Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman is an origin story of sorts for Diana Prince a.k.a Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Amazon who leaves her home island of Themyscira to venture to aid the Allies in World War II. She is accompanied on her journey by Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy who crash landed in Themyscira after escaping from the Germans with information on their new super weapons.

I originally planned to see Wonder Woman on Tuesday, and after some delays I finally got around to it last night. The film made headlines for being the first DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film to get good reviews, currently sitting at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not one to blindly follow reviews, but I know a lot of other people do. Relatively poor reviews for Man of Steel and horrendous ones for BatmanvSuperman led Warner Bros to force changes onto Suicide Squad that ultimately made that film worse e.g. cut out the abusive Joker and Harley Relationship, overload the film with songs to lighten the tone.

With that said, I realized that Wonder Woman was carrying the DCEU on its shoulders. This film needed to rekindle hope for the studio executives and the general audience. Did the film live up to the hype? I will say that it wasn’t amazing, but it was pretty good.

Firstly, any regular readers will know that I despise the obsession with “fun” that is rampant these days, especially when it comes to comic book films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a whole is committed to keeping the films light, with Kevin Feige saying the films will never be dark. There is no better example of this than Thor: Ragnarok (the Asgardian term for Doomsday) being rewritten just to lighten the tone. I have no problem with levity and fun, but it is always better when it actually fits the situation and the characters. It gets tiresome when every serious moment or line is undercut by a one-liner.

Wonder Woman definitely has more levity and “fun” than MOS and BvS, but is darker than Suicide Squad. Yet it is still better than Suicide Squad. Point being,  “fun” is not a guarantee of good, “dark” is not a guarantee of bad, and I hope studio executives don’t see Wonder Woman’s success as the sole result of its lighter tone.

The humour does work well in the film, mainly playing off Diana as a fish out of water in “Man’s World”. Gal Gadot truly shines when portraying Diana’s childlike curiosity and innocence as she learns more about Man’s World. Her performance is weaker when the script asks more of her. Fortunately, she is assisted by Chris Pine. After seeing Pine as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek films I knew he would be great in this role and he didn’t disappoint. The character of Steve Trevor has often been used as comic relief and Pine nails that, while also deftly handling the more serious moments. Pine and Gadot are also assisted by their own rag-tag group, amongst which Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) is the stand out.

One issue that the DCEU, like the MCU has had, are its villains. The MCU has Loki as its standout, and the DCEU is still trying to find its own. On repeat viewings, The Joker is underwhelming (not just due to his screen time), Doomsday’s weak CGI and tacked on introduction didn’t help his case, and Lex Luthor…they should have cast someone else. General Zod is one of the DCEU’s better contenders, a competent villain but not a very memorable one.

Wonder Woman fights against the Nazis here, with the main focus on General Erich Ludendorff (Daniel Huston) and Isabel Maru a.k.a Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Although Ludendorff has more screen time, Doctor Poison was more memorable. Her mask probably helped to add to her screen presence, and I’d much rather see a slew of Doctor Poison costumes for Halloween this year than the Harley Quinn epidemic of last year. Not to take anything away from Huston either, his German accent is a bit hokey at times but overall he was enjoyable, with he and Doctor Poison forming a Joker/Harley dynamic.

Diana also has a more personal villain in the film. Many people may already know the villain I’m referring to, but I won’t delve into him too much to avoid giving too much away. Overall, the final villain’s reveal and the final fight scene could have been handled better.

A consistent issue with the DCEU has been its third act. Man of Steel still offers the best third act fight scene in my opinion, with Wonder Woman coming in second. Let’s not talk about Suicide Squad. Like BatmanvSuperman and MOS, WW’s last fight scene is somewhat hampered by some cartoonish effects. The effects in this sequence were more jarring since the visuals and action were pretty impressive up to this point. We don’t truly see Diana fight as Wonder Woman for at least fourty minutes into the film, but the fight is well worth it. I also didn’t feel like the film dragged up until this point or any other in the film.  Aside from some poor effects, my only issue with the fight scenes is that slow-motion is overused at times. Otherwise, the action is fast-paced and well-choreographed. Let’s not forget the score, with the Wonder Woman theme being reminiscent of the Donner Superman one in terms of the excitement it generates.

Wonder Woman offers action, levity and some great performances. Wonder Woman also doesn’t shoehorn in any links to other DC characters. The only reference to another member of the Justice League is an organic one that helps to tie the story together and give an ending that has all the “hope” so many people say the DCEU is lacking. I walked out of the theater more excited about Justice League and the other DCEU films, while also hoping that the stories don’t end up being hampered by the “fun” mentality. WW’s tone was a great mix of dark and light, not afraid to show the dark side of human nature while also countering with a level of optimism that befits the character. Superman helped to counter the darkness in Batman, and Wonder Woman helps to counter the darkness in both.

Decay

Update: I was planning on seeing Wonder Woman on Tuesday, but something came up for the friend I was supposed to see it with. I was hoping to see it today instead, but it’s looking like my friend is busy again tonight. Therein lies the disadvantage of wishing to see a movie with someone, your schedule is at the mercy of theirs. When I do see Wonder Woman I will upload a review either the same night or the next day. Also fighting off a cold and not sure whether I still want to get out of the house. In the meantime, here’s a poetry piece inspired by one of the shorter pieces I posted to @wmoviegrapevine earlier today.

I used to say that I’m only 22,

Now I try to convince myself I’m only 25,

The years have crept up on me,

Time is a persistent stalker that doesn’t always give announce its presence,

He may be invisible when we look upon the face or the body,

But his decay is ever present,

The body that looks vibrant and youthful is cursed with pains that only diminish, but don’t dissipate,

Time carries its own passengers,

Responsibility being the chief among them,

What are you doing with your life?

I know what I want to do,

Share my words with others,

I already am,

Yet my words can’t feed me,

At least not yet,

Do I spend my free time working towards this goal?

I do,

Do I spend my free time working to escape the cubicle prison,

I used to,

One resume after another sent into the black void of the Internet,

One more friend who promises to pass it around,

All equalling to nothing,

Maybe laziness makes me grow weary of the hunt?

Or maybe it has simply burned me out?

Hopelessness accompanies each attempt,

There is hope that I will find my way someday,

Yet the question of my future hassles me everyday,

I am not worried about things sorting themselves out someday,

I wanted them sorted yesterday,

Last year,

I can look back on those moments,

Staring ahead with hope,

Only to have the hope harpooned by reality,

I give into vices,

My most valuable resource goes wasted,

A victim to desires that hold me back,

I am only human,

Yet I seem to be a weak one at times,

Seeking escapism or validation from people and things that do not value me,

My someday is coming,

But maybe I don’t want to wait for it anymore.

Chains

The alarm goes off,

I silence it,

Then I retreat back under the sheets,

I know I should leave,

But the chains springing from my mind hold me down,

The lack of motivation to wake up early to go to prison,

Shackled to a phone in my cell,

My escape routes,

My tunnels,

Chiseled by mouse clicks and word of mouth,

Have yet to yield fruit,

And I sometimes feel like they never will,

One year has passed,

And I worry it will soon be two.

 

The Honey Before The Sting

This poem was originally inspired by a line from the second part of my werewolf story, AliveI then expanded on the line for a poem I posted to my poetry instagram account @wmoviegrapevine.  Since I wanted to expand the poem further I figured I would post the result here. Enjoy and as always, thanks for reading.

The Honey Before The Sting

The hope that comes with a new beginning,

The introduction,

The smile,

The kind words,

A new job,

A new relationship,

The negativity seeps out,

Optimism rushes in to fill the void,

It will be different this time,

It is different,

Until people change,

But do they really change?

Or do they just show their true colours?

Shedding the mask they show to the rest of the world,

What vice is on display this time?

Greed,

Insecurity,

Anger,

Cowardice,

Maybe they coalesce to create something new,

A deformed creature,

Standing on two legs trying to convince itself it’s human,

The creature sees all,

It pounces on uncertainty, kindness and weakness in others,

But has a blind spot for what lies in itself,

Misfortune and tragedy are always blamed on its prey,

While power and fortune remain in the predator’s territory,

 

 

The Gap

I used to post more poetry pieces on this site, before my focus turned to longer blog posts on my novels, film, tv and /or race. I figured that I would try to get back to posting poetry since the book I’m currently working on, Alive, was spawned from a series of poems I posted here.

The Gap

Potential can hold more power than reality,
There is always the question of what you could become,
Unfettered by the restraints the world will later try to force on you,
Limiting you to something “realistic”,
Something safe,

Maybe parents want to make sure they get their return on investment,

Maybe you have to care for someone else,

Maybe you are carrying the anchors known as children,

Taking risks no longer becomes admirable or brave,

It is foolish, selfish,

We trade in happiness for stability,

Rotting away day by day,

Resenting the world for where we are now,

Maybe we brought the trap on ourselves,

Maybe life just didn’t turn out the way you wanted and you’re trying to make the best of it,

Either way,

Your kids will become the object of your own resentment,

You will see the freedom they have,

You will resent it,

Then the cycle will begin anew.

 

Wonder Woman- Saving The DCEU

Reviews have started pouring in and Wonder Woman looks like it is the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU’s) first critical darling.

I have never been one to follow critics blindly, but this is still news that I am happy to hear. In my opinion, Man of Steel was a decent (7/10) film hampered by some weak acting and some pacing issues. Batman v Superman came across as a rushed buildup to the Justice League, with a terrible portrayal of Lex Luthor and a weak third act. Suicide Squad… let’s just move on.

Box office success is always imprtant to fans since a film is more likely to spawn a franchise if it is financially successful. If a film is not intended to be a franchise, financial success can still be good for fans since it is validation that other people watched something they enjoy. This is easy to understand but people often seem confused about why fans care abor critics. While the reviews may not impact my own enjoyment of a single film, they can have implications for a franchise. Batman v Superman nearly grossed one billion dollars but was still considered a box office disappointment rellative to expectations. Suicide Squad was a success financially but was critically panned. A string of films like this can cause studios to lose faith in directors or an entire film universe e.g. all the fanboys crying for the X-Men rights to back to Marvel after X:Men Apocalypse.

Wonder Woman is a chance to prove that a female led superhero film can be a critical and financial success, and that the DCEU ship can right itself. People who may have lost interest in the DCEU before, will be more likely to see Wonder Woman. If they like Wonder Woman, they’ll be more likely to see The Justice League, and so on. The DCEU can’t really be considered a failure prior to Wonder Woman, but it didn’t appear to be headed in the right direction.

One of my worries is that the good reviews are attributed SOLELY to the lighter tone. Wonder Woman‘s “fish out of water elements lend itselt to comedy; and Steve Trevor has always been depicted as comic relief as well. I have no problem with humour, but hate when it becomes part of a formula that ultimately waters down an entire world. The mentality that the DCEU films just need more “fun” is rampant online. Even The Rock expressed this mentality when discussing bringing Black Adam to the big screen. “Fun” does not fit Black Adam at all, so now we’ll likely get a bastardized version of the character. MOS and BvS are always criticized for their “depressing” tone but let’s not forget that the lighter Suicide Squad was an even worse film (according to RT).  “Fun” is not the only ingredient for good, and also does not have to be an ingredient for good. The Justice League trailers feature some humour that comes across as a cheesy response to all the MOS and BvS criticisms: “We added jokes. People will love it now.” Let’s hope the desire to add “fun” doesn’t overshadow other issues the previous DCEU films had.  There is a tendency now to tie unrelated elements of the writing back to “fun”. “Fun” becomes the root that all quality springs from in some people’s minds.

With that said, I am eager to see if Wonder Woman lives up to its hype.

Alien: Covenant Review

2012’s Prometheus attempted to tell the story of the origin of the xenomorph that Alien fans have come to know and love. The film was met with mixed reviews to say the least, but I am among the people that didn’t love it, but also didn’t hate it with the same passion that is all too common online.

The film’s performances were its best asset. The visual effects were amazing, and there were some memorable creepy scenes. Prometheus asked a lot of interesting questions, but since it was setting itself up for a sequel, many of those questions remained unanswered.

The sequel has now arrived, taking place 10 years after the events of Prometheus. Colony ship Covenant is bound for Origae-6, with 15 crew members, 2000 colonists  and 1000 embryos in tow. After receiving a signal from a nearby planet, which scans show to be hospitable to human life, the crew decides to investigate the planet as a potential site for colonization. Of course, mayhem ensues as some crew members become infected and give birth to xenomorphs, or early prototypes of the xenomorph.

One Prometheus criticism that was rife on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) message boards (RIP), is that the scientists all made a lot of stupid decisions. I didn’t jump on that bandwagon as vehemently as some people did, but I could not deny that Covenant is definitely worthy of such criticism. In Prometheus, the scientists remove their helmets on an alien ship after realizing they can breathe the air. People thought that this was perhaps stupid since there could be other dangers. If you’ve seen the trailer for Covenant you already know one crew member gets infected when spores travel into his ear canal. Even before this scene comes along, I couldn’t help but wonder why there would be no precautions to wear helmets on a foreign planet at least until a variety of tests are conducted.

Maybe I could have excused the lack of helmets since the scientists already know the atmosphere is liveable. What I could not excuse was a scene where a scientist sniffs alien mushrooms and then touches them. He has gloves on, but doesn’t feel the need to back away when the mushrooms visibly release spores. He inhales them, and still doesn’t think to back away. In another scene, an alien bursts forth from a crew member, in full view of multiple armed crew members. While the alien takes some time to get its bearings, no one thinks to shoot it until it starts attacking. This kind of writing isn’t a “plot hole” as people love to say. It appears that “plot hole”, like “irony”, is a word that is often used incorrectly nowadays. Maybe there isn’t a specific term for what we see in Covenant, you could just call it sloppy writing that ruins enjoyment of the movie since a part of you feels like some of the characters bring it on themselves. At times, watching Covenant was like watching a slasher flick where the copulating co-eds decide to go investigate a strange noise. These moments are less prominent in the second half of the film, but they remain fresh in my mind.

I will also add that Covenant doesn’t answer all of the questions it asked in Prometheus, which was disappointing since it leaves some of the most interesting points of Prometheus moot for the moment. Perhaps another sequel will try to shed more light but suspense fizzles if it isn’t used just right. Additionally, Covenant also adds more backstory to the alien lore, which the more die-hard fans will either love or hate. I can cope with the new info, but it also adds more questions that remain unanswered.

On a more positive note, the performances give me something I am happy to remember.  Fassbender’s performance in Prometheus helped to cement him as one of my favourite actors, after his performance in X:Men First Class. Fassbender has since followed up Prometheus with 12 Years A Slave and Shame, further showcasing his versatility and talent. Here, Fassbender plays a marooned David, as well as Walter, a newer generation synthetic assigned to the Covenant. Walter is played with a southern accent, which slips at times and hampers the performance somewhat, although not nearly enough to ruin it. Fassbender is truly memorizing when playing David, and is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Fassbender is also supported ably by Katherine Waterston, who plays second in command Daniels Branson. Billy Crudup plays his role well as the newly appointed Covenant captain, Christopher Oram, but his character’s story arc is also a victim of the aforementioned sloppy writing. Aside from Branson and Oram, many of the crewmembers have little to no development or real charisma on screen. Danny McBride is decent in a more serious role, but is still pretty forgettable.The other crew members have few lines and the actors don’t manage to do much with their lines either. While the main cast are strong, the supporting crew offer some stifled dialogue that makes you lose interest when the action cuts to them.

I have never been one to criticize CGI as a whole. However, I do criticize CGI if poorly rendered CGI is used in place of models, animatronics, motion capture etc. Alien (1979) had more convincing looking creatures. Even more recent films that used CGI aliens, such as Alien vs Predator (terrible film, I know) had more realistic looking creatures than the ones we see here. Other effects, such as some of the sequences involving the ship also look surprisingly cartoonish. Fortunately, the action sequences are actually entertaining, with Fassbender offering another highlight in this arena. Covenant may not be a real horror film for Alien fans, but the franchise has always had its fair share of violence and disturbing imagery. There are few jump scares throughout Covenant, and we do get some genuinely creepy ones that linger once the film is done. Yet again, I feel like these moments could have been improved if the characters were getting attacked by something that looked like it was made of flesh and blood.

Overall, Covenant was an entertaining film that surpassed its predecessor. Fassbender alone is worth the price of admission and although I wouldn’t say the film is a return to form for the Alien franchise, it is close to being there.

Continuing The Pursuit of Writing

I am currently working on Part II of my third book, Alive. So far, I am only a few thousand words in, making sure to write at least 500 words a day. By September the complete Alive story should be completed. What I don’t know, is if I’ll have an agent by September.

I’ve sent out queries to ten agents, some of which have already rejected it (evidenced by the lack of response after their stated response deadline). If I manage to get interest from any of these agents I will finally be able to take my first actionable step towards a career as a writer, editing and polishing Alive into a finished product. Which would likely be followed by Alive: Part II, and then Elseworld. There is no guarantee that the books will sell well, but we’ll cross that bridge if/when we get to it.

Even if I do get an agent, it could be 18 months to 5 years before my book is published. In the meantime, I need to take other steps towards crafting a career as a writer. My current tech support role has helped to develop many skills, but I wouldn’t say writing is one of them. I have been thinking of where I want to be in ten years, a self-employed author and blogger, and I know that I need to take more action towards making that happen. Even if I can’t support myself completely with creative writing, I want to find a career that lets me embrace my interest completely and complements it. Journalism is one of the biggest contenders but it is a very tough field to get into, especially for the topics I wish to write about, entertainment and race. Aside from a career as a journalist I am also pursuing other jobs with magazines and newspapers, trying to streamline my job hunt and find work that I find stimulating and rewarding.

As Mark Manson points out, all work will require sacrifice, and all work will be unenjoyable sometimes. The question is what type of unenjoyable experiences are you willing to put up with for your career?

“If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands of times, then you’re done before you start.”

I have had my work rejected hundreds, if not thousands of times. I am still writing and still trying to get published. I am willing to receive constructive criticism, and fine tune and edit over and over again. The peers who have read Elseworld complimented me for the imagery, which is something that was lacking in previous drafts according to an agent. I applied the negative feedback I received and was able to create something better, ultimately enjoying the experience and remaining grateful for it.

I believe that the struggles of trying to be an author are something I can tolerate. I’m sure I will be tested more as time passes. If I do get an agent, their criticism will undoubtedly be more severe than anything else I’ve received. If I can satisfy the agents, then I will have to deal with the editors at the publishing house. I may be forced to debate about certain changes to the book; ones that they view as more marketable. Those are debates that I look forward to having.

Death Note: Whitewashing and Blackwashing Double Standard

Netflix’s Death Note is scheduled for a August 25th release, and online discussion of the film has increased with the release date drawing closer. When I voiced my thoughts on the casting of Nat Wolff as Light Turner (Yagami in the anime) on YouTube, one user asked for my thoughts on the casting of Keith Stanfield as L. At the time I did not realize L was being played by a black actor, and assumed L was another case of more whitewashing.

I have previously discussed the double standard in people’s reactions to whitewashing vs “blackwashing”. When a character of colour is played by a white person people are quick to argue that we shouldn’t focus on race etc. “Best actor for the part, it’s more marketable, it’s just a movie etc.” This is regardless of whether the film is based on a true story, like 21 or is simply a work of 100% fiction. Now, if a white character is changed to a person of colour people suddenly aren’t colour-blind. “Why does Hollywood keep changing the race of characters we love? Why are they pandering to minorities? This is so politically correct!”

I have previously discussed this double standard by using examples of whitewashing and blackwashing in different movies. Death Note offers the perfect case study of the double standard since we have a case of whitewashing and blackwashing in the same film.

1) Whitewashing is being defended for the most part, while the blackwashing is being criticized.

2) Race wasn’t a key part of either character’s identity in the story (e.g. not as important as Chiron’s race is in Moonlight)

3) Both characters are main characters

Firstly, Hollywood “panders” to white people when they whitewash. One of the most common defences of whitewashing by film executives and audiences is that white people are generally more marketable than people of colour. By using this excuse, audiences and film executives admit that they are guilty of their own “pandering”, yet no one has a problem with pandering as long as it benefits white people. This is despite the fact that white people are disproportionately represented in mainstream Hollywood films. Although minorities make up nearly 40% of America’s population, they only account for 1 in 10 lead roles according to a 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.

The underrepresentation isn’t simply due to a lack of minorities who want to get into acting, or some sort of talent deficiency among minorities. Productions like The Get Down and Straight Outta Compton demonstrate that there is plenty of minority talent that can shine if it is given the opportunity. This is what makes it even more frustrating when a role is given to a white person only because their skin is viewed as more desirable. Now I imagine that whitewashing defenders are quick to jump back to the marketability argument, which offers the perfect segway to discussing Death Note.

Anyone who has seen Keith Stanfield in anything will know that he is undeniably talented. Stanfield is also arguably more marketable than Nat Wolff. Nat Wolff’s fanbase is limited to YA content such as Paper Towns, while Stanfield has already amassed a diverse repertoire ranging from Straight Outta Compton, Get Out and his role as fan favourite Darius of Atlanta. The success of these aforementioned projects also shows that the presence of blackness is not guaranteed to lead to box office damnation. In 2015, people of colour purchased 45% of all movie tickets. Diversity won’t scare this segment of the population away. There are those who think Stanfield’s casting is indicative of a cashgrab for minority money, or political correctness. Let’s analyze the double standard though. If changing the race of L, like changing the race of Light, is just good business, why do people have a problem with it? Don’t people always defend whitewashing as a perfectly ethical business move?

The Departed is often used as an example of another American adaptation, that changed the race of characters from Asian to white (adapted from Hong Kong’s Internal Affairs). Like The Departed, people argue that Death Note has no obligation to keep the characters Asian since it is an Americanized story. Of course, I don’t mind the American location. American does not have to equal white though. People use the American argument to defend the whitewashing of Light, but for some reason that argument doesn’t apply for Stanfield as L. Maybe people want to know where Stanfield is really from? Light and L are both meant to be Asian, so if one race change bothers you, another should as well. Maybe you’ll argue Light and L don’t look Asian.

If you draw a stick person in a country such as America or England, people will generally assume the stick person represents a white person unless you add racial markers e.g. brown skin. When you read a book where the character’s race is not implied or stated, what race do you assume? White is often the default for people in many countries. In Asia, they would assume the stick person represents an Asian person if you draw one and if they are reading a locally produced book they would assume the character is Asian. When they create their animation, they don’t feel the need to indicate a character is Asian by adding stereotypical markers like slanted eyes and yellow skin.  The confusion arises when anime gets exported to countries that are not used to seeing Asians drawn a certain way. Despite the country of origin and names in some cases e.g Light Yagami, people still assume the characters must be white due to their skin tone and the lack of slanted eyes. Point being, those people are wrong. There were people who also assumed that Rue of The Hunger Games was meant to be white, even though she was described as having dark brown skin in the books. Assumptions do not always equal reality. Light is meant to be Asian, so Wolff is not the intended race, the same way Stanfield isn’t the intended race. If people can accept this fact, support Wolff and criticize Stanfield, then it is clear they just have an issue with Stanfield’s skin tone.

One particular argument used for Stanfield is that L is meant to be pale, since he doesn’t go out much. Basically, people are arguing that Stanfield won’t look like the character in the source material. What about the fact that Light is white and not Asian (or Asian-American)? Aren’t double standards fun?