Professor Marston and the Wonder Women- (Dir. Angela Robinson), Review By Case Wright


PMWW.jpg

What does Wonder Woman, S&M, and Polyamory have in common?  Pretty much everything.  Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (PMWW) was…dull.  You’d think with all the whips and ropes that the movie would pull some interest, but the scenes were shot hamfisted and clinical.  I guess that makes sense to a degree because the stars were playing Harvard nerds who liked kinky sex, but man what a snore!

The movie was a Biopic about Professor Marston the creator of the lie detector test and I will forever know this because it was repeated over and over and over and over again.  UGGHHHH.  Professor Marston was a Harvard Professor who was married to fellow professor Elizabeth Marston.  They are social psyche professors who are developing a lie detector test and are determined to bring Olive Byrne into their cult-like love life.  This would be considered very creepy today, not for the S&M stuff, but because of the professor/student boundary crossing.  They aren’t shy at all about their relationship, causing everyone to get expelled/fired.  Honestly, I don’t blame Harvard on this one.  He not only seduced a student, got her pregnant, and they all lived together.  It reminded me of those separatist compounds.

Since no one is working, money gets tight. Eventually, Professor Marston puts his kink into high gear with ropes etc and this gives him the idea of Wonder Woman.  He uses the two personalities of his two wives to give Wonder Woman a dual identity.  It’s not a terrible analogy, just a terrible movie.   Their unconventional marriage is discovered by their suburban neighbors and as a result; they split up for what seemed like 6 days.  I blame the director on that.

There’s nothing wrong with being into an unconventional marriage or bondage, but I just didn’t expect it to be so boring.  If anyone has an interest in S&M, just watch this film and you’ll be so bored of it, you’ll try something much more exciting like papier-mache!  The movie concludes with a bookended plot line of him being investigated for using Wonder Woman to normalize bondage and polyamory and he even admits as much.  So??  I don’t know if I’m supposed to care or not.  Basically, I might be done with sex for good because I like a little excitement in my life and this apparently is a dead end.

HMM2

Playing Catch-Up: Beatriz at Dinner (dir by Miguel Arteta)


Beatriz at Dinner is very much a film of the moment, which is a polite way of saying that it’s not very good but it does accurately reflect the way that a lot of people are feeling right now.  I imagine that’s the main reason why it’s received a good deal of critical acclaim.  It was even cited, by the National Board of Review, as one of the top ten independent films of the year.  By 2019, I doubt anyone will even remember that this film exists.

Salma Hayek plays the title character.  Beatriz is a massage therapist in Los Angeles.  She’s not having a good day.  Not only has her neighbor killed one of her goats but, while she’s at the house of one of her wealthy clients, her car suddenly won’t start.  Beatriz says that she can call a friend to come pick her up but that he won’t be able to show up until after he gets off work.  Beatriz’s client, Kathy (Connie Britton), invites Beatriz to stay for dinner.

Kathy is a familiar type.  She’s the rich, privileged white woman who probably brags about how nice she is to her maid.  Kathy’s husband (David Warshofsky) may not want Beatriz to stay but Kathy feels that they owe a debt to Beatriz because Beatriz helped their daughter recover after she was treated for cancer.  Kathy not only insists that Beatriz stay for dinner but she also asks Beatriz to not only stay the night but also to sing everyone a song after they’ve eaten.  As Kathy’s rich friends start to arrive for dinner, Kathy treats Beatriz like a prop, blithely unaware of how awkward Beatriz feels around her guests.

The main dinner guest is an arrogantly vulgar businessman named Doug Strutt (John Lithgow).  Doug is best known for building hotels, forcing poor people off of their land, and constantly bragging about how rich and famous he is.  He is even working on a memoir.  (In perhaps Beatriz at Dinner‘s only show of restraint, the film does not make him a reality show host.)  The first time that Doug sees Beatriz, he assumes that she must be a maid and asks her to get him a drink.  When Beatriz later launches into a monologue about her childhood in Mexico and how she first came to the United States, Doug interrupts to boorishly ask if she came legally.  Whenever anyone admonishes Doug for being rude, he merely laughs it off and says that he doesn’t mean to be offensive.  He’s just telling it like it is.

Hmmmm … I wonder who Doug is supposed to be a stand-in for?

Anyway, this all sounds promising enough but Beatriz at Dinner doesn’t really do much with this material.  Just as with his previous overrated film, Cedar Rapids, director Miguel Arteta fails to generate any sort of narrative momentum.  Basically, the entire film is Doug saying something offensive and Beatriz glaring at him.  We keep waiting for Beatriz to blow up but when she finally does start to talk back to Doug, it’s anti-climatic.  The dialogue suddenly starts to feel forced and unnatural.  Doug goes from being a disturbingly credible vulgarian to just being another comic book villain and, as a result, Beatriz’s speech feels almost as empty as an angry thread of tweets.  When Beatriz does take more concrete action towards Doug, the film ruins it all with an obvious twist that is nowhere close to being as profound as the filmmakers seem to think it is.  If Beatriz at Dinner was truly as revolutionary as it seems to think it is, that twist wouldn’t be there.

(Buñuel and Godard, who are both obvious influences on Beatriz at Dinner, would dismiss the twist as bourgeois bullshit.)

In the lead role, Salma Hayek is good but not great.  There’s really not much depth to Beatriz as a character.  She functions more as a symbol than as a human being.  (In many ways, the filmmakers treats Beatriz much in the same way that Kathy treats Beatriz, as a prop.)  John Lithgow steals the entire movie, giving the only performance that actually shows a hint of real and dangerous charisma.  As hateful a person as Doug may be, he is truthful about one thing.  He is the only character in the movie who always says exactly what is on his mind.  Lithgow plays Doug as not just a vulgarian but also as someone who is proud of being vulgar and who specifically goes out of his way to see how offensive he can be.  At times, Lithgow is the only member of the cast actually bringing any life to this stifling bore of a film.  Unfortunately, Lithgow is so good that he overpowers the rest of the cast.  When Beatriz rebukes him, Hayek delivers her lines with a heartfelt fury that briefly threatens to rescue the movie from Doug but all Lithgow has to do is smirk and just like that, he’s taken the movie back from her.

For a lot of people, the appeal of Beatriz at Dinner is that Doug is obviously meant to be Trump and Beatriz says everything that they wish they could say.  They see Beatriz’s frustration and anger and they immediately recognize it as being their frustration and anger.  That’s a perfectly legitimate and understandable reaction but that doesn’t necessarily make Beatriz at Dinner a good film.  It just makes it a film of the moment.

Back to School #64: Friday Night Lights (dir by Peter Berg)


For the past three weeks, I’ve been looking at some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable high school and teen films ever made.  I’ve been posting the reviews in chronological order and, as I look back over the previous 63 Back to School reviews, one thing that I can’t escape is football.

It’s funny.  Despite being a Texas girl, I know very little about football and, whenever I have found myself watching a game, I’ve usually end up getting bored out of my mind.  I’m not a huge fan of sports films, either.  It’s just not my thing.  And yet, as a result of doing this series of reviews, I’ve watched more football films over the past month than I had probably seen in my entire life previously.  Some of the films that I’ve reviewed specifically were football films — The Pom Pom Girls, All The Right Moves, and Varsity Blues, for example.  However, even the film that weren’t specifically about the sport often featured scenes set on the football field.  Just think of Forest Whitaker in Fast Times At Ridgemont High or the socially conflicted jocks from Dazed and Confused.

For a lot of films, football and high school seem to go together.  And one of the most acclaimed high school football films is 2004’s Friday Night Lights.  Now, I have to admit that Friday Night Lights is not one of my favorite films.  It’s a football film, I’m not into football, and therefore, Friday Night Lights is a film that I respect more as a well-made film than like as a source of entertainment.  Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Friday Night Lights is that I understand why so many people who do love football also happen to love this film.

And I do have to say that I appreciate that Friday Night Lights is also a film about Texas that actually manages to realistically portray my home state without resorting to the predictable clichés that dominated Varsity Blues.

Taking place in Odessa, Texas, Friday Night Lights follows the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers.  As opposed to most sports films, Friday Night Lights does not focus on a team of lovable underdogs.  Instead, the Panthers are already known for being a championship team.  As the season begins, Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is under tremendous pressure to continue that winning tradition.  However, when the team’s star player is injured during the first game of the season, the Panthers suddenly find their pre-ordained winning season in doubt.  Gaines finds himself being alternatively celebrated and demonized depending on how the previous night’s game has gone and his players find themselves under tremendous pressure from everyone in town.  The film features a great performance from Billy Bob Thornton and a really good one from Derek Luke, playing a player who abruptly goes from being a future superstar to a present could-have-been.  In fact, the entire film is well-acted with even country singer Tim McGraw giving a surprisingly multi-faceted performance as a former player-turned-drunk.

In short, Friday Night Lights is a lot like Varsity Blues, except that it doesn’t suck.

(Incidentally, Friday Night Lights did inspire a TV series.  I never watched it.)

Friday_night_lights_ver2