Lady Bird’s Staying Power

The film’s exact power comes from how Greta Gerwig’s intentions concern the ensemble, not just Lady Bird.

[NOTE: This piece discusses the film in detail. Spoilers if you haven’t seen it]

In just over 90 minutes, a year of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s life –– and just FYI, she’d prefer you to call her by the name in quotes, at least for now –– whizzes by, depicting her final year at school before she flies the nest and goes to college or gets a job or whatever the future will bring. As a coming-of-age movie, the picture comes attached with expectations of what she’ll have to deal with over the year, and Gerwig tackles these head-on. There are friends and fallings-out, boys who become boyfriends which result in break-ups, family troubles which have ties to school-related woes. As much as Lady Bird, the character played by an Oscar-deserving Saorise Ronan, has to juggle these various components of her life, so too does Lady Bird, the film.

Yet, as much as a plain-stated description of the events and story beats that make up the film’s narrative make it sound like any old coming-of-age movie, the solo directorial debut of Greta Gerwig stands out as one of the best because how it not only achieves so much more, but that it does in such a remarkably short run-time. Much of this relates to how Gerwig’s screenplay affords a level of generosity to the supporting cast of characters, rather than being solely focused on the plight of Lady Bird. This decision builds up a level of community between them all like when Lady Bird and Lucas Hedges’ Danny see each other at a restaurant following graduation.

From a less skilled writer and director, these characters would operate purely as archetypes. Danny would be a theatre kid, Timothée Chalamet’s Kyle a mysterious musician and Lois Smith’s Sister Sarah-Joan would serve as an authority figure for Lady Bird to run up against during her final year. Gerwig’s intentions regarding this aren’t immediately clear, it is with time that the narrative properly unfurls to encapsulate the ensemble and focus on more than the relationship of Lady Bird and her mother, Marion played by an Oscar-deserving Laurie Metcalf.

However, the opening image hints at where it’ll end up. For as much as this film is discussed in relation to its frenetic pacing –– a la Mistress America‘s screwball styling –– (I’ve already done it in this piece), the first frames of the film find quiet serenity as Lady Bird and Marion sleep. Finishing up a tour of local colleges, they sleep in the same bed, their faces pointing towards one another.

Shot by Sam Levy, this establishes the dichotomy between mother and daughter, which then allows for similarities between them to be picked up on, as well as the differences which make help to make up their strong personalities. The shot also establishes Gerwig’s ability to locate moments in the hectic. Her decision to start the film with one of these, and continue to include them throughout, is what imbues Lady Bird with such a detectable warmth. How much care she has for its characters demonstrates her talent in how much she manages to pack into this streamlined work.

lady-bird-1600x900-c-default

Now, the protagonist of the film is ostensibly Lady Bird, there’s no mistaking that. As such, the narrative is focalised through her and we are aligned with her for most of the film’s length. Though this doesn’t mean we are sympathetic for her character at all times as she can be quite difficult. She’s argumentative, cuts class and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She makes impulsive decisions, choosing to deface Sister Sarah-Joan’s car and throw Mr Bruno’s grade book into the trash. At the same time, she’s evidently in a foundational period in her life, where she’s experiencing certain emotions for the first time as she tries to understand what kind of person she is. Instead, the audience/character relationship is one grounded in empathy, an emotion which emanates outwards as the film comes to acknowledge how much hardship the other characters are also having to deal with.

Case in point: her relationship with Danny. He and Lady Bird meet as a result of the fall musical; Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. As she watches his audition –– performing “Giants in the Sky‘” from another Sondheim, In the Woods –– she falls from him in that moment. In the words of the script he is “DREAM BOAT CITY” (all caps are intentional). The film quickly cuts to later that night, when she scrawls his name on her bedroom wall, and then quickly to another day, when she and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feinstein) check the casting list. Cuts of this speed could be jarring if there wasn’t a constant in Lady Bird to orientate the viewer through the jumps from one scene to the next.

She and Danny eventually become boyfriend and girlfriend. Come the night of the first performance, the cast go out to celebrate. At one point in the evening, the line in the ladies’ restroom is too busy, so she and Julie hurry across to the men’s, only to stumble across Danny and a boy named Greg making out. Gerwig then cuts to the best friends crying to Dave Matthews’ “Crash into Me”, followed by another performance –– where Lady Bird decidedly opts not to take Danny’s hand when they all take a bow –– the removal of her cast, finals and suddenly, after only twenty or so seconds, it’s Christmas.

Most would leave Danny here. In a lesser story, coming from a less gifted and caring craftsperson, he would serve as an example of how first love doesn’t necessarily last as long as the characters hope it will, and as an anecdote for Lady Bird to bring up at college parties. Gerwig is not content to do that. Danny and the rest of the supporting characters all have their own lives and struggles which blend together with Lady Bird’s story resulting in a richer picture.

He and Lady Bird eventually see each other again, after the new year, when he walks into the coffee shop where she now works. Talking in the alley outside, he breaks down:

“Fuck me. Can you not tell anyone, please? I’m so sorry about everything. I’m so ashamed of all of it. It’s going to be bad and I just need a little bit of time to figure out how I’m going to tell my mom and dad.”

Off this, Lady Bird embraces him and promises that she won’t tell. The film doesn’t include a scene later on where Danny comes out to his parents, grandmother or friends beyond Lady Bird, but the inclusion of this scene and how it holds on the shot of the pair hugging indicates that Gerwig cannot abide letting these other characters fading away or being purely props working in service of Lady Bird’s journey, narratively and emotionally.

Saoirse Ronan and Lucas Hedges, "Lady Bird" from EPK.tv

From here, Gerwig is sure to include a scene of Lady Bird cheering him on at the spring play –– a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest –– and the aforementioned meeting at the restaurant. There is no immediate closure, but neither forgets about the other, and so neither should we.

This is further reinforced by the scene that follows on from the coffee shop, between Marion and Father Leviatch, the director of the fall musical, played by Stephen McKinley Henderson. During rehearsals for the musical, they played a game called “First One to Cry”, with the aim of getting their emotions going. While each of the students participating have to really try in their attempts to produce tears, the Father sobs almost instantaneously. Again, Gerwig could’ve left this here, as an uncomfortable situation that could possibly be found humourous depending on an audience’s disposition, but instead she follows-up on his mental and emotional states, reinforcing the idea that this film is about more than just Lady Bird’s problems. The scene may entail her as Father Leviatch asks Marion not to tell her daughter, but the primary focus in on him and that he’s getting help rather than just being that teacher who left between semesters and no-one heard from again.

Julie’s mom has her own relationship happening in the background of, and between, scenes. Kyle’s dad has cancer, a fact brought up after one of Lady Bird’s jokes backfires and later returned to when Gerwig’s camera lingers on his dad, as Lady Bird sneaks out of his house. Tracy Letts’ Larry McPherson struggles with depression, being laid off and trying to find a job while up against sets of graduates. Miguel, Lady Bird’s adopted brother, and Shelley, his girlfriend, played by Jordan Rodrigues and Marielle Scott, graduated from Berkeley yet ended up bagging groceries. Larry and Miguel eventually end up going for the same job. Sister Sarah-Joan gets what is arguably the most important line in the film:

“Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

Gerwig’s love for these characters is palpable, so much that she cannot help but try and follow-up on them as frequently as possible, devoting attention to them if only for a shot. Even Father Walther, the Junior Varsity football coach who takes over for Father Leviatch, gets one when he celebrates Danny nailing the final monologue of The Tempest. Remembrance is key to Lady Bird, how seemingly inconsequential moments which take up just seconds of our lives can sometimes be the most influential without us having any way of realising at the time. Though, as much as the film’s memorability comes from how it grows to encompass an ensemble, it also ensures that it links this back to being a mother and daughter story.

lkc2qky5jrdsxfu7pbw33pnls4-1355x788

In keeping with the idea of moments, Marion gets one to herself early on in the film. In the script it comes just ten pages in, as she drives home from work. Soft music plays over it and the relaxing atmosphere sets in despite how quickly the moment is over in the grand scheme of things. On first glance, this helps to inform an instance of serenity for Marion, in between her shifts at the psychiatric hospital, and running a household. It’s a sprinkling of character that could’ve been left at that, though it comes back around after Lady Bird goes to college.

This sequence includes a point where other filmmakers might have opted to conclude the film. Lady Bird travels across the United States, from West Coast to East Coast, arrives at her dorm and finds the unfinished letters Marion tried to write and that Larry salvaged from the trash. Later, at a party, she and a guy get to talking. He asks her name and after a moment she responds:

“Christine. My name is Christine.”

It’s not hard to imagine the possibility of a hard cut to black and the credits roll following up the assertion. Of course, once again, Lady Bird is not just the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. And so, the film runs for a few more minutes, the night turns sour when Lady Bird gets taken to hospital. Upon waking up, she walks the streets and ends up at a church. Outside, she calls home:

“Hi Mom and Dad, it’s me. Christine. It’s the name you gave me. It’s a good one. Dad, this is more for Mom – Hey Mom: did you feel emotional the first time that you drove in Sacramento? I did and I wanted to tell you, but we weren’t really talking when it happened. All those bends I’ve known my whole life, and stores, and the whole thing. But I wanted to tell you. I love you. Thank you, I’m… thank you.”

Through match cuts, from Christine to Marion and back, Gerwig reflects on their relationship as they drive, independently, but down the same streets. Intertwined because of familial, formal and spatial relations. There’s no true indication from this about how Christine’s college experience will go, much less where she’ll end up after. These ninety minutes alone show much can happen in a year, imagine how much can in four. But as Gerwig returns to her lead, standing outside, the shot holding on her as she utters those final words, it’s clear how this moment between states –– in multiple senses: native Californian and resident New Yorker, high school student and college student, teenager and adult –– is one of the most formative in her life.

The exact impact of this comes from how Gerwig’s picture is built up from delicate brushstrokes that were far more than just background details and throwaway lines. She did so on both a macro-level, by granting members of the ensemble scenes and moments like the ones discussed above and on a micro-level, in that Marion allows for a stronger connection of this idea to Christine. For as much as this is a portrait of a year in the life of a young woman, it is also a landscape of so many others’.

Advertisements

On The Record

Miscellaneous Lists for Future Reference.

I unfortunately don’t have any time to write these up in full, but wanted to post them all the same, for my own later recollection and for the (what I imagine is very few) people who care about lists sans detailed explanation.

 

FILMS OF 2016 (REDUX)

Got to March of this year before realising how dire my list was, so consider this a do-over –– 16 for ’16 –– in a particular Boxing Day moment, including films that weren’t distributed in the UK until 2017 in addition to ones that I missed in 2016 or didn’t pay the correct amount of attention, that I’ll still probably want to fine-tune after hitting publish.

 

16. A Bigger Splash

15. Cameraperson

14. Hail, Caesar!

13. I Am Not Your Negro

12. The Neon Demon

11. 20th Century Women

10. Certain Women

9. The Love Witch

8. La La Land

7. The Fits

6. Lemonade

5. Jackie

4. Moonlight

3. Toni Erdmann

2. O.J.: Made in America

1. Paterson

 

1af9d050-85d0-11e6-b270-edf4b16cae3d_20160929_paterson_trailer1

 

TOP 25 TV SHOWS OF 2017

Had a very strong notion of what my top 10 would be since October even if the order was never locked in for certain –– case in point: I held off on placing The Girlfriend Experience until the final pair of episodes aired. #11-25 were more impulsive choices, driven by a [rather long] short-list kept throughout the year and having to finally make a judgement call about whether disappointing seasons of shows such as The Americans S5 and You’re the Worst S4 would even place on an extended list such as this.

 

25. Runaways

24. Master of None

23. Feud: Betty and Joan

22. The Trip

21. Alias Grace

20. Fargo

19. The Tick

18. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

17. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

16. Wormwood

15. Difficult People

14. The Deuce

13. One Day at a Time

12. Insecure

11. The Good Place

10. The Handmaid’s Tale

9. Big Little Lies

8. Legion

7. Top of the Lake: China Girl

6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

5. Better Things

4. Halt and Catch Fire

3. The Leftovers

2. The Girlfriend Experience

1. Twin Peaks: The Return

 

rr-20022r-40114c0e-70b1-4212-b647-1a241c330a87

 

TOP 10 TV EPISODES OF 2017

Capping this at 10 to help avoid certain shows overwhelming the list in addition to ensuring I myself am not overwhelmed by having to create a list of this nature that’s 25 entries long. [read: if this went to 25. I’d have no idea how to place other shows around Twin Peaks parts]

 

10. Saturday Night Live – Kristen Stewart/Alessia Cara

9. Difficult People – Strike Rat

8. The Handmaid’s Tale – Late

7. Better Things – Graduation

6. Legion – Chapter 4

5. The Good Place – Michael’s Gambit

4. The Girlfriend Experience – Relapse

3. Halt and Catch Fire – Who Needs a Guy

2. The Leftovers – The Book of Nora

1. Twin Peaks: The Return – Part 8

 

twin-peaks-part-8-explosion-1500x1000

 

TOP COMICS OF 2017

5 of each, including an honourable mention, because in some cases a series may: have ended earlier in the year, changed creative teams and saw subsequent decline or have released just a single issue.

 

DC

HM: Wonder Woman – specifically the runs of: Greg Rucka et al + Shea Fontana et al

5. The Flintstones

4. Superwoman

3. Deathstroke

2. Batman

1. Mister Miracle

 

mister-miracle-1-cover-b-mitch-gerads

 

MARVEL

HM: Scarlet Witch #14 + #15

5. Runaways

4. Jessica Jones

3. Black Bolt

2. Hawkeye

1. Generation X

 

494422-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

 

OTHER

HM: Casanova: Acedia #8 (Image)

5. Kill Them All /Rock Candy Mountain(Oni/Image)

4. Glitterbomb: The Fame Game (Image)

3. 4 Kids Walk into a Bank (Black Mask)

2. Giant Days (Boom)

1. The Wicked + The Divine (Image)

 

dsolvmxw0aailnq

 

THE CHRIS POWER RANKING

You know this is true.

 

4. Pratt

3. Pine

2. Hemsworth

1. Evans

 

THE ONLY MUSIC THAT MATTERS

something something Poptimism something something

 

3. Haim – Want You Back

2. Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut to the Feeling

1. Lorde – Melodrama

 

(Doesn’t fit with the joke, but you should also check out Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s album. One of the most relaxing listening experiences of the year)

 

1200x630bb

 

See you sometime in 2018, hopefully sooner rather than later, uni-work and Newsarama-commitments willing.

2017: A Media Diary

Evidence I may require a pop culture intervention

 

Started out as a purely personal experiment to log how much pop culture I got to over the course of the year, decided I would publish it as recorded.

So, without further pre-amble:

 

COMICS

NOTE: In alphabetical order, and divided by publisher, for convenience.

 

Older Comics

Dark Horse: Dept. H Volume 1, The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

DC: American Alien, Batgirl of Burnside Volumes 1+2, Batgirl: Stephanie Brown Volume 1, Batman: Year One, Dark Night: A True Batman Story, Gotham Academy + Second Semester Volume 1, Grayson, Johns’ Justice League Volume 6, Morrison’s Batman, New Suicide Squad Volume 4, Ostrander’s Suicide Squad Volumes 2-6, Prez: Corndog-in-Chief, Rucka’s Wonder Woman Volume 1+2, Snyder’s Batman Volume 7, Starman Omnibii 5+6, Superman: Secret Identity, The Legend of Wonder Woman

Image: Black Magick Volume 1, Casanova: Luxuria, Gula, Avaritia & Acedia, East of West Year Two and #30, Prince of Cats, Sexcastle, The Other Side

Marvel: Alias, Avengers: Rage of Ultron, Avengers: Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Cain’s Mockingbird, Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men until #139, Edmondson’s Black Widow, Infinity Gauntlet, Iron Man: Extremis, Remender’s Uncanny Avengers, Robinson’s Scarlet Witch, Silver Surfer: Requiem, Spurrier’s X-Men Legacy, Stephenson’s Runaways, Vaughn’s Runaways

Oni: Heartthrob Season One, Sixth Gun Deluxes 2+3, The Coldest City, The Coldest Winter

Vertigo: Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Scalped Volumes 4-5

 

2017 Comics

NOTE: Always a chance I forgot to log something. Any curious omissions – feel free to ask.

 

Action Lab: Spencer & Locke

Archie: Riverdale (first two issues)

Black Mask: 4 Kids Walk into a Bank, Beautiful Canvas, Calexit, Last Song, There’s Nothing There

Boom Studios: Eugenic (first issue), Fence (first issue), Giant Days, Godshaper, Grass Kings (first arc), Hi-Fi Fight Club, Jane, Judas, Klaus and the Crisis in Xmasville, Mech Cadet Yu, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers + Pink, Namesake, Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern, War for the Planet of the Apes

Dark Horse: Ether, Mr Higgins Comes Home, Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse

DC: Batman, Batman: Creature of the Night, Batman/Elmer Fudd, Batman/The Shadow, Batwoman, Booster Gold/The Flintstones, Black Racer Special, Bug, Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye, Darkseid Special, Dark Days: The Forge + The Casting, Dark Knights: Metal (+ one-shots & tie-ins), Detective Comics, Deathstroke, Doomsday Clock, Doom Patrol, Flash (for The Button), Holiday Special, Kamandi Challenge (first four issues), Justice League (Fontana’s issue, Priest’s run) Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, JLA (until issue seven) + Assorted One-Shots, Manhunter Special, Mister Miracle, Mother Panic, Mystik U, New Gods Special, New Super-Man, New Talent Showcase, Nightwing, Nightwing: The New Order, Shade the Changing Girl, Supergirl, Supergirl: Being Super, Superman (+Action Comics for Reborn + The Oz Effect), Superwoman, Super Sons, Teen Titans, The Flintstones, The Hellblazer (from start of Seeley’s run) The Wild Storm, Titans, Trinity, Wonder Woman

Image: Afar, Angelic (first issue) Black Cloud, Black Magick, Black Monday Murders, Casanova: Acedia, Crosswind, Curse Words (first arc), East of West, Generation Gone, Glitterbomb: The Fame Game, God Country, Gravediggers Union (first issue), Green Valley, Kill or be Killed, Loose Ends, Moonstone (first issue), Motor Crush, Paper Girls (until issue fifteen), Reborn, Redlands, Rock Candy Mountain, Royal City (first arc), Savage Town, Seven to Infinity (until issue eight) Solid State, Southern Bastards, The Dying and the Dead, The Few (first two issues), The Gravediggers Union (first issue), The Old Guard, The Wicked + The Divine, Violent Love, Winnebago Graveyard

Marvel: All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, All-New Wolverine, America, Astonishing X-Men, Avengers (+.1 issues), Black Bolt, Black Panther + World of Wakanda + The Crew, Black Widow, Bullseye, Cable (first three issues of Robinson’s), Captain America, Captain America: Sam Wilson, Captain America: Steve Rogers, Champions (first six issues), Defenders, Doctor Strange, Falcon (first two issues) Gamora, Generations (one-shots), Generation X, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iceman, Infamous Iron Man, Inhumans: Once and Future Kings, Inhumans: Prime, Inhumans vs. X-Men, Invincible Iron Man, Iron Fist (first two issues), Jean Grey, Jessica Jones, Karnak, Kingpin, Legacy (one-shot), Luke Cage, Man-Thing (first two issues), Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Nick Fury, Old Man Logan, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Phoenix: Resurrection, Power Man and Iron-Fist, Punisher (Rosenberg’s run), Royals, Runaways, Scarlet Witch, Secret Empire, Secret Warriors, Spider-Woman, Star Wars, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Star Wars: Darth Maul, Star Wars: Darth Vader, The Mighty Captain Marvel, U.S. Avengers, Ultimates^2, Uncanny Avengers (Zub’s issues post-Secret Empire) Unworthy Thor, Unstoppable Wasp, Weapon X (first two issues), X-Men: Blue, X-Men: Gold, X-Men: Grand Design, X-Men: Prime

Oni: Kill Them All

Titan: The Death of Stalin

Valiant: Secret Weapons

 

FILMS

NOTE: I now have a letterboxd account (https://letterboxd.com/Matt_Sibley/) , thought about signing up earlier, but wanted to start one come the new year.

 

Older Movies

Hell or High Water, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Neon Demon, The Nice Guys, Whiplash, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, The Woman in the Window, Drinking Buddies, Green Room, In the Mood for Love, The Big Sleep, Happy Christmas, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Sing Street, Margaret, Permanent Vacation, Metropolis, Run Lola Run, Once, Attack the Block, Stranger than Paradise, Adventureland, Clouds of Sils Maria, M (1931), The Sixth Sense, Red Road, Everybody Wants Some, Source Code, Wiener Dog, High-Rise, Carol, Down by Law, Mystery Train, Only God Forgives, Being Again, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Night on Earth, Black Swan, Moonrise Kingdom, Dead Man, Only Lovers Left Alive, Submarine, Beginners, O.J.: Made in America, Fury (1936), Shane, Man Hunt, Rashomon, All About Eve, Life, Animated, Day of Wrath, What We Do in the Shadows, Blue Jasmine, Godzilla, The Bling Ring, A Bigger Splash, Macbeth (2015), Knight of Cups, Lost in Translation, The Graduate, Sleepless in Seattle, Carol (again), The Wrestler, Requiem For a Dream, Paterson, The Big Heat, Happiness, Her Girl Friday, Zombieland, Kill List, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Tickled, The Battle of Midway, Hail, Caesar!, John Wick, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Mistress America, Blade Runner (Final Cut), Wonder Woman (2009), Carlos the Jackal, Drive, 13th (+ A Conversation with Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay), Justice League: The New Frontier, Dear White People, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Still Alice, The Raid: Redemption, Lost in Translation (again), Searching for Sugar Man, Ex Machina, Prometheus, Broken Flowers, The Raid 2: Berendal, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Amanda Knox, The Virgin Suicides, Wild, Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids, A Single Man, Carol again, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Three Colours: Blue, White, Red, Hell or High Water (again), Looper, Mustang, While We’re Young, Margot at the Wedding, De Palma, Marie Antoinette, Westworld, Somewhere, Heat, The Bling Ring, Side Effects, Gimme the Loot, Under the Skin, You Can Count on Me, Something Wild, Bonnie and Clyde, Anomalisa, Manhattan, The Edge of Seventeen, The Big Short, Frances Ha, Animal Kingdom, The Duke of Burgundy, O Brother, Where Art Thou, In Your Eyes, Days of Heaven, The Breakfast Club, Network, Girlhood, Fish Tank, The Great Dictator, Blue Jay, The Place Beyond the Pines, Haywire, Contagion, Interstellar, The Informant!, Behind the Candelabra, Ocean’s Eleven, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ocean’s Twelve, The Mermaid, Ocean’s Thirteen, In the Valley of Elah, Spy, Inherent Vice, Hard Eight, 50/50, The Hateful Eight, Arrival, Michael Clayton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Brooklyn, Magic Mike, Jack Reacher, Paterson (again), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (again), Young Frankenstein, Seven Psychopaths, On the Waterfront, Edge of Tomorrow, Swiss Army Man (first forty minutes), Blue Velvet, Blue Velvet (again), Son of Saul, Mean Streets, Sully, The Dark Knight Rises, Rachel Getting Married, Magic Mike XXL, A Most Violent Year, The Big Lebowski, Nebraska, Selma, Prisoners, Cinema Paradiso, The Squid and the Whale, Captain Phillips, I, Daniel Blake, The One I Love, Listen Up Philip, Greenberg, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Ricki and the Flash, Little Miss Sunshine, Kicking and Screaming, Married to the Mob, Kill Bill: Volume 1, The Manchurian Candidate, Kill Bill: Volume 2, Pulp Fiction, The Great Beauty, Django Unchained, Alps, Modern Times, Coffee and Cigarettes, Thor: The Dark World, Hunger, Shame, Iron Man 3, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Following, Near Dark, Insomnia, Seven, Iron Man, Avengers, The Girlfriend Experience, Chinatown, A Separation, Incendies, Polytechnique, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, I’m Not There, Far From Heaven, Carol again, Enemy, Zodiac, Blade Runner (Final Cut [again]), Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Dumbo, Velvet Goldmine, Safe, Hell or High Water again, A Scanner Darkly, Waking Life, The Limey, Solaris (2002), Live Flesh, Thor, Thief, Panic Room, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Incredible Hulk, Julieta, The Good German, Badlands, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man 2, In the Loop, Captain America: The First Avenger, sex, lies, and videotape, Erin Brockovich, Results, Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Stop Making Sense, Punch-Drunk Love, Reservoir Dogs, Zero Dark Thirty, Avengers: Age of Ultron (again), Take Shelter, Inside Out, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Age of Ultron again (for note-taking purposes), Rushmore, When Harry Met Sally, Traffic, Black Hawk Down, Paprika, There Will Be Blood, Dune, She’s Gotta Have It, The Deep Blue Sea, Waltz with Bashir, Munich, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Wild Tales, The Aviator, Frances Ha (again), Mistress America (again), The Squid and The Whale (again), Listen Up Philip (again), World of Tomorrow, Melvin and Howard, Magnolia, The Last of the Mohicans, In Bruges, Monsters, Love and Friendship, Mary and Max, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Serenity, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Man from UNCLE, Carol again (in 35mm), Spring Breakers, Room 237, American Graffiti, Miami Vice, Bridesmaids, Jurassic World, Casino Royale (from poker game on), John Wick (again)

 

(Weirdest Viewing Experience of the Year: Majority of the class laughing at the final moments of The Graduate. Honourable Mention: Realising that my family were enjoying the hollow nihilism of Jurassic World)

(Best Viewing Experience of the Year: seeing Carol in 35mm, my first time with the format as far as I’m aware. Honourable Mention: seeing it for the first time and realising exactly how much I adored it)

 

2017 Movies

NOTE: Includes movies whose American release dates were pre-2017, but were released here this year.

 

La La Land, La La Land (again), Jackie, Imperial Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women, Silence, The Lego Batman Movie, I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore, Moonlight, Logan, Kong: Skull Island, Personal Shopper, Elle, Diedra and Laney Rob a Train, Burning Sands, Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas, Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin, Get Out, Toni Erdmann, The Most Hated Woman in America, Free Fire, Five Came Back, The Discovery, The Fits, Girlfriend’s Day, iBoy, Win it All, Tower, Certain Women, Tramps, Sand Castle, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Rodney King, Casting JonBenet, Get Me Roger Stone, Alien: Covenant, Colossal, War Machine, Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, A Ghost Story, Jackie (again), Shimmer Lake, Catfight, Oh, Hello: On Broadway, Logan (again), I Am Jane Doe, I Am Not Your Negro, The Salesman, John Wick: Chapter 2, Baby Driver, Long Strange Trip, Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press, La La Land again, The Book of Henry, Batman & Bill, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Okja, 20th Century Women (again), Lovesong, Lion, The Love Witch, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Before I Fall, Song to Song, Aquarius, War for the Planet of the Apes, Chasing Coral, The Beguiled, To the Bone, Dunkirk, The Incredible Jessica James, Free Fire (again), Hidden Figures, Icarus, Detroit, Atomic Blonde, I Called Him Morgan, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Wind River, Atomic Blonde (again), Oh Hello, On Broadway (again), Split, Logan Lucky (sans opening twenty-five), The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, Lady Macbeth, What Happened to Monday, Logan Lucky (again; in full this time), Nocturama, Personal Shopper (again), First They Killed My Father, mother!, Alien: Covenant (again), David Lynch: The Art Life, The Handmaiden, Una, Valentine, Gaga: Five Foot Two, The Bad Batch (first thirty minutes), Logan Lucky again, Gerald’s Game (first twenty minutes), Our Souls at Night, Blade Runner 2049, Columbus, Ingrid Goes West, Wonderstruck, Manifesto, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Song to Song (again), Beats Per Minute, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (again), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected [again]), The Death of Stalin, Thor: Ragnarok, Their Finest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Tokyo Project, Patton Oswalt: Annihilation, Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) again, Come Swim, Call Me By Your Name, My Life as a Courgette, It Comes at Night, Good Time, Mudbound, Justice League, City of Ghosts, Murder on the Orient Express, The Big Sick (again), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) again (uni-work related), Paddington 2, The Lost City of Z, The Florida Project, Strong Island, A Quiet Passion, Mindhorn, Stronger, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Wormwood, Atomic Blonde again, Land of Mine (first 40 minutes), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (again), Bright (first thirty minutes), Alien: Covenant again, The Red Turtle, Mr. Roosevelt, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) again, World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts.

 

(Unfortunately didn’t get to these releases –– Neruda, My Cousin Rachel, Girls Trip, God’s Own Country, I Am Not a Witch, Marjorie Prime, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Kedi, Beach Rats, Happy End, The Disaster Artist, Menashe, Mountains May Depart –– as a result of lack of time mostly, but some also didn’t play nearby enough for me to catch a screening)

 

TV

 

Older TV

NOTE: Unlike comics, these are in chronological order as I made sure not to try and catch up with more than one show simultaneously.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency S1, Please Like Me, The Leftovers S1-2, The Trip S1-2, O.J.: Made in America, Halt and Catch Fire S1-3, The Girlfriend Experience S1, Mr. Robot S1-2×03, Mad Men 3×13, 4×07, 7×07, Top of the Lake, One Mississippi S1, The Thick of It, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, Difficult People S1+2, Freaks and Geeks 1×01-1×02, Battlestar Galactica 1×01, 3×03-3×04

 

2017 TV

Sherlock, Taboo, One Day at a Time, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Star Wars Rebels, The Good Place, Agents of Shield, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Saturday Night Live (42×11-42×21), Supergirl, Sneaky Pete, Riverdale (1×01-2×01), San Clarita Diet, Legion, Crashing, Big Little Lies, Catastrophe, Feud, The Americans, Love, Iron Fist (pilot + 25% of 1×02), Review, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (pilot), The Flash (3×16), Five Came Back, 13 Reasons Why, Rick and Morty (3×01), Samurai Gourmet, iZombie, Brockmire (1×01-1×03), Archer(8×01-8×03), Better Call Saul, Brooklyn Nine Nine, The Leftovers, Fargo, Bill Nye Saves the World (first season), The Trip, Underground 2×06, The Handmaid’s Tale, Dear White People, I Love Dick, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Twin Peaks, F is for Family (2×01-2×02), Long Strange Trip, GLOW, American Gods, Gypsy (pilot), Castlevania, Tour de Pharmacy, Friends from College (pilot), Insecure, Ozark (1×01-1×02), The Last Tycoon (pilot), Top of the Lake: China Girl, Room 104, Rick & Morty, Atypical, Comrade Detective, The Defenders, Halt and Catch Fire, The Tick, You’re the Worst, Bojack Horseman, The Deuce, One Mississippi, Better Things, American Vandal, Great News, The Last Tycoon, Transparent, Star Trek Discovery, Inhumans (1×01-02; later 03-1×08 for podcast), The Gifted, Mindhunter, Big Mouth, Stranger Things (2×01-03), Alias Grace, The Girlfriend Experience, Lady Dynamite, The Punisher (1×01), Runaways, Godless (1×01), She’s Gotta Have It, Patriot (25% of 1×01), Difficult People, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Easy (2×01-2×03), Wormwood, Black Mirror (USS Callister)

 

(As with cinema, there are always blindspots, primarily due to the sheer volume being released. Notable ones –– that I kept intending to get to at some point before 2018 –– The Young Pope, American Crime, The Carmichael Show, Queen Sugar)

 

 

 

BOOKS

NOTE: Still the area of the arts I’m most likely to neglect. Trying to stop doing this, likely never will; even if I try.

 

Older Books

A Once Crowded Sky, Call Me By Your Name, Carol/The Price of Salt, One Kick, The Revolution was Televised

 

2017 Books

Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End, From a Certain Point of View, We Were Eight Years in Power

 

BONUS CONTENT

Just a peak behind the curtain at the TV-specific shortlists I kept over the course of the year. Each entry was included, not because I assumed they’d be within the end of year conversation, but because I wanted to mark them as and when they aired instead of running greater risk at glossing over something had I waited until, say November, to start thinking about these things.

 

Shows in Contention for Top 10: One Day at a Time, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Place, Agents of Shield, Legion, The Americans, Love, Big Little Lies, Review, Girls, Five Came Back, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, Fargo, The Trip, The Handmaid’s Tale, I Love Dick, Master of None, Twin Peaks, GLOW, Insecure, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Comrade Detective, Halt and Catch Fire, The Tick, You’re the Worst, The Deuce, Better Things, America Vandal, Alias Grace, The Girlfriend Experience, Runaways, Difficult People, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Wormwood.

 

(As of November: Twin Peaks, The Leftovers, The Girlfriend Experience, Halt and Catch Fire, Better Things, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Top of the Lake: China Girl, Legion, Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale)

 

Episodes in Contention for Top 10: The Good Place 1×13, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 2×13, One Day at a Time (honestly any episode onwards from the fourth), Kristen Stewart’s SNL, Legion 1×01, Riverdale 1×03, Agents of Shield 4×15, Girls 6×03, Legion 1×04, Love 2×05, Big Little Lies 1×05, Legion 1×07, Review 3×02, Review 3×03, Big Little Lies 1×07, Feud 1×05, Girls 6×09, Underground 2×06 Leftovers 3×02, Feud 1×08, The Handmaid’s Tale 1×01, 1×03, Dear White People 1×05, Better Call Saul 3×05, iZombie 3×06 I Love Dick 1×05. 1×07, Master of None 2×04, 2×06, 2×08, Leftovers 3×06, Twin Peaks The Return Part 3, Fargo 3×06, Leftovers 3×07, Leftovers 3×08, Fargo 3×08, GLOW 1×08, Twin Peaks The Return Part 8, American Gods 1×04, iZombie 3×13, Twin Peaks The Return Part 14, Rick and Morty 3×04, Room 104 1×04, Halt and Catch Fire 4×01-4×02, Twin Peaks The Return Part 15, Insecure 2×05, The Tick 1×05, Room 104 1×05, Halt and Catch Fire 4×03, Twin Peaks The Return Parts 16-18, You’re the Worst 4×01-4×02, The Good Place 2×03, Halt and Catch Fire 4×07-10, You’re the Worst 4×06, Better Things 2×06, Big Mouth 1×08, Star Trek Discovery 1×07, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 3×06-07 Better Things 2×09-2×10, She’s Gotta Have It 1×06, Difficult People 3×02,3×08,3×10, Runaways 1×04, The Girlfriend Experience 2×09, Brooklyn Nine-Nine 5×09, Search Party 2×07, Wormwood Part 4, The Girlfriend Experience 2×11, The Girlfriend Experience 2×14

 

 

 

 

Baby Driver Puts the Pedal to the Metal and Forgets About the Cruise Control

Edgar Wright’s new vehicle is by all accounts slick, but might have a little too much going on under the hood.

Making a mixtape is a labour of love, or so I assume –– I don’t think anyone’s made one since the creation of the iPod, but that means we’ve made playlists instead. We create one for every occasion: the gym, work, house parties etc. and it’s still just as meticulous a process. Ensuring one song flows to the next, creating a connective tissue running through, much like the artists themselves do when making an album.

Behind Baby Driver is Edgar Wright, a writer-director whose rightfully seen as an artist, one with a particular sound –– his voice, distinct and recogniseable after the success of The Cornetto Trilogy and his other work. In Baby Driver, Wright has attempted to make more than just a mere playlist of hits to belt out, instead swinging for the fences and creating a concept album, the film’s DNA being the music itself.

If your primary complaint about La La Land involved a lack of music, then consider your problem solved as this is stuffed with tunes;  Baby’s (Ansel Engort) numerous iPods providing the film’s needle drops. By all means a musical, but one that takes existing tunes and arranges them to tell a story over the story giving way for songs, Wright rarely lets the music let up and it feels near constant as a result. The first act seems unrelenting in that way, but avoids Suicide Squad-level of tedium due to Wright avoiding the easy songs, springing for the deep cuts from a wide array of artists: Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Run the Jewels and many more.

Just as important to this film as the score are the scores that the criminal cast are looking to attain from the variety of heists they pull off. While many sequences are choreographed to the music playing in Baby’s eardrums –– from an early long take where he glides through the streets of Atlanta on a coffee run to more simple flourishes like Doc (Kevin Spacey) splitting up the crew’s cut of the cash –– these crimes are more elaborate, the set-pieces of the film and most thrilling sequences.

baby_driver_-_official_international_trailer_video_news_under_the_radar

Other movies in the crime genre, like Heat, take us inside the location being robbed, but Wright sticks with Baby and the getaway car. Sequences like that early long take demonstrate Engort’s adeptness at moving less like Robert De Niro and more like Fred Astaire and that flow extends to when Baby’s behind the wheel. The cars he drives weave through Atlanta, and its commuters, with his foot on gas, there’s no time to slow down as he looks to evade the cops. John Wick: Chapter 2 might engage in car-fu, treating the vehicles as other fighters, but here stunt coordinator and driver Jeremy Fry, who worked on both Wick chapters, moves from martial arts to music in order to deliver spectacle that’s just as graceful as the bullet ballet.

Baby’s cut from the same cloth as Ryan Gosling in Drive, a stoic character that’s content to cut the chatter. This changes when he meets a waitress, Debora (Lily James), their interactions light-hearted as the pair dance around the other verbally. The blossoming relationship provides the emotional through-line of the piece, but Wright incorporates some prior tragedy, the layers of which are gradually pulled back before being revealed in full. With a concept like this –– a getaway driver suffers from tinnitus and listens to music to drown it out –– it’s somewhat necessary to explain that, especially when aiming for a degree of realism like Wright is.

baby-driver-new-picture-3

As such, it engages with ideas from other crime movies, most notably Walter Hill’s The Driver, but includes more general ideas like a shipment of weapons and a sense of uneasiness when it comes to who the characters can trust. The film doesn’t slow down, running just shy of two hours and so feels filled to the brim with ideas. Wright layers these in a way you’d expect. While Mad Max: Fury Road went for a simpler narrative (in basic terms –– Point A to B and back) which allowed for maximum insanity, Baby Driver proceeds in a more traditional fashion, building through cause and effect, as that central crime narrative finds itself entwined with Baby and Debora’s relationship, among others. On the first watch, it doesn’t seem as well structured as the Cornetto trilogy, in terms of early foreshadowing, but there’s a chance that a more silent protagonist allowed Wright to leave the set-up of various elements unsaid, and this will become more apparent when re-watched.

Baby serves as the film’s protagonist, doing what he does for Doc to ensure everything goes off without a hitch or casualty, but he’s part of a cast of criminals run by Doc and made up of Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), Bats (Jamie Foxx) and other bit players. Wright plays with the tension derived from this crew without making too knotted of a web –– Buddy and Darling are a couple –– partly due to how fast the film moves. It’s nowhere close to the near-three hour run-time of Heat, more in line with modern-day action movies and shorter than most superhero fare, there’s no real wiggle room to really delve into the rest of the crew’s interior lives.

Even with small glimpses, they shine. Foxx plays a wildcard and relishes the opportunity to go further over the top than the rest of the cast, González avoids the over the top quality other actresses may have gone for with this Bonnie (of & Clyde) character, commanding a mutual respect from everyone else, not least Hamm who with Spacey play the straight men in this enterprise, although Hamm’s walks a more precarious line, with that stern seemingly papering over rage. James plays the purest part, a respite from a far murkier picture that I think most are expecting, her chemistry with Engort allowing for a lighter mood –– one that might cause you to grin, but not necessarily laugh out loud. It should be said at this point that everyone here is phenomenal when it comes to how they use the space, hitting the musical beats with ease, a fact highlighted by how rarely Wright has to cut in closer from a wider shot to mask a mistake.

baby-driver-image-3His visual style remains, evident with the little things, like button presses and there’s some wider visual flourishes  –– one transition involves moving from a close up of Baby in shades to his car roaming the streets which Wright does with a gentle push in –– coming from another collaboration with cinematographer Bill Pope. Wright is clearly in control of the look of his film, while it may not utilise center framing like Mad Max: Fury Road, the action rarely gets muddled, even as the cuts get more frequent, down to the guiding hand of the soundtrack. Sound editing is just as key to Baby Driver and there’s at no point does someone seem to be a beat behind, making this a very rewarding experience if you know the songs.

While it’ll certainly play well with a crowd, Wright’s also looking to provide a unique, singular experience. A thin whine runs through scenes, because of Baby’s tinnitus, which shows how Wright is looking to focalise this movie through Baby’s head, putting the audience in there without relying purely on POV shots. For the most part, Baby spends the film with both earbuds in and the music booms. When inside a building, it’s by no means as overwhelming and gets even fainter when an earbud is removed. As a result of this near-constant soundtrack, not to mention the dialogue and other aural aspects, the sound mixing has a lot to contend with. In the moments where no-one’s barreling through the streets over the speed limit, the balance sounds good, but when Baby’s foot’s on the floor, there are moments where it feels like too much, as if you’ve found yourself right in front of a band performing live, but without earplugs.

ansel-elgort-in-baby-driverBlockbusters have a tendency to slip up in the third act, but that’s not strictly the case here. Instead it feels like it could have afforded to go a little further in its climax, but I’m willing to bet they couldn’t afford to from a financial perspective. Wright remembers the relationships built up over the course of the film lending it the necessary emotional weight, which demonstrates the strength of this film’s second act, its peak which goes far enough in developing those relationships. There’s one decision I’m not completely on-board with, but upon reflection is likely to be less of conflicting with prior actions and more because of the relative brevity of the film making it seem sudden.

That brevity results in a tightness in the script that makes it hard to simply point at Heat‘s runtime and ask for it to be closer to that. The film is meticulously crafted around a very precise soundtrack and timing that doesn’t allow for an additional scene to just be inserted midway through the run-time and alleviate all concerns, especially when it can be argued the ending has to string together more scenes than it should in order to provide a satisfying point to leave off.

Despite these final act issues, there isn’t a point where I didn’t enjoy myself and that may be the real strength of the film. For a while now, I’ve found myself liking blockbusters and tent-poles less than people I know and the initial consensus that forms online. Wright’s sheer devotion to the concept, never backing off from the initial idea that makes the film feel gutsy in a way that’s hard not to admire. Even the beat that didn’t gel with me is one I enjoyed seeing play out because instances like that make it clear this film has a far more complicated morality to it than expected and instances like that allow for debate.

It’s this kind of ambitious filmmaking that doesn’t just aim to shoot straight down the middle and win over everyone with the lowest amount of effort, instead going for something vastly different, where the passion and craft are clear. This results in likability and enjoyability being ideas which aren’t directly proportional –– it’s possible to like it without loving it, while still loving the time you spent with it. Wright has made a mixtape, a concept album, one which I admittedly didn’t love every track on it, but is one that I want to listen to again, now knowing the sound and feel to expect, looking to see how it all links together.

The Elegant Simplicity of Wonder Woman

DC’s latest works not only because it’s fine with being a superhero film, but because it is unashamedly so.

The most striking distinction, the one that separates Wonder Woman from the rest of the DC Extended Universe, is unusually that despite the film’s title, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is not referred to by that title within the film. Lest we forger that prior to their 2017 summer tent-pole, this was a universe that saw both Batman and Superman undergo periods of uncertainty, with the weight of the world thrown at them, in order to question if they ‘be worthy’ enough to protect their cities on opposite sides of the bay.

Not only that, but just ten months ago, this universe revealed itself to be one where the alleged supervillains (and believe me, we were told they were bad guys many times) appear to have been more willing to save a city, one that none of them come from, from an unquestionable evil. Wonder Woman does not trade on the moral queries of the previous entries or this franchise, or at least it doesn’t when it comes to its protagonist. Instead, Diana is Wonder Woman and this is not up for debate.

This simplicity can be seen in individual story beats, like when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) steals the notebook of Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). He simply sees it and goes for it. As a whole, the movie trades on this kind of simplicity when it comes to plot –– It does not try to intertwine four/five plot-lines like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, nor does it appear to being going where the wind and mood takes it a la Suicide SquadHowever, I don’t want to imply that this film is basic by any means.

tumblr_static_duc4608p4i88w0gsk8ow8w8wg

It’s smart, not in a Whedon-kind of way where the words ‘mewling quim’ end up in the finished product, but in regards to gender roles and the subversion of those within a blockbuster. This should be clear from the fact that Steve Trevor, despite being the romantic interest, is granted a great deal more to do than his respective female counterparts, but it applies to other scenes. Written by Allan Heinberg, there are points, such as when Diana walks in on Steve exiting the bath or later when they depart for London and discuss sleeping, where you might anticipate where these scenes will go, based on similar versions across many other pieces of media. This is primarily due to the dialogue, leaning on low-hanging fruit for these scenarios which can be played as cutesy-awkward, but under the lens of Patty Jenkins, an air of earnestness comes across.

Andrew Sarris considered this to be ‘Interior Meaning’, or the conflict between the text the director works from, and the text that they create. As a result, the joke isn’t on Diana. It might be played as humorous, but not for laughs directed at her because Jenkins understands there’s difference between being a fish-out-of-water and naivety writ large. A similar notion applies to Sammy, Charlie and Chief, played by Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock respectively. They might be stereotypes, a symptom of the script adopting a brisker pace upon arriving in Man’s World, but the qualities that come with these rough character outlines aren’t why they’re funny.

This notion of ‘interior meaning’ was demonstrated last year in Batman v. Superman, when Gadot ad-libbed her smile during the Doomsday fight, before she rejoined the brawl. With the focus now on year, she shines even more brightly than she did there. Present in the actresses that portray a younger Diana, Gadot demonstrates a determination in all of her actions and decisions throughout the film, and as a fish-out-of-water, she plays confusion without an air of vapidity –– the moment in which she becomes enamoured by a baby sees her tap into the same compassion and care for life that takes across No Man’s Land in the second act, the film’s most inspiring and flowing sequence.

chris-pine-and-gal-gadot-in-wonder-woman

With Chris Pine, the pair demonstrate a chemistry that runs as an undercurrent in most if not all of their scenes even when it is not the focus and without either of them needing to say anything about it. Jenkins’ has a clear talent for non-verbal moments like this, the reason the wonders of the first act shine despite the heavy exposition about the mythology of the Amazons and gods. When dealing with scenes that are explicitly about the duo’s relationship, Jenkins focus on the pair and avoids cutting away to show reactions of others. This is about what they have together and that unity makes them best comic book pairing since Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter, a comparison that would be made regardless, but is ultimately welcome.

If anything, this goes to show that a lot of the film’s problems exist on a script level. in fact the issues present in the film –– exposition, underwritten supporting cast, a third act that forgets some themes previously considered, bad CGI –– are ones present in most superhero films (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad to offer just one possible assortment to fit this particular bill). It’s to the credit of Jenkins that the first two acts, the second most of all, are so strong, that these issues don’t weigh the film down further. In this lead-up to Wonder Woman‘s release, there was a worry that it would seem to similar to Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, but instead it feels fresh, in the way that Deadpool captured the zeitgeist and that’s a matter of new perspective.

Of course a disconnect from the wider DCEU helps with that. In fact, we don’t receive a definitive answer as to why Diana left Man’s World and the film would be better served without a framing sequence possibly reminding reviews of that. As with those moments mentioned previously with regards to ‘Interior Meaning’, this sense of hopefulness hasn’t been seen in this universe before (even if select viewers found it in Man of Steel) and the sheer desire to do good is frankly awe-inspiring, hopefully a point of refocusing for this franchise.

wonder-woman-movie-poster-color

With any luck this refocusing will shift away from fights set against green-screens involving all manner of flames and explosions. This is where the film becomes messiest, the bad CGI more noticeable now taking center stage, not helped by the editing. Despite this, Gadot remains a constant, continuing to show that she demonstrates this character in a way that even fans of her previous appearance likely couldn’t have anticipated. Through this it becomes clear that it’s never been Gadot’s acting that’s been flat, but instead that it seems this way when what’s around her, background and elements in the scene, are.

By and large, I think we’d like comic book movies to be something more, which is why so many latched onto Logan because it wasn’t a comic book movie played straight in its first half. At the same time, we have to also recognise that when one wants to be a comic book movie where good stops evil and then goes on to do that exceptionally well then that’s as equally deserving of praise.

Thankfully, Wonder Woman did not end up being a rehash of movies that Marvel made six years ago, but instead a refreshing and joyful experience because of how it subverts those, fighting against the traditions of the genre for as long as it can hold out, and at 140-minutes, it does so for near-two hours. It grants Steve an arc rather than relegating him to the role of romantic interest alone, a lesson which needs to be universally applied to the genre, blockbusters and film at large. When Jenkins is able to place the camera further back, a benefit of filming in real-world locations, and shoot action wide over the industry-standard proximity, the phenomenal blocking and choreography gets shown off, most prominently on Themyscira. It does not get lost in the weeds of what it means to be a hero, postulating if Diana can wield the lasso like they wondered if Steve could with the shield.

Instead, she simply does.