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VOD Review: The Good Traitor

April 13, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Danish filmmaker Christina Rosendahl’s period piece drama The Good Traitor joins the wide range of films that have been made about World War II from the American and British perspectives, and sets itself apart by exploring Denmark’s complicated role in the conflict with the Nazis.

The film serves as a biopic of Henrik Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen), the Danish ambassador to the United States at the start of World War II in 1939. When German forces occupy their country on April 9th, 1940, the Danish government surrenders to the Nazis and decides to cooperate with them, wanting to remain politically neutral in the fight. But Kauffmann rightly views Hitler as too much of a threat to be reasoned with.

Much of the film focuses on Kauffmann’s decision to declare himself an independent representative of a free Denmark, which amounts to an act of treason against his country’s monarchy. Feeling like his country’s response to the fascist threat is severely lacking, he enacts his own plan, with the help of his idealistic colleague Povl Bang-Jensen (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), to ensure freedom for Denmark. This includes gaining favour with President Roosevelt (Henry Goodman), and using Greenland as a bargaining chip by offering the United States free access to build a military base there in exchange for their support.

Rosendahl, who also co-wrote the script with Kristian Bang Foss and Dunja Gry Jensen, does a good job of exploring these complex geopolitical negotiations that took place behind the scenes of WWII from a different angle than what we usually see. Much of the film unfolds through high-level discussions in opulent spaces over drinks, showing how many of these decisions were being made by well-paid diplomats. Hitler and the Nazis are kept entirely off-screen, with updates on the war effort provided through radio broadcasts that we hear as transitions between scenes. The on-the-ground conflict is never shown.

The film also splits its time with the domestic drama between Henrik and his wife Charlotte (Denise Gough), exploring her increasing jealousy over her sister Zilla (Zoë Tapper), whom it’s suggested Henrik still has feelings for following a past affair. Charlotte, a family friend of Roosevelt’s, is Henrik’s greatest asset in terms of facilitating talks with the American President. But she also proved to be his downfall, as shown in the film’s tragic bookending scenes in 1963, when she slit his throat out of jealousy. The script does a fine job of balancing both parts of the story.

The film plays almost like a companion piece to the Oscar-winning Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour. Where as that film explored how Churchill defied the political opinion of the time to lead England into war with Germany, this film focuses on a lesser known figure from the time who was also successful in securing a bright future for his country by going against the political establishment. Churchill, who is portrayed in The Good Traitor by Nicholas Blane, appears in the film for a single scene, sharing a late dinner with Roosevelt. “I like you,” he growls at Henrik, an interaction that seems fitting considering how both men have been portrayed.

The film does, at times, feel constrained in its approach, and it lacks the theatrics of, say, a Darkest Hour. But I enjoyed watching the political maneuverings of The Good Traitor. Kauffmann himself is an interesting historical figure, with Thomsen doing an engaging job of bringing him to life on screen, and the film offers a decent overview of the role that he played concerning Denmark’s fate in WWII.

The Good Traitor is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

Nomadland is Now Streaming on Disney Plus in Canada

April 9, 2021

By John Corrado

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, an awards season frontrunner and TIFF 2020 favourite, is a film that I have been telling people about for months now since I saw it at the festival. But, until now, Canadian audiences haven’t really had a chance to actually watch the film, which was released in theatres and on Hulu in the United States.

Which is why I’m very happy to announce that the Searchlight Pictures film is now available to stream on Disney Plus in Canada, as of today. It’s under the recently added Star sidebar to be precise, where the other more adult movies from the 20th Century Fox merger can be found.

Zhao’s film, which has already won her multiple directing awards and is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, is a work of incredible empathy centred around modern day nomads who call the road their home. Frances McDormand, in a powerful, Oscar-nominated performance, stars as Fern, a woman who lives out of her van. She takes a menial jobs in an Amazon warehouse in order to earn some cash, and spends her time driving around the American Midwest.

This is a truly special film. It’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Joshua James Richards, and, in a brilliant bit of casting, features real life nomads in supporting roles. While not being an overtly political film, Nomadland still serves as a powerful portrait of homelessness, the effects of the gig economy on workers, and how so many people were displaced by the 2008 economic crash. It was my second favourite movie of last year (after Pixar’s Soul, also on Disney Plus!), and one that wholeheartedly deserves my fullest recommendation.

For more on the film itself, you can read my 4-star review of Nomadland from TIFF 2020 right here.

VOD Review: Moffie

April 9, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Set in 1981 during South Africa’s apartheid rule, Moffie explores the effects of the country’s compulsory military service through the eyes of a young man discovering his sexuality.

The main character is Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brümmer), a quiet young man who, at the start of the film, is being shipped off to serve two years in the military, which is mandatory for every white boy over the age of sixteen.

The young soldiers are being trained to uphold South Africa’s white minority government and fight against the communist threat at the Angolan border. The fear of the so-called “Black danger” (“die swart gevaar”) is drilled into them, as they are taught to not only fear but also hate Black people.

The majority of the film takes place at a brutal boot camp, where the new recruits are tormented by the cruel Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser), who seems to take pleasure in doling out punishments, including shouting racist and homophobic slurs at them. It’s an environment where any suspicion of homosexuality gets you beaten and sent to the mysterious “ward 22,” where soldiers are treated for “mental illness.” Which is why, when Nicholas sparks a connection with fellow recruit Dylan Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), their encounters are embedded with as much fear as they are the feeling of sexual discovery.

Much of this unfolds in an observational way, the beauty of Jamie Ramsay’s cinematography juxtaposed by the horrific abuse that it captures within its frames. The title of Moffie is taken from the South African translation of a gay slur, which we soon realize through the film’s subtitles when the word starts being shouted at the new recruits as a way to shame them during training. The film shows the demoralizing and dehumanizing behaviour that these young men are forced to endure. We watch as they are beaten and abused in an attempt to beat them into submission, and we see how homophobia is literally baked into this culture, leading to some tragic outcomes.

The film is directed by Oliver Hermanus, and it is based on South African novelist André Carl van der Merwe’s autobiographical novel of the same name, which was adapted from the journals that he kept during his own mandatory military service. In his approach to bringing this popular book to the screen, Hermanus seems inspired by both the work of Terrence Malick and also Stanley Kubrick, namely the latter’s Full Metal Jacket.

By the time the young soldiers finally do see action in the last act, Moffie shifts into feeling like more of a typical war movie and it feels slightly anti-climactic, but maybe that’s the point. While it does, perhaps intentionally, keep us at somewhat of an emotional distance by not fleshing out its supporting characters as much as it could have, the film offers an interesting and unsettling glimpse into this world. Through the experiences of a young soldier, sensitively portrayed by Brümmer, Moffie depicts, often in gruelling detail, both the ugliness of apartheid, and the dangerous effects of institutionalized homophobia.

Moffie is available to rent on AppleTV on April 9th, and will be available this summer on IFC Films Unlimited.

VOD Review: Quo Vadis, Aida?

April 7, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Set in July of 1995 at the height of the conflict between Bosnia and Serbia, the Oscar-nominated Quo Vadis, Aida? is a gripping and startling film that takes these historical events from nearly three decades ago and puts them into sharp, chilling focus.

This conflict is explored through the eyes of Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Djuricic), a translator working for the United Nations who is on the frontline of the negotiations between the two forces. The majority of the film unfolds at a UN base camp that is meant to be a safe zone for civilians in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which is being taken over by the Serbian Chetnik army.

But as the UN fails to back up their promise to protect the town with military action including airstrikes, the peacekeepers at the overcrowded base are left helplessly following orders from the invading forces, led by the ruthless General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic). Aida becomes determined to protect her husband Nihad (Izudin Bajrović) and two young adult sons Hamdija (Boris Ler) and Sejo (Dino Bajrović), as her commanders don’t want to give priority to family members.

The film is written and directed by Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Žbanić, who brilliantly dramatizes the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre. By keeping the focus on her title character, Žbanić lets the film unfold with a startling immediacy, throwing us into this pressure cooker situation and allowing any sense of hope to slowly evaporate, scene by heart-wrenching scene. The result is an extremely impactful look at how a genocide is essentially allowed to happen through mixed messages, inaction from the UN, and blind trust in authority figures, showing how powerless one person is to stop it.

If this sounds heavy and emotionally draining, that’s because it is. At times, Quo Vadis, Aida? plays out in a way that feels like a collection of trauma memories, and this is precisely Žbanić’s point. These things really happened, there are still survivors experiencing trauma from the events in Srebrenica, and Žbanić forces us to come to terms with it in such a profoundly personal way. The film builds up an incredible amount of tension as it goes along, before becoming almost unspeakably heartbreaking in its last act in a way that feels like having the rug pulled out from under us.

At the heart of the film is Djuricic, who delivers a gripping performance as a mother trying desperately to protect her family, her dedication to the role never wavering as her portrayal of Aida’s determination and despair becomes more and more shattering as it goes along. This is an incredibly powerful film, and I doubt I will be able to shake it any time soon.

Quo Vadis, Aida? is Oscar-nominated for Best International Feature, and is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

VOD Review: Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition

April 6, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Dramatizing the life of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (Pål Sverre Hagen), who became the first man to reach the South Pole with his team of explorers on December 14th, 1911, Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition offers a mix of adventure movie and biographical drama that is mostly successful on both fronts.

Directed by Espen Sandberg (one of the filmmaker’s behind the Oscar-nominated 2012 film Kon-Tiki, also a biopic of a famous Nordic explorer), the film opens with a stirring sequence that finds Amundsen’s plane crashing in the Arctic.

With the explorer presumed dead back in England, the film unfolds through a fractured narrative that flashes backwards and forwards in time, with Roald’s brother Leon (Christian Rubeck) serving as our narrator as he recounts the story of his expeditions to Bess Magids (Katherine Waterston), the married woman that Amundsen left behind.

The first half of the film focuses on Amundsen’s secretive mission to lead the first team of explorers to the South Pole, which comes about through a last minute change of plans when American explorer Robert Peary (Premsyl Bures) beats him to the North Pole. Amundsen reaches this famous milestone before even the halfway point of Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition, through a journey that involves relying on survival techniques learned from the Inuit and, in a real life detail that seems especially barbaric by current standards, feeding on the meat of their sled dogs.

The second half of the film focuses on Amundsen’s various attempts to reach the Arctic Circle, with his expeditions taking him away from the world for years at a time. The colonial conquests of the British explorers, whom Amundsen must still gain favour with in order to help finance his expeditions, are presented very critically within the film. In this way, Amundsen is a sort of underdog hero for the first stretch of the movie. But as the explorer’s grandiosity and arrogant need to always be first grows over the course of the film, even at the expense of writing off those around him, he shifts from being an underdog champion and into a much more complex figure.

Sandberg and screenwriter Ravn Lanesskog do a good job of pulling back the curtain on the heroic mythos surrounding Amundsen, and instead offering a more complex character study of both his achievements and his selfishness, with one influencing the other. The last act of the film explores the feeling of achieving your life’s goals and wondering what’s next, and it’s a somewhat bittersweet note to end his story on.

The film does fall into a few of the usual pitfalls of the biopic formula. Parts of Amundsen’s story feel somewhat under explored, as do some of the other figures in this story. But Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition covers a lot of ground in just over two hours, and has an appropriately sweeping feel to it at times that does capture the scope of Amundsen’s life. While some will find the film to be slow moving, if you are interested in the subject, you are bound to find it at least somewhat interesting.

The film features captivating images of the icy landscapes shot by cinematographer Pål Ulvik Rokseth, and some good visual effects as well. The performances by Hagen (who bears a strong resemblance to his real life counterpart) and the rest of the cast are solid, the production values are good throughout, and I found the story to be an engaging one.

Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

VOD Review: Underplayed

April 6, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Women make up less than three percent of all technical and production roles in the music industry, and in 2019, only five out of the top one hundred DJs were women.

These are some of the surprising stats presented to us in director Stacey Lee’s documentary Underplayed, which aims to address the issue of women not being included in the Electronic Dance Music scene. Shot by a crew of mostly women during the 2019 summer festival season, the film introduces us to a selection of female EDM artists.

Front and centre among the subjects is Rezz, a self-taught producer from Niagara Falls, Canada who spent two years in her parents’ unfinished basement working on music and developing her own sound, and became the first female headliner at the Bud Light Dreams Festival in 2019.

Some of the other subjects include Tygapaw, an underground DJ and music producer in New York who, as a Black queer woman from Jamaica, is at even more of a disadvantage in the predominantly white and male world of EDM; Alison Wonderland, the top female headliner for Coachella, who mixes strings and vocals into her techno sound; the Grammy-nominated Tokimonsta; and the Australian duo Nervo.

The film explores the challenges they face in this male-dominated world, from being trolled in the comments section during live-streams and facing sexual harassment at night clubs, to simply not being given the same opportunities or festival slots as their male counterparts. A Live Nation representative explains in the film that they need to book already established artists in order to sell tickets, but it’s a vicious cycle, because without these gigs, it’s hard to get known.

The film delivers some of its most interesting moments when exploring the legacy of the many female artists who were early adopters of this technology, including electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani and Prince’s former engineer Susan Rogers, who are both featured as subjects. Brief references are also made to late artists Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, and theremin master Clara Rockmore. More time could have easily been spent exploring their stories, including that of electronic musician and film composer Wendy Carlos, a trans woman whose album Switched on Bach was groundbreaking for mixing classical and electronic music, but is reduced to a mere reference point here.

As a documentary, Underplayed is a pretty good one that gets its point across in a mostly uplifting way, but it also feels a bit surface level. Bud Light is credited as the executive producer of the project, and this corporate influence is apparent, with the film at times coming across like a commercial for these music festivals. The film is also structured as a series of vignettes, constantly bringing in new subjects for a few moments of screen time, and it can feel a bit shapeless at ninety minutes. The slick production values and fast-paced editing do make it easily digestible to watch, but I also think it might have benefitted from having a tighter focus on a few of these artists.

With that said, Underplayed still offers an interesting glimpse into the deeper, systemic issue of sexism in the music industry and women not being recognized or given the same opportunities in the dance music scene, which we are reminded originated in Black, Hispanic and queer communities. The film does hold value as an introduction to these diverse artists, and the soundtrack is solid, too.

Underplayed is now streaming on Crave, and is available on a variety of other Digital and VOD platforms as of today. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

Review: French Exit

April 2, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Frances Price (Michelle Pfeiffer), the main character in the new film French Exit, is a former New York socialite who doesn’t really know what to do with herself now that she has found she is still alive. You see, she always assumed that she would die before her late husband’s money ran out.

When Frances is no longer able to afford living in New York, her friend Joan (Susan Coyne) offers up her empty apartment in Paris for her to stay at. Frances moves there with her young adult son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and their cat, Small Frank, a sleek black feline with an intense stare and a secret identity.

The plan is for her to establish a new life in Paris, while burning through what’s left of her cash. This gives you some idea of what to expect from the film’s plot, but, then again, not really, as the story sort of meanders and takes shape as it goes along. I do not mean this in a bad way. There is an odd sort of enjoyment to be found in just sitting down and seeing where French Exit takes us, with its odd interludes and even odder cast of characters.

Directed by Azazel Jacobs, working from a screenplay by Canadian novelist Patrick deWitt, this is a Canadian-Irish co-production that is set primarily in France, and it feels like several films in one. It’s a relationship comedy, a character drama, and a screwball caper with surrealist touches and hints of the supernatural. And yet, somehow, it works in its own weird way. There are hints of Whit Stillman here, and maybe a few notes of Wes Anderson, but French Exit still manages to feel like wholly its own thing, and the unique pleasures that the film offers are plentiful.

At the centre of the film is Pfeiffer, who reminds us how magnetic a screen presence she can be. Frances is a very odd character, the sort that casually confesses to fantasizing about burning her house down and lights the flowers on fire at a restaurant when the waiter isn’t moving fast enough with the check. She is probably a manic depressive, though this is never directly addressed in the film. It’s a very juicy role, and Pfeiffer digs into the character’s mix of icy coldness and fragile neuroticism in a way that is compelling to watch. Hedges matches her beat for beat, finding subtle nuance in his portrayal of a long-haired rich kid whose flat, disaffected demeanour masks abandonment issues from his childhood.

Aside from the memorable mother-son pairing of Pfeiffer and Hedges, the film also features a sparkling ensemble cast. There’s Imogen Poots as Malcolm’s secret fiancée that he leaves in New York; Danielle Macdonald as a fortune teller that he meets on the cruise ship to France; Valerie Mahaffey as an admirer of Frances who is desperate to have her as a friend; and Isaach De Bankolé as a private investigator who is brought on through a strange turn of events. As this growing cast of characters start to interact with each other, French Exit takes on the feel of a classic farce, with multiple story threads converging and relationship problems coming to a head.

This is all presented in a very mannered and very measured way, and the film has a very specific tone that won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The humour is as dry as the martinis that are sipped by the characters throughout, and there is a distinct undercurrent of melancholia running through it as well. But fans of very dry and very droll comedies might just find this quirky, bittersweet character piece to be a treat. I really enjoyed it, and I can imagine it growing on me even more on repeat viewings.

French Exit is now playing in select Canadian theatres, where they are open. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

Review: The Marksman

April 2, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

In terms of Liam Neeson action movies, which have basically become a genre unto themselves, The Marksman is a pretty good one. I didn’t really expect to be saying that given the tepid reviews this one has been getting, but I’m glad I gave it a chance, because this mix of border crossing drama and suspense thriller is actually pretty engaging to watch.

Neeson stars as Jim Hanson, a rancher and Marine Corps veteran living in the border town of Naco, Arizona, who helps patrol the Mexican border fence along the edge of his property. When a young mother (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez) cross the border into the United States, a violent shootout ensues between Jim and the cartel members they are fleeing.

The boy’s mother is killed, and he is put into custody at a migrant detention centre. With Miguel at risk of being deported back to Mexico, Jim takes it upon himself to fulfill his mother’s dying request and transport the boy to his family in Chicago. The two set out on a cross-country road trip together, all the while being pursued by a vicious gang of cartel members led by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), who is seeking vengeance against Miguel’s family.

Once the action kicks in, which isn’t long into the 107 minute running time, The Marksman never really lets up in terms of suspense. Yes, elements of the film are clichéd, and some will undoubtedly question the choice to make an action movie inspired by the very real, ongoing crisis at the Mexican border. But the film is also somewhat more restrained and grounded in its approach than I was expecting it to be.

This is a surprisingly lean and driven film that proves consistently engaging to watch as it goes along, with director Robert Lorenz, who also co-wrote the screenplay, doing a pretty good job of balancing elements of action movie and character drama. The result is a fairly straight-forward chase movie that also plays out with heightened emotional stakes, as a genuine sort of father-son bond starts to form between Jim and Miguel.

Neeson does a fine job of playing an older, more tired version of his usual action hero character, and his grizzled performance recalls one that Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford or Kevin Costner could have given at different stages of their careers. The young Perez is very good as well, holding his own in the quieter scenes alongside Neeson. Their performances keep us engaged, right through to the film’s bittersweet and surprisingly touching ending.

The Marksman is now playing in select Canadian theatres, where they are open. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

Canadian Film Fest Review: Sugar Daddy

April 1, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Sugar Daddy, which is premiering tonight as the opening film of the virtual Canadian Film Fest on Super Channel, serves as a compelling showcase for its star Kelly McCormack. McCormack, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, stars as Darren, a classic “starving artist” living in Toronto. 

She works dead-end jobs and is struggling to pay rent to a roommate (Ishan Davé) who is starting to expect more from her. But her real passion lies in her music. A classically trained singer, Darren has developed an experimental sound that is so unique that seemingly no one is actually interested in hearing it, letting alone producing her. When she gets fired from her catering job for taking home leftover food, Darren decides to sign up for a service that rents out young women to rich older men looking for dates.

This is the basic plot of the film (it is literally called Sugar Daddy, after all). But what’s really interesting about the film is the way that McCormack’s layered screenplay explores how Darren’s new career choice comes to shape both how she is viewed in society and her own musical ambitions as well. The way that her supposedly “woke” friends react to her new job at a party provides the basis for one of the film’s most interesting conversations about women’s agency and bodily autonomy, which are big themes throughout the script.

This really is a showcase for McCormack, and she is very good here playing a complex female character that reminded me slightly of Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell. Yes, Darren’s life is messy, but she is also the only one willing to see through the bullshit of the world around her, as she starts to realize how much society is solely focused on her body. The film’s best supporting performance comes courtesy of Colm Feore, whose memorable portrayal of Gordon, one of Darren’s rich clients, keeps us questioning whether his intentions are kind or creepy.

The film serves as the feature debut of Chilean-Canadian director Wendy Morgan, who previously directed several music videos, including Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope.” It’s a confidently made film, framed in a boxy square aspect ratio, and featuring several artsy music video interludes. Built around McCormack’s performance, Sugar Daddy is an engaging film that raises interesting questions about how woman choose to use their bodies.

Kelly McCormack in Sugar Daddy

Sugar Daddy is premiering tonight exclusively on Super Channel at 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM (EDT) as the opening night film of the 2021 Canadian Film Fest, which runs from April 1st to 18th. More info and screening details can be found right here.

The film will be released across other Digital and VOD platforms on April 6th. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

4K Ultra HD Review: Wonder Woman 1984

March 30, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) returns in Wonder Woman 1984, a brightly coloured followup to her excellent 2017 solo film that updates the action from World War I to the Reagan era.

Where as the first Wonder Woman was a fairly grounded war movie, this one is a big, cheesy ’80s action movie. How you feel about this massive tonal shift will likely determine how much enjoyment you get out of this somewhat bloated but still easily watchable sequel, which sets itself apart by leaning into the aesthetic of America in the 1980s.

Patty Jenkins returns to direct Wonder Woman 1984, and while the storytelling itself is quite a bit messier this time around, she once again demonstrates her strong ability to craft large scale action sequences involving the iconic title character. The film opens with a pretty stirring sequence on Themyscira, where we follow along as a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competes against the other Amazon warriors in a sort of Cirque du Soleil-inspired Olympic games involving a series of obstacle courses.

The action then shifts to Washington, D.C., where the adult Diana has now relocated, with Jenkins staging a super fun sequence that finds a fully costumed Wonder Woman chasing a gang of robbers through a gleaming 1980s shopping mall. It’s a massive set-piece that showcases this sequel’s brighter colours and more humorous action, recalling the big action comedies of the ’80s, while also showing off the fashion and hair-dos of the decade.

True to its time period, the sequence was also impressively pulled off mostly through practical effects, including real stunts and a lot of wire work, and it delivers in terms of grand spectacle. It also sets the plot in motion. We soon find out that the robbers were trying to get away with the mythic Dreamstone, which was being sold at an illegal antiques market at the mall. The magical citrine crystal, which has the power to grant any wish, ends up being sent to the Smithsonian, where Diana now works as a curator, for safe keeping. But things start to go wrong as the Dreamstone changes hands.

The new characters include Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a socially awkward gemologist who becomes both friend and foe to Diana, when she uses the powers of the stone to morph into the CGI Cheetah. The film’s main villain is Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a struggling oil magnate who wants to use the Dreamstone to enrich himself. Pascal really leans in to his role as a comic book villain, hamming it up every chance he gets and delivering an intentionally over the top, meme-generating performance that almost approaches Nicholas Cage levels of scenery-chewing. Let’s just say it’s an acting choice that sometimes works better than others.

One of the more awkward subplots involves the return of Diana’s late love interest, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Don’t get me wrong, it’s super enjoyable to see Pine back in the role, and he is as charming as ever. But it’s the way they go about bringing his character back that didn’t quite work for me, with a random man (Kristoffer Polaha) being unwittingly used as a vessel for him through the magic of the Dreamstone. I feel like there was probably a better way to bring him back that didn’t involve Diana commandeering some random dude’s body, and it’s hard to look past the weird and creepy sexual politics of her using someone else’s body for her own pleasure.

I really wanted to love Wonder Woman 1984, and there certainly are things to enjoy about it, including some solid action sequences and the enjoyable ‘80s setting. Gadot herself remains an inspired casting choice, perfectly embodying both the optimism and strength of the classic character, while showcasing her badass fighting skills. But the film also suffers from a bloated running time and a little too much of, well, everything, with a meandering story that lacks needed focus.

This is ultimately a classic example of bigger not always being better, and by the final stretch of the two-and-half-hour running time, it becomes a bit exhausting. It’s not bad, and it is consistently entertaining to watch, but Wonder Woman 1984 is also a marked step down from the first film, which remains one of the best films in the DCEU. With that said, there are still enough individual moments here to make this sequel worth a rental.

Bonus Features (4K Ultra HD):

Following its day-and-date release in selected theatres and on PVOD on Christmas, Wonder Woman 1984 is arriving on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD today. I was sent the 4K set for review, which comes with a regular Blu-ray disc that holds a number of bonus features. A digital copy code is also included in the package, which ships with a nice slipcover.

The Making of Wonder Woman 1984: Expanding the Wonder (36 minutes, 23 seconds): A decent overview of the film’s production, from developing the story based on different elements from the comic books, to staging the film’s action sequences.

Gal & Kristen: Friends Forever (5 minutes, 10 seconds): This featurette offers a closer look at the off-screen friendship that formed between Gadot and Wiig, with the two of them laughing and dancing together between takes.

Small But Mighty (10 minutes, 44 seconds): A closer look at the film’s opening sequence that introduces us to Aspell, the child actress who plays young Diana. We learn that the young star did all of her own stunts, which is a truly impressive feat.

Scene Study: The Open Road (6 minutes, 11 seconds): An in-depth look at a Middle East chase sequence that was impressively done using practical effects, including the flipping of a truck.

Scene Study: The Mall (5 minutes, 3 seconds): An in-depth look at the aforementioned mall chase, which was shot in a real old mall, with the production design team brilliantly recreating a full 65 stores complete with products from the 1980s. We also get a look at the practical stunts and intricate wire work that allowed Gadot to really fly through the air. It’s pretty incredible to see how they pulled it off, and it makes you appreciate the sequence even more.

Gal & Krissy Having Fun (1 minute, 12 seconds): A short music video that Gadot and Wiig shot together on set, presented on an old TV.

Meet the Amazons (21 minutes, 28 seconds): A virtual roundtable from last year’s DC FanDome event, featuring Jenkins and Aspell along with other members of the production team and supporting cast of Amazon warriors.

Black Gold Infomercial (1 minute, 38 seconds): A fake, vintage TV commercial for Maxwell Lord’s oil company.

Gag Reel (6 minutes, 26 seconds): A collection of clips of the actors cracking up, with Gadot and Pine amusing each other during flubbed takes.

Wonder Woman 1984 Retro Remix (1 minute, 40 seconds): A vintage trailer for the film, mixing live action clips and animation.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 151 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: March 30th, 2021

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