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By Vernor Rodgers
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"WONDER WOMAN 1984"

As I was walking out of the theater, feeling lucky that I was able to view "Wonder Woman 1984" on a big screen while others throughout the country were having to stream it, I wondered if I was just getting grumpy in my old age. The exhilaration I had felt after viewing "Wonder Woman" in 2017 was noticeably missing after sitting through "1984." I wanted so much to like it because Gal Gadot was so wonderful in the first movie and it was everything a superhero fan would want in an action film. It was being directed by Patty Jenkins, who helmed the original film that, by the way, grossed $400 million in the U.S. and $800 million worldwide.

Was there something wrong with me? Well, if the reviews I read on IMDB are any indication, I was not the only one disappointed. Overwhelmingly, viewers offered less that glowing assessments of WW84, several noting this movie was symbolic of the year 2020 -- a disaster.

The screenplay was a triple effort, co-written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns and David Callahan, based on a story by Jenkins and Johns.

The villain isn't so much a person(s) as it is what certain desires drive these people to do. Pedro Pascal, the Mandolorian himself from the TV series, is Maxwell Lord, a wannabe oil executive who sells himself very well via media but in reality is a disaster, burning up investor money and seeing his dreams wilt away. Fate leads him to Diana Prince (Gadot), aka Wonder Woman, and Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who happens to have access to antiquities, one of which is a mysterious stone. Turns out this stone can make wishes come true, so naturally, Lord gets a hold of it while flirting with Barbara and thinks he is super clever when his wish is to replace the stone as the wish granter. Then once he grants wishes his payoff is to take whatever he wants in exchange for those wishes-come-true.

But Barbara, urged by Diana to research this enigmatic stone, discovers that disaster befalls anyone who uses the stone's powers -- the rule being that wishes come with a price. So the urgency is to stop Lord before he seriously goofs things up.

This get-your-wish device is used to resurrect Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the late WWII fighter pilot with whom Diana fell in love during that war but died. This offers some mildly amusing moments, that have been seen many times before, about a person discovering the marvels of a modern world he or she has never experienced. And Steve offers some help as Diana battles people -- plus he is the one who makes a vital observation about Diana's sapped powers

The conversion of Barbara to the villainess Cheetah is decidedly flat, although her beating the crap out of a potential rapist is satisfying although it seems to ignite some dormant rage in Barbara.

The action scenes are OK, although there is a lot of kicking and dodging and not much else -- and some slow moments for plot development between the chaos. The opening sequence, a flashback to when Diana as a child (Lily Aspell), competes with other, older women of the Amazon Asteria in sort of an Olympic race and skills contest, and learns the sobering lesson about taking shortcuts, is a highlight and features Robin Wright (Antiope) and Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta) briefly reprising  their roles. The report is that Aspell performed her stunts better than the stunt people doubling for her, thus her work was left in the film.

Whether comic hero fans will be forgiving for this movie remains to be seen. One hopes that Gadot as Diana / Wonder Woman will get a chance to do some serious ass-kicking in "Zack Snyder's Justice League" miniseries that is due out in 2021.

"WONDER WOMAN 1984" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/sfM7_JLk-84

 

"NEWS OF THE WORLD"

Another Christmas weekend release was this film featuring Tom Hanks and a wonderful performance by 12-year-old German actress Helena Zengal.

Co-written with Luke Davies by director Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips," "United 93") and based upon a novel by Paulette Giles, "News of the World" is a character study as well as a grueling adventure that captures the beauty and danger of the untamed West (brilliant cinematography by Daruisz Wolski).

A half-decade following the Civil War, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), a former printer, now makes a living traveling around Texas, stopping in towns where news is scarce and reading stories from newspapers, enlightening these people about things going on not only in the U.S., but the world. Like many, Kidd, having been cut loose from his military duties, has nothing to go back to, thus he roams and seems to have found a niche in offering information as well as entertainment to people as a relief from their daily struggles to survive.

During his journey, he comes upon Johanna (Zengal), a 10-year-old girl of German ancestry who was taken by a Kiowa tribe at age 4 during an attack on her family. Now having been raised by the Kiowa people she is taken from them and is supposed to be returned to relatives who have settled in a south Texas community. The man tasked with taking her to her family is killed and she is found by Kidd hiding in an overturned wagon.

Kidd tries to turn Johanna over to military officials, but these soldiers, still dealing with the underbelly of post-war difficulties, have no time for the child. Thus Kidd takes it upon himself to transport Johanna to her new family. With help from friends Simon and Doris Boudlin (Ray Mckinnon and Mare Winningham), who give him supplies, a battered wagon and a gun and limited ammo, Kidd, with a baffled and wild Johanna in tow, head out.

This is a familiar story of people having to deal with not only the brutal challenges of nature but the savagery of humans. Post-war Texas was a mess with so much territory under little or no government jurisdiction. At one point, Kidd and Johanna encounter a settlement similar to those depicted in some post-apocalyptic movies like the Mad Max films and "A Boy and His Dog" -- communities that are ruled by dictator whose will is imposed on everyone living there, with that person reaping rewards while keeping the populace convinced he is their only means of survival.

Amidst the peril are the moments in the open country, as Kidd and Johanna, bouncing around in that rickety wagon that had to result in very sore butts, break down their communication barriers and the girl learns to trust Kidd while he finds she can be resourceful herself.

Hanks is in his element, playing the quiet, honorable man, beset by tragedy but driven by dignity and courage.

Zengel's performance is certainly worthy of awards, playing a basically feral girl, perplexed by her circumstances but instilled with lessons given to her by the Kiowa.

Both take their beatings via Mother Nature and human cruelty, although some kind souls cross their paths, like John Calley (Fred Hechinger) and a group of destitute Native Americans who let Kidd and Johanna have a desperately needed horse.

 As expected, "New of the World" is a movie about discovery -- for Johanna a new life of great experiences and for Kidd a chance to reclaim meaningful purpose as he continues his travels.

"NEWS OF THE WORLD" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/zTZDb_iKooI

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