Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984

By: Kevin Jordan

Dick move (or, just fast forward to the good part).

Wretched. I tried to think of the most appropriate adjective to describe Wonder Woman 1984 and…wretched. And I was looking forward to this film. Yes, I know – this is a DCEU movie we are talking about; I should know better. Of the eight prior movies, four of them are completely unwatchable and the other four combined are worth one and a half decent movies. I just figured since Birds of Prey was at least an entertaining movie and Wonder Woman’s second act was solid, that Wonder Woman 1984 would be entertaining and kind of solid. Nope. Wretched.

(SPOILER ALERT – You can thank me later.)

Like the first installment, Wonder Woman 1984 starts with a scene on Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) home island when she is a young girl. Except this time, there is no reason to do this, but it does bloat the film’s running time to two and a half hours. Since you are most likely going to stream this movie on HBO Max rather than attend Covid Night at your local theater, you have the power to fast forward through this scene. It shows her learning a lesson about not lying, but we already know she is virtuous because we watched the last movie. There – I just saved you fifteen minutes.

From there, the film jumps to 1984 instead of current times because if one prequel to Justice League is good, two is better. Also, fuck the 1980s. The 80s was a diaper rash of an era filled with awful clothes, bad music, violence, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and a recession, all wrapped in cocaine. If you need more proof, listen to Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire. The 80’s were so shitty the song just quits because Joel “can’t take it anymore.”

Once in 1984, the first scene we get is a fight scene in a shopping mall. Four guys rob a jewelry store and Wonder Woman shows up to stop them. For Spider-Man reasons, she comes in via her lasso and takes out all the security cameras before dealing with the thieves. Keep in mind she is not wearing a mask and the shopping mall is teeming with people, so destroying the cameras just feels like a dick move. And the four thieves she takes out are the equivalent of rodeo clowns, including the acting. I kept expecting a director to yell cut and find out they were shooting an episode of Hill Street Blues or Magnum P.I. or even the original Wonder Woman television show (which ended in 1979, but could have been billed as a TV movie event or continued on in this alternate timeline). Nope. This scene was literally there to show off Wonder Woman’s fight skills against four inept morons, punctuated by Wonder Woman dropping the four of them as a group on a police car, destroying the car and, presumably, many of the thieves’ bones. Seriously – dick move.

After the mall scene concluded, I looked over at my wife and in-laws and they all had the same look on their face, which said “you wanted to watch this on purpose?” You probably want to fast-forward through this scene, too, since even the special effects are terrible.

If the first two scenes weren’t big enough red flags, the introduction of Kristen Wiig as a supporting character was the equivalent of an air raid siren. I am still angry at the Ghostbusters remake for being one of the worst movies ever made and Wiig is a large reason why. Another reason she is a red flag is because sketch comedy actors do not belong in major roles in superhero movies. Jim Carrey proved that one for us years ago. Wiig plays Barbara, a thrice-degreed scientist recently hired to work at the Smithsonian museum where Wonder Woman works. Barbara is also a klutzy, unpopular dork who becomes infatuated with Wonder Woman (Diana when she is not being Wonder Woman) because Diana helped her pick up some papers she dropped one time. The plot finally starts when the two of them examine a crystal mounted on a base etched with Latin. For what it’s worth, the stone was part of the mall heist, sent to them for examination by the FBI. If you cut out the mall heist part of that sentence, it doesn’t sound nearly as stupid, does it?

The women soon learn stories that say the stone grants the person holding it a single wish, but of course they don’t believe it. Just kidding. Diana doesn’t believe it and jokingly wishes that her dead boyfriend Steve (Chris Pine) were alive. Soon thereafter, Barbara wishes she were like Diana. Around this time, we also meet Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), an oil entrepreneur who is about to go bankrupt. He has been searching for the stone and donates some money to the museum, hoping to steal the stone and become rich. All of the above happens and the movie somehow makes the mall scene seem like the best part of the film.

One of my biggest complaints about DCEU movies is they don’t even try to make sense in their own context. They will set things up, then ignore those things. We learn that the stone grants only one wish per person, but in return takes what a person most desires or cherishes. Halfway through the film, Barbara will verbally point out the obvious – isn’t the thing a person most desires the thing they wish for? It sure is, Barbara. It sure is.

And that one-wish-per-customer-thing is more of a guideline than a rule. Max wishes to be the stone, which, instead of sucking Max into the stone or turning Max into stone, imbues him with its powers (ironically, this is the least nonsensical thing in this film). Max’s plan is to trick people into making wishes so he can steal the thing they most desire. At one point, he decides to grant Barbara a second wish (turning her into some kind of human-cheetah hybrid) because he is “feeling generous.” There is no indication of what he took from her at this point, since the thing taken for her first wish was her being a decent person (huh?), but why does he get to ignore the rule when it was literally enforced at every other point in the film? Are you still fast-forwarding?

Speaking of nonsense, instead of Steve just appearing alive as a result of Diana’s wish, he appears as the possessed body of a random yuppie. We actually get to see what said yuppie looks like, as does Steve when he looks like in a mirror and the script waives this away when Diana says “all I see is you.” In a movie with a magic wishing stone, the choice to try to make Steve’s appearance semi-logical is embarrassingly stupid. And I am fairly sure it was done for the sole purpose of a gag scene where Chris Pine tries on a bunch of 80s clothes in his body’s closet. Because, get it? 80s clothes are ugly. This is exactly the kind of shitty skit that made Saturday Night Live unwatchable when Wiig was a cast member.

When Diana and Barbara find the stone’s base later in the film, Diana recognizes hieroglyphics on the inside of the base’s ring as “the language of the gods.” This particular object was created by a deceitful god named Dolos and I, once again, expected this movie to take that idea somewhere. Since the first movie featured Ares, an actual Greek god, I thought Dolos would eventually reveal himself as the villain, having used Max and the stone to come to life or return from exile or turn into a giant snake and capture Wonder Woman in a giant hourglass. At least it would have been consistent. Nope.

Max really is the villain and rather than take the thing most cherished from people who make wishes, it turns out that he can just take what he wants at that moment. Look, if that is what the movie wanted, why didn’t the ring just say that? And why is Max getting headaches every time someone makes a wish? And also bleeding from the eyes and ears? And why is Diana losing her powers only sometimes and really slowly? And why is everything devolving into chaos? And is the one consistent thing in this movie really that in order to fulfill a wish the person has to be touching Max, so he is going to use a satellite constellation to “touch” everyone because the President said his advisors explained to him that technically the satellite is touching particles that touch people so that counts for Max as touching everyone? And to undo a wish, people must renounce their wish and we are expected to believe that every person on Earth simultaneously renounced their wish? And isn’t it kind of a dick move when a bunch of bullshit gets thrown at you all of a sudden?

In summary, wretched. The plot, the villain, the creative choices, the dialogue, the editing, the special effects, 1984 – everything. All four family members in the room with me were seriously considering rescinding their Christmas presents to me after sitting through this abomination. And I do not blame them. After watching this film, I wanted to put coal in my own stocking. The most amazing thing about this movie is that the creators read the script, filmed it, edited it, watched it again and went “nailed it.” At this point, the only explanation for DC Films and Warner Brothers continuing to churn out shit blockbuster after shit blockbuster in this shit film universe (DCEU) is that they want to be the anti-Marvel. Dick move, Bros. Dick move.

Rating: If you went to a theater to see this, what is wrong with you? If you saw it on HBO Max, ask for nine months of subscription back.

Masterminds

By: Kevin Jordan

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

MASTERMINDS Teaser

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for Saturday Night Live alumni, its writers, or its producers.  I stopped watching the full show in college (we would watch the opening segment, then ignore it until Weekend Update when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey were crushing it), then quit altogether due to a combination of Fey and Fallon leaving the show and the show becoming the least funny thing on television, which includes those animal commercials from Sarah McLachlan.  Perhaps my biggest problem with movies written for and by SNL people is that most of the jokes seem like they are either really long setups with little to no payoff or inside jokes between the cast and crew.  And we know this is likely to be the case because every one of their films include production notes or interviews describing all of the improvisation going on throughout production.  Just once, I’d like to see the screenplay for one of these films to see how much of it was flat out ignored because there is no way you will convince that every movie featuring Wiig wrote down that she should sing at some point during the film.

The good news is that I’m willing to give these people repeated chances to impress me rather than just being a curmudgeon.  Jason Sudeikis won me over after Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers and is one of the main reasons why I decided to give Masterminds a chance.  Kristen Wiig is slowly improving in my book, as I may or may not have made a voodoo doll of her after Bridesmaids.  While she can’t carry a movie, she’s decent in supporting roles and delivers well when restrained by good writing and directing.  Toss in Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson and Masterminds seemed like it might have a chance with me.

There was a time when I'd be rooting for her to shoot herself.

There was a time when I’d be rooting for her to shoot herself.

More good news is that this movie does have some funny content.  The movie is based on the true story of a man named David Ghantt (Galifianakis), a Loomis Fargo employee, who (with several other people) decided to rob Loomis Fargo and got away with more than $17 million dollars, though all of them were eventually caught and most of the money recovered.  You should always beware of films claiming to be “based on a true story,” and this one is no different, but to its credit, the film keeps the major plot points intact (if you want to read about it, the wiki page is pretty good, as are many other search results).  My favorite factoid is that local residents came to refer to as “the hillbilly heist” and that’s where the film gets its real inspiration, though not the better parts of its comedy.  For me, the film got funny when unexpected things happened, which is basically the opposite of what happens on SNL.  Just to ruin one joke, Wiig takes a punch to the gut as she is standing next to a door and David is trying to open it from the other side.  And, no, it’s not just because Wiig got punched.

This is where the unexpected happens.

This is where the unexpected happens.

The bad news is this movie is very obviously SNL-inspired.  Or maybe that’s good news for those of you who forgot what good comedy looks and sounds like.  It features jokes that take way too long to develop, including walking meme, Kate McKinnon, playing David’s fiancé Jandice.  She delivers every line through clenched teeth and a sociopath’s smile and literally has nothing to do with the plot.  She is used as nothing more than an elaborate setup for a fight involving vagina cream (I am not making that up) and David’s crush, Kelly (Wiig).  What’s odd about this fight is that the two women have never met (at least that the audience is aware of), yet Jandice jumps her like a mountain lion when they meet at a department store.  It features gross-out gags (diarrhea in a pool, among others), one of which is far funnier in the outtakes than in finished film.  It features uncomfortable/awkward humor, including pre-wedding picture-posing by David and Jandice and a how-we-met story that makes you die a little inside.  In other words, it’s a great reminder of why I don’t watch SNL any more.

The ugly news is that the film features hammed up costumes, makeup effects, and accents (or lack thereof).  Of all of the true components to keep, the fact that the actual heist took place in 1997 is probably the last one that should have been kept.  Since the movie takes place in a North Carolina trailer park and Mexico, two places where time stopped mattering long ago, trying to be authentic with the visuals doesn’t add to the comedy, but does make you wonder when this movie really is taking place.  All of the sight jokes involving looks they go for fall flat, from David’s Lord Farquat haircut, to Steve (Owen Wilson) and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) Chambers’ teeth and braces, to all of their bad clothing.  Considering I am the target audience for those jokes (I was in high school in 1997), I can definitively say that 1997 didn’t look that way.  And as for those accents, either do them or don’t do them.  Galifianakis’ and Sudeikis’ held steady, but Wiig’s went in and out, and Wilson didn’t even bother.  That’s the sign of a director who was hired basically as nothing more than a manager to make sure everyone showed up for work every day.

Our reasons for watching, despite their looks.

Our reasons for watching, despite their looks.

Despite all of that, the movie was better than I expected, especially considering it featured three-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.  I found myself laughing at times and never thinking about how to get hair from the actors in order to make more voodoo dolls.  Galifianakis and Sudeikis make the movie worth watching and the film refrains from making Ghantt a total idiot (which would have ruined the movie outright).  It’s by no means good enough to make me want to sit through another SNL skit (let alone an entire episode), but it could have been a lot worse – it could have featured four-fourths of the cast of the Ghostbusters remake.

Rating: Ask for 4 dollars back.  I’d say it was slightly better than meh.

Sausage Party

By: Kevin Jordan

Food for thought.

sausage_party poster

Several years back, I was at my in-laws’ house, it was late at night, and I was watching an episode of South Park.  The boys were trying to avoid getting in trouble for hitting Butters in the eye with a ninja star.  Halfway through, my father-in-law walked in, watched for a minute, looked at me incredulously and asked “what are you watching!?”  I told him there would be a point, he just had to wait for it (and I didn’t know yet what it would be).  He did not wait (and went to bed) and the point of the episode was that if sex is involved, nobody cares about violence.  The point is that South Park may look and sound crass and juvenile, but there is often brilliant commentary embedded within.  In other words, when you watch Sausage Party, don’t be the person who can’t see the forest for the trees.

That forest idiom is important here because some people get stubbornly stuck on things like cussing or nudity or dick jokes when reviewing movies and call them terrible movies for those things.  These people should not watch Sausage Party because they won’t make it five minutes into the movie before running out of ink tallying up the number of times ‘fuck’ is uttered.  These same people will ignore the fact that animated, talking food stuffs are doing the cussing.  Meanwhile, those of us who don’t have constipation over naughty words will stare in wonder at a movie that looks like Pixar but sounds like Cinemax.  Then, we will grin like maniacs when the movie becomes more than food wanting to fuck each other in the great beyond.

Horn dog - meet hot bun.

Horn dog – meet hot bun.

The premise of the film is that all of the food and products in a grocery store believe that when they are chosen by the gods (humans), they are going to heaven (outside the store).  A sausage, Frank (Seth Rogen), and hot dog bun, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), want to get chosen so they can have sex.  When a returned jar of mustard (Danny McBride) rants about how the great beyond is all a big lie and that the gods are actually monsters, he inadvertently prevents Frank and Brenda from leaving the store and getting busy.  At that point, the movie becomes a quest – Frank and Brenda want to get back to their shelves for another chance to be chosen.  Along the way, they are joined by a bagel (Ed Norton) and a lavash (David Krumholtz) and pursued by an evil douche (Nick Kroll) – yes, an actual douche – who blames them all for him being denied his destiny (it’s exactly the destiny you think).  At this point in time, if you aren’t completely sold on the insanity of this movie, here’s where it gets good and where Trey Parker and Matt Stone would be proud.

You mean heaven is a lie?

You mean heaven is a lie?

On the surface, the film is a crass, profanity-laced comedy about horny food.  Every food-sex pun you’ve ever thought of is probably in this film.  Just like the forest and the trees, beneath the surface are hilarious commentaries on religious belief vs. science and the absurdity of the ongoing Israel vs. everyone else in the Middle East battle.  The bagel – Jewish.  The lavash – Muslim.  Yes, every complaint these two sides have made will be addressed in this film.  But for my money, the religion/science battle elevates this movie to greatness.  It bites on the idea that there are people who refuse to bend even in the face of overwhelming factual evidence (currently, we call these people Trump supporters and climate change deniers), then bites back by pointing out that calling those people idiots is the absolute wrong way to try to change their minds.  You may be right that they are idiots, but nobody ever changed an idiot’s mind by calling them an idiot, and not for lack of trying.

As you may have guessed already, I loved this movie.  If nothing else, it’s an original movie, the kind that people keep yammering at Hollywood to make.  But it’s so much better than that.  Hopefully, all the people whose assholes pucker at the very mention of sex or potty words can get over themselves long enough to appreciate that Rogen and fellow writers Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill (who also voices a sausage) have created a brilliant and funny movie that asks us all to step back and see the damned forest.  And, like in sex (usually), there’s a massive payoff in the end – a giant food orgy.  If you thought they hit every food-sex pun before this scene, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back as it should leave a great taste in your mouth (what?  I can’t do one pun?).

The Martian

By: Kevin Jordan

Fictional humans on Mars is better than nothing.

martian

A friend and I were chatting about space stuff, and one of the things we discussed was NASA’s current estimate of launching a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030’s.  She was crestfallen when I said “no chance” and explained to her why that’s a pipe dream.  (We were supposed to have a replacement for the space shuttle by 2010 – which is now estimated for 2024 – and that was just for lifting astronauts to the International Space Station just 250 miles above the Earth, as opposed to the roughly 35 million miles to Mars.  You do the math.)  So, both of us will most likely be dead before that ever happens (and I’m still in my thirties).  The closest she and I will get to seeing that achievement is by watching movies like The Martian.

There are many movies that are easy comparisons to The MartianGravity, Apollo 13, Red Planet – really, any space movie in which disaster strikes and the character(s) must survive an impossible situation.  (Castaway is an appropriate comparison as well).  The one thing that differentiates The Martian from those other films is that The Martian doesn’t take itself so seriously.  That’s not a complaint about those other films, but it’s what makes The Martian feel like a breath of fresh air (and a sorely needed one in this genre).  It’s nice sitting through a movie in which characters aren’t hyperventilating every other scene or playing tic-tac-toe to decide which button she should push because the writer or director was too lazy to make the character smarter than an airlock.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead and, also, he dies at the end.  Or not.  Gotcha.)

Matt Damon plays the title character, astronaut Mark Watney.  He and his team are on the surface of Mars when a massive storm forces them to evacuate to the relative safety of space.  While making their way toward their escape rocket, Mark is hit by a piece of debris that destroys his health monitor, renders him unconscious, and knocks him out of visual range of the rest of the crew.  Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to leave him for dead in order to save the rest of the crew and they all leave the planet.  When Mark awakes, he is alone, but his suit is intact and their habitat survived the storm.  Since you are an intelligent movie goer, you immediately begin to list problems because you understand that (a) the ship cannot turn around because they don’t have the supplies to do that and still make it back to Earth alive, (b) the shortest current travel time to Mars is eight months, so Mark must survive at least that long, and (c) how long can Mark survive in the habitat given there is most definitely not enough food and water to last even the minimum eight months?  Those are all good points and I’m not going to address any of them because I think you should pay money to watch this film.

But I will tell you a little bit about the characters, which will give some hints as to what happens.  For starters, Mark is a botanist and the previews show him growing stuff.  Part of the fun of this movie is how he solves problems like that, so from now until you see this movie, see if you can figure out how he does that (and, no, there are no plants of any kind already growing in the habitat prior to the disaster).  Going back to what I said earlier, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, so Mark is presented as a rational, level-headed, non-panicky guy trying to make the best out of the worst possible situation imaginable.  Much of the movie is presented as him speaking to recording devices throughout the habitat and we see him making light of situations, thinking and talking out problems and solutions, and choosing the exact right moments to cuss.  It’s the perfect way to present this movie because there is always tension in the background (you are always waiting for something to go wrong), but is overshadowed by Mark’s resiliency.

The crew is presented the same way, but the five of them are really the equivalent of one character.  Captain Lewis is the brain, the serious leader who must make all the hard choices.  Martinez (Michael Pena) is the mouth, providing the comic relief.  Johanssen (Kate Mara) is the heart, balancing the voices of reason with the voices of emotion.  Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Vogel (Aksel Hennie) are the limbs, providing feedback to the body, but mostly just doing what they are asked.  While it seems like they should have a bigger role in the movie (considering their acting chops), they are minor supporting characters.  And, of course they are, they’re on their way home – what can they do?

The major supporting characters are the folks at NASA who are trying to figure out how to keep Mark alive long enough to mount a rescue mission.  The main players are Director Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his direct reports – Montrose (Kristen Wiig), Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), supported by a mix of managers (Sean Bean, Benedict Wong) and techies (Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong).  Like the Mars crew, the NASA crew Voltron themselves (yes, I just made a verb out of Voltron) into a single entity, each character providing a different trait.  The difference is Sanders, Montrose, and Kapoor have the most screen time, aside from Matt Damon, so they are much more fleshed-out than the ship crew and provide more than a single trait.  The biggest surprise for me was Wiig.  I normally end up despising her characters, but her Montrose was a much more likable character and her delivery was far superior than past performances (especially when delivering humor).  This time, I actually wanted her character to succeed rather than die in a spontaneous mission control accident.

Besides all of that, the most enjoyable thing about the movie is the realism.  Unlike the pie-in-the-sky science of Red Planet or the idiocy of Gravity’s physics, everything that happened in The Martian seems like someone thought about it for more time than it takes to toast bread.  From the food to the fuel to the travelling to the air to the rescue mission solutions to the matching relative velocities, it never felt like the movie was asking me to stretch the definition of “suspend your disbelief” to the point of making my brain cry.  I’m sure there is some liberty taken with the science, but if the average layperson (me) didn’t spot it without Neil Tyson DeGrasse pointing it out, then the filmmakers did a good job.

Thinking about this movie afterward, it might just be the best film I’ve seen all year.  At the very least, it’s the most complete.  The story is simple, thoughtful, and doesn’t have any glaring, obvious plot holes (this isn’t a surprise considering it’s based on a novel of the same name by Andy Weir.  But, nice adaptation by Drew Goddard).  The visuals are wonderful and even the 3-D was better than usual, providing some amazing depth and color (though I did learn a tip for 3-D viewing, you must sit dead center on the screen – I know, duh, right?).  Matt Damon nails his performance, as do the make-up and costume guys (I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned them before, but it had to be said here).  But most importantly, it’s a movie you’ll want to watch many times over, because besides being a great movie, at this point, the zombie apocalypse is going to happen before we see an actual human on Mars.

Rating: You definitely underpaid for this movie.  Even if you paid twice.