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New Releases for Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Wonder Woman

Genre: Comic Book

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Run time: 141 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: True confession time – I have liked every Marvel Studios movie since 2008, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t identified problems with some of the studio’s most popular titles.

I also have loathed pretty much every DC Entertainment movie since 2013 with the launch of Man of Steel and the decision to follow in Marvel’s footsteps by creating a shared universe.

But, I still went into Wonder Woman determined not to let the sins of DC’s past cinematic misfires color my appreciation of what so many people have praised as being one of the best comic book movies ever made.

Two hours later, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. As in, that’s what all the fuss was about?

Truth be told, for the its first half-hour to 40 minutes, right up until Gal Gadot finally gets her big moment to unveil the official WW costume and storm the front lines of World War I, I seriously felt like Wonder Woman could actually be the first superhero movie since The Dark Knight to be talked about as a Best Picture contender.

And then she started running and blocking bullets with her wrist bands, and suddenly Wonder Woman no longer felt special. It just began to fall apart, and continued to do so for the next 80 minutes until, at the very end, somehow Gadot appears to take flight.

What. The. Hell.

Wonder Woman, the iconic DC Comics heroine, doesn’t fly, at least not without a plane.

But that’s a minor quibble about what should have been the new generation of DC Comics’ films finest showing to date.

First things first, Gadot is perfectly cast as Diana, the warrior daughter/unknowing goddess from Themyscira, and the film’s early stretch on the island, which is cloaked invisible to avoid detection by the outside world and to hide from the vengeful god Ares, is simply fantastic.

Director Patty Jenkins does a great job slowly introducing the strong female leadership of the Amazons, which helps showcase the influence each woman has on Diana and her upbringing.

Chris Pine also is perfectly cast as Steve Trevor who, in this iteration, is a fearless soldier trying to stop Germany’s ascent in World War I by infiltrating the enemy’s ranks. Once he learns a dangerous secret, he flees only to be shot down mid-flight and crash landing in the waters off the Amazonian sanctuary.

Jenkins’ Wonder Woman kicks into high gear at this point, as Diana and Trevor hatch a plan to leave the island to travel to England to warn allied commanders about a plot to kill millions of innocent people. This segment of the film crackles with the chemistry and humor that fans will immediately remember fondly from the mid-1970’s TV show with Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner.

Once in England, Diana discovers how vastly different society is from the world where she grew up. Women are treated as less than equal to men, which doesn’t sit well with her. Her refusal – and Gadot’s performance – are a magnificent stroke for women who have longed to be included in the superhero/comic book cinematic universe with a hero they could identify with. I get why so many female friends said they were brought to or close to tears.

At this point, Wonder Woman appears capable of decimating the divide between Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment fans, and finally delivering a DC movie that everyone can rally ‘round.

Then they had to go and screw it all up.

From the second that Gadot appears in full Wonder Woman regalia, it’s like screenwriter Allan Heinberg lost all sense of what worked so well early on.

It’s not the battle scenes or hand-hand combat scenes – Gadot tackles those with aplomb. It’s the emergence of the film’s central villain, Ludendorff (Danny Huston), and his henchwoman, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), as well as a not-so-well-disguised appearance by Ares.

If there are bad guys, then you know Wonder Woman is going to fight. But much like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, once again, the fate of the entire world is in jeopardy – not just a small portion of it – and once DC goes way-overboard in staging ridiculously destructive fights that lay waste to buildings, city blocks and more.

I realized something watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it really is the crux of the difference between Marvel and DC. Marvel has done the whole ‘fate of the world’ thing several times, but in its stand-alone films, whether Iron Man or Captain America or, in this case, Spider-Man, the central battles aren’t of that scale.

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, for instance, there are three big battles that are completely contained within a moving transport truck, a ferry boat and a cargo plane. There’s no need for Peter Parker to be saving the entire world. He’s just fine saving a bunch of New Yorkers.

DC films, in comparison, go heavy on the destruction. Too heavy. And, sadly, Wonder Woman is unable to recover from that fatal plot flaw.

By the time she’s single-handedly battling Ludendorff and then Ares in human form, the explosions are massive, the body slams shake the earth and the disregard for property appalling.

We get it – she’s a god, but why can’t she be a benevolent one that doesn’t sacrifice everything around her to emerge victorious?

It just gets silly, after a while, and the entire film suffers as a result. Then, to add insult, they give Diana the seeming ability to fly.

Again, I say:

What. The. Hell.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – Brief. Gore – No.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – Nazis, and men, but mostly Nazi men.

Buy/Rent – Rent it.

The Prison (Well Go USA, 125 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): While not as white-knuckle relentless as some of its predecessors, the Korean import, The Prison, is a fast and violent action-drama that deserves kudos for building memorable characters along with several thrilling key set pieces.

Lethal Weapon: The Complete First Season (Warner Bros., 790 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Here’s the thing, I loved the Lethal Weapon film franchise when the adventures of Riggs and Murtaugh were releasing every few years in theaters.

But the reality is that only the original movie and the sequel, Lethal Weapon 2, were really good. By the time Jet Li was introduced as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4, the series had pretty much run out of steam, and ideas.

How funny then that one of the best new shows of the 2016-17 network TV schedule was a serialized take on Lethal Weapon with Damon Wayans stepping in as Roger Murtaugh and Clayne Crawford taking over as volatile, suicidal detective Martin Riggs.

Lethal Weapon is funny, fast-paced and filled with action set pieces that really pop on the small screen. The first season expands on a central issue from the film franchises’s mythology – who killed Riggs’ wife, and why – and creates significant character development into why Riggs became the loose cannon that Murtaugh inherits as his new partner.

Now on Video-on-Demand:

The Houses October Built 2 (RLJ Entertainment, 101 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Sometimes, it helps to see the first film in a franchise before diving into the sequel.

And sometimes it doesn’t feel like it would help very much at all.

That was my takeaway after watching The Houses that October Built 2, the sequel from director Bobby Roe and co-writer Zack Andrews to their 2014 quasi-found footage flick, The Houses October Built.

As a newbie to the Halloween attraction universe that Roe and Andrews created for their debut, here’s what I gathered: A group of friends set out in the first film to visit the most extreme Halloween haunts imaginable, which eventually led them to cross paths with a group called Blue Skeleton, who apparently take the Scaring is Caring motto too far. So far, in fact, that they basically kidnapped the sole female of the group, Brandy, and left her in an open grave.

But it wouldn’t be a sequel without the Buried Alive girl, so Brandy agrees (reluctantly) to sign back up from another Halloween season of tracking down the most unhinged Halloween attractions. Before long, guess what happens? Ding ding ding! The group sees evidence that Blue Skeleton might still be active.

Here’s the thing: The Houses that October Built 2 has a great premise that’s ripe for some seriously unnerving sequences. But that never happens. There’s really very little to the film other than the road-trip travelogue, documentary-style format. The haunted houses that the group does visit aren’t all that scary. And there’s little to no actual menace by Blue Skeleton for better than two-thirds of the run-time.

While I really wanted to dig this film, I just couldn’t find a connection. That happens sometimes. That doesn’t mean others won’t like it, but for me, there just wasn’t enough payoff to justify the time invested.

Also Available:

Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars

Road Less Traveled


Madam Secretary: Season Three

Code Black: Season 2

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