FLICKS: The Dark Tower & meeting the original Godzilla

Posted on 10 August 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

Twenty nine years ago, Stephen King published a trade paperback titled The Gunslinger, which was promoted and sold by the old Walden bookstores. With a mixture of science fiction, horror and cowboy ethos, I envisioned myself portraying the Gunslinger, Roland, who sought the Man in Black.

The Gunslinger was revealed to be a small part of a much larger epic. In the appendix, King wondered if he would live long enough to complete this cycle of stories, which concluded in 2004 with the seventh book, The Dark Tower.  It is ironic that the first movie of a proposed long-term series would be the title of the last book.

This movie opens with an ominous tone. A Dark Tower separates our world from alternative worlds with different time periods. (Confused?  Yeah, I know I lost some readers already). Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is having apocalyptic nightmares about the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) kidnapping children, blindfolding them and sucking out their brain waves. The brain waves are used to bombard the Dark Tower so that it will fall and the universe will be covered in darkness. The Man in Black has also picked a fight with Roland, the last Gunslinger (Idris Elba) from a golden age of law & order. Having killed Roland’s father (Dennis Haysbert), the Man in Black continuously taunts the gunslinger.

During an inner city earthquake in Manhattan, Jake discovers a portal machine that takes him into another world. Jake meets Roland, discusses mutual interests and decides to protect the Dark Tower. These actions set in motion a showdown between the Man in Black and the Gunslinger.

What was novel 29 years ago has become routine in the last 28 years of the summer blockbuster, movie experience. 

We see a series of action-set pieces that have no emotional involvement. By the time the hero and the villain have their showdown, the action feels repetitive.

With less than a two-hour running time, The Dark Tower feels longer in a dull way.   

I was saddened to learn about the passing of Haruo Nakajima this week.  While not a household name, Nakajima was an international superstar, best known for portraying the original Godzilla for nearly 20 years. A purely physical performance in a giant lizard suit, Nakajima managed to create a character that has endured for over six decades. Through a translator, Nakajima expressed a fondness for Godzilla and believed the monster was a tragic figure when I met him at a Spooky Empire convention three years ago.

I had arrived early at the DoubleTree Hotel and went into the gym. I watched this 85-year-old little man enter the gym and do many of the exercises that I did. Nakajima did not speak English, but, throughout the weekend, we shared a lot of smiles and a few laughs. R.I.P. Haruo Nakajima, a true class act.

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FLICKS: Dunkirk

Posted on 02 August 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Don’t rush to go see Dunkirk. Make plans to go see Christopher Nolan’s latest action movie. Sure Dunkirk fulfills the requisites for a typical summer blockbuster, but this film contains much depth of detail. This film is about loss and retreat, yet is filled with triumph.

The running time is less than two hours, but Dunkirk feels longer in a good, epic way. Given his previous work with Memento, Inception and Interstellar, it helps to understand Christopher Nolan’s conception of time. Dunkirk tells three stories that take place in one week, (The Mole), one day (The Sea) and one hour (The Air). 

Dunkirk opens on The Mole, in which British soldiers walk abandoned streets in Dunkirk, France. Paper propaganda from the Nazis tells the residents that Germany is in control of the city.  As Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) reads the propaganda, his mates are gun downed by an unseen enemy. Tommy escapes to the pier where a Red Cross ship awaits departure.

Volunteer civilian boaters are the focus of The Sea, which features Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son. Rather than waiting for the British bureaucracy to figure out the proper procedure to rescue stranded soldiers, Mr. Dawson, his son and his special needs deckhand George impulsively join the rescue operation. Their first rescue involves a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy), whose behavior could create disastrous repercussions.

The Air ties up the entire narrative of Dunkirk. Three Spitfire airplanes (with Mercedes engines) are sent out to provide air support to the rescue operation. With limited fuel supply, the Spitfires are outnumbered by the Nazi airforce. When the team leader is downed, it is up to Farrier (Tom Hardy) to protect the British ships at sea.

Understanding the concepts of time and location in advance will enhance one’s viewing pleasure of this movie. As the timelines converge, we witness multiple perspectives of the same situation (i.e. the bombing of a minesweeper) and we see how it affects all the protagonists.

With limited dialogue, Dunkirk is a visual treat. With the exception of Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk features a cast of young faces with potentially strong careers in the future, most notably Fionn Whitehead as Tommy. Dunkirk will be an Oscar-worthy contender that is best seen on the big screen this summer. Go see it!

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FLICKS: Remembering Skip Sheffield, The Midwife

Posted on 26 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

After 18 years of writing this column, I take pride that I am the longest film columnist in Broward County. Yet, across the Broward/Palm Beach County line, columnist Skip Sheffield bested me by a dozen years. A veteran of the old Boca Raton News, Skip had been a freelance columnist and, like me, had his own blog. As rival columnists, we crossed paths — but never swords. We shared joined interviews with Neale Donald Walsch and James Cromwell. We were not competitive and, afterward, we enjoyed conversations and swapped stories about other celebrity interviews that we had.

Skip died in his sleep last Thursday night. (pg. 12)

The last time I saw Skip was at a critic’s screening of The Last Word, starring Shirley Maclaine and Amanda Seyfried.  Typical of Skip, he arrived on his motorcycle shortly before the screening began and he left when the final credits began to roll. While I liked The Last Word more than Skip did, we both shared an appreciation for Shirley Maclaine’s performance. With Skip’s passing, my profession has suffered a major loss of a colleague who understood cinematic legends and community history.

The Midwife — a French film with cinematic icon Catherine Deneuve, opens tomorrow in area theaters. Though Deneuve is more of a supporting character, Catherine Frot portrays the title character, the Midwife. This drama starts off with serious heartbreak, but leads to comedic redemption by the final reel.

Besides being a midwife, Claire (Frot) is a single mother who has empty nest issues. Claire’s adult son is entering medical school. After a successful day of birthing babies, Claire is contacted by Beatrice (Denevue), a woman with a past. Beatrice had broken Claire’s father’s heart.

Claire and Beatrice are an odd couple. Whereas Claire is serious and focused, Beatrice is flaky with a tendency for melodrama. The two form a unique partnership because Claire is a caregiver and Beatrice is a hypochondriac. Clocking in at 116 minutes, The Midwife is a breezy movie that features good performances and many unique child births.

Steven Spielberg released Saving Private Ryan toward the end of the summer blockbuster season 19 years ago. Despite being a serious R-rated motion picture, that film dominated the box office during the summer of 1998. It looks like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will be repeating the cinematic history this summer. Grossing over $55 million in its opening weekend, this PG-13 rated war movie has generated much word of mouth on the street. Expect The Observer to review this future classic that has already created Oscar buzz.

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FLICKS: War for the Planet of the Apes

Posted on 19 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

When the original Star Wars was released 40 summers ago, people began looking for deeper meaning in the film. Writer/director George Lucas admitted to be influenced by Professor Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which explores the theory of the “monomyth.” Regardless of culture, the story of the hero is a universal rite of passage. The same thing holds true in a different film, War for the Planet of the Apes, the final part of a trilogy in which we witness the rite of passage for Caesar, an ape who was destined to destroy the world as we know it.

After the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the charismatic leader of the apes and proud family ape. When the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) raids an ape encampment, Caesar’s wife and child are killed. Caesar plans revenge and the rescue of his surviving son, Cornelius.

With his trusty associates by his side, Caesar pursues his course of action. He is sidetracked by a little orphan girl who cannot speak and bad ape (Steve Zahn), a clumsy chimpanzee who was previously incarcerated in a zoo. Despite his previous military success, Caesar’s quest for vengeance leads the heroic ape into the heart of darkness.

While it would help to see the previously released Planet of the Apes movies, War for the Planet of the Apes works as a standalone drama. The wages of war weigh heavily on Caesar, a heroic protagonist who is unable to find peace for himself. He is a character we have sympathy for, which makes War for the Planet of the Apes such a successfully subversive movie.

While Caesar’s motivation leads to enlightenment, the Colonel’s journey leads to a logical madness. With echoes of Joseph Campbell’s novella Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, this Colonel is both Caesar’s antagonist and alter ego. When both confront one another, the Colonel compares this meeting with the time General Lee met General Grant to close out the American Civil War.

The War for the Planet of the Apes caps off the most intelligent science fiction trilogy of recent years. Using Caesar as our guide, larger issues like genetics, civil liberties and war are examined. The discussions between the Colonel and Caesar are fascinating, but this film has many throwaway moments and Easter eggs that are thought-provoking, but funny also.

Before Star Wars, 20th Century Fox’s most successful science fiction franchise was their five Planet of the Apes films. While pessimistic, these films provided satirical humor about 1960s humanity. With less cartoon humor, the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is far darker, but it is an entertainingly told story.

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FLICKS: Lost in Paris & Spider-Man: Homecoming

Posted on 12 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Besides being Bastile Day, this Friday, July 14, marks the opening of Lost in Paris, an enchanting romantic comedy that features visual gags inspired by Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel & Hardy. The cinematography echoes La La Land, but makes Paris, the City of Lights, shine while providing a simple sweet-natured story seldom seen on the big screen these days.

Opening and closing the film with a Currier & Ives setting, Lost in Paris introduces us to the headstrong and independent Martha (the late Emmanuelle Riva) and her niece Fiona. Many years later, Fiona (Fiona Gordon) is a librarian in Canada and she receives word that Aunt Martha is in distress in Paris. After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Fiona gets lost in Paris.

While Martha and Fiona keep missing each other, both women cross paths with Dom, (Dominique Abel, who co-wrote and co-directed with his wife, Fiona Gordon) a hobo who pitches a tent by the River Thames. Through misidentification, miscommunication and with plenty of slapstick, the three protagonists find a resolution when they arrive on the tippy top of the Eiffel Tower.

From beginning to end, Lost in Paris is a delight. Gordon and Abel are a fine team both behind the scene and with onscreen chemistry. Minus big budgeted special effects, this film features theatrical visual gags that would inspire “oohs” and “aahs” with a live audience. It will be remembered as a timeless movie, a modern movie that celebrates its cinematic silent movie past.

With very little surprise, Spider-Man: Homecoming blew up the summer box office last weekend. Having appeared last year in Captain America: Civil War, this new Spider-Man movie features an actor (Tom Holland) who is closer to the age of the teenaged Peter Parker found in the comics. For all of his web-slinging superpowers, creator Stan Lee never lost sight that he was telling the story of a teenager going through his rights of passage.

The film references the original Avengers movie which featured the “Battle of New York” post carnage. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is a sanitation engineer who is originally commissioned to clean up the mess. Prevented by government bureaucrats, Toomes steals the alien refuge and creates his own mercenary business, complete with new technology, and adopts the moniker “the Vulture.”

Spider-Man battles the Vulture on three occasions, with the first two battles being the most thrilling. However Spider-Man: Homecoming is a human story featuring a flawed hero and his antagonist. This is a character-based story that is as unpredictable as human behavior.

This weekend, enjoy both of these entertaining movies.

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FLICKS: Beatriz at Dinner & Baby Driver

Posted on 06 July 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Previewed at the Sundance Film Festival and hailed as the film of the Trump era, Beatriz at Dinner is being promoted as a satirical dark comedy. Starring Salma Hayek (as the title character) and John Lithgow as (her antagonist) Doug Strutt, Beatriz at Dinner has more sadness than laughs.

Beatriz is a very likeable character. She raises her animals in her small studio apartment and performs massage for terminal Cancer patients and rich people like Kathy (Connie Britton) and Grant (David Warshofsky). When her car stalls, Kathy invites Beatriz to her prearranged dinner party with celebrity mogul, Doug Strutt, a man Beatriz senses that she met before.

Despite some funny one-liners and cultural humor, this film descends into a depressive darkness when one character says, “no matter what they do, everything is dying.” For fans of movies like Melancholia, or stories where dogs, goats and other animals die, then this film is for you.

Film Noir is a cinematic art form that has infiltrated the American Motion Picture industry since the 1940s with films like Double Indemnity and Touch of Evil. The influence of noir can be seen and felt in movies like Planet of the Apes, Blade Runner and Frank Miller’s Sin City.

Baby Driver is a musical comedy noir that is highly entertaining. Baby (Ansel Elgort) has a hearing disability, but is an excellent getaway driver for organized crime master mind Doc (Kevin Spacey). Despite working with multiple scumbags, criminals and sociopaths (played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez), Baby is basically a nice guy who cares for his foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), a deaf man in a wheelchair.

Baby develops a conscience when he meets a waitress named Debora (Lily James), who is intrigued by this young man, who constantly wears earphones and listens to music. While the two lovebirds develop a strong connection through music, Baby’s criminal connections threaten to destroy their happiness.

Writer/director Edgar Wright has crafted a fine motion picture that will be studied and analyzed for years. While some critics will say this writer/director is the next Quentin Tarantino, Wright’s influences go historically deeper. Baby Driver features homages to film noir classics like Detour, The Mechanic and Payback.

Like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Baby Driver features a great soundtrack of good songs. Go see Baby Driver.

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FLICKS: Transformers 5: The Last Knight & Filmed in Broward — this weekend at Savor Cinema!

Posted on 29 June 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

In the past decade, we have witnessed five Transformers movies from Paramount pictures, the studio that sold off their Marvel movie franchise to Disney. In the previous four incarnations, I would drag myself into a screening, but would leave pleasantly surprised with having been drawn into this science fiction world of man and machinery symbiosis.

This 5th film, Transformers 5: The Last Knight features nonstop action for the first 40 minutes of the film, takes an exposition break, and then pummels the viewer with another 45 minutes of computer-enhanced special effects that take place on a science fiction dead planet and Stonehenge, England.

The exposition scenes are the most interesting moments in this film. This is the point when major characters come together at an English castle and discuss their hypothesis. It helps that one of these characters is portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, a newcomer to the franchise. With echoes of a luncheon hosted by his characters from The Remains of the Day and Hannibal, Hopkins listens to (leading man) Mark Wahlberg’s and (young Megan Fox lookalike) Laura Haddock’s plans to save the world.

While the subtext reviews the Arthurian legend of King Arthur, Merlin and The Knights of the Round Table, there are assorted clever details that link the previous four movies to The Last Knight, including a subtle dig to former Transformers leading man Shia LaBeouf (Remember him?) The palace scene also allows a moment of self-deprecation in which Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers an inspirational speech, complete with a soaring musical score.

Besides confronting the end of the world, Transformers 5 deals with Optimus Prime’s identity crisis and Bumblebee’s attempt to find his own voice. (At least this Transformer is wise enough to use John Wayne’s voice when the going gets tough.) Yet, once the good Transformers fight with the bad Transformers, one can hardly differentiate which side one is supposed to cheer for.

Cars 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Wonder Woman and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales are more fun to see on the big screen these days. Also Megan Leavey is pure drama for people who like to laugh, cry and feel patriotic.

As a vacation from computer-enhanced special effects extravaganzas, check out Filmed in Broward at the Savor Cinema in Ft. Lauderdale this weekend. The most recognized features include the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) presentations of Boyfriend Killer and Girlfriend Killer, both starring actress/producer Barbie Castro and directed by Alyn Darnay. Be on the lookout for films featuring local talent Diana Rice and many others. The screenings are free, but there will be a fee for the parties, receptions and extravaganzas afterward. [On Saturday, July 1, from 9 a.m. to noon, Darnay will be the guest speaker at the Actor’s Cultural Theater (ACT Broward), 10 SW 11 Ave., Ft. Lauderdale. That is a free event in which he will be discussing acting, writing and directing]. For information contact 954-525-FILM or visit www.FLIFF.com.

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FLICKS: The Hero, Cars 3 & Lou

Posted on 22 June 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

Receiving much praise since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, The Hero opens locally in neighborhood theaters. As the ironically-named title character, Sam Elliot has earned his best notices in years as an iconic actor whose career peaked many decades ago. A man out of time, Lee Hayden (Elliot) makes a living doing voice-over for barbecue sauce and spends his free time getting stoned with an old actor friend, Jeremy (Nick Offerman).

Diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, Hayden attempts to make amends with his estranged daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter) and his ex wife, Valarie (Katharine Ross -Sam Elliot’s real life wife). Having burned emotional bridges many years ago, the reconciliations are cold. While toking with Jeremy, Lee makes the acquaintance with Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a stand-up comedian. Through Charlotte, Lee is given one last dose of living fully. While attending an awards banquet, he is given career redemption and, through moments of generosity, the actor becomes a social media sensation again. But, through Charlotte, Lee is given a brutal reminder about his vulnerability and fatality.

The Hero sets false expectations for a Sam Elliot film in which he wears a 10 gallon hat. The title is meant to be ironic. Elliot takes full advantage of his public persona, while revealing painful truths about aging. His voice is as strong as ever, but as the film progresses, the tough-looking cowboy fades into a pot smoking has been. The Hero is hard to watch, but is a truthful statement about a generation of actors whose time has passed them by.

Having not seen the previous Cars movies, I was drawn to Cars 3 on Father’s Day when mainstream critics questioned if this film was meant for children. It does provide enough slapstick to hold a child’s attention, but this new Disney Pixar animated movie has themes and emotional content that relates to middle-aged adults. It is a reminder of Pixar’s award-winning films like Monsters Inc., Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3.

After many successful years on the racing circuit, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is defeated by a younger rival who is faster, stronger and more scientifically aerodynamic. Taking advice from his dearly-departed mentor, Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman), McQueen trains “old school,” but is forced to work with young Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a perky trainer with unrealized dreams. Cars 3 has an adult appeal for people who like The Karate Kid, Cinderella Man and Rocky Balboa.

Being a Pixar/Disney release, Cars 3 includes a brilliant short subject film titled Lou. Set in a playground, Lou feels like an Aesop Fable with a subject about bullies and loss. Both Cars 3 and Lou create a life-affirming afternoon at the movies.

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FLICKS: The Mummy, Meagan Leavey & Past Life

Posted on 15 June 2017 by LeslieM

By Cinema Dave

http://cinemadave.livejournal.com

The Mummy’s Tomb starring Lon Chaney Jr. was featured on Svengoolie last Saturday night. Despite being filmed over 75 years ago, there is a creepy charm to this flick that features likeable victims and nightmarish visualization. Much like Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises, Universal Pictures has mined their classic monster domain and has created their own dark universe franchise. The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe is the first film of a projected series, much like Marvel’s Avengers franchise.

The 2017 The Mummy starts off with good intentions. This new mummy is a female (Sofia Boutella) who has a sibling jealousy with her baby brother. She is buried alive. Five thousand years later, a soldier of fortune named Nick (Tom Cruise) stumbles across the tomb and the evil she-mummy is unleashed in Iraq. The mummy goes to London and Nick meets Henry (Russell Crowe), a curator for all things monsters.

If a monster maven like Guillermo Del Toro had been involved, The Mummy would have been a memorable movie. The best action scenes occur early in the story and the last third of the film drags with repetitive action in the dark. A fight scene between Cruise and Crowe is marred by two other action sequences that occur at the same time. I love my classic monsters, but The Mummy does not jump start Universal Picture’s new universe.

Fortunately, Megan Leavey has finally arrived on the big screen. Based on a true story, New Yorker Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) has an attitude problem. She joins the United States Marines and becomes a Corporal. Having been a K-9 handler for the military police, Megan develops a special relationship with Rex, a dog who also has an attitude problem. The dog and the soldier develop a special relationship.

Rex and Megan go on two tours in Iraq before President George Bush ordered “the surge.” During the second tour, Megan and Rex are injured by an explosive device. Megan is sent home to recover, but Rex continues to serve in the war on terror. Despite having the comforts of home, Megan suffers from PTSD and longs to be reunited with Rex.

Megan Leavey is an emotional roller coaster ride from laughter to tears. Megan is Rex’s master, despite the fact that little Kate Mara could ride Rex like a pony. As the title character, she captures the authenticity of being a soldier. She is a stoic character with strength, but with real vulnerability. Given the audience reaction, Megan Leavey is easily the best movie on the big screen today.

Past Life opens Friday, June 16. Set in 1977, Past Life is directed by Avi Nesher and is based on the story of Israeli composer Ella Milch-Sheriff. It follows the life of her character and that of her sister, a journalist. The siblings uncover secrets about their father during World War II. There may be a Skype Q&A with Milch-Sheriff on Sunday, June 18 at the Living Room Theater, at Florida Atlantic University at 777 Glades Rd. For more information about theater, www.fau.livingroomtheaters.com.

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FLICKS: Wonder Woman & Megan Leavey opens

Posted on 08 June 2017 by LeslieM

The box office records broken by Wonder Woman reveal that many people preferred pure escapism last weekend. The film will be remembered as saving the DC Comic movie franchise, which featured decent box office but lousy critical acclaim, unlike arch rival Marvel’s multiple motion picture box office juggernaut. Wonder Woman has its flaws (mostly an overkill of computerized special effects in a showdown with the master villain that is unnecessary), but the story is good, the lead characters are multidimensional with visual scenes that will invoke an emotional response.

With a nod to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, the new film opens with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) going to work in the Paris Louvre Museum. When a Wayne Enterprises courier gives her a secret briefcase, Diana sees a picture of her alter ego, Wonder Woman, taken a century ago during World War I.

We flashback to Diana’s youth on Themyscira, the home of Amazon female warriors. Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who shelters her offspring from the darkness of the world. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands his plane near her home, the Kaiser Germans pursue the aviator. After Diana rescues Steve, the Germans start a battle with the Amazon Women … not a wise move.

Disobeying her mother’s orders, Diana takes Steve to London so that he can report his findings; the Germans have new chemical weapons they want to unleash on the front lines of battle. Being a fish out of water, Diana tries to adjust to the contemporary culture that features high heels, petticoats and slow dancing.

These character-building moments between Diana and Steve are the best parts of Wonder Woman. Director Patty Jenkins slows down the story momentum for these key romantic scenes, which helps build audience empathy for these two people who respect each other. These scenes provide a breather for the audience, which makes some of the action highlights more bearable.

This is Gal Gadot’s movie from start to finish, besides being a beautiful Wonder Woman, she manages to convey both intelligence and naivete. Portraying Steve Trevor as a spy, Chris Pine is able to portray multiple characters while maintaining classic World War I heroism. Given the recent terrorist attacks in Great Britain, Wonder Woman’s last scene closes with an unexpected poignancy.

It is June and the summer Blockbuster season is in full force with good escapist fare like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales and Wonder Woman. Also see a real ‘wonder woman’ in the film Megan Leavey, which opens this weekend starring Kate Mara and Rex the Dog.

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