Review: ‘Don’t Worry Darling,’ starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll and Chris Pine

September 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in center: Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in “Don’t Worry Darling” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Don’t Worry Darling”

Directed by Olivia Wilde

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional California community named Victory, the sci-fi/drama film “Don’t Worry Darling” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A homemaker wife with a seemingly perfect life finds her life unraveling when she witnesses things that are too disturbing to ignore, but other people try to convince her that she’s paranoid and mentally ill.

Culture Audience: “Don’t Worry Darling” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, but this disappointing dud of a movie serves up an over-used concept that becomes tedious and repetitive with a bungled ending.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Olivia Wilde, Nick Kroll and Chris Pine in “Don’t Worry Darling” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Take a little bit of “The Stepford Wives,” add a lot of “The Twilight Zone,” and remove any real ingenuity. What’s left is a mishandled mush called “Don’t Worry Darling.” The central mystery of the story is too easy to solve, because a similar concept has been used in much better movies. Even without that problem and even with Florence Pugh’s talent, “Don’t Worry Darling” comes undone by a sloppily constructed conclusion.

Directed by Olivia Wilde and written by Katie Silberman, “Don’t Worry Darling” is one of those movies where the off-screen drama is more interesting than the movie itself. This review won’t rehash all the tabloid stories (including all the brouhaha at the movie’s world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival), but what most people will remember about “Don’t Worry Darling” is that it’s the movie that led to Wilde and co-star Harry Styles becoming romantically involved in real life. “Don’t Worry Darling” isn’t a complete train wreck, but it spins its wheels too many times to the point of monotony, and everything goes completely off the rails in the movie’s last 15 minutes.

We’ve seen this scenario many times before: A movie starts out with a picture-perfect couple who seems to have a picture-perfect life. They seem to be passionately in love. They live in a well-kept house with a perfectly manicured lawn, and the neighboring houses have an eerily similar aesthetic. And all the neighbors lead seemingly idyllic lives too. But, of course, it’s later revealed that the community is far from perfect and is actually quite hellish.

In “Don’t Worry Darling,” the central “perfect” couple are spouses Alice Chambers (played by Pugh) and Jack Chambers (played by Styles), who live in a planned California community named Victory, which is filled with palm trees and is near a desert. (“Don’t Worry Darling” was actually filmed in Palm Springs, California.) Based on the fashion, hairstyles and cars, Alice and Jack seem to be living in the 1950s. Alice is a homemaker, while Jack (and the other men in the community) all work for the Victory Project, a mysterious technological business venture led by a charismatically creepy CEO named Frank (played by Chris Pine). Jack’s job title is technical engineer.

Alice and Jack, who are both in their 20s, have no children. Jack and Alice tell people that they haven’t started a family yet because they want to enjoy life for a while in a child-free marriage. The movie’s opening scene shows Alice and Jack having a house party, where everyone is drunk or tipsy. Alice and some of the other people are playing a game to see who can balance a tray and drinking glass the longest on the top of their heads.

Two of the party guests are a married couple in their late 30s named Bunny (played by Wilde) and Dean (played by Nick Kroll), who like to think of themselves as the “alpha couple” of the Victory community because they’re older than everyone else. Dean is especially eager to be perceived as Frank’s favorite employee at Victory. Bunny (who is sassy and sarcastic) and Dean (who is high-strung and neurotic) have a son and a daughter who are about 5 to 7 years old. Bunny half-jokingly tells Alice that the kids like Alice more than they like Bunny.

Another couple in the Victory community are spouses Peg (played by Kate Berlant) and Peter (played by Asif Ali), who are little quirky but ultimately underwritten and underdeveloped. If Peg and Peter weren’t in the movie, it would have no real impact on the plot at all. Also underdeveloped is a scowling scientist character named Dr. Collins (played by Timothy Simons), who shows up later in the movie and is described as one of the founders of the Victory community.

Frank’s wife is an emotionally aloof diva named Shelley (played by Gemma Chan), who leads the Victory women in group ballet classes. All of the women seem to be a little bit afraid of Shelley. She gives the impression that she can be ruthless if anyone betrays her or the Victory Project.

One day, at one of the ballet classes, Shelley tells the assembled women that a new couple is moving into the neighborhood because the husband will be starting a new job at Victory. The spouses’ names are Bill Johnson (played by Douglas Smith) and Violet Johnson (played by Sydney Chandler), who are both anxious to fit in with this tight-knit Victory community. Bill is a little bit wimpy and socially awkward, while Violet is very demure and introverted.

To welcome Bill and Violet to the Victory community, Frank assembles the community members outdoors on the streets and gives a rousing speech. Bill and Violet look a little overwhelmed. Dean tries to assert himself by chastising Bill for not thinking of Frank with enough reverence. Later, Alice privately tells Bunny that Violet reminds Alice of a “beautiful, terrified baby deer.”

When talking to Bunny, Alice notices a neighbor named Margaret (played by KiKi Layne) standing outside on the front lawn of the house that Margaret shares with her husband Ted (played by Ari’el Stachel). Margaret, whose eyes are closed, seems to be in a daze as she clutches a red toy plane in her hand. It’s enough to say that Alice sees some other disturbing things pertaining to Margaret, including an apparent suicide attempt where Margaret is up on her house roof and looks like she’s ready to jump. (The trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” already revealed this plot development.)

At the outdoor gathering, Margaret asks people, “Why are we here?” Ted doesn’t like the way that Margaret is asking is question, so he tells Margaret to keep quiet and whisks her away into their house. Margaret is rarely seen out of the house after that, while Alice sees indications that Ted is keeping tight control over Margaret and trying to prevent Margaret from interacting with other people.

Margaret has also been speaking out against Frank and questioning his intentions. It isn’t long before gossip spreads in the neighborhood that Margaret is a mentally ill troublemaker who must be shunned. If this Victory community sounds like a cult, a party scene at Frank’s mansion removes all doubt.

This party scene (like most of the movie’s plot) is already partially revealed in the “Don’t Worry Darling” trailer. At this party, Frank asks Dean in front of the assembled Victory people: “Dean, what’s the enemy of progress?” Dean dutifully replies, “Chaos.” Frank then says, “I see greatness in every single one of you. What are we here for?” The crowd chants, “We’re changing the world!”

Victory has a trolley that is the main form of public transportation in the community. One day, Alice is the only passenger in the trolley when she sees in the distance that a red plane has crashed into a cliff area near the desert. When Alice asks the trolley driver (played by Steve Berg) if he saw the plane crash, he says he didn’t see anything.

Alice begs the trolley driver to go to the plane crash site to get help, but the driver is too afraid and says that it’s a restricted area. Alice decides to walk to the area by herself. What happens after that sets her on a path where she and other people start to question her sanity.

Unfortunately, the trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” already gives away the fact that this movie has men in red jumpsuits chasing after people, so it’s easy to figure out that these men are sent to oppress people who “disobey” the Victory rules. Guess who becomes one of those targets? It’s all so predictable.

Pugh does a skillful job of portraying Alice’s psychological torment, but ultimately, Alice (like all of the characters in this movie) are very hollow. Styles is adequate as Alice’s increasingly estranged husband Jack, who is torn between his loyalty to Alice and his loyalty to Victory. But after a while, the obvious and over-used plot development of “the woman who is not believed and labeled as mentally ill” gets run into the ground early and often in “Don’t Worry Darling,” At a certain point in the movie, you just know the men in the red jumpsuits will be part of a big chase scene, because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailer.

“Don’t Worry Darling” tries to have some visual flair, with repetitive images of the people of Victory moving in sync with each other, as if they’re pre-programmed robots. This visual styling is shown in the scenes with the ballet classes, as well as the Victory community’s morning ritual of the wives going on their front lawns to wave goodbye to their husbands, who drive off to go to work in perfect sync in their flashy cars. The movie also repeats images (many of them psychedelic) of things in the shape of a circle, whether they are close-ups of eye pupils or women dancing like they’re in a Busby Berkeley musical.

All of this eye-catching cinematography comes off as shallow and a bit pretentious after a while, because the story falls so flat toward the end. “Don’t Worry Darling” hastily throws in some heavy-handed feminist messages but doesn’t have anything clever or new to say that 1975’s “The Stepford Wives” didn’t already cover decades ago. The half-baked ending of “Don’t Worry Darling” just brings up questions that are never answered.

Wilde and Silberman previously collaborated on the 2019 teen comedy “Booksmart,” which was Wilde’s feature-film directorial debut. And although the critically acclaimed “Booksmart” uses a lot of familiar teen comedy plot devices, “Booksmart” has dialogue, acting and character development that are appealing. The same can’t be said for “Don’t Worry Darling,” which has talented cast members, who look all dressed up but have nowhere artistically to go in this boring sci-fi tripe posing as an intriguing psychological thriller.

Warner Bros Pictures released “Don’t Worry Darling” in U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022.

Review: ‘The Contractor’ (2022), starring Chris Pine

April 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Chris Pine in “The Contractor” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“The Contractor” (2022)

Directed by Tarik Saleh

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States and in Berlin, the action film “The Contractor” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A former Green Beret takes a mercenary job as a private contractor, and he finds himself at going against orders and being hunted by his former colleagues. 

Culture Audience: “The Contractor” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Chris Pine and anyone who likes formulaic “shoot ’em up” movies.

Gillian Jacobs and Chris Pine in “The Contractor” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“The Contractor” is as generic and dull as its title, with an over-used action-movie plot of a bitter military veteran who goes rogue. Throw in some ‘daddy issues,’ sloppy editing and a drab Chris Pine—and that sums up this soulless film. It’s also got an awkward mix of trying to be gritty and sentimental, often in the wrong places.

Directed by Tarik Saleh and written by J.P. Davis, “The Contractor” (formerly titled “Violence of Action”) is being marketed as an action thriller, but any “action” or “thrills” are utterly predictable and don’t really come until the last half of the movie. The first half of the movie is a dreary slog showing what led to James Harper (played by Pine) going from being a Green Beret to joining a shady mercenary operation as a private contractor. James is living in the shadow of his father Mason, a high-ranking U.S. military officer who expected James from an early age to also go into the military.

In the beginning of “The Contractor,” James has been estranged from his father for years, for reasons that remain vague. However, flashbacks and conversations reveal that Mason (played by Dean Ashton) was an overly demanding and emotionally abusive father during James’ childhood. The movie starts off with James as a U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant first class, also known as a Green Beret. James is also a war veteran, and he sustained injuries during his war duties. James is currently stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Now seemingly recovered from his injuries, James is due to go before a board of military decision makers who will determine if he will be reinstated as a Green Beret. However, James has a secret: Because he’s desperate to be in the type of physical shape where he can be re-instated, James has been illegally taking human growth hormones through needle injections.

The U.S. Army finds out when James tests positive for these drugs. He is honorably discharged, but as punishment, he won’t be getting his military pension or insurance benefits. It comes at a very bad time, because James and his homemaker wife Brianne (played by Gillian Jacobs) are heavily in debt and getting dangerously close to going bankrupt. They’re so financially broke, they’re behind on their utility bills. When debt collectors call, James just ignores the phone calls.

In addition to having a financial strain on their marriage, James and Brianne have grown emotionally distant from each other. Brianne and James have a shy and introverted son named Jack (played by Sander Thomas), who is about 8 or 9 years old and the couple’s only child. Because James has spent a long time away from home, Jack is bashful around James, but James wants to be a loving and attentive father, so he makes an effort to get closer to his son, by doing things such as teaching Jack to swim in a public pool.

Not long after getting the bad news about his military discharge, James finds out that his father has died. This death seems to trigger some strange behavior in James, in obvious indications that he has unresolved issues with his father. For example, Brianne finds James doing repairs on their house’s roof in the middle of the night. When Brianne wants an explanation, James says defensively to her: “I’m not my father.”

And in cliché-ridden tripe such as “The Contractor,” that means you’re going to see some hazy-looking flashback scenes of James as child of about 10 or 11 years old (played by Toby Dixon) and James’ father Mason, who was a stereotypical stern and macho military type. As seen in flashbacks, Mason was the type of father who expected James to be tough from a very early age. He even forced a pre-teen Mason to get a tattoo at a tattoo parlor, even though it’s illegal for tattoo parlors to give tattoos to people under the age of 18.

At his father’s funeral, James reconnects with his former military best friend Mike (played by Ben Foster), who is happily married to a woman named Christine (played by Tyner Rushing), who likes and respects James too. Mike and Christine have two children: Mike Jr. (played by Nicolas Noblitt), who’s about 10 or 11 years old, and Kelly (played by Eva Ursescu), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. When James goes to Mike’s house for dinner, Brianne is not with him, which is another indication of the cracks in their marriage.

During this visit at Mike’s house, James confides in Mike about his financial problems. Mike tells James that if James is interested in private contractor work, Mike can easily help James get a contractor job that pays $350,000. It’s an offer that’s too tempting to refuse, and James desperately needs the money, so he says yes. This “private contractor” work is really mercenary-for-hire work, usually done by ex-military people, for secretive employers who want to keep these “black ops” jobs as confidential as possible.

Brianne isn’t too pleased about this decision, especially since James promised her that he would never do this type of work. James has already made up his mind though, and there’s nothing Brianne can do to stop him. James’ family life then gets mostly sidelined, as the rest of the movie is about his private contractor job.

James’ supervisor in this job is a rough and jaded character named Rusty (played by Kiefer Sutherland), who says that James will get $50,000 up front as payment, and the remaining $300,000 after the job is completed. To launder his money, Rusty owns a company that imports and exports coffee.

Rusty knows that James is taking this job because James was essentially ousted from the U.S. military. Rusty tells James: “I was you. That’s why we started our own tribe.” Rusty also warns James about the ruthless mercenaries he will encounter in the job. “The stink of those guys, they will rub off on you.”

It’s an assignment that will take James, Mike and some other people on this black-ops team to Berlin. The other members of the team include a cunning operative named Katia (played by Nina Hoss) and a muscle-bound brute named Kauffman (played by Florian Munteanu). Later, James meets a mysterious recluse named Virgil (played by Eddie Marsan), who might or might not be helpful to James.

In Berlin, this black-ops group has been tasked with hunting down a 42-year-old man named Salim Mohsin (played by Fares Fares), a retired professor of virology who used to work at Humboldt University in Berlin. Salim is doing privately funded research, and he’s suspected of being involved in bioterrorism, because he is developing a poisonous gas that could be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

Salim’s research is being funded by Farak Ojjeh, the founder of El Sawa, a charity with known links to Al Qaeda in Syria. Salim and his wife Sophie (played by Amira Casar) have a 9-year-old son named Olivier (played by Tudor Velio) and a 7-year-old son named Yanis (played by Aristou Meehan). And predictably, this family will be caught up in some way in whatever dirty dealings happen in the movie.

Things happen during this mission that don’t sit right with James, so he decides to not follow orders. It leads to James and Mike going on the run from their colleagues, with double-crossings and shootouts in the mix. The action scenes aren’t impressive. And too much of the action has clunky editing, thereby making some of the chase scenes look very phony.

It all just leads to a very formulaic conclusion, where the people who die and those who survive are too easy to predict. All of the cast members just seem to be going through the motions in the action scenes. The only attempt at some emotional depth is in the underdeveloped family scenes near the beginning of the film.

“The Contractor” has all the cinematic resonance of a mediocre video game. That might be enough to entertain some viewers watching a movie with talented cast members who deserve better material. Everyone else can skip “The Contractor,” because they won’t be missing out on anything meaningful.

Paramount Pictures released “The Contractor” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 1, 2022. The movie is set for release on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on June 7, 2022.

Review: ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig

December 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984”

Directed by Patty Jenkins

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1984, primarily in Washington, D.C, plus other parts of the world, the superhero action flick “Wonder Woman 1984” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing different classes of people.

Culture Clash: Diana Prince, also known as superhero Wonder Woman, battles against a power-hungry business mogul who wants to rule the world, while one of her female co-workers falls into the mogul’s seductive trap and becomes his ally.

Culture Audience: “Wonder Woman 1984″ will appeal primarily to people who like family-friendly, comic-book-based movies that blend action with social issues and goofy comedy.

Pedro Pascal in “Wonder Woman 1984” (Photo by Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures & © DC Comics)

“Wonder Woman 1984” could have been subtitled “Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It,” because by the end of the movie, this old adage has been pounded into viewers’ consciousness to the point of being almost numbing. “Wonder Woman 1984” is the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” which was a less bloated, less sociopolitical movie than “Wonder Woman 1984,” but the original “Wonder Woman” movie took itself more seriously as an action film. Both movies (based on DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman” series) were directed by Patty Jenkins, who did not write 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” but she co-wrote the “Wonder Woman 1984” screenplay with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham.

The results in “Wonder Woman 1984” are mixed. On the one hand, the movie aims to be a crowd-pleaser appealing to various generations of people. In the first half of the movie, Wonder Woman has the type of fun-loving superhero action that’s almost cartoonish. In a chase scene that happens fairly early in the movie, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot), also known as Diana Prince, thwarts a heist in a shopping mall by singlehandedly apprehending the four thieves who robbed a jewelry store in the mall. She gives a wink and a smile to some awestruck kids who witness this spectacle. There are also several campy moments in the movie with the character who ends up being the story’s chief villain.

But on the other hand, in the second half of the movie, there are some heavy-handed issues about the nuclear arms race, greed and political corruption that overwhelm the plot. And the plot goes a little bit off the rails because it involves people worldwide having to agree to undo a lot of things that already did significant damage. Not even Wonder Woman is that much of a superhuman political diplomat, but “Wonder Woman 1984” tries to bite off more than it can chew with this concept.

The movie’s total running time is a little too long, at two-and-a-half hours. The tone is very uneven, because “Wonder Woman 1984” has some problems balancing the comedic moments with the serious moments. And the visual effects are hit and miss. (Some of the human characters look very fake in CGI action scenes.) Despite the flaws in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s still a fairly enjoyable superhero movie, because of the convincing interactions between the characters and because it mostly succeeds as an entertaining story that holds people’s interest.

“Wonder Woman 1984” begins where “Wonder Woman” began: in her female-only Amazon homeland, the island nation of Themyscira, which is supposed to be a place that has secretly existed on Earth for eons. The actresses who portray the Amazons of Themyscira have a mishmash of European accents. A young Diana (played by Lilly Aspell), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, is seen in an intense athletic competition with adult Amazon warriors. There’s no explanation for why Diana is the only child in this competition, which involves several obstacle courses of running, riding horses and shooting arrows through giant circles placed on top of tall structures.

As a princess, Diana is expected to win for her team. But when she falls off of a horse and lags behind her competitors, she decides to take a shortcut to make up for lost time. She ends up finishing ahead of her competitors, but her mentor Antiope (played by Robin Wright), who’s also the competition’s judge, disqualifies Diana as the winner, because Diana cheated and therefore she’s “not ready to be a true winner.”

Diana’s queen mother Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) comforts a disappointed Diana by telling her: “One day, you’ll become everything you dream of and more. And everything will be different. This world is not ready for all that you will do.” In case people don’t know about Wonder Woman already, she seems to be immortal, because as an adult, she’s able to live through several centuries and still look like she’s in her late 20s/early 30s.

The movie then fast-forwards to 1984 in Washington, D.C., where Diana is working at the Smithsonian Museum as a cultural anthropologist and archaeologist. She is grieving over the death of her American pilot boyfriend Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), who (spoiler alert) died during a heroic feat in the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which took place in 1918 during World War I. And now, Diana is moonlighting as Wonder Woman, who is only known to the public at this point as a mysterious crime fighter who’s recently been sighted in the D.C. area.

The four thieves who were apprehended by Wonder Woman in the shopping mall weren’t doing a run-of-the-mill theft in a jewelry store. The store had a hidden room with stolen treasure items that were being sold on the black market. One of the items stolen was a citrine, a classic stone used in fake gems throughout history.

A pointed citrine stone that was part of the stolen haul makes its way to the Smithsonian Museum, where the FBI has asked Smithsonian experts to help identify the origins of some of the stolen treasure. One of the Smithsonian experts enlisted for this task is Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig), a meek and socially awkward nerd who works in geology, gemology, lithology and cryptozoology.

Barbara is someone who is routinely ignored and/or disrespected by her work colleagues. Her co-workers barely acknowledge her presence when she greets them. Her supervisor Carol (played by Natasha Rothwell) doesn’t even remember interviewing Barbara, or even meeting Barbara, before she asks Barbara for her help with the FBI investigation.

The only person at the Smithsonian who treats Barbara like someone worthy of their social time is Diana, and the two women end up becoming work friends. Barbara and Diana meet when Diana helps Barbara pick some paperwork that Barbara accidentally dropped out of a briefcase on a lobby floor at work. Barbara is desperate for a friend, so she asks Diana to lunch, but Diana says she’s too busy.

However, Diana and Barbara end up in the same room with the stolen treasures in the FBI investigation. And the two women find out that they both have a shared passion for ancient artifacts. The citrine stone is not considered one of the more valuable items, in terms of monetary value. And during their conversation, it’s mentioned that the legend of the stone is that it can grant one wish to the person who holds the stone. Diana holds the stone and silently wishes for Steve to come back to life.

Diana and Barbara have dinner together that day. And over dinner, they talk about their lives. Barbara is a stereotypical middle-aged spinster who lives alone, has no kids and has no love life. The only cliché about this lifestyle that Barbara doesn’t have is a pet cat. But she actually does become a “cat lady” later on in the story.

When Barbara asks Diana if she’s ever been in love, Diana tells her that she used to be in love with an American pilot, who died. Diana doesn’t give any further details, but she makes it clear that she’s still heartbroken and not ready to move on to someone else. Barbara is very insecure about her looks and her prospects of finding love, but Diana tries to give Barbara a confidence boost throughout their conversation.

Diana compliments Barbara by telling her that she’s one of the most natural and funniest people she’s ever met. Barbara is surprised because she’s not used to hearing flattering remarks about herself. She tells Diana, “People think I’m weird. They avoid me and talk about me behind my back and think I don’t hear them.”

After this friendly dinner, Barbara is walking through a park by herself and gives her dinner leftovers to a homeless man. And soon afterwards, a middle-aged drunk and disheveled man (played by Shane Attwooll) accosts her and tries to get her interested in him. Barbara rebuffs his advances and he gets physically aggressive with her. It’s about to turn into a full-blown assault, but Diana comes to the rescue and pushes the man away with such force that he’s thrown to the ground and becomes temporarily incapacitated. Barbara thanks Diana for helping her, and this incident further strengthens their trust in each other and their budding friendship.

When Barbara goes back to her office, she sees the citrine stone and holds it. She says out loud, “I do know what I wish for: I wish to be like Diana: strong, sexy, cool, special.” The stone glows and there’s a slight wind that passes through the air. These visual effects are kind of cheesy, but they work.

Diana goes home and finds out that Steve is there and he has been reincarnated in the body of an unnamed handsome man (played by Kristoffer Polaha), who seems to have no idea that his body is now inhabited by someone who died in 1918. The rest of the world sees the unnamed man as his actual physical self, but Diana only sees Steve when she looks at the man. And that explains why actor Pine is shown as Steve during this reincarnation. (It’s not a spoiler, since Steve’s return was already shown in the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984.”)

Meanwhile, there’s a slick and sleazy business mogul named Maxwell “Max” Lord (played by Pedro Pascal) who’s all over TV with commercials for his company Black Gold Cooperative, which is described as “the first oil company by the people, for the people.” It should come as no surprise that this company and this mogul are not at all what they want people to think they are.

Maxwell’s real last name is Lorenzano, and its later revealed that he’s an ambitious Latino immigrant who changed his last name and appearance (he dyed his hair blonde) to appear more Anglo. He’s also a divorced father who has weekend visitations with his son Alistair (played by Lucian Perez), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Maxwell is shown to be a very neglectful father, and his bad parenting is used as a “pull at your heartstrings” plot device in several scenes in the movie.

Maxwell finds out that the citrine stone is at the Smithsonian Museum. And so, he shows up at the museum one day, under the pretense of wanting to possibly donate millions of dollars to the department that has the stone. Barbara is immediately charmed by Maxwell’s flirtatious manner, while Diana is coolly skeptical.

Maxwell can see that Barbara is a lonely woman who’s desperate for attention, so he continues to flirt with her and makes it clear that he wants to date her. People who aren’t familiar with the “Wonder Woman” comic books can still easily figure out where the storyline is going to go with Barbara, because it’s similar to the more famous Catwoman story arc in DC Comics’ “Batman” series. And the trailer for “Wonder Woman 1984” already revealed the result of Barbara’s metamorphosis when there’s a showdown between her and Wonder Woman.

Not all of the action takes place in Washington, D.C., because there’s a subplot that takes Maxwell, Steve and Diana/Wonder Woman to Egypt, where an oil baron named Emir Said Bin Abydos (played by Amr Waked) has a pivotal role in the story. There are also many scenes that are supposed to take place simultaneously in different areas of the world, during the last third of the movie when the plot becomes a bit of a mess. “Wonder Woman 1984” falters when it becomes a little too much of a political statement about the nuclear arms race in the 1980s. The movie redeems itself when it focuses more on human interactions that are more relatable to everyday people.

The romance between Diana and Steve picks up right where it left off, but in “Wonder Woman 1984,” it’s more playful and amusing than it was in “Wonder Woman.” Steve’s culture shock of living in 1984 is used for great comical effect, as he marvels at 1984 fashion and other things that didn’t exist in 1918, such as escalators, breakdancing and computer-controlled planes. And the rampant materialism and capitalism that defined the 1980s in the United States are shown in not-so-subtle ways throughout the movie, as exemplified in everything from crowded shopping malls to the greedy villain Maxwell Lord.

Fans of Wonder Woman in the DC Comics, the 1970s movie series and as part of the DC Extended Universe will find plenty of things to like about “Wonder Woman 1984.” There are references that stay true to Wonder Woman canon, with a few tweaks here and there. (For example, in the comic books, Barbara Minerva is British, not American.)

And there’s a mention of Asteria, a legendary Amazon from Themyscira who was the first owner of the Golden Eagle armor that Wonder Woman wears in “Wonder Woman 1984.” It’s explained in the movie that Asteria sacrificed herself by wearing the armor while holding off the men who invaded Themyscira. Look for a cameo during the movie’s end credits that will delight a lot of Wonder Woman fans.

Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince can sometimes be a little wooden, but her best moments in the film are in expressing Diana’s grief over the death of Steve. At times, she looks more like a model playing dress-up as Wonder Woman rather than a bona fide action hero, but the visual effects go a long way in adding excitement to the action scenes. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry together isn’t very sexy or passionate, but it is fairly believable in their portrayal of two people who respect each other and were friends before they became lovers.

And for someone who died in 1918 (when women in the U.S. didn’t even have the right to vote), Steve is extremely enlightened in how quickly he adapts to feminist ideals of gender equality. He doesn’t feel threatened or act offended in situations where Diana/Wonder Woman has more abilities and greater strength than he does. At the same time, he doesn’t shrink from expressing his masculinity and showing his talent and skills.

It should come as no surprise that Steve gets to fly a modern plane. One of the best visual scenes in the film is when Steve and Diana fly in an invisible plane through a stunning display of Fourth of July fireworks. Nitpicky viewers will have to assume that the plane has an invisible shield to protect it from the firework explosions.

Because “Wonder Woman 1984” takes quite a bit of time developing the dramatic storylines for Barbara and Maxwell, there might not be as much action in the movie as some people might expect. Most of the suspense comes in the last third of the movie. To get to that point, viewers have to sit through seeing Maxwell become increasingly unhinged in an over-the-top way that often veers into being unintentionally comical.

Pascal’s portrayal of Maxwell as the chief villain is done in broad, over-the-top strokes. Viewers know from the beginning that he’s corrupt, and there’s almost no humanity in this character for most of the movie as he gets more and more maniacal. Wiig fares much better with her portrayal of the emotionally wounded and ultimately misguided Barbara. Her character can be viewed as a symbol of the negative effects of “silent bullying”: when people are treated as outcasts not by insults in their face but by being shunned and ignored.

It’s clear that the filmmakers of “Wonder Woman 1984,” just like the 2019 film “Joker,” wanted to have something more to say about society’s problems and international politics instead of being just another movie based on comic book characters. However, unlike “Joker,” which had an unrelenting but consistent dark and depressing tone, the tone of “Wonder Woman 1984” jumps over the place—and that inconsistency lowers the quality of the movie. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being a lighthearted superhero movie instead of trying to tackle heavy social issues. And sometimes “saving the world” in a superhero movie doesn’t mean you have to get bogged down in international politics over weapons of mass destruction.

“Wonder Woman 1984” was released in cinemas in various countries outside the U.S. on December 16, 2020. The movie’s U.S. release date in cinemas and on HBO Max is December 25, 2020. In the United Kingdom, “Wonder Woman 1984” is set for a VOD release on January 13, 2021.

2018 Toronto International Film Festival: ‘Outlaw King’ is opening film; ‘Jeremiah Terminator Leroy’ is closing film; more gala, special presentations films announced

August 14, 2018

The following are press releases from the Toronto International Film Festival:

TIFF announced today that the World Premiere of “Outlaw King,” David Mackenzie’s anticipated  period drama chronicling the rise of 14th-century Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, will be the Opening Night  Gala Presentation for the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival ®  on Thursday, September 6, at Roy Thomson  Hall.

This epic David-versus-Goliath tale reunites award-winning director David Mackenzie ( “Starred Up,” “Young  Adam”) with his “Hell or High Water” actor Chris Pine, who takes on the starring role of the legendary Scottish  king who leads a band of outlaws to reclaim the throne from the clutches of the English crown and its army.  The film also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, and Billy Howle.

“TIFF’s Opening Night Film,  ‘Outlaw King,’ tells a powerful story that is rich in drama, excitement, romance, and  adventure,”  said Piers Handling, Director & CEO of TIFF. “Audiences are promised a thrilling journey back in  time, as David Mackenzie masterfully unwraps history with taut dramatic flare and brings to life the true story  of Scottish hero Robert the Bruce. Gripping performances led by Chris Pine and Aaron Taylor-Johnson make  this a classic, entertaining, and action-packed Festival opener.

“Thank you, TIFF , for welcoming our film into the world. The Festival is the perfect launch pad for our realistic  epic, and we are delighted to be the first Scottish film ever to open Toronto,” said director David Mackenzie. “I  cannot imagine a better place to have our World Premiere. Scotland and Canada’s histories are bound  together, forged in the crucible of the struggles of history, bringing this day an affinity and sensibility that I  hope will translate to a profound, visceral, and riotously entertaining experience. We have an amazing cast and  crew working at the top of their game, and we are really looking forward to spreading some Scottish goodwill  on the great city of Toronto.”

“Outlaw King” follows the untold, true story of Robert the Bruce, who transforms from defeated nobleman to  outlaw hero during the oppressive occupation of medieval Scotland by Edward I of England. Despite grave  consequences, Robert seizes the Scottish crown and rallies an impassioned group of men to fight back against the mighty army of the tyrannical King and his volatile son, the Prince of Wales.

Filmed in Scotland, the project was made with the full support of Creative Scotland and the Scottish  government. The film opens in select theatres and launches globally on Netflix November 9, 2018.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

For film synopses, cast lists, images, and more information, see  tiff.net/galas.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy
Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart in “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” (Photo courtesy of TIFF)

The Toronto International Festival announced today that the World Premiere of “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” will close this year’s Festival. From director Justin Kelly,  “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” is based on one of the most  famous literary gambits in American history. Adapted from the memoir  “Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy” by Savannah Knoop,  the film  promises a boundary-breaking Closing Night Gala bursting with intrigue.

“With  ‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy,’  Justin Kelly brings to the screen a truly unbelievable story that captivated a  nation,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “The storytelling is powerful and the characters are vivid,  really evoking the idea that you have to see it to believe it.”

“I am beyond honored that my film ‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy’ will premiere at TIFF as the Closing Night Film,”  said Justin Kelly, director of “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy.” “I can’t wait for people to see the fascinating true  story behind JT LeRoy, brought to life via incredible performances by a total dream cast.”

This captivating true story goes beyond the headlines to reveal the most compelling literary hoax of our  generation. Laura Albert (Laura Dern) is an author who writes under a fictionalized persona, a disenfranchised  young queer man named JT LeRoy. When her debut novel becomes a bestseller and JT becomes the darling  of the literary world, she comes up with a unique solution to preserve her anonymity while giving life to her nom-de-plume. Enter her boyfriend’s androgynous sister, Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart), who connects  with Laura’s punk, feminist, outsider universe and agrees to be JT in the public eye. Together, they embark on a  wild ride of double lives, infiltrating the Hollywood and literary elite — and discovering who they are in the  process.

“Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” is a film by Elevated Films, The Fyzz Facility, Ingenious Media, Aquarius Content,  Fortitude International, Sobini Films, Thirty Three Productions, LBI Entertainment, and Buffalo Gal Pictures. It  is produced by Patrick Walmsley, Julie Yorn, Thor Bradwell, Gary Pearl, Cassian Elwes, Giri Tharan, Mark Amin,  and Dave Hansen. It stars Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess, Kelvin Harrison Jr.,  Courtney Love, James Jagger, and Dave Brown.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

For film synopses, cast lists, images, and more information, see tiff.net/galas.

The Toronto International Film Festival ®  today unveiled its second batch of titles premiering in the  Gala and Special Presentations programmes in September. Four Gala Presentations and 22 Special  Presentations have been added to the selection of titles already announced.     “We’re rounding out the lineup of Galas and Special Presentations with some of the most exciting films of the  year,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “Audiences won’t want to miss these premieres from a mix of  newcomers and global heavyweights.”    This second announcement brings the total for Galas and Special Presentations to 44 World Premieres, 9  International Premieres, 12 North American Premieres and 11 Canadian Premieres.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

The Toronto International Film Festival ® today unveiled its second batch of titles premiering in the  Gala and Special Presentations programmes in September. Four Gala Presentations and 22 Special  Presentations have been added to the selection of titles already announced.     “We’re rounding out the lineup of Galas and Special Presentations with some of the most exciting films of the  year,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “Audiences won’t want to miss these premieres from a mix of  newcomers and global heavyweights.”

This second announcement brings the total for Galas and Special Presentations to 44 World Premieres, 9  International Premieres, 12 North American Premieres and 11 Canadian Premieres.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

GALAS 2018  

Green Book
Peter Farrelly | USA
World Premiere

* Closing Night Film *
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy
Justin Kelly | Canada/USA/United Kingdom
World Premiere

The Lie
Veena Sud | Canada
World Premiere

*Opening Night Film *
Outlaw King
David Mackenzie | USA/United Kingdom
World Premiere

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS 2018

22 July
Paul Greengrass | Norway/Iceland
North American Premiere

American Woman
Jake Scott | USA
World Premiere

Baby ( Bao Bei Er )
Liu Jie | China
World Premiere

Boy Erased
Joel Edgerton | USA
International Premiere

Driven
Nick Hamm | Puerto Rico/United Kingdom/USA
North American Premiere

Duelles (Mothers’ Instinct)
Olivier Masset-Depasse | Belgium/France
World Premiere

A Faithful Man ( L ‘homme fidèle )
Louis Garrel | France
World Premiere

Gloria Bell
Sebastián Lelio | USA/Chile
World Premiere

Hold the Dark
Jeremy Saulnier | USA
World Premiere

Kursk
Thomas Vinterberg | Belgium/Luxembourg
World Premiere

Legend of the Demon Cat – Director’s Cut
Chen Kaige | China/Japan
World Premiere

Mid90s
Jonah Hill | USA
World Premiere

A Million Little Pieces
Sam Taylor-Johnson | USA
World Premiere

Never Look Away ( Werk ohne Autor )
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck | Germany
North American Premiere

The Quietude ( La Quietud )
Pablo Trapero | Argentina
North American Premiere

Skin
Guy Nattiv | USA
World Premiere

Teen Spirit
Max Minghella | USA
World Premiere

Tell It to the Bees
Annabel Jankel | United Kingdom
World Premiere

Viper Club
Maryam Keshavarz | USA
World Premiere

Vision
Naomi Kawase | Japan/France
International Premiere

Vita & Virginia
Chanya Button | United Kingdom/Ireland
World Premiere

Wild Rose
Tom Harper | United Kingdom
World Premiere

For film synopses, cast lists, images, and more information, see tiff.net/galas and tiff.net/specialpresentations

Festival tickets go on sale September 3 at 10am (TIFF Member pre-sale September 1 from 10am to 4pm). Buy  tickets online at tiff.net , by phone at 416.599.TIFF or 1.888.599.8433, or in person at a box office. See box  office locations and hours at tiff.net/tickets .

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About TIFF

TIFF is a charitable cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world through  film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film Festival  in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and  entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates  an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors  including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the City of Toronto, the  Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC. For more information, visit tiff.net.

The Toronto International Film Festival is generously supported by Lead Sponsor Bell, Major Sponsors RBC,  L ’Oréal Paris, and Visa, and our Major Supporters the Government of Ontario, Telefilm Canada, and the City  of Toronto.

This film is eligible for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. Vote for your favourite films at tiff.net/vote .

The Gala programme is made possible through the generous   sponsorship of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts .

August 21, 2018 UPDATE: 

The Toronto International Film Festival ® today announced two new films that will premiere as part  of the Special Presentations programme in September. The World Premiere of Neil Jordan’s “Greta” and the North  American Premiere of Brady Corbet’s “Vox Lux” will cap off the Festival’s Special Presentations and bring the total  for the programme up to 24 titles.

“These are two films that explore nuanced narratives with exceptional leading women,” said Kerri Craddock,  Director of Festival Programming at TIFF. “‘Greta’ and ‘Vox Lux’ both offer strong directorial visions, rich  performances, and engaging stories. They complete the package of the Special Presentations programme.”

Neil Jordan’s “Greta” tells the story of a young New York woman named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) who strikes  up an unlikely friendship with an enigmatic widow named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). The older woman’s motives  are gradually revealed to be sinister and the film quickly descends into an exploration of loneliness, obsession,  and manipulation. “Greta,” co-written by Jordan and Ray Wright, also stars Colm Feore, Maika Monroe, and Stephen Rea.

In musical drama “Vox Lux,” Brady Corbet’s second feature as writer-director tracks its heroine’s path from  childhood tragedy to a life of fame and fortune. Starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law, the film begins with teenage sisters Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and Eleanor (Stacy Martin) who survive a violent incident that changes  their lives. The film is both a riveting character study and a perceptive survey of the cultural shifts that have  shaped a generation.

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