Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

TitleWonder Woman
Release Date: 2017 June 2
Director: Patty Jenkins
Production Company:  Warner Bros. Pictures

Talk about a movie living up to the hype! Gal Gadot puts in a great performance as Diana, the Amazon princess raised among the warrior woman of the island of Themyscira.  When the outside world arrives in the form of an American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashing his plane near the island and an ensuing attack of Germans, Diana is drawn to leave home to end the war and defeat the god Ares.

Diana and Steve go to London and then to Belgium in the last days before the Armistice, with a plan to prevent a German plot to introduce a more dangerous form of mustard gas that would kill thousands and extend the war.  One of the delightful parts of the movie is the team of misfits Steve puts together to accompany them on their mission: Sameer, the Indian secret agent, Charlie, the Scotish sharpshooter with PSTD, and Chief Napi, a Native American smuggler.  The disparate characters alongside Steve and Diana add the “world” to the World War while transcending stereotypes of their cultural background.

There are comical scenes of Diana trying to adjust to the strange, patriarchal world of London, and there are some spectacular visual in the action sequences, particularly the scene in No Man’s Land in Belgium.  Gadot may not be the type of actor to deliver a striking soliloquy, but provides a lot of striking subtle touches such as her little smiles as she discover her powers, as well as her convincing portrayal of a warrior.  Pine also does a good job as a character who would typically be the superhero, but accepts being second fiddle as well as being full of wonder at Diana defying all that is accepted in his culture.

I have a few nitpicks.  While the music in blockbuster films over the past 40+ years has been inspired by John Williams bombastic classical-style score, this movie attempts to break the mold with a score of bombastic prog rock that just doesn’t work, especially in the World War I period.  The final battle between Diana and Ares seems unnecessary because it would’ve just made more sense for Diana to discover that humanity is violent on its own (and still worth saving), which is ultimately the conclusion she comes through after a stereotypical CGI-filled battle that just pads the film’s length.

Other than that though, this is a masterpiece. A stunning action film that shows a heroes journey, brings together a lovable group of characters, and makes a convincing case against war.  See it now or see it again.

Rating: ****1/2


Movie Review: The African Queen (1951)

TitleThe African Queen
Release Date: 1951 December 23
Director: John Huston
Production Company: United Artists

Happy Valentines Day! Rewatching this movie made me realize it’s the ultimate Rom-Com in which woman decides that their first date should be to cruise down some rapids and torpedo a boat. Wackiness ensues!  Seriously though, The African Queen was always a favorite when I was young but it’s been decades since I’ve watched it.  The movie loses points for the casually colonialist/racist opening scenes.  But once you have Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart alone on a boat, it’s a treasure.  These two actors seem to so effortlessly become the characters they’re playing.  And the cinematography is spectacular, especially for a color movie filmed on location in 1950.  A deserved classic.

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, Caanan White

Author: Max Brooks, Caanan White (Illustrator)
Title: The Harlem Hellfighters
Publication Info: Broadway Books, 2014

In graphic novel form, Max Brooks (curiously enough, the son of filmmaker Mel Brooks) tells the oft-overlooked story of 369th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard.  The largely African-American infantry regiment was among the first American troops to be sent to the front lines in France in 1919 during World War I, where they became known for their toughness and valor and earned their nickname “The Harlem Hellfighters” from their German opponents.  It’s an interesting story although Brooks relies on a familiar story of racial discrimination at home and the horrors of war abroad.  While the story is told from the point of view of a soldier named Mark, there isn’t much to distinguish the characters and personalize the story.  White’s illustrations seem to revel in depictions of gore that would fit in with The Walking Dead, but it’s actually difficult to distinguish the characters – black, white, French, and German – from one another.  One nice touch is that Brooks includes fragments of contemporary songs and poems to accompany scenes of the war.  It’s very cinematic, in fact, which is not surprising since Brooks originally intended to write a screenplay.  The graphic novel has it’s flaws but overall it’s a good introduction to the story of the Harlem Hellfighters.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Author: Erik Larson
TitleDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publication Info: New York, New York : Random House Audio, 2015.
Other Books Read by the Same Author:


In typical Larson fashion, he crafts the story of the final voyage of the Lusitania and it’s aftermath drawing heavily on primary documents.  Larson moves among telling the detailed experiences of the crew and passengers of the ill-fated ship, the captain and crew of the U-20, the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and the British intelligence team known as Room 40.  The Wilson stuff seems a bit tangential (although still interesting) but overall this is an engaging history from multiple perspectives of a key event that often gets summed up in just a few sentences.

Recommended booksDirigible Dreams by C. Michael Hiam, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, and Krakatoa by Simon Winchester
Rating: ***1/2