Wonder Woman (2017)

 Our associate reviewer Dr. Markus Watson offers a second look at this popular movie.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 21 minutes.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 7; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9

Wonder Woman with Steve & friends in a French village they have liberated from the Germans. (c) Warner Bros.

Themyscira is a beautiful island whose existence has been hidden for centuries from the rest of the world.  It is inhabited by the mighty Amazons, an all-female tribe of gorgeous warrior women.

It is on this island that we meet Diana (Gal Gadot), the princess of Themyscira.  Diana wants to learn to fight, has a passion for doing what is right, and she wants to protect her island and the world from whatever evil may attack.

Then one day, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane into the ocean just off the coast of Themyscira.  It is through him that Diana discovers the world is at war.  But not just any war.  It is World War I, the War to End all Wars.

Diana is ready to fight.  More specifically, she is ready to kill Ares, the god of war, who she believes is behind this Great War.   If only Ares can be destroyed, the war—Diana is convinced—will end.

So she follows Steve Trevor back to Europe where she finds a world unlike anything she could ever have imagined.  She sees pain.  She sees suffering.  She sees cruelty and cowardice.  The more darkness she sees, the more she is convinced that once Ares is dead, the world will be good and beautiful and whole once again.  When Ares is dead, there will be peace.

Diana, together with Steve and three mercenaries, embarks on a mission to destroy a chemical weapons factory.  When they arrive at the factory, Diana does finally face off with Ares (David Thewlis).  But as Diana does battle with Ares, Steve sacrifices himself to destroy the chemical weapons.  It is then that Diana recognizes what will truly bring an end to war and save the world—love.

It sounds cheesy, but Diana is right.  It is love that will save the world.  It is love that will bring an end to the darkness.  It is love that will make the world whole again.

This is, in fact, how God did save the world.  When the world was at its worst—or as the Apostle Paul puts it, “while we were still sinners”—God sent his Son to conquer the world’s evil through love.  Instead of judging people, Jesus embraced them.  Instead of excluding people, Jesus welcomed them.  Instead of hurting people, Jesus healed them.  Rather than taking from people, Jesus gave.  And when the authorities attacked, tortured, and executed him, Jesus absorbed their violence and forgave them.  Rather than making them (and us) suffer for our sin, Jesus endured torture and death for our sin.

In some mysterious way, Jesus broke the power of sin.  Not only did he demonstrate the only way evil can truly be conquered, Jesus really did conquer evil through his sacrifice.  And he made it possible for the world to be made whole once again.

Is this how Diana conquered evil in the movie?  Well, that’s the irony.  She says she understands now that “only love can save the world.”  But she still defeats evil through violence and force.  It’s the other character—the one who died while destroying the chemical weapons—who overcame evil through love.

At least Diana (aka, Wonder Woman) is on the right track.

This review with a set of questions will be in the July 2017 issue of VP.

 

Wonder Woman (2017)

Rated. Running time: 2 hours 21 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 3.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Psalm 82:3-4

Diana’s bullet-repelling gauntlets enable her even to attack the German machine gun nests that have stopped the Allied troops so often.                    (c) Warner Brothers

Although I am not a keen fan of the superhero genre, I do welcome this new addition because it provides our daughters with a worthy role model, even though the film still embraces power and violence.

The film opens with a present-day prologue in which Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, aka Wonder Woman) is at her office in the Louvre when a Wayne Enterprises truck delivers a package to her. Opening it, she stares at a picture taken a hundred years ago. It shows Wonder Woman, sword in hand, standing during four armed men, a Turk, a handsome young man, a hatted Native American, and a kilt-clad Scotsman. In the background are buildings of a French village and a large WW 1 tank. It will be a while before we learn the men’s identities as the faithful and courageous companions of Wonder Woman.

The old photograph takes the viewers back in time to Diana’s youth on the island of Themyscira, shrouded by mist and some type of field shielding it from the scrutiny of the outside world. Here lives the race of Amazons, presided over by Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and the regent’s sister, Antiope (Robin Wright). The latter is trainer whom little Diana longs to join, but she is held back by her mother. The girl persists through the years, Hippolyta eventually giving in because her sister tells her they must be ready when and if they have to face outside forces threatening the peace of their island. She tells Antiope to press her harder than she has anyone else, which she does. Diana proves to be the best of the warriors, eventually able to stand up to the onslaughts of her mentor during their arduous training sessions.

The outside world does impinge on the Amazons when a WW 2 fighter plane crashes into the sea, and Diana swims out to rescue the unconscious pilot. Soon a boat load of armed Germans land on the beach. The ensuing battle is a fierce one. As skilled as they are with their bows and arrows and acrobatic flights, many of the Amazons are nonetheless cut down by the German guns, including Antiope. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), recovering from his near-drowning, also fights along with the Amazons, and after the Germans are killed, explains that a World War is raging in the outside world. In Europe the Allies and Germans are about to sign an armistice, but there is a German general and a scientist who have developed a super weapon, a deadly gas, that they plan to release on the front lines. Millions of soldiers on both sides would be killed, but the plotters do not care if it would prevent the signing of the armistice so that they can continue the war, one which they could win with the new weapon.

Diana, of course, agrees to go into the world with Steve to use her skills and power for the triumph of right. Like young Arthur of the old legend, she goes to the shrine and extracts the marvelous sword awaiting her use and picks up the shield that will protect her body and a glowing lasso that forces anyone wrapped in it to tell the truth. She also possesses a pair of gauntlets with which she can deflect bullets. There follows lots of action-packed sequences in which our favorite Amazon lives up to the expectations of her deceased mentor and Queen Mother, her highly honed skills aided by her shield, lasso and bullet-repelling gauntlets. (Though her charge of the German trenches, during which she deflects what must have been thousands of bullets from the machine guns pointed at her from all along the line, is a bit beyond believable, but hey, this is basically an animated comic book.)

The script, mainly by Allan Heinberg, includes many humorous sequences, such as the one in the boat in which Diana and Steve set sail from. (And note that a woman, Patty Jenkins s the director!) The two exchange information about each other and are uncomfortable concerning sleeping arrangements. Steve asks, “Have you never met a man before? What about your father?” “I have no father. I was brought to life by Zeus.” Well that’s neat. Reaching London, Steve introduces his companion to Etta, who tells Diana, “I’m Steve Trevor’s secretary.” Diana asks, “What is a secretary?” and Etta replies, “I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do.” Diana comments, “Where we come from, that’s called slavery.” And Etta replies, “I like her!” (Actress Lucy Davis is a real scene stealer—let’s hope she signs on to the inevitable sequels!)

All the cast members are excellent, with Gal Gadot proving a worthy successor to the beloved Lynda Carter, star of the TV series in the 70s. Chris Pine makes us care for Diana’s companion and love-interest, so that when he sets out on his courageous mission to save the lives of others, we are truly moved by the result—especially because he has left Diana his watch, saying to her, “I wish we had more time together. I love you.”

My main criticism is that the script follows the Allied propaganda practice of WW 1 by depicting all of the German characters as brutish thugs willing to destroy villages and their civilians for their own ends, but then, this is a comic book adaptation, a genre known for painting its villains in the darkest of colors. The General is especially a cardboard character, but his cohort, the scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a bit more complex, she with her destroyed face partially covered by a mask. I would have liked to have learned a bit more of her past and motivations.

If the scripts of the sequels are as good as this one, we will be in for a real treat as we again watch a woman take the lead in saving the world. And who, despite her physical powers, has her heart in the right place when she says, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP. Please help keep this site going by purchasing an issue of the journal or subscribing to it.

 

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

El abrazo de la serpiente (Original Title)

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 5 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 5; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 3.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children,

because they are no more.

Jeremiah 31:15

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,

for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men…

T.S. Elliott

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Am&Man3

The film involves the stories of two whites who, decades apart, employ the services

of the same  shaman to locate a rare medicinal plant.   (c) Oscillascope

Columbian film director/co-writer Ciro Guerra’s new film reminds me of Bruce Beresford’s 1991 film Black Robe, in that they both show the tragic results of cross cultural clash and colonialism. Mr. Guerra’s film is set in early 20th century South America rather than 17th Century North America, and it also shows the terrible costs to the environment that the coming of whites has wreaked on the Amazon basin.

The fictionalized story is based on the travel journals two men–German explorer ethnologist, Theodor Koch- Grunberg in 1909, and an American biologist, Richard Evans Schultes, in the 1940s. Both met the shaman Karamakate whom they hope would guide them to the rare medicinal plant, the Yakruna. Beginning in 1909, the film moves back and forth between the two men and their eras.

The seriously ill Theodor Koch-Grünberg (Jan Bijvoet) is traveling in a dugout canoe with his faithful friend Manduca (Miguel Dionisio Ramos). As they approach the shore Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), armed with his long spear-like blow gun, warily watches them. Manduca asks for help for his dying friend, but the shaman, the last of his tribe, scornfully refuses, reproaching the guide for giving in to the whites and wearing their clothing. However, when Theodor says that he knows where the survivors of Karamakate’s tribe are living, the shaman changes his mind. He agrees to take them to the Yakruna on condition that they follow his orders not to disturb the jungle—no fishing and eating of meat during the journey. He brings temporary relief from Theodor’s ailment by blowing a strong compound into his nostrils.

The journey becomes one of awakening and transformation for the German, one example being their stopping at a grove where rubber trees are being tapped. In anger at the exploitation by rubber barons who have enslaved and even killed thousands of Amazonians for the sake of rubber, Karamakate knocks down the buckets, spilling their contents. There emerges an angry Indian whose arm has been amputated, one eye gouged out, and his back beaten by whites. He is so distraught that he asks them to kill him. Apparently his masters will inflict a far worse fate on him for the loss of the rubber. Unable to kill him in cold blood, Theodor and his companions hastily leave. A short time later they hear a shot ring out, revealing the fate of the wretch they left behind.

A second horror resulting from colonialism that they encounter is the Catholic mission where a white priest cares for orphans in a cruel manner. He lashes them for any infractions, including later the group to whom Karamakate speaks in an attempt to instill in them a respect for the culture and religion being destroyed by the priest and his ilk.

The second story, taking place almost forty ears later, involves the American Richard Evans Schultes. He has the earlier man’s published journal to help guide him, and he too seeks the Yakruna flower for its alleged healing properties. It is Karamakate (now played by Antonio Bolivar Salvado Yangiama) who again is sought after as a guide. The Indian says that he cannot remember things, but agrees to accompany his visitor. As decades before with Theodor, Karamakate urges the white man to get rid of the boxes and suitcases, telling both that they are too weighed down by things. They need to learn to dream in order to see the reality around them. Spying an old photograph that the German had taken of him, Karamakate is not pleased. He fears it is his chullachaqui. A word he uses many times, it is a term meaning a hollow copy of oneself so that one drifts now without meaning or purpose.

The pair again come to the mission and find it an even more grotesque place than before. The children have grown up and have enslaved themselves to a deranged man claiming to be the Messiah. Wearing a crown of thorns and a robe, the Messiah babbles a combination of Latin and tribal words in his rituals. If anything, he is even crueler than the white priest in his treatment of his followers.

In another sequence they arrive at a settlement about to be attacked by a contingent of Columbian soldiers. This, plus the frequently mutilated rubber trees that they pass, show the ruin brought about the white man and his profit-obsessed colonialism.

Karamakate and Schultes eventually arrive upriver at the mountains where the last Yakruna flower is blossoming. I will leave it to you to discover what ensues—though perhaps to entice you to search this film out, I will mention that there is the only color segment in this black and white film, one that will remind you of the trip in 2001 Space Odyssey.

Mr. Guerra is similar to the prophet Jeremiah in that the film is one long lament over irretrievable loss–of land and culture, and perhaps of soul. It is not the white men, but the native Karamakate who is the most important character in the film, a far cry from the usual noble savage being helped by the good white man tale. We even see this in the segment when Theodor is trying to get back his compass from the tribe that has given them supplies. He had shown and explained it to them the night before, and now they want to keep it to use for their own journeys. But when he tells Karamakate that it will lead them to forget their own method of using the star and the wind for telling direction, the latter sees this seemingly well-intentioned act as another example of white mans condescension, so he says, “You cannot forbid them to learn.” Karamakate also reminds both men that hey need to learn to dream, and also urges one of them “Listen to what the river can tell you, every tree, every flower brings wisdom.” The importance of dreams, stressed many times by the shaman, links his culture to that of the Biblical cultures in which dreams also were an important means for God to communicate with people.

The film becomes mystical, often showing us images of snakes being born. Late on there is also a scene in which a jaguar and a large snake engage one another, and of course there is also that psychedelic-like “trip” already mentioned. This is an original film made with great skill, aided considerably by David Gallego’s ultra crisp black and white photography. The latter evokes the style of the countless documentaries made by scientists who have ventured into the world’s jungles, but the story itself conjures memories of such lurid journeys into the heart of darkness as Apocalypse Now or Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God. Lots of memorable material for a group to discuss in what perhaps is a truly great film! At the end Mr. Guerra dedicates it to “all those South American indigenous peoples “whose song we never knew.”

 This review will be in the April 2016 issue of VP with a set of discussion questions.

Oscilloscope