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Robin Wright

Blu-ray: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (2017) is, if you’ll pardon such an obvious comment, a wonder of a superhero movie, a film that doesn’t transcend the genre but most certainly sets a high bar, especially next to the ponderous, humorless films of the new big screen universe of interconnected DC Comics heroes.

Warner Home Entertainment

Gal Gadot debuted as Amazon princess warrior Wonder Woman in the turgid Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and brightened the film immediately. The spirit we glimpsed there carries this origin story, which sends us back to the 1910s and the hidden island paradise of the Amazons inadvertently invaded when American pilot Steve Trevor (an earnest yet spirited Chris Pine) flies past the invisibility field and crash lands on the beach, the first man ever to set foot on the island. Diana is intrigued to say the least but more compelled by news of a world at war and, after the inevitable assault by German forces after Trevor, is convinced of her purpose: stopping the god Ares from destroying all of mankind through warfare. She leaves the island against the wishes her mother (Connie Nielsen, commanding and regal). Steve’s not so convinced of that stuff about ancient gods and eternal Amazons but he has no doubt as to her abilities as a warrior or her commitment to justice and he knows a valuable ally when he meets one.

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Videophiled: Angelina Jolie is ‘Maleficent’ and Philip Seymour Hoffman is ‘A Most Wanted Man’

MalifecentMaleficent (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD) does sort of a “Wicked” number on the story of Sleeping Beauty’s evil sorceress, casting her as the tragic figure of a dark fantasy (but not too dark for children—barely) of a revisionist fairy tale. Angelina Jolie plays the adult Maleficent, a fairy who watches over and defends the natural and supernatural wilds from human assault. With her magnificent leathery wings and curled horns, she has the look of a beautiful demon (even her cheekbones are sharpened to an edge that look like they could cut an unwary lover to ribbons) but is at heart an innocent, a primeval force whose emotions are pure and motives without guile. Her betrayal, at the hands of a human (Sharlto Copley) who was once a friend and lover, is an assault so personal and intimate and disfiguring that children can’t help but feel the transgression as a terrible, horrible wrong while adults see it as a form of rape. It is as powerful a dramatic moment you will see in an American film, let alone a mainstream spectacle, and coupled with Jolie’s committed performance (ripples of personality and conflicted emotions, as well as a playful sense of humor, play under even her iciest moments), it gives the film a power beyond the CGIed-to-monotony fantasy designs and magical creatures.

Not to slight Elle Fanning, who plays the princess Aurora as another innocent whose purity gets under Maleficent’s vengeful shell. Fanning has the ability to radiate pure joy and wonder and does so, but Jolie shows us that the potential for love is still within her, merely buried under rage and hatred and vengeance. It is a righteous revenge film, but with a feminist twist and a redemptive journey. To quote Matt Zoller Seitz: “The movie is a mess, but it’s a rich mess. It has weight. It matters.”

The five featurettes are quite brief (the longest, “From Fairy Tale to Feature Film,” runs only eight minutes) and there are five deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and Disney Anywhere Digital HD copies.

MostwantedA Most Wanted Man (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) will stand as the final film completed by Philip Seymour Hoffman before his untimely death in February and that alone is reason enough to see the film, adapted from the post 9/11 novel by John le Carré and directed by Anton Corbijn, a music video veteran who becomes more accomplished with each feature. Hoffman has the ability to lose himself in his roles and as Günther Bachmann, the leader of covert German intelligence agency that monitors potential terrorist activity, he seems to pare down a performance to give us a man who betrays nothing of what he’s thinking or feeling yet radiates a gentle warmth for his team (made up of superb German actors Nina Hoss, Daniel Brühl, and Franz Hartwig). All we really know is his loyalty to his country and to his crew, and they return that loyalty in spades.

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Adore

Watching Adore, one isn’t often prompted to admire Anne Fontaine’s directorial astuteness when it comes to framing and composing her strange fable. It’s more a matter of going with the flow, surrendering to rhythms of light, desire, grace. Coming away, one feels a little dazed, as though one had just come in out of the sun after a long, slow swim. And Adore’s spell lingers. The power of that spell radiates from the sensual allure and intelligence of the two actresses—Naomi Watts as Lil and Robin Wright as Roz—who are the heart of this uterine tale of almost-incest.

Both blondes are in their forties, and their flesh has seasoned past the flawless pliancy of youth. Watts’ beauty is softer, more vulnerable, at times almost childlike; Wright is all killer jawline, long limbs, artfully windswept short hair, erotically androgynous. But each woman’s blue gaze reflects the other’s; basking on a sunny beach, ambling along a path arm in arm, their bodies shimmer into one supple female form.

Best friends since childhood, neighbors in a hillside enclave overlooking a picturesque Australian coastline, Roz and Lil swim lazily, like elegant golden fish, in the serene waters of their conjoined lives. There are husbands, one dead, the other chafing for change (Ben Mendelsohn, poignant as irrelevant spouse), but clearly nothing can penetrate the women’s perfect, enviable rapport. It looks and feels like Eden by the sea, where slimmed-down earth mothers adore their sons, riding the waves like “young gods.”

The boys, one dark, the other flaxen-haired, are best friends as well and, unlike other men, have easy access to their mothers’ charmed circle. Far from having left the nest, Tom (James Frecheville) and Ian (Xavier Samuel) prefer to hang out with their moms, drinking wine, dancing, teasing—in a sort of innocent exclusivity. Then one night, Ian and Roz come together, as though magnetized, in a darkened hallway, falling into bed and consuming love. Outraged, Tom soon finds solace in Lil’s arms.

So, forbidden love. But not the kind that generates delicious frissons of horror and fascination, and certainly not fodder for those who love to cookie-cutter human experience. After brief guilt and a little angst, a mostly blissful ménage-à-quatre ensues, the maternal landscape making room for the muscular young bodies of sons and lovers. The specter of transgressive love never really rises. Rather, there is a sense of completion, of something fated and, yes, natural that has come to pass. We’re way outside realism here, traveling in some primal terra incognita where young men searching for home are welcomed by Penelopes killing time. In one bittersweet interlude, Wright lies naked on her stomach while Ian traces the lovely, curving landscape of her long body. “Soon enough you won’t want me,” his second mother predicts.

Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, A Dangerous Method) adapted Adore from Doris Lessing‘s “The Grandmothers” (the film was originally and better titled “Two Mothers”); sadly, he’s been of very little service in translating the novella’s sparse dialogue to the screen. He’s wholly stymied by Lessing’s style, the narrative rhythms of a griot recounting the story of a “blue world” where events unfold with a strange, inexorable logic.

Since the 1950s, Lessing has been our preeminent chronicler of the complex politics of love and sexual attraction; she’s excelled in exploring the fraught relationships between generations, the frequent chasms of alienation between parents and children fighting to come of age. Always gloriously un-PC (no simpleminded stuff in Lessing-land), she cuts into the actual body and blood of human connections, transgressive, transcendent, sometimes fatal. In “The Grandmothers”—written in her 80s, mind you—she conjures the terrible beauty and power of matriarchy, close to the old pagan sense.

Style-wise, Fontaine takes a very different approach to “The Grandmothers,” but she doesn’t play Lessing false. She’s lavish in her appreciation of  Adore’s spectacular setting; so much of moment takes place on the beach, where waves endlessly rise and fall back, marking and nullifying time. There’s more humor in the film than in the novella: in one wonderful scene, Roz and Lil encourage the latter’s longtime suitor to believe they’re lesbians. Funny, yes, but this hapless male feels real pain and humiliation, standing as though on a stage before the seated, giggling, indifferent women. And there are distaff casualties, too, Mary and Hannah, valuable young women who figure in Tom’s attempt to make a life outside the womb, and Ian’s careless act of cruelty after Roz breaks off their affair.

But above all, Adore celebrates the splendidly expressive faces (and performances) of Watts and Wright. The actors who play Tom and Ian aren’t inadequate; but they’re really extras in this mystery play, more models of masculine beauty than genuinely erotic objects of desire. What these goddesses, so rich and vivid in their emotions and sensuality, see in their boys is flesh of their flesh—“We made that, we made them!”—and what Lessing describes as “a shine of unearthliness that illuminated their two sons, at this time.” (Tempting to wonder what Adore would have been like if Claire Denis had directed it, with her onetime favorite—Grégoire Colin, as he was in Beau Travail—cast as beloved son.)

One might say that Roz and Lil, Wright and Watts, are the mise-en-scène of Adore—and that’s the point of this adult fairy tale.  Nothing and no one outside their bell jar paradise—even adorable grandchildren—can claim anything but temporary shelter. Fontaine has a gentler hand than Lessing, who wields a subtle scalpel, and her final reading of this mothers’ tale leans more toward melancholy than the mocking laughter that puts a period to Lessing’s novella. That melancholy rises, like the scent of sun-warmed, salty bodies, netted in a Now that cannot be sustained, no matter what magic earth mothers make.

Straight Shooting, Queen Anne News; September 5, 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Kathleen Murphy