Posts Tagged ‘David Thewlis’

Director: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya

For as long as we can remember, superhero films have featured protagonists whose motivations consist primarily of a combination of two things: 1) a natural enemy to defeat and 2) someone whose death they feel compelled to avenge. #2 comes around a little less often than #1, but the fact remains that the hero is focused on defeating the villain. #1 is no different in the case of Wonder Woman, as she was born and bred for this purpose. But there is much that is different about her. Apart from Marvel’s Thor, Wonder Woman is unique in that she is the offspring of a god. Having the powers of an immortal god could have easily led to her imposing her will on all of humanity. But that’s not Wonder Woman’s style. She is not the sort who would destroy entire cities to end a threat, or perform a memory wipe on someone just to remove the burden of having to shield them 24/7. What truly helps Wonder Woman to stand out among the crowd is her unwavering desire to save people.

In 2017 Paris, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) stares at an old photograph of herself and others from a century ago, recovered for her by newfound friend, Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman. Her memories of a long ago era take her back first to her youth on the island of Themyscira, where she was one among the many of Amazonian warrior women who lived there. The island is obscured from the rest of the world for their (and, more specifically, Diana’s) own protection. Despite the objections of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana begins training for a battle yet to come. That battle, against Ares, the god of war, is one that Zeus (Ares’s father) believed was inevitable, and thus he created Diana through Hippolyta. In Hippolyta’s sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), the greatest of all warriors on Themyscira, Diana could find no better teacher. Princess Buttercup is a general, now. How cool is that?!

Trouble arrives when a German plane piloted by American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the water just off the coast of Themyscira. Diana saves Steve, but he was followed, and although the ensuing German assault is soundly defeated, Antiope is killed. The Lasso of Truth forces Steve to reveal the nature of his mission: the theft of a notebook from the laboratory of Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), who is developing mustard gas for the Germans, which indicates the plans to start a higher form of warfare. The Amazonians, up to now, had no idea that World War I was going on around them. Diana believes that this is a sign of Ares’ return, that he is posing as German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), and that it is her duty to find and defeat him.

Having no experience with the outside world, Diana is unaccustomed to a society where women have no say in any matters of importance. As such, there are many awkward moments, both in trying to assert herself and in trying to look the part of a woman living in the 1910s. Perhaps the best example of this is when Diana attempts to walk out onto the streets of London whilst carrying both her sword and shield. Not exactly the type of thing that would help her to “blend in”! At the War Council, Steve barges in and delivers the notebook, but is barred from taking any further action. An armistice with Germany is in the works, and they don’t want anything mucking it up. Steve is a soldier, and as such is willing to (reluctantly) accept orders once they are given, but Diana (whom Steve has introduced as Diana Prince) sees only foolishness in failing to act. One member of the council, Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) agrees to help them covertly.

After putting a team together, Steve and Diana head for Belgium. At the Western Front, the team finds what appears to them to be an impasse. In what has to go down as the movie’s greatest scene… perhaps one of the greatest scenes of ANY superhero film… Diana climbs from the trenches and walks through No man’s land, using her bracelets and her shield to deflect all incoming enemy fire. This moment is as breathtaking as it is inspirational. A village is liberated, and the photograph from the film’s opening scene is taken. Afterwards, Steve and Diana share a moment of intimacy. Alas, though the battle may be won, the war is far from over.

Diana tracks down and attempts to kill Ludendorff, but Steve stops her, believing that their mission to stop the gas attack would be compromised. Ludendorff subsequently orders a test of the gas on the very town which Diana and Steve just rescued. Distraught by the senseless loss of life and beginning to lose her faith in humanity, Diana lashes out at Steve and continues her pursuit of Ludendorff. Finding him once again, Diana does not fail in her mission to kill Ludendorff, yet she is puzzled. If Ares is now dead, why then does the war continue? That question is answered quickly. Out of nowhere, Sir Patrick appears, declaring himself to be Ares.

All along, Diana has assumed that Ares has been controlling the thoughts and actions of the Germans. In an attempt to simultaneously break her spirit and cause his sister to join him, Ares explains to Diana that he hasn’t deprived humanity of its free will, that it is they who choose to be evil. While this is going on, Steve pilots a plane carrying the mustard gas high into the sky where, in an act of self-sacrifice, he can detonate it safely. Despite some cheer-leading from Ares, Diana chooses not to murder a defenseless Doctor Poison, instead reassured and inspired by Steve’s final words to her as well as his final act, both of which were born from love. It is through the power of love… Diana’s love for Steve and for all of humanity… that Diana is able to summon the energy that has always existed within her to ultimately defeat her brother, once and for all.

Wonder Woman was already recognizable as being (easily) the best part of 2016’s Batman v Superman. As the star of her very own movie, the Princess of Themyscira makes 2017’s Wonder Woman one of the very best superhero movies ever made. Apart from the rather timely message of love conquering hate, Wonder Woman also features terrific set design (owing to its World War I setting), a great supporting cast (in which Chris Pine is the standout), and a powerful score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Not since John Williams’ Superman (1978) and Danny Elfman’s Batman (1989) scores has a superhero been blessed with such appropriate music, particularly the track “Wonder Woman’s Wrath.” Incidentally, when Wonder Woman returns in Fall 2017 for Justice League, Danny Elfman will provide the music.

Finally, there’s Gal Gadot herself. A former Israeli model who owes her first big break in Hollywood (2011’s Fast Five) to actor Vin Diesel, Gadot’s hiring for Wonder Woman was widely criticized. So was Michael Keaton for 1989’s Batman, as well as Heath Ledger for 2008’s The Dark Knight. Unfairly, Gadot’s criticism had more to with her body shape than anything else. Gadot turned out not just to be a good choice, but a perfect choice. Like those before her who’ve entered the superhero genre and succeeded as mightily as Gal Gadot has with Wonder Woman, Gadot’s name will forever be synonymous with her character. For as long as Gadot wields the Lasso of Truth as Diana Prince, I will always be appreciative of what she brings to the table.

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The Theory of Everything (2014)

Director: James Marsh

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis

Having watched this movie a few days ago, I put off writing this review when I came up with the following question: How does one talk about one of the greatest minds of ours and any other period in history and manage to do him the proper justice? Then, of course, I remembered that “The Theory of Everything” does exactly that. How it accomplishes this task makes it all the more exceptional, as I can’t recall ever seeing a movie where its lead actor disappears so completely into his role. Never once do we look at this guy and think, “Wow! Eddie Redmayne is amazing as Stephen Hawking!” No, for the two hours+ of “The Theory of Everything,” the man we see on the screen may as well be the real Stephen Hawking.

In 1963, Stephen Hawking is a 21-year old astrophysicist student at Cambridge University. He’s working on formulating a thesis topic, which would eventually become time, centering around the idea that black holes helped form the universe. At this time, Stephen notices that his muscles are beginning to fail him, beginning with an everyday act of clumsiness such as spilling a hot drink, but building up into something more serious when his legs give out and he falls, hitting his head on the school grounds. At the hospital, Stephen is informed he has motor neuron disease (a.k.a. ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Typical life expectancy for this type of debilitating illness is a mere two years. Hardly seems enough time for his budding romance with literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones)… except that there is nothing “typical” about Stephen Hawking.

Stephen does not take his diagnosis well (Who the hell would?!), and becomes reclusive. Only Jane is able to bring him out into the world again. Still, even as she proclaims her love for him, Stephen’s father Frank (Simon McBurney) warns her of what to expect. The two marry and have their first child, a son, after which Stephen’s thesis on time is met with a majority of approving voices from the examination board. Celebrating this victory, Stephen is met with another setback, losing the ability to walk. Later, Stephen is a wheelchair-bound father of two, having produced a daughter with Jane, By now, he’s known the world over for his continued/updated theories on black holes.

The stress of both Stephen’s fame and his declining health are becoming too much for Jane to bear. Being a member of the Church of England, in stark contrast to Stephen’s own atheistic views, her husband suggests that she join the church choir. There, she meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), whom she will later come to employ as a piano teacher for her son. But there’s more going on between the two, and it was something that actually had me yelling at my television. It seemed as though she were flirting with the idea of having an affair with Jonathan… and she was… but her devotion to Stephen prevented her from acting on it. Unfortunately, it is this playfulness that draws the attention of Jane’s mother (Emily Watson), who audibly speculates as to who the father of Jane’s third child is. Jane is insulted, especially once it’s clear that Jonathan has heard every word of their conversation. He leaves, but not before both have admitted they really do have feelings for one another, though is convinced by Stephen (of all people) to return once it’s made clear that his presence has had a positive influence.

Things between Jane and Jonathan are put on hold seemingly for good after Stephen comes down with pneumonia while attending a concert in Bordeaux. Jane and Jonathan had been camping with the children as per Stephen’s suggestion when the news came. Jane agrees to have the doctors perform a tracheotomy on Stephen, which will rob him of what remains of his voice but ultimately saves his life. Jane hires a nurse for Stephen, who finds himself falling in love with Elaine. Fitted with a new computer and voice synthesizer, Stephen writes his book, “A Brief History of Time.” Stephen explains his plan to take Elaine with him to America, where he’ll be accepting an award. This news is hard for him to break, but harder for Jane to hear, as she has stood by him for many of his hardest years. Still this scene did make it easier for me to accept her flirtations with Jonathan, since Stephen ultimately does the same thing to her. That, and it frees her up to marry Jonathan, which she does. The film ends with Stephen inviting Jane to visit Queen Elizabeth II with him. Rumor has it that the Queen intends to offer him a knighthood, which he has no plans to accept. Even though their paths have set them apart, the two marvel at their three grown children, collectively their proudest achievement.

Despite not being a world-renowned physicist, I still find much to relate to in Stephen Hawking’s life story. I’m fairly certain that I have touched on this in part in a previous film review, but I too was stricken with a medical condition, this one called hydrocephalus. Far easier to treat than ALS, but not without its own drawbacks. I’ve had a shunt installed in my head since the age of six weeks which allows for the normal flow of my cerebrospinal fluid. It wasn’t until the age of 17, when the tube connected to my shunt broke (requiring another surgery) that I knew what having hydrocephalus feels like. Imagine the worst headache you’ve ever had, and multiply that x1000. Seriously. Also, think of it like an automobile with shock absorbers that have failed completely. Every step you take, you feel it inside your head. Not pleasant.

One distinct difference between my disability and the one affecting Stephen Hawking… aside from the fact that I still have the taken-for-granted abilities to walk and talk… is that, while ALS involves the death of neurons, the cure for my disorder… the shunt… causes the occasional misfiring of neurons, resulting in seizures. Additionally, as I learned the hard way in September/October 2014, the anti-seizure medications I take can result in loss of balance if I’ve been inadvertently taking too much of it. It’s that last part which gives the early scene in which Hawking falls on his face a certain “too soon” quality. Very effective.

Long story short, I knew I would be interested in “The Theory of Everything” just based on how interesting a character Stephen Hawing is, both as a genius and as a genuine smart ass. You need to have a sense of humor to get you through the hardest of times! In particular, I enjoyed his in-joke references to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Doctor Who.” What I didn’t know going in was how much I could relate to him on a personal level, including the critical part his friends and family have played in his life. I was also unprepared for one of the more amazing individual performances in recent memory from actor Eddie Redmayne, who both so perfectly captures the essence of Stephen Hawking and believably replicates the effects of ALS. The Academy doesn’t always get it right come Oscar time, but there’s no question in my mind that Eddie Redmayne deserved the Best Actor award. Like the Professor himself, Redmayne is brilliant.