the Moon – making us wonder how it has near Earth gravity. (Ever notice how these planets all have the same atmosphere as Earth?)  Ego wants to expand, so that the entire universe (or at least Milky Way Galaxy) becomes him.  The planet has wonderful scenery:  organix spires of plant material, with red and violet colors as well as the more common photosynthetic green.  Are any of these planets tidally locked?

We do see planets explode at the end, at least Ego.  And there is a scene where a blue mass (remember “The Blob”, which was pink) encroaches on a town (is that back in Missouri?)

And finally, after Peter is reassembled one last time it seems like he will become a god whether wants to or not.

Remember the pretext of the NBC series “The Event”, where Jason Ritter’s character saves everyone but doesn’t know he is an alien?

Wiki chart of sizes of exoplanets known so far.

Name:  “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Director, writer:  James Gunn
Released:  2017/5
Format:  2.35:1, 3-D, IMAX
When and how viewed:  AMC Potomac Mills, Woodbridge, VA, 2017/6/4, late, small audience
Length:  136
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Marvel, Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, June 5, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)

“Beauty and the Beast”: in the end, “smooth” is still “desirable”

Beauty and the Beast”, directed by Bill Condon, has a simple enough moral:  physical beauty may be skin deep, but real love is soul-deep.  I’ve been there before.  I heard that speech in 1978.

The film is Walt Disney Studio’s remake of the 1991 play of the setting of the Broadway play, about 1990, by Alan Menken (lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. That in turn is based on the fairy tale by Linda Woolverton.  So, we have children’s literature.

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I did an English class (10th grade) where the assignment was to write a fairy tale.  One of the boys wrote a tale starting, “Once upon a time there lived a banana”.  Imagine where that could go.

In fact, for all the artistry surrounding talking teacups and living heirlooms in a dark castle in medieval France, this sort of classic works better for me on stage, like “Wicked”.  Yes, the songs are wonderful.

As for the morality tale, the prince (Dan Stevens) gets transmuted into a beast after he turns away a homeless old hag.  He’s really worse off than “the Rich Young Ruler” in the New Testament.  In nearby towns (or maybe Paris), Belle (almost out of “Days of our Lives” in the past), played by Emma Watson, has to fend off a suitor Gaston (Luke Evans), who warns her about the fate of spinsters – they drop out of eternity.  She runs away to the castle (the climate transmutes from summer to winter without much change of altitude, just like in “The Shack”) and meets the prince, and of course falls in love with him.

So she looks beyond the obvious.  I could just pretend that she is attracted to hairy men (after all, Caucasians evolved in colder climates, where that sort of natural selection of a cis-gender manly-looking secondary sexual characteristic might be logical).  Maybe he just looks Neanderthal (and it’s possible that Europeans benefited from the best Neanderthal genes, as they took over).  Gaston will follow her, with guide Maurice (Kevin Kline), and Josh Gad will play LeFou (sounds like the name of a government teacher).  In the final scene, though, Beast changes back.  It seems that “smooth” (or “thmooth” – that is, immature) is what is “desirable”, even for men, after all.  David Skinner (author of the 1999 essay “Notes on the Hairless Man”) will celebrate in the world of conservatism.

I do recall in the early 1970s, before “My Second Coming” (Chapter 3 of my “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book) a couple of women tried to encourage me to adopt an “alternative” appearance to appeal to them — head shaving, hippy beads, body art — as if I could cover up my physical flaws and get away with it. That confounded my own idea of virtue.

Name:  “Beauty and the Beast”
Director, writer:  Bill Condon
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1  Imax, 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/3/21, afternoon, small audience
Length:  129
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Studios
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 9:30 AM EDT)

“Dream Big: Engineering Our World”: outstanding young female engineers make wonders for professional tourists

As it gets more taxing and risky to travel around the world, IMAX 3-D documentary films offer a surrogate opportunity.

Dream Big: Engineering Our World”, directed by Greg MacGillivray and produced by his own film company, now shows in Imax science museum theaters, and it offers in its 42 minutes a large number of sightseeing opportunity, a chance to play professional tourist.

The narrative (spoken by Jeff Bridges) is seen largely through the lives of female minority engineering students, and their teachers.

The attractions include the Burj  Khalifa Dubai, the Shanghai Tower (with its twists to make it storm resistant), a rail bridge in southern France, an earthquake resistant skyscraper in San Francisco, the University of California Santa Barbara campus (which I visited in 2002 in connection with my books), rural Haiti, and a temple area in Katmandu, Nepal during an earthquake.  (Katmandu is said to have inspired the fictitious city L’Himby in the Third Dominion in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica”.)    There is a desert prototype for a 700mph maglev train, and stunning subway sequence in the opening (I think in Tokyo).

There is an interesting “middle section” explaining the construction of the Great Wall of China (using rice-based mortar) which runs along the top of a ridge.  I have not seen “The Great Wall” yet, but the mention of the Wall is here is politically coincidental, to say the least.  Yes, I would have used Asian cast and leads in making the big budget monster movie (for authenticity).  And I think that Donald Trump’s idea of a Great Wall poses more an issue of actual practical effectiveness than engineering (or ideology).

There is a climactic science fair scene (at UCSB), after high school engineers drive their solar-powered jalopies through the Australian outback (starting at Darwin and going to Adelaide).  I thought it would have been nice to cover the inventions of Taylor Wilson (fusion nuclear reactor) or Jack Andraka (new cancer test).

The film was financed in part by Bechtel Corporation, which was on my list of possible first employers back in 1970 when I was getting out of the Army.

Name:  “Dream Big: Engineering Our World
Director, writer:  Greg MacGillivray
Released:  2017
Format:  IMAX 3-D  1.44:1
When and how viewed:  Smithsonian Air and Space, 2017/3/2, morning, small audience
Length:  42
Rating:  G
Companies:  MacGillivray
Link:  Bechtel

(Posted: Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 7:45 PM EST)

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”: a “standalone” prequel to the original 1977 film, and an unfortunate metaphor for Syria today

Name: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director, writer:  Gareth Edwards
Released:  2016
Format:  2.39:1 Imax
When and how viewed:  2016, AMC Tysons, 2016/12/19; noon show, not crowded
Length:  139
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  LucasFilm, Disney
Link:  official

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, directed by Gareth Edwards and written with Chris Weisz and Tony Gilroy, is an immediate prequel to the franchise opener “Star Wars”, now known as “A New Hope“, in 1977.  That movie was considered “so good” and I remember seeing it on a big screen in midtown Manhattan.

The story gives us an uprising by the Rebel Alliance led by a young woman, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) after her mother (Valene Keene) had warned her dad (Mads Mikkelsen) about the Empire’s plans with the “Death Star”, very much a franchise icon.

The action happens on many planets (with only a Alcubierre hyperdrive to jump among the various solar systems), and it stretches credibility that the Galaxy would have so many planets with about the same gravity, same breathable atmospheres, and mild climates – and yet each planet would emphasize a single ecosystem (rather like the 4-world kingdom of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and the 1984 film). But the plot focuses particularly on Jedha, largely desert with rocky plateaus, on top of one of which there is a model city looking a bit like Aleppo (to the point that the whole plot may come across as an unfortunate metaphor of current events in Aleppo) and Scarif, looking rather like lower Florida, with one huge Citadel Tower where the Empire holds its death star secrets. Much of the film was actually shot in Iceland, Jordan, and Maldives (for the low-lying tropical lagoon-and island landscape of Scarif).  There are also some scenes on the city-planet Coruscant with a lot of pyramid-like skyscrapers.  The Jedha plateau city, while looking Islamic, has more spherical buildings than would happen in the Middle East (even Jerusalem).

The film has many other appealing characters, including two pilots played by Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed.

The movie has an accompanying booklet from Entertainment Weekly that provides timelines and game board maps for the entire Star Wars franchise.  It’s interesting to see how so many plot threads are put together, and how new narratives can be inserted, without fraying into loose ends. LucasFilm calls this new movie a “standalone film”.

The LucasFilm franchise now is connected to Disney (it used to be Fox), and I don’t know when Disney will open its Orlando Star Wars Land attraction, to give visitors a chance for some virtual space travel (in addition to the Mars virtual reality ride at Epcot).

(Posted: Monday, December 19, 2016 at 8:15 PM EST)

“Doctor Strange”: a neurosurgeon gets to see the Multiverse — and it’s a good thing that “he’th’mooth”

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Name: Doctor Strange
Director, writer:  Scott Derrickson
Released:  2016/11
Format:  2.35:1  Imax 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common 2016/11/16 small audience
Length 115
Rating PG-13
Companies: Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Productions
Link: official 

 

Doctor Strange” (or “Dr. Strange”,directed Scott Derrickson), as another Marvel franchise initiator, seems to rework some story concepts from “Inception”, along with some space-time ideas we just saw in “Arrival”.

This 115-minute fantasy follows the screenwriting conventions of a distinct middle, beginning, and end.  After a rather superfluous prologue where dark angels demonstrate they can make the streets of London fold over (Inception-style), we’re thrown into modern New York City, where a suave neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) plays Ben Casey a lot in a Greenwich Village emergency room.   Now Strange, even at 40, looks appropriately smooth (or “thmooth”), his arms almost hairless from repeated scrubdowns, and this will prove convenient later when he needs other operations.

Strange has a Trump Tower pad, and is quite cocky about his skills.  One night he goes on a call up the Hudson and flips his sports car after some distracted driving.  The resulting operations on his hands and arms mean his career as a surgeon is over.  His girl friend Christine (Rachel McAdams) tries to talk him into “changing” and he resists, when she demands an apology.   He meets a companion in a basketball playground who urges him to go to Nepal and learn meditation.

The middle section of this ternary movie takes place in Katmandu, filmed on location, and made to look like L’Himby in Clive Barker’s Third Dominion (if “Imajica” finally gets filmed).   Rescued from street robbers by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) he is led to a sanctuary run by guru “Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton, forced to go bald herself).  Pretty soon he finds himself in “The Library”, where certain Sanskrit books are off limits until he reaches certain stages.  The books, along with other magic devices (one looks like an astrolabe) can open up floating rings into the “multi-verse”.  There is also a concept of a room surrounded by mirrors.  Like events in dreams, events inside these rooms are not supposed to affect the outside world, but (as in “Inception”) these events certainly have a “Hawking radiation” effect.  One of the techniques to reach cosmic consciousness and obtain super-powers (maybe like Clark Kent’s self-teleportation) ironically is total submission, in the sense of Rosenfels-like psychological growth,

The “multiverse” is presented quite effectively, in 3D special effects, as a collection of floating dark spheres and illuminated channels.  Strange will revisit the Multiverse after returning to New York and then visiting Hong Kong (the third alpha city, besides New York and London, protected by the Guild) for a final showdown with the “Great Satan”, or whatever.

In the middle, in a multiverse scene, the script seems to refer to Lucca Rossi’s novel “The Branches of Time” (index).

And, oh yes, I saw the black-and-white “Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” with a hairy Peter Sellers, by Stanley Kubrick (1963), in 1978 at a theater on 8th St. in the West Village with a friend.

(Published: Nov. 17, 2016 at 10 AM EDT)

“Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience”: Malick condenses his Tree of Life

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Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience” (40 min), as narrated by Brad Pitt, comes across as a philosophy supplement to Terrence Malick’s ponderous “The Tree of Life” (2011).  But instead of Andrew Desplat’s music, we are treated to the closing passages of Mahler’s Second Symphony as the Universe is born (an earlier choral passage appears later).  Other classical music includes the Te Deum by Arvo Part, and the conclusion of the Bach B Minor Mass.  I was irritated that the National Air and Space Museum cut off the Bach during the credits to make announcements. I thought I heard a little of Havergal Brian’s “Gothic” Symphony, too.

The film shows the origins of simple life, and then gives us a lot of “free fish”, and coelenterates and mullosca to boot. Finally we see a great blue whale, with no hint of its participation in a distributed chain of consciousness.

The narrator, though, does talk about the evolution of sentience, and the idea of having a body associated with consciousness that is self-aware. You do get the feeling that undersea life forms are much more “alien” than land animals, and that the same might be true on other planets with life.

There’s plenty of volcanic scenery (Hawaii and maybe Iceland, maybe the Aleutians).  We see the dinosaurs perish with the great asteroid strike near Belize, and then a scene with apes using tools that reminds one of the “dawn of man” in “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

The best shot in the whole film is one of Dubai, over top of the Burj Khalifa, at night, with all the artificial islands and structures.

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I was not aware of a companion feature “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey”, 90 Min, from Terrence Malik, with Cate Blanchett as narrator, also from Broad Green Pictures.

Most days, there is only one show at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, at 4:10 PM.

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial picture of Dubai, NASA, p.d.  Second picture shows the aftermath of a Texas Hill Country flood (from museum).

(Posted: Friday: Oct. 14, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

“Deepwater Horizon” treats the BP oil rig blowout in 2010 as another “Titanic”

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Name: Deepwater Horizon
Director, writer:  Peter Berg
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1 Imax
When and how viewed:  2016/10/1 Regal Manassas VA, small audience
Length 107
Rating PG-13
Companies: Participant Media,
Link: official

Deepwater Horizon”, directed by Peter Berg, plays like a somewhat abbreviated “Titanic” (1997), or even “Poseidon” (2006, remake of 1974). The film creates the first hours of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in April 2010.   The oil rig, about 50 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, was essentially like a ship.  The first half of the 107-minute film sets up the characters at hazard, with a great deal of attention to the “negative pressure test” explained by John Malkovich – it’s supposed to reassure the crew.  There’s a lot of street talk in the technical explanations and diagrams.  Then hoses leak and mud leaks, and over about twenty minutes of film the crisis escalated until there is a full explosion and fire.

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The central character is rigger Mike Williams, played by a still youthful and “creative” Marky Mark Wahlberg. Remember those articles (predicated on body fascism) in the late 1990s that showed how you were supposed to mimic Mark Mark in building your own fan webpage?  The early scenes show the departure from his wife  and his driving his SUV across an impressive Louisiana swamp-scape (including Lake Pontchartrain). Life on the rig is a bit like being in the merchant marine, it seems  (I wonder if there was ever a ban on gays.)  It’s cozy and acerbic.

His wife has to find out about the emerging catastrophe when his Skype connection breaks.  She has to call the Coast Guard, which reluctantly tells her about the fire.

Later, there is a scene where Williams jumps into the water from the burning rig and forces a female coworker to join – parallel to a somewhat sacrificial scene with Di Caprio near the end of “Titanic”.

The film certainly gives plenty of hints as to how a complicated man-made machine broke down and failed despite all the safeguards.  In that sense, it shares some commons with “Command and Control” (Sept. 23).  And the consequences for others in the region (man and wildlife – oil-slicked birds are shown crashing the rig) are catastrophic.  The film does not present the environmental cleanup, however, and I suspect there could be a sequel from Lionsgate/Summit/Participant that will.

There has been some SLAPP litigation against other journalists that reported on the supposed inadequacies of the cleanup efforts, as ABC News documents.   I recall BP CEO Steve Hayward’s “I want my life back”.

I saw the film in a new Regal auditorium in Manassas VA with full IMAX (as opposed to RPX). The 2.35:1 aspect was preserved throughout (not the case with “Interstellar“, for example).

Wikipedia attribution link for Coast Guard picture of burning site in May 2010.

(Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2016 t 1:30 PM EDT)

“Sully”: “duty” meant protecting the lives of New Yorkers on the ground as well as in his plane

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Name: Sully
Director, writer:  Clint Eastwood (based on book by Chesley Sullenberger)
Released:  2016/11
Format:  2.35:1 or Imax
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/9/9, afternoon, fair audience
Length 96
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow, Ratpac
Link: official 

Sully”, directed by Clint Eastwood (who composed some original popular music for the film) and written by Todd Lomarnick presents Tom Hanks in the eyes of a “man of action” hero, pilot Chesley Sullenberger (using his book “Highest Duty”), who saved the lives of 155 passengers on a USAir flight that endured bird strikes on both engines on Jan 15. 2009 as it was leaving La Guardia, by landing in the icy Hudson River.  This was five days before Obama’s inauguration.

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The top-level plot concerns Sully’s vindication himself against the bureaucracy of the FAA and NTSB, for not trying to return to La Guardia or to Teeterboro, when post flight recovery suggested that one of the engines was still working.

On a narrative level, the film justifies his judgment, by showing dreams of the possible plane crashes into residential buildings in Manhattan or Queens that could have occurred, and final simulation, which Sully tweaks at his “trial” also makes the point.

Yes, it’s interesting that Warner Brothers releases this film on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  But we get from the metaphor what Sully means by duty.

Aaron Eckhart looks scrubbed as the co-pilot Skiles.  Remember what happens to him in “Thank You for Smoking” (2005)?

Angelika also presented a 4-minute short film “Floaters” by Foster Huntington, about surfing.

(Published: Friday, September 9, 2016 at 9 PM EDT)