Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wonder Women, Again

Hidden Figures (2016): adapted by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi from the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly; directed by Theodore Melfi; starring Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson/Goble), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan), Janelle Monae (Mary Jackson), Kevin Costner (Al Harrison), Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell), Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford), and Glen Powell (John Glenn): How does Taraji P. Henson not get a nomination for this? Oscar noms for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) and Best Adapted Screenplay have been given to this fine docudrama. 

Does it play fast and loose with the facts, especially in compressing 15 years worth of events into two years? Well, yeah. So, too, so many other docudramas and biopics. It is a bit of a drag, though, to discover that with a wealth of real-life racist moments to draw upon, the film-makers chose to invent certain incidents and exaggerate others so as to get their desired response. 

Hidden Figures presents the Space Race as a thrilling exercise in math, engineering, and race relations. How great is that? Less great is the hour or so devoted to boilerplate domestic melodrama. We can get boilerplate domestic melodrama from almost any Hollywood film. We can't get realistic space stuff. So it goes. A spoonful of sugar for the audience.

The acting is superb, from Kevin Costner's (composite) team leader of NASA Langley's mathematicians striving to put an American in space and in orbit to the aforementioned Henson as pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician who helped put Americans into orbit and on the Moon. Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae also do terrific work as an African-American computer-team leader and engineer, respectively. It's a movie about the thrill of intelligence and lofty aspirations, dominated by women. Recommended.

Wonder Woman (2017): based on characters created by William Moulton Marston, H.G. Peter, George Perez, and others; written by Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs, and Zack Snyder; directed by Patty Jenkins; starring Gal Gadot (Diana), Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta), Robin Wright (Antiope), Danny Huston (Ludendorff), David Thewlis (Sir Patrick), and Elena Anaya (Dr. Poison): 

Director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg go back to Richard Donner's first Superman movie for inspiration (among other sources). The result is a crowd-pleaser with a female superhero. It may go on just about one climax too many, but overall Wonder Woman is a delight, as is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. A relative unknown, she shows the star power and charm of that other relative unknown, Christopher Reeve. The film-makers even figured out how to make WW's boy-pal Steve Trevor interesting. 

I do miss certain elements of the original (to comics) island of the Amazons, which possessed some pretty trippy 1940's attributes (high technology, invisible planes, giant riding kangaroos called Kangas). Superheroes should be rooted in the fantastic moreso than in the realistic or realistically imagined, though I realize I'm probably in the minority on this. These are children's characters. The more Wonder the better. 

The BluRay has some pretty decent featurettes on it, though none on WW creator William Moulton Marston and unacknowledged (starting with the credit-hungry Marston himself) co-creator, artist H.G. Peter. Shame! Recommended.

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