Saturday, December 26, 2020
This week at the movies, it finally happens: a blockbuster superhero movie goes straight to streaming and not because it is totally shitty. It's actually pretty good, with a few shitty elements.
You can also see it at area theaters (more details below). Along with Wonder Woman, you can see other great female performances from Aubrey Plaza and Carey Mulligan in career best work.
Your movie roundup:
REVIEW: Wonder Woman 1984
Now playing at Roadhouse Cinemas and Harkins Tucson while also streaming on HBO Max
This year, for Christmas, you didn’t have to leave the house to give your family a blockbuster opening-day treat. I mean, you could’ve, because Wonder Woman 1984 has been released simultaneously streaming on HBO Max and in theaters.
The movie is definitely a big screen spectacle, so reducing it to home theater size, while not totally a detriment, hurts the film. It screams for a big screen or IMAX, even when the CGI takes a tragic downturn into pitiful.
Fortunately, the character portrayals and moral struggles work fine on either screen size so WW84 winds up being a superhero sequel that falls somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to cinematic goodness.
The good: Gal Gadot continues to be all kinds of wonder as Wonder Woman, Amazonian goddess forced to go through history without her true love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who died in the first movie. It’s 1984, and while hair is big and pants are parachuting, she’s timeless. And the script, cowritten by director Patty Jenkins, gives Gadot a chance to go deeper with the character, and she straight-up shines.
As Barbara Minerva and, eventually, Cheetah, Kristen Wiig makes for a great villain: sensitive, funny and, when appropriate, totally depraved. Pedro Pascal is good as Maxwell Lord, a sort of combo of Donald Trump and Tony Roberts who gets ahold of a wishing stone that, while granting a single wish, also makes you pay for said wish.
Steve Trevor coming back ties into the wishing stone, as does Barbara becoming Cheetah and Max gaining world power. The stone is a good enough premise, but there are a lot of moral ambiguities when it comes to Steve. Bah…no matter. It’s good to have Pine back in the saddle.
The film is set in the ’80s, which plays great for the opening shopping mall sequence, but then sort of drops into the background and doesn’t play for much of the movie. The finale involves some ’80s nuclear war paranoia, but it also involves a terrible looking, fully formed CGI Cheetah that almost derails all the good that happened before she appears. Almost.
Gadot and Pine together again are enough of a reason to see the movie. Wiig is terrific with some of her best screen work to date, which overshadows the final CGI screw up. Enough action scenes pop to make this qualify as a solid action adventure. Wonder Woman 84 isn’t as good as the first one, but it is worlds better than the likes of Suicide Squad, Aquaman and Justice League. It sticks the landing somewhere in the positive, even with its flaws.
REVIEW: Black Bear
Now streaming via The Loft Cinema
Black Bear is a showcase for the usually comedic Aubrey Plaza, who goes all in crazy as Allison, a film producer, writer and sometimes actress who has opted for a cabin retreat to get her creative mind going.
In that cabin are a married couple, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), whose tense marriage is palpable in their first moments on screen, and becomes really apparent during a living room get together.
But, wait, are they married? Or are they an actress and director in Allison’s latest film, in which she stars, in the same cabin setting? Writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine gives us two scenarios with these characters, and lets us decide which of these scenarios, if any, are reality. Of course, none of them are reality because they all take place within the make-believe movie Black Bear. Okay, this messed with my head.
Plaza is great in all incarnations of her character, but is especially marvelous when her actress character imbibes too many controlled substances and goes bonkers. Gadon, an underrated actress if there ever was one, needs more big roles, because she is always excellent. Abbott does a good job basically holding both actresses beers for the duration of the film.
Plaza goes well beyond her droll humor here, and her performance counts as one of 2020’s best.
ALSO PLAYING AT HARKINS AND ROADHOUSE CINEMAS:
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Carey Mulligan is amazing in this dark, satiric comedy where a woman forgoes her medical career to get revenge on predator men in her hometown. Mulligan shows off her comedic side, sort of, as the film is pitch black in tone and provides more muffled laughter than belly laughs. Her character is both diabolical and sympathetic, something a little hard to pull off on screen, but Mulligan manages to do so in a majorly winning way.
NEWS OF THE WORLD starring Tom Hanks