Tag Archives: Robin Wright

Sundance 2021: Land

Bereft from some ambiguous tragedy, some half-crazy white lady drops everything to go live on a mountain, totally alone, without being adequately prepared. No phone, no car, nor running water even, this scenario spells disaster to absolutely everyone except her, who persists against all common sense.

Edee (Robin Wright) seems not to have thought of pretty obvious things, like cold, and like bears, which are both pretty big threats to isolated cabins in the woods. This is shaping up to be a pretty short movie. Lucky for Edee a hunter (Demián Bichir) happens by and thoughtfully notes the absence of smoke from her chimney (Edee having lacked the skill to chop wood and the sense to stack it inside). He saves her from the brink of death, and when she’s finally healthy enough to speak, she tells him to get the heck out. She’s come up here to be alone, you know. Grudgingly she consents to semi-regular visits as long as he brings no news of the outside world. He teaches her all the survival skills that she had no business living up here without, and in exchange she’s barely grateful. Because she’s sad! And because she doesn’t consider that others might be sad too.

Land isn’t a bad movie – how could it be? It’s been made so many times there’s a tried and tested blueprint to follow, and as a first time director directing herself, Robin Wright follows it pretty closely. There’s some very pretty scenery and a quietly commanding performance from Wright, but nothing we haven’t seen before, no new insights, no new tricks. It’s hard enough having empathy for a woman who’s so cavalier and careless, but truth be told, neither character is well-developed and we need more to get a true connection.

Wright is a competent director but Land is a retread of places we’ve seen, people we’ve known, emotions we’ve explored. It’s safe and it’s familiar and it probably didn’t need to get made.

Wonder Woman 1984

It’s been 70 years since we last saw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). She’s working at the Smithsonian in cultural anthropology and archeology, she’s doing her hero work on the down-low, and she’s been missing her sweetie, Steve. She’s been missing him for 70 long years.

Her new colleague at work, the meek and self-conscious Barbara (Kristen Wiig), is a gemologist doing a little investigative work for the FBI. The stone itself is worthless, but it claims to be a wish-granter, a dream stone, and both Barbara and Diana make wishes on it before they realize its true potential. Diana, of course, wakes up beside Steve (Chris Pine), but Barbara wakes up cool and powerful and strong, like Diana, although wishing to be like Diana does come with a little more than she bargained for.

Anyway, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), greedy 80s business man, seemed to know the stone’s possibilities very well, which is why he cozies up to Barbara in order to snatch it. With infinite wishes at his disposal, Lord becomes overwhelmingly powerful and practically unbeatable – especially since the wishes seem to extract something from the wisher, and Diana’s been growing weaker. Barbara, meanwhile, is growing stronger, but also shrewder, meaner. And Lord’s finding ways to increase his reach, taking his avarice international, influencing entire nations, not to mention enemies.

In fighting Max Lord, Wonder Woman is fighting pure greed, corruption, and the world’s obsession with more. Wonder Woman has always been more than capable at taking down villains with her expertly applied kicks and punches and of course her trusty lasso. But how do you fight concepts, ideology, or human nature? This presents an interesting challenge that even Wonder Woman hasn’t seen before.

Gal Gadot is of course absolute perfection as both Diana and Wonder Woman. Having spent the past 70 years among humans, she is of course more jaded, more knowing, but she’s also more human herself, subject to the same loneliness that anyone would be if they’d been grieving for seven decades, and reluctant to get close to anyone because of it. She’s become more familiar with her strength and her abilities, and puts her weapons (tiara, lasso) to greater use. To win, Wonder Woman will have to flex not just her muscle, but also her ingenuity, and harder still, her faith in humanity’s inherent goodness despite plenty of evidence otherwise.

Kristen Wiig is well-cast as Barbara Minerva, a woman who is tired of being overlooked. As she transitions into the film’s co-villain, Cheetah, her confidence and her newfound powers race to outstrip each other, and we see her grow into her new role, wearing her new power like a mantle, like the fur coats she’s begun to adopt.

As for Pedro Pascal, it’s just nice to see his face for once. He understands that Max Lord doesn’t have to be evil to be a great villain. Villains who go around murdering and pillaging are easy to identify and unanimously reviled. But a villain who gives the people what they want will get away with a whole lot more. Since eliminating Lord would also mean negating their own wishes, people like Cheetah, who would otherwise perhaps not be on his side, are willing to fight for him to protect their own interests. Pascal puts a charming face on greed and desire, convincing an awful lot of people to wish for things they probably know they shouldn’t.

Director Patty Jenkins’ action sequences remain divine, but she’s not afraid to remind us that Wonder Woman, unlike some super heroes who shall remain nameless, is about more than just brawn or fancy gadgets; she’s got heart, and not just her own strong sense of right and wrong, but an impressive belief that ultimately humanity will share it and choose it as well.

In flashbacks, we saw a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in Amazonian warrior games, where she learned that she couldn’t win until she was truly ready. What will the grown up Diana be asked to give in order to win, what sacrifices will she make for people who will never know or appreciate it, and how will she fight differently when she actually has something to lose? Seventy years among humans will change a woman, even a Wonder Woman.

If you’re in the U.S., Wonder Woman 1984 is available to stream on HBO Max. In Canada, it’s available as a premium rental. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.

Wonder Woman

It pains me to say this so I’m just going to spit it out first thing: I hated Wonder Woman.

The film opens with young Diana, the only child living in idyllic Themyscira, a secret island free of men, where all the women are trained to be warriors strong in mind and wonder-woman-movie-gal-gadotbody. Her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) is the fiercest of them all, the greatest warrior the Amazons have ever known, and she’s in charge of training. Though Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to protect her daughter and extend her childhood, Antiope teaches Diana in secret. Themyscira is hidden from mankind, but you never know when the enemy might arrive. Themyscira is lush and beautiful. Filmed on location in Italy, the production is fantastic. The opening scenes where the diverse population of Amazonian women are all training with Antiope are gorgeous. The fight choreography is top notch, with particular sequences slowed down to showcase athletic feats. But we all know utopia can’t last forever, and as soon as Diana (Gal Gadot) is grown, one man does penetrate their paradise: a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down in their waters. Diana saves him from the wreckage but they’re pursued by Germans. An epic battle between Amazons and Germans unfolds on the beautiful beaches of Themyscira. The Amazons fight unlike anything anyone has ever seen, but the Germans are armed with guns and the Amazons suffer loss. Steve Trevor tells the women that the world is at war (WWI to be exact) and that millions of lives have already been lost. Aghast, Diana swears to accompany him back to where he came from so she can help bring peace, as is her sacred duty.

What did I hate so much about these first 20 minutes that sound so well crafted? I hated that it made me cry, and more than once. I wasn’t prepared to feel so emotional seeing Themyscira, a mythical land only for women, where all these badass ladies are just going about their business. I’ve never seen that on the screen before, and I thought: so this is what men feel when they watch a movie, when they see images of themselves being heroes. I felt proud, and moved. Each woman is highly capable and specialized but in WONDER WOMANbattle, there is no ego; they work together. The costumes are not sexualized as I feared, but instead they highlight muscular shoulders and toned legs. There can be no doubt that the Amazons are capable of truly anything. The fight sequences are among the best you’ve ever seen, the hand-to-hand combat precisely choreographed with as much grace as intensity. And it made me cry to see it. And I felt ashamed to cry, as a woman in 2017, ashamed that it’s taken this long to see a woman successfully take up the mantle of hero, and a woman behind the camera as well, capably directing a tentpole film. Patty Jenkins has so much unfair pressure placed on her shoulders but she’s made a movie that’s close to perfection, that far surpasses anything the DC Extended Universe has produced so far.

After such a soundly convincing start, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the film as intended, feeling confident that my entire gender wouldn’t be blamed if this movie was anything less than spectacular. It is fucking spectacular. Wonder Woman, though never called that in this movie, is a sight to behold. Gal Gadot is well-cast, which has proven to be of utmost importance in these franchises. We have to believe that she is a hero. Her comedic timing works just as well as her dramatic turns. And she’s got great chemistry with Chris Pine.

Wonder Woman is long overdue for a stand-alone movie as she is truly a phenomenal Chris-Pine-and-Gal-Gadot-in-Wonder-Woman-moviesuperhero. The action sequences in this film are among the best, a delight to watch, full of energy, strength and ferocity, as good and frankly better than the stuff we we’ve seen from other comic book movies lately. And arguably, the reason she’s so strong is because she welcomes her softer side. Believing in fighting honourably, while looking your enemy in the eye, Diana never picks up a gun. She runs toward machine guns with only a shield and her cuffs to protect her. And she fights from a place of love. Not duty, not fury, not patriotism or revenge. She fights because she loves. Male superheroes seem to think that love is a weakness, but Wonder Woman knows better: love is the greatest motivator you could ever have.

The Congress

Have you ever watched a movie and thought – I need someone to tell me whether I liked this or not. Or better yet, I need someone to show me how to like this. Or even why.

It’s possible I lack the mental acuity to even describe this movie to you, despite the fact that I’ve seen it very recently, discussed it very recently, and have Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDB right at my fingertips. Still this movie eludes me.

The Congress: a deceptive title if ever there was one. Robin Wright plays Robin Wright – an aging actress who was once a bankable sex symbol as the Princess Bride, but after a series of bad choices and focus on her family, has been out of the public eye and is much less in demand. Her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) has landed her one last meeting with the Miramount studio where executive Jeff Green JPCONGRESS-articleLarge-v2(Danny Huston) offers to save her from herself. The movie industry is in the middle of a revolution: actors are being digitally scanned into a studio’s bank, and Robin is urged to join up now while she has any cachet left at all. The studio will own the character of ‘Robin Wright’ and the real Robin Wright must never act again. She takes a lump sum and a 20 year contract, and she and Keitel share a powerful scene – while she stands in a sphere where a cinematographer is now employed to be her scanner, Keitel recounts a story that takes her from laughter to tears. This is Robin Wright at her absolute best. The years fade away. She is radiant. It feels a travesty that this will be her last performance; she bares her soul even as she sells it.

We jump ahead 20 years. About to renew her contract, Robin now an older woman goes unrecognized since her famous digital self is timeless. She attends Miramount’s Futurological Congress, located in the animation zone, where everyone entering must take an ampoule to become an animated avatar. So this is when the live action movie becomes a cartoon.

The studio executive cartoon tells Robin Wright the cartoon that they’ve now developed the technology where Robin Wright the character can now become Robin Wright the chemical. Still following? People will be able to sprinkle her compound into a milkshake, drink it, and become her. They can use her likeness in their fantasies. They can think up any scenario. They can fuck  Princess Buttercup or be chased by zombie-Jenny from Forrest Gump or get spanked by Claire from House of Cards. Movies are “old news – a remnant from the last millennium.”

Robin is supposed to give the keynote speech at the symposium but has a change of hThe-Congress-stills-17eart, instead railing against the technology, angry that they haven’t used it instead to cure real disease. “I am your prophet of doom” she says.

Then things get crazier still. Still animated, she gets caught up in a rebellion and is saved, ironically, by the former “head of the Robin Wright department,” an animator who knows her so intimately he’s a little in love with her (voiced by Jon Hamm). She’s unable to distinguish reality from hallucination in this state, so they freeze herthe-congress-movie-photo-8 for many years until she wakes up in a time when in fact hallucination can become reality, with a pill. The real world is bleak, its inhabitants leached of colour, dysfunctional. The only ones still able to cope hover above the earth in airships, the last of a dying breed.

This is obviously a very ambitious film, adapted from and loosely based on a novel by Stanisław Lem. Director Ari Folman, of  Waltz with Bashir, is no stranger to ambition, but this little mindfuck takes the cake. Using a political allegothe-congress-wright-bw-planery to savage the increasingly degrading and dehumanizing movie industry is not a perfect fit, but it does inspire some interesting questions, though Folman is, as ever, light-handed with those. He doesn’t like to beat us over the head with ‘message’ so we’re left to make of this hybrid what we will.

The people in the film are duped by pharmaceuticals into believing their dystopia is actually utopia, and we feel the contrast acutely, jumping from lush animation to miserable cinematography. I felt a 75lot, actually – I reacted viscerally to the emotional undercurrent even when I was struggling to identify what was real and what was dream and what was my own projection. It’s provocative and introspective but not particularly cohesive, even factoring in an allowance for a certain amount of “trippyness”. There’s a vision here that isn’t quite pulled off, and I more or less felt abandoned during the final chapter of the film.

Do I regret tacongressking this on? Not in the least. Attempts can be inspiring. I only regret that I didn’t take someone along with me, because when you’re lost among lofty ideas and niggling questions, it’s best to have a hand to hold.

A Most Wanted Man

Post-911 Germany is scrambling to make sure nobody uses their country for terrorist organization again. Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of the few “good” ones left in an intelligence unit largely corrupted by CIA, but his burnout is evident. When a young Russian-Chechen enters the country illegally, ostensibly looking for asylum, Bachmann decides to use the refugee to move up the ladder, hopefully toward a Muslim philanthropist who Bachmann believes is using charities as a front to fund extremist operations.wanted

Hoffman looks terrible in this film, which kind of fits with the character, who’s a bloated wreck, but it’s still painful to watch. He’s good though, if you overlook his German accent occasionally sounding Irish. Rachel McAdams plays a lawyer trying to help the refugee Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) claim political asylum. Dobrygin plays tortured and traumatized very well but McAdams seems miscast and out of her depth.

This movie is interesting but seems to have tried to pack too much into one single movie, so it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s also the least thrilling espionage thriller I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s not gripping because it gets bogged down in the details. And there’s no real heart. Who are we supposed to care about? The titular character, supposedly this Issa, is supposed to be mysterious. People are arguing over whether to arrest him now, or use him as bait to uncover his hidden motives, not just because he could lead them up the chain, but because they believe he himself may actually be a jihadist. The audience is meant to see him as a threat lying in wait, only he’s such a pathetic character that there is no real urgency, no real menace. In fact, the movie’s strongest sense of sinister undertone comes from conversations between Hoffman and Robin Wright, playing a CIA agent. The actors and director Anton Corbijn hint masterfully at malevolence.

It’s a mostly subtle film that makes you wonder how far is too far. How much should we infringe on someone’s rights in the name of “fighting terrorism”?  This movie will leave you unsettled, with a bitter taste in your mouth, both for the frustrating geopolitical policy, and for Hoffman’s swan song, his last completed movie.