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Wonder

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Starting school is a tough enough time for everyone, but it’s all the more tougher for young Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), who has been home-schooled until grade five because he has a severe facial difference as a result of a genetic disorder. Now, his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), having decided to enrol him in a private school for the sake of socialisation, Auggie, a bright kid who likes science, Star Wars, and Halloween, must negotiate life outside the protective bubble of his family for the first time ever.

Adapted from R.J. Palacio’s novel by director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallfower), Wonder traces a year in the life of not just the precocious and eminently likable Auggie, but also the people around him – we get separate threads from the point of view of his 15 year old sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), who feels like she’s always coming second to her special needs brother; his new best friend Jack Will (Noah Jupe), who likes Auggie but bends to the pressure of schoolyard bullying; his mother, who put her life plans on hold to care for him, and more.

But it’s Auggie who is the centre of the film, a smart, charming kid bearing up the weight of being visibly and permanently outside of the norm as best he can. He is, of course, not unaware of how other people see him; “Why do I have to be so ugly?” he wails at one point, and it’d take a particularly hard heart not to be moved by the poor kid’s plight.

Indeed, Wonder expertly aims for the heart at every turn. It’s openly manipulative stuff, but nonetheless effective, even if it occasionally strays past the point of plausibility or taste (there’s a bit of business with the family dog seemingly inserted because it’s been a good 15 minutes since we’ve had a bit of a cry). The whole thing is buoyed by a great cast, a wonderfully warm tone,  and a generally optimistic attitude; yes, there are bullies and anxieties and life can deal you a stunningly unfair hand, but Wonder takes place in a world where underdogs are championed and goodness of heart trumps social advantage – there’s value in spending time in a world like that, even if it’s just for a couple of hours.

Click here for nationwide movie times for Wonder

 

 
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Justice League

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If Justice League had come out in the late ’90s, we’d still be hailing it as one of the best superhero films ever made. As it stands, in this post-Marvel Studios world where it seems like every second tentpole feature is packed with posturing power-people, it’s merely pretty good. Given DC’s track record since Man of Steel, however, “pretty good” is pretty good.

It feels like such a ’90s flick, though. Some of that is down to Danny Elfman, Tim Burton’s former composer of choice, taking on scoring duties, and weaving both the ’89 Batman motif and John Williams’ ’78 Superman riff into the fabric. Part of it is the breathless, disjointed pacing, with the film barreling from setpiece to setpiece, barely taking any time to explain why anything is happening, or how all this wonderful weirdness fits together. Part of it are the slightly ropey effects, which would have really blown our hair back at the dawn of the CGI age (there was a big budget Lost in Space movie – it was a weird time).

In  reality it’s an effect of DC/Warners’ efforts to roll back the self-serious tone that Man of Steel and Batman V Superman were mired in, and the end result is that original director Zack Snyder’s Wagnerian vibe sits rather awkwardly next to substitute (and uncredited) helmer Joss Whedon’s poppier, self-effacing material (you will pick Whedon’s stuff a mile away – there’s a gag with Wonder Woman’s magic lasso that is one for the ages). The whole thing feels like it’s been studio-noted to within an inch of its life, and trimmed down to just the right side of narrative coherence.

And you know what? It’s still a good time.

Justice League is a film that works moment by moment and tends to crumble when you step back and look at the wider picture – probably not a useful trait in a movie designed to set up an ongoing franchise, but no cardinal sin in one meant to fill two hours with spectacle and bombast, which this one does quite satisfactorily. Following on from the events of Batman V Superman and the death of the latter, the threat of invasion from alien conqueror Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, rather wasted in a role more or less indistinguishable from whatever that thing was in Suicide Squad) sees Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit a team to meet the menace: speedster The Flash/Barry Allen (MVP Ezra Miller), Atlantean Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa in bro-mode) and cyborg, er, Cyborg/Vic Stone (Ray Fisher), whose technological powers stem from the “Mother Boxes” – three ancient MacGuffins that Steppenwolf plans to use to Do The Thing. Of course, a peril of this scale really needs someone who looks spiffy in a red cape (Henry Cavill, and you already knew he was coming back, so shush) but he is, unfortunately, dead. Or is he…?

In terms of plot that’s your lot, and it’s a good thing, too; Justice League needs to get a lot of pieces on the board fairly quickly, and to its credit it takes the same tack as the comics do, sketching powers and backstory only as much as is necessary to get things moving. Luckily these characters are all fairly iconic (bar Cyborg), and so the audience is pretty au fait with the broad parameters of who they are and what they can do. And so we’re left with forward momentum and superheroes doing awesome-looking stuff – which is, at the end of the day, our mission statement here.

It does all feel a bit generic, though. Steppenwolf is a non-event of a villain, and his army of winged, insectile drones just exist to give our good guys a horde to slaughter without feeling guilty. The whole enterprise is still standing in the shadow of 2012’s The Avengers, and while Justice League is a fun movie and has plenty of iconic ripped-from-the-pages moments, there’s nothing here that gets within a parsec of that shot from the Marvel movie’s climax. Consistency of characterisation is also sacrificed in favour of lightening the tone; Superman’s death aside, it’s hard to imagine what else happened to transform the grim, criminal-torturing vigilante Batman of BvS into JL‘s assured and quippy team leader, but it surely must have involved a shedload of therapy.

Ultimately, Justice League is an enjoyable throwback that is more concerned with showing you cool characters doing cool things than getting too bent out of shape over the underlying narrative and world-building mechanics that go into getting those scenes into our eyeballs. Fans of the Snyder-inflected preceding films may well balk at how far away this latest offering has swung from their adolescent dourness, while dyed-in-the-wool Marvel Zombies may scoff at this somewhat awkward but desperate-to-please dog and pony show. If you’re on the spectrum between those two, though, Justice League is an 80 Page Giant worth dropping some coin on.

Click here for nationwide movie times for Justice League

 

 
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Chantelle Barry: Ninjas and Long Nights

With a central role in Valiant Comics’ first ever live action series Ninjak vs The Valiant Universe and a supporting part in the Aussie indie feature A Long Night, you’re about to see a lot more of performer Chantelle Barry.
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E9: Into the Forest I Go

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The peaceful inhabitants of the planet Pahva have sent a signal to both the Federation and the Klingon Empire to come to their world and negotiate peace. Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) knows that the Klingons are on their way and will decimate the Pahvans when they arrive. Against Starfleet orders he commands the USS Discovery to stay and face the Klingons head-on.

With this ninth episode Star Trek: Discovery concludes its initial run, referred to by CBS as “Chapter One”. Another six episodes will be released in early 2018 to properly conclude the first season, but for now it is mid-point climax time for Lorca, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the rest of the Discovery crew. It has been a maddening and frustrating ride, with numerous outstanding elements in the series constantly over-shadowed by inconsistent characterisation, poor plotting, and an attitude to Star Trek continuity that is most politely described as ‘dismissive’.

That in mind, it is a genuine relief to find the plot of “Into the Forest I Go” to be straight-forward, dramatic and pretty much the most Star Trek-like narrative so far. The Discovery is under orders to retreat, leaving the Pahvans defenceless, but Lorca disobeys orders and stays behind to fight. The bulk of the episode, in which an attempt is made to detect a cloaked Klingon starship using a combination of ship-to-ship espionage and the Discovery’s spore drive, is a wonderfully suspenseful exercise in action, character development, and the finest Star Trek technobabble. It also all leads into a great end-of-chapter cliff-hanger that suggests more than one of the current fan theories circling the Internet might be true.

The episode takes time for its characters as well. The most impactful scenes involve Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), who was held captive by the Klingons and tortured for seven months by L’Rell (Mary Chieffo). Their relationship was in part sexual, and the profoundly traumatised Tyler confides in Burnham about his experience. This is, to be honest, the sort of thing I was expecting from a 21st century Star Trek series: genuinely progressive subject matter that earlier versions were too conservative to address. Could the episode have handled Tyler’s sexual assault and PTSD more sensitively? Very probably, but in the context of an action-packed mid-season finale it seemed impressive as it was.

Of course, there are still the silly bits. The sensors Burnham and Tyler must place in secret around the Klingon ‘ship of the dead’ are comically large with bright lights and a loud voice recording. The episode begins with Discovery remaining to protect Pahva, because if they leave the Klingons will destroy the whole planet, and ends with the Discovery flying away with multiple Klingon ships on approach – and Pahva presumably abandoned to destruction anyway. Star Trek continuity obsessives like me will be left wondering why Spock and McCoy had to retro-fit a photon torpedo to detect a cloaked Klingon ship when the Discovery solved that problem 40 years earlier. To be honest it’s all minor; this episode is genuinely great where it counts.

The potential in Discovery has been there from the start, but these first nine episodes have offered one hell of a rough ride. “Into the Forest I Go” brings the promise of a much-improved series as it goes on. If the production team can stick to the core of what makes its characters work, and shave off the elements that have been dragging the series back – poor plots, inconsistent characterisation, and a quite frankly insulting attitude to the franchise as a whole – it could become something quite special.