Posts Tagged ‘Robin Wright’

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.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson

When I was in the second grade, our teacher read “Bridge to Terabithia” to the class. To this day, it’s still the saddest work of fiction I’ve ever encountered. At the time, I wondered how one could justify reading it to young children. I thought that our fables should always be happy, joyful, and otherwise free of consequence or incident. In other words, not having a darn thing to do with real life. That was what growing up was supposed to be for. I did not consider, then, what the author was sharing with me. While children should be allowed to laugh, play and not have a care in the world for politics, money or other adult pursuits, they should at some point be prepared for the concept of tragedy. At the very least, it should be explained to them in a way that they can understand it. There is a moment early on in “Forrest Gump” when the young Forrest and his friend Jenny are praying in the cornfield behind her father’s house. As soon as I saw this scene, the tears started flowing. The perfect, perfect score from Alan Silvestri wasn’t helping either. There was no question in my mind that a dark cloud was looming just over the horizon. Forrest is the type of person for whom “Bridge to Terabithia” would be difficult, though not impossible to explain. “Curious George” is more his speed.

In 1981, Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is sitting on a park bench, clutching a box of chocolates and waiting for a bus. While he waits, Forrest tells his life story to those who sit by him. From his birth up until what for him is the present day, Forrest tells the account of a number of amazing things he’s accomplished in his life, and all of the famous people he has helped inspire. He is invited to the White House on three separate occasions, meeting John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. He plays football for Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama, becomes a genuine war hero in Vietnam, plays ping pong professionally for the United States in China, and even forms a lucrative shrimp company called Bubba Gump, named after both himself and fellow Vietnam soldier Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue (Mykelti Williamson). It was Bubba whose idea the whole “shrimping business” thing was before he died in Vietnam. Any one of these things would be enough to distinguish Forrest Gump, and enough to be life-altering for anyone else, but still Forrest takes it all in with a perspective most men his age forsook long ago. As the entire world around him changes, Forrest remains constant.

Winning Best Actor for “Forrest Gump,” Tom Hanks joined Spencer Tracy as the only two men to be presented with the award in back-to-back years, a feat which no one else has since accomplished. It is true that Forrest (along with all other characters in the film) is little more than an archetype. Disregarding that fact, Hanks does manage to transform himself. He disappears so completely into the role that it becomes hard to tell where Forrest Gump ends and Tom Hanks begins. In fact, Hanks puts as much effort into bringing to life this resident of Greenbow, Alabama with an IQ of 75 as any character I’ve seen him play.

Not all of the credit for “Forrest Gump” (winner for Best Picture of 1994) can go to Tom Hanks. Gary Sinise, as Lt. Dan Taylor, is also something special. His work is so admired amongst the Wounded Veterans crowd that he has gone on more recently to do commercials for their cause. Meanwhile, Robin Wright gives the performance of her career as the tragically self-destructive Jenny Curran. Prior to this movie, my only exposure to Robin Wright had been in “The Princess Bride,” her very first starring role in a feature film, as Princess Buttercup. Both movies are pure fantasy, both roles are archetypes, but Jenny and Buttercup couldn’t be any more different. One waits for true love to rescue her. The other has true love waiting for her, but she believes herself to be beyond saving.

The soundtrack is beyond incredible. Alan Silvestri’s score aside, there is a barrage of period music, most of it from the late 1960’s-early 1970’s, what I consider to be the second major revolution in the industry after the Classical period of the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the songs are so expertly placed that I can’t help but be amused by their timing. We hear Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” just before a ground battle in Vietnam, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” during a decidedly low point in Jenny’s life, and in a particularly side-splitting homage to 1969 Best Picture Winner “Midnight Cowboy,” that film’s theme song, “Everybody’s Talkin'” by Harry Nilsson, helps the scene deliver itself with a wink and nod. I’m not sure whether it’s director Robert Zemeckis or somebody who regularly works with him, but someone involved here is clearly a “Midnight Cowboy” fan. My evidence is that this is not the first of Zemeckis’s films to feature a reenactment of that movie’s most famous scene. 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II” also has a character crossing the street, nearly being run over, and uttering the lines, “Hey! I’m walking here! I’m walking here!”

When the movie was first released, there was debate among certain U.S. politicians as to the overall message of the movie. Certain people believed it to be pushing a conservative agenda, citing an idealized version of the 1950’s vs. the portrayal of the counterculture of the 1960’s, as well as all the talk about the subject of destiny, as proof. Certain people did not consider that the movie might not have a political message of any kind, or that remembering one’s history IS being promoted. But then, these were the same geniuses who had adopted Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” as their theme song ten years earlier, evidently only having paid attention to the chorus. Frankly, I could give a rat’s hindquarters whether or not there’s a political message to be found, or the fact that the overall story is far too fantastical and replete with coincidence. As the movie’s timeline ends around the same time as my own birth in 1982 (likely a few months after), what attracts me the most to “Forrest Gump” is its portrayal of an era which is just out of my reach, but which my parents’ generation lived through. So many wonderful things and so many terrible things happened all at the same time. I, at least, had the advantage of coming into the world with knowledge of how that story ended.

4. The Princess Bride (1987)

Director: Rob Reiner

Starring: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, André the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane

There were fairy tales aplenty in 1980’s American cinema, most of which I can find distinctive ways of enjoying, films such as “The Dark Crystal” (1982), “The NeverEnding Story” (1984), “Legend” (1985), and “Labyrinth” (1986). They were all of them pretty straightforward in the way that they told their respective stories. Director Rob Reiner takes the clichéd tale of the hero who saves the girl from the bad guy who wears the crown and infuses it with just a touch of satire. Had he thrown in too much, “The Princess Bride” could have become a total farce. Fortunately, he has so many great characters and equally talented actors to play those parts that the humor never overstays its welcome, and instead we can focus on the well-told story, adapted for the screen by William Goldman from his original novel.

Cary Elwes and Robin Wright (in her first starring role) are perfect to portray young lovers Westley and Buttercup. Their story, particularly in the beginning, would be a bit sugary sweet on its own, but is terrifically aided by the external narrative of a young Chicago boy (Fred Savage) and his grandfather (Peter Falk). The boy is bed-ridden with an undisclosed illness, and his grandfather has come over with a story that he wants to read to him. The boy gets impatient during the romantic stuff in the beginning. He’d rather hear about battle scenes where men meet the pointy end of a sword. All in good time… or, as the grandfather says: “Keep your shirt on!” The boy’s interest is piqued once he hears the part about Westley being presumed killed at the hands of pirates. Westley hasn’t been murdered, of course, but the boy is now hooked.

Any good fantasy film thrives on its supporting characters whom the heroes meet along their journey. Here, they aren’t just cyphers but actual fleshed-out characters, some with background stories that really help you to feel like you’ve gotten to know them. Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) is a Spanish swordsman who has spent 20 years seeking out the man responsible for his father’s murder. Fezzik (André the Giant), the big man with an even bigger heart and a talent for rhyme (“some of the time”), is Inigo’s companion on his travels. Both will eventually meet with, fight, and later befriend a man dressed all in black and wearing a mask who goes by the name “The Dread Pirate Roberts,” yet sounds remarkably like Westley.

Some of the best scene-chewing in “The Princess Bride” comes from its villains. Chris Sarandon is the aforementioned evil man of royal descent, Prince Humperdinck. He has chosen Buttercup as his bride due to her status as a commoner. His interest in their union is purely political, romance be damned. His right-hand man with an extra digit on said appendage, Count Rougen (Christopher Guest) may or may not be the very target whom Inigo has been searching for his entire adult life. Arguably the best character in the movie, and certainly my personal favorite, is the Sicilian criminal Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) who, with the hired help of Inigo and Fezzik, initially kidnaps Buttercup before Westley… I mean Roberts… interferes. Vizzini is funniest when expressing annoyance towards Inigo and Fezzik, participating in a “battle of wits” with Roberts/Westley, and in the most memorable utterance of the word “inconceivable” dating back to its invention.

“The Princess Bride” is, quite simply, a timeless classic. It has always been near the top of my list of favorites, currently resting comfortably at #4. The score is composed by Mark Knopfler of the band Dire Straits (FYI, their 1985 album “Brothers in Arms” is one of THE great musical compositions of the 1980’s). Knopfler’s most memorable track, “Once Upon A Time…Storybook Love,” has been used by two longtime friends of mine, a brother and sister, as the song associated with their weddings.