Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is one of those animated / comic book characters who were part of the magic of my childhood and hold a special place in my heart as an artist and dreamer. I eagerly awaited the release of Warner Bros. movie but sadly couldn’t find time to see it until yesterday. The critics’ reviews and moviegoers’ feedback bolstered my hope that this film would live up to expectations–and it exceeded them but in ways I did not anticipate.

Having grown up in an era where women can vote, work in nearly every field I can think of, have economic power, better control over their reproductive rights and so on, the painful path to those liberties is seemingly forgotten as we go about our days benefiting from them. While this may seem an oversimplification, I believe that because those who were and are threatened by women’s equality did and still do a good job of making the term feminist a dirty word, we may be continuing to move the needle forward but it seems to be in less dramatic and public ways. I say that to say this:  the message of advancing women’s equality and rights has been on the periphery unless those battles our foremothers won are under attack.

As a child, I did not necessarily understand how special Wonder Woman was as a model of female empowerment. But yesterday, as an adult, the Wonder Woman movie rocked my world in two hours and twenty-one minutes.

The subtlety of Patty Jenkins’ directing coupled with the astute writing by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs brought William Moulton Marston’s Wonder Woman to life in a way that both touched me and awakened my understanding of my power as a woman. I understand now that it’s not that I have to wage wars to make a difference. I can move the needle not only for myself but also by setting an example for others to follow in every conversation, decision and action. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman / Diana Prince did this masterfully and in a way that was not portrayed as emasculating.

What I saw yesterday was a woman who behaved in the strong, unapologetic way a man does without losing her femininity. At first I was a bit dismayed that they chose to throw in the romantic connection between Wonder Woman and Steve Taylor. Upon further reflection, I applaud it. It showed that I woman could lose herself in love but not be ruled by it. It demonstrated that a woman could be united with another person and yet stay true to herself. Strong messages for women at any age.

Having seen how Wonder Woman’s character negotiated the “world of man” as an equal, I had to wonder how my life (or thought process) would have been different had I had been educated in an all girls school. I recall my mind-blown reaction to hearing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg say, “People ask me sometimes, when — when do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.” It was at that moment that I realized that I had been accepting the way things are, that I was not challenging the status quo, that I myself was not advancing equality. Why not an all female Supreme Court or Congress for that matter?

What I found so empowering about the messaging in Wonder Woman is that it was non-judgmental. It simply showed a different way of negotiating the world and not saying men were bad or that women were victims.

Interestingly, one of the most powerful and moving moments of the film is when Diana crossed “no man’s land” to save a village of people who were at death’s door. It was rich with symbolism and heroism. Seeing a woman stand up for what is right, doing the right thing at what could have been her own peril, not doing what she is told by a man, going into “no man’s land” and generally being depicted as bad ass–wow. Had I been alone, I would have let out the tears that threatened to spill. How many times have we see men do these things while women are relegated to tending to the household, children or the wounded? Yet, it wasn’t just about her–it showed her leading and a team that supported her. The last time I can think of a similar tale is Joan of Arc–600 years ago. (Let that sink in…)

The casting of the Amazons was strong both in the quality of acting and the different representations of powerful women of all ages, creeds, statures and so on. I could have done without the schexxy clothes but they were in keeping with the design of the character from inception.

Was it perfect? No. The cast was mostly white (although I do applaud the diversity that was shown  and recognize that the depiction of ethnicity was historically accurate). There were also simple flaws like Princess Diana’s moleskin patch on her shoulder to protect her skin from the abrasion of her leather shoulder strap and editing errors. But there was so much that was good and great about it, that I give it a pass on those nits.

I appreciated the quality of both the story line and the visuals supporting it. The colors, lighting, costumes and scenery harmoniously reinforced the storytelling. The comedy relief was spot on. In short, even if you weren’t into the female empowerment message, Wonder Woman is a highly enjoyable theater-going experience.

I am already dying to see Justice League and the not-yet-made Wonder Woman sequel. I am also cautiously optimistic that those of us on Team Estrogen will truly feel empowered to do more to negotiate our world and our spheres of influence to advance our collective equality.

 

The Sad Man Behind Blue Eyes…The Tragic Loss of Robin Williams

Robin Williams 2011a (2).jpg

I’m still reeling from the news that Robin Williams is gone.

He came into my life 36 years ago in an egg-shaped spacecraft, tickling my funny bone and teaching me the joy of being silly. Eleven years later, as a poetry teacher he spoke to me about the power of words and free thinking just as I was turning the corner toward adulthood. These lessons are indelibly etched on my soul.

By happenstance a few days ago, I rewatched Hook, Williams’ retelling of Peter Pan.  It was the first and only movie that I’ve seen in the theater by myself as I usually like to share the experience with someone and discuss it afterward. But Hook was different; it was so personal. At 21, I was an adult, but still young enough that I missed the magic of childhood.  Williams was perfectly cast in the role of Peter Banning/Peter Pan…it was so easy to believe he could be Pan on screen and off.  I never spoke to anyone about how this movie touched me, but I know it was due in large part to Williams’ performance.

He had a knack for playing flawed but wise characters with deep compassion.  As with Hook, he performed his roles in Patch Adams and Good Will Hunting with such skill that it seemed that I was watching the real Robin Williams, seeing his traits on screen.

There was something about him that made me feel good just looking at him.  Perhaps it was his twinkly blue eyes, his somewhat less than perfect but attractive face or how animated he could be.  He was larger than life.

Now, hearing his death was most likely suicide, it breaks my heart that someone who brought me so much joy felt so much pain. The Who’s song “Behind Blue Eyes” keeps running through my head:

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

He was beloved by so many who would have gladly propped him up, to help him make it to the next foothold. I am sad that he could not  reach out for it. I hope all that love lights him on his way to his peace.

These are some of my favorite performances from this giant talent:

PHOTO CREDIT:

Robin Williams 2011a (2)” by Eva RinaldiFlickr: Robin Williams

This file has been extracted from another image: File:Robin Williams 2011a.jpg.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Noah–A Philosophical Smorgasbord

NOAH, Russell Crowe, 2014. ph: Niko Tavernise/©Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Niko Tavernise/©Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

If you’re a religious purist, this is not the film for you. Walk away.  If you like blockbuster type movies and are curious, go. If you are an environmentalist/vegetarian/evolution-friendly-ist, go. If you’re a Russell Crowe fan, you should’ve already had your butt in a seat.

Aronofsky delivers another visually appealing epic in keeping with his body of work. Leveraging familiar stories, he dabbles with the fantastic and stretches the imagination to give audiences a provocative movie experience. He’s very good at posing philosophical questions for moviegoers to consider by juxtaposing contradictory schools of thought. Noah is no different. Aronofsky deftly plays with the themes of evolution against creationism; herbivore against carnivore; faith and duty against hedonism and self-interest; free will against obedience/fate and environmentalism against whatever you call man’s use (plundering?) of the earth’s resources with little consideration of the impact.

Overall, Russell Crowe et al do a very good job of making this not so realistic or biblically accurate storyline plausible (even with the Transformer-like fallen angel giant rock creatures). Yes, I did appreciate Crowe’s performance for more than his gratuitous naked bum shot. His struggle to make sense of the world, to honor his faith and to take care of his family was very relatable, very “human.” I did have hard time believing that “Hermione” (Emma Watson) and “Percy Jackson a.k.a. the son of Poseidon” (Logan Lerman) were their Christian characters. If you’re not familiar with those “names,” you shouldn’t have a problem. Anthony Hopkin’s character was a bit superfluous and Deus ex machina for my taste, but he adds to the starpower. The antagonist/evildoer is played by venerable British actor Ray Winstone. You may not like him, but you may relate to his point of view, which is a credit to Aronofsky’s handling of the philosophical issues.

There were some annoying technical nits with the film and it’s probably a wee bit too long (though it has a pretty consistent pace), but it delivered a credible vision of the world of early man. The costumes were wonderful but were probably a little too close to last fall’s runway than historically accurate (but, really, who wants to see Jennifer Connolly in rags?). The vibrant sunset scenes with the characters silhouetted against them in black were a bit too theatrical and a deviation from the overall feel of the antediluvian world.

Unfortunately, there were no talking animals and there was a cameo of a monkey with enormous nipples that I could have done without. Where were all the recognizable zoo animals? I didn’t see a single zebra, lion, giraffe, gorilla, etc. Perhaps it was another nod by Aronofsky to validate evolution.

The movie does leave you with an unavoidable creepy thought… that, if the biblical tale / Aronofsky’s story is true, then we’re all the products of inbreeding. Let’s just file that thought away under: Things that make you say, “Hmmm.”

If nothing else, go see it so you can use the word antediluvian in conversation.

The West Wing

the-west-wingI love The West Wing television show.  Luh-huh-huh-huh-huh-ve it!

I’m watching it again now on Netflix in binge-mode.  I’m on Season 2, Episode 1 — I’ve got goosebumps and I’m choking up, but then the next minute I’m smiling. That’s good TV. From the writing to the characters to the casting to the acting, it’s brilliant. Shakespeare-level brilliant.

It launched the month after I completed grad school in 1999, and it embodies everything I wanted to be then and wish I’d become. It’s how I envision our founding fathers were as they birthed a nation.

When my beloved mentor took me to Washington, D.C. for the annual Honors Political Science trip and we visited the National Archive, I got misty viewing a piece of parchment where a vote was tallied in the Continental Congress.  I don’t remember the details, but I remember just being in awe of what that document represented, particularly so as I was fairly involved in politics and was slap ate up with the possibility of improving the world.

I’m an idealist with a passionate vision of what the United States of America could be, despite the flaws inherent in man.  The West Wing appeals to the dreamer in me.  I love how it explores what could be constrained by what is and does so with some pretty snappy dialogue.

Even 8 – 15 years later, the debates on the issues are (unfortunately?) still relevant and draw you in. I want to jump back into the fray, but there’s been such a decline in the intelligence of debate in politics today that I think I’d lose my mind.  However, I’m still a policy wonk with strong views on the issues that align very closely to the ideology presented on The West Wing.  It’s almost like they tapped into my head (but with much better scripting). This clip is just one example of thousands that show how masterfully it’s written: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eD52OlkKfNs

I especially love the camaraderie of the team and the family-like tightness of their bond.  I long to find a team like them. Toby explained it best: “We’re a group. We’re a team. From the President and Leo on through, we’re a team. We win together, we lose together, we celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories sweetened because we did them together.”

My favorite character is Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, expertly played by Allison Janney.  She’s bright, ballsy, quick witted and a great PR practitioner.  She’s often the target of the subtle and pervasive sexism of the boy’s club but can also hold her own against it in a way that enables her to also be part of the club. She’s a class act.

The one flaw the my OCD can’t ignore is that they never change the calendar in Toby’s office or the blackboard in Josh’s office.  But that’s a forgivable nit.  (Okay, I also am bothered by the ill-fitting suits, but I suspect this might be by design.)

If you loved the movie The American President (as I did), you will love The West Wing.  It is highly worth your time to watch all seven seasons.  Even if you’re right of center on your politics, this show is done so well that you should enjoy it.  It’s marvelous.

Smart friends

smart friends
Smart friends recommend Breaking Bad

I have this friend — I’ll call him Mr. Brilliant — who is, well, brilliant.  He’s like girl crack.  He’s a true gentleman, charming, kind, funny, capable, smart — darn near perfect.

Pretty much since we became acquainted, we’ve swapped recommendations and reviews for TV and movies.  He has excellent taste.  I watch way too much TV as it is, so I don’t add all of his suggestions to my roster of guilty pleasures.  But I should, because every time I break down and dive into one of his recommendations, it’s excellent.

Which brings me to the point of this post–I’m just now getting around to watching Breaking Bad and it’s  freaking awesome.  I wasn’t sure I’d like it because I’ve been trying to watch more positive things and, on the surface, a show about drug dealing seemed negative.  But it’s dark and clever and delicious.  I’m only 15 minutes into the 3rd episode and I’m hooked (pun intended).  I’m laughing those full on belly laughs.

One of the cool things about Mr. Brilliant is that he’ll be so pleased — even 5 years later — that I’m enjoying the show (finally).  Of course, now I’m bummed that I didn’t start 5 years ago so that he and I could gush over the goodness.  Now I’ll be binge-watching it for the next two days.

So take it from me and Mr. Brilliant, if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad–do it!  Netflix will hook you up.

I adore my smart friends.