Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nosh 69: 'Wonder Woman,' 'Churchill' & Moree

By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Reviews of Wonder Woman and Churchill      

Wonder Woman
The ancient Greeks converted their early history into myths and legends. Cashing in on the riches, our culture converted them into literature (Shakespeare, Joyce, Kazantzakis) and into comic books. Guess which source the movies prefer? The $150 million Wonder Woman is a multiplex myth about female empowerment, using the old Amazons legend about an island race of warrior women. Essentially, with its epic vistas of a lost paradise, this is DC Comics trying to be Classics Illustrated, with lots of CGI (Classical Greek Improvisation).

Israel’s Gal Gadot (actor, model, singer, martial artist, super-woman!) is the gal and Gadot that the DC film empire has waited for. Curves rounding to match her glowing war shield, hair blowing superbly, she’s like a buff echo of young Ashley Judd, balancing martial arts and humane pity. Diana is a heroine with goddess powers (as for her biological start, was there a sperm donation from Sparta?). One can see why girls would “relate” to Diana’s beauty, zest, courage and ability to bounce hot bullets off her hands. Yes, bullets. The ring of sea fog protecting the Amazonian isle is pierced by a WWI German gunship. Diana saves Steve, an American spy for Britain who hopes to stop the last desperate scheme of Field Marshal Ludendorff, as Germany loses the war.

Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is ludicrous, like a rotting slab of Bavarian cheese (his lethal-gas chemist is a disfigured neurotic who seems to be the Spirit of All Embittered Women). As Steve, Chris Pine fulfills his last name, as his wooden hero spouts mediocre dialog. But the hunk excites Diana, and in late 1918 they go to the trenches. Near a Belgian village they find a Wild West Indian (Eugene Brave Rock) who is called, of course, Chief. They liberate the town by destroying its old, cherished church (c’est la guerre). And who should show up nearby, for a deluxe ball, but the Kaiser, despite losing the war and his throne.

The climax is the usual DC carnival of kitsch mayhem, heavy on effects. Surging into villain service is David Thewlis, who looks like a pasty London librarian on his way to becoming a mythic god of war. Why quibble? World boxoffice could hit a billion, and Gadot is set for sequels. Maybe one will return to the ancient world, and she can join forces with Kirk Douglas from Ulysses. His sequel is overdue.
Brian Cox is a brave actor, and to perform both Big John, the sensitive pedophile in L.I.E. (2001) and Sir Winston Churchill is quite an arc. In Churchill, he’s got the bulk and build, the bulldog growl and the props (cigar, brandy, bow tie), though he often looks more like Winston’s difficult son, Randolph. The film cuts against the grand Churchill image. It’s about his crisis of nerve in June 1944, worried sick that the all-important invasion of France (Operation Overlord) will be a bloody fiasco like the World War I disaster at Gallipoli. The old lion senses that his Blitz glory is past, that power has passed to the Americans and Russians, and that decisive control belongs to Gen. Eisenhower (a bland John Slattery).

Cox has moments, notably when, in a spasm of fierce prayer, he switches attention from God to whiskey. He struggles to find the winsomely cherubic charm of the great man in his positive moods. The movie’s problem is that Jonathan Teblitzky directed a chamber gallery of talk scenes. These talkers are on close terms: Eisenhower is Ike, Winston is Win, wife Clementine is Clemmie, Field Marshal Montgomery is Monty, Field Marshal Brook is Brooky. Thankfully George VI is not Kingy, and is touchingly acted by James Purefoy. Is the not very gripping dramatic crisis being, perhaps, inflated? William Manchester’s big biography of Churchill says the PM assured Ike, a month before D-day, “I am in this thing with you to the end.” 

SALAD (A List)
Good Movie Depictions of Winston Churchill: Simon Ward in Young Winston, 1972; Robert Hardy in Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, 1981; Bob Hoskins in World War II: When Lions Roared, 1994; Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm, 2002; Brendan Gleeson in Into the Storm, 2009; Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech, 2010, and Michael Gambon in Churchill’s Secret, 2016. Coming: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, this year.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
His script Oscar (Citizen Kane) didn’t mean much to Welles, nor did any official honors: “I got a letter from Arthur Schlesinger, who (once) wrote an article in which he talked about me as a person who inexplicably had a certain cult following. Now he’s forgotten about that, and wants me to be a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters. They can’t do better than make me an honorary one, because there is no category for films. And I am rather tempted to say, ‘Create one or do without me.’ They’re all feebly trying to imitate the Académie Francaise, which is a useless institution anyway.” (Orson Welles to Henry Jaglom, in My Lunches With Orson.)   

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“The lethal dispatch of Beaumont (Chris Tucker) in Jackie Brown goes far beyond blaxploitation. In a 2003 interview, Tarantino told me that ‘there is nothing I love more than when comedy stops in its tracks to show you a real, serious moment … stops the laughter, makes you hurt. I can do that.” Such wit helped him forge a vast, viral, fan-boy cult of the obsessive and committed.” (From the Pam Grier/Jackie Brown chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, to be found at Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Muley (John Qualen, left) tries to keep his Dust Bowl farm in The Grapes of Wrath (Warner Bros., 1940; director John Ford, cinematographer Gregg Toland).

For previous Noshes, scroll below.

No comments:

Post a Comment