Wonder Woman (B). This movie has been riding high at the box office, so everyone who’s going to see it has probably already done so. Anyhoo, I finally got around to seeing it, and I liked it just fine. The plot struck me as kind of wacky–the Greek god of war Ares is supposedly a real being (god?) and he is out there on the loose stoking mankind’s warlike passions. The Amazons are hiding out on some paradisiacal Mediterranean island, but when American WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Into the Woods) crash lands just off shore and brings tidings of the carnage of total warfare, beautiful Amazon princess Diana (Gal Gadot, Batman v. Superman) decides she must leave the island with him so she can track down and kill Ares. There is some amusing fish-out-of-water stuff as Diana makes her way through old-fashioned WWI-era London. Then there are some mean Germans that Steve and Diana have to confront (at the front) in the final reel. All in all, this is a perfectly competent and enjoyable superhero movie, and it didn’t even feel long at 2 hours and 21 minutes. And I must say that Gal Gadot is, like, supernaturally beautiful in the role of Wonder Woman. I certainly noticed her in her small role in Batman v. Superman, but here she just owns the screen. If I were caught up in her magic lasso, I might even have to say she’s more beautiful than Nicole Kidman.
Hell or High Water (B+). This is the best movie I have seen in a while–a tense little crime drama about a couple of brothers who go on a bank-robbing spree in various desolate west Texas towns. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) chews the scenery and steals the show as the grizzled old Texas Ranger (a few weeks from retirement, naturally) who is on their trail, but his Hispanic partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham, Twilight) has some memorable lines as well. The bank-robbing brothers are fine too: loose cannon Tanner (Ben Foster, The Messenger) and thoughtful, relatively honorable Toby (Chris Pine, Into the Woods). What are the brothers really after? Will the Rangers catch up with them, and what will happen if they do? It’s rather like Bonnie and Clyde, I suppose, except I liked this movie even better. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan also wrote last year’s very good Emily Blunt pic Sicario, so I think he is one to watch.
Star Trek Beyond (D). Well, I liked the last two Star Trek films (although the last one was a guilty pleasure, with its shameless plundering of Trek history and resurrection of Khan Noonian Singh). But I have no love for this one. There were a few okay moments of camaraderie involving the Kirk–Spock–McCoy trinity, and I liked the spunky new character Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, (Kingsmen: The Secret Service). But it was mostly loud special effects and incomprehensible plot, both flying past at breakneck speed. I had no idea what was going on at several points during the mayhem, and I still have no idea how all these characters knew with pinpoint precision where they needed to run/fly/transport in order to do whatever urgent thing they were trying to do right that second. And is it really believable that Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, Z for Zachariah) would find himself bored just three years into the Enterprise‘s historic five-year mission? Bored?? Come on. Get real.
Z for Zachariah (C+). Many years ago, a college buddy and I were desperate for a movie rental, and we settled on an obscure sci-fi movie out of New Zealand called The Quiet Earth. It turned out to be a terrible movie about some sort of global catastrophe that caused the disappearance of almost every single human being. But—in New Zealand at least—two men and one woman were left alive, and eventually they all found each other and had to deal with their odd situation. The movie was, as previously mentioned, terrible.
Now along comes Z for Zachariah, a movie with a very similar premise but starring some bona fide movie stars—Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), and Chris Pine (Into the Woods). When the movie begins, a young woman named Ann (Robbie) is living alone on a farm in a remote valley that has somehow been spared a nuclear catastrophe that seems to have ended all other human life. But one day she encounters another survivor, John (Ejiofor), and at first they have to work at getting comfortable around each other. And then their careful equilibrium is destroyed by one more arrival, a handsome scamp named Caleb (Pine). That’s all I can say about the plot without committing any spoilers. (As another reviewer has said, Pine’s picture is on the movie poster, so describing his character isn’t a spoiler.) Anyway, I thought the movie was okay—certainly better than The Quiet Earth—but still nothing to get too excited about.
Into the Woods (B-). I had never seen this musical before, and all I really knew about it was that it was some kind of mash-up of various fairy tales. The film version brought together a lot of talent–lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd), director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and actresses Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect). But the result was only a little better than mediocre, in my opinion. The plot blends four familiar fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella) with one original one involving a baker, his wife, and a witch’s curse. The performances were fine, and the musical numbers were fine but not particularly memorable. (One notable exception was a duet by two charming princes about the agony of love; that one was pretty entertaining. Chris Pine (Star Trek) made a fine comedic Prince Charming.) The main thing I liked about the movie was that it was unpredictable; it definitely kept me curious about what was going to happen next. Oh, and having Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau) in the movie certainly didn’t hurt. I’d say it’s worth the price of a matinee. Note that it is rated PG for thematic elements (whatever those are), fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.
Star Trek Into Darkness (B). J.J. Abrams (Super 8) directs this sequel to his successful 2009 reboot of the venerable Star Trek franchise, and I thought it was an enjoyable adventure. After a pulse-pounding opening sequence in which a young Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, Star Trek) shreds the Prime Directive in order to rescue First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto, TV’s Heroes) from an alien volcano, we get to the meat of the story–a series of brutal terrorist attacks sends the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a mission to capture the mysterious perpetrator, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement). Robocop himself, Peter Weller, appears as the belligerent Admiral Marcus. On the whole, I thought it was a good, effective sci-fi action flick, and I think that non-Trekkers would enjoy it just fine. But true Trekkers, I think, might quibble with it. For one, the Enterprise flies what must be an incredible, impossible distance in what appears to be about 15 seconds. Even worse, somebody uses a transporter to travel the same incredible distance, which would have been clearly impossible in any incarnation of Trek. Finally, the conclusion of the movie involves a deus ex machina that is pretty outrageous even by Trek‘s loose standards. But if you like sci-fi and can forgive these little transgressions, I think you’ll find this twelfthStar Trek movie an enjoyable ride.