(On Cable TV, November 2018) I know that celebrity crushes are not a valid component of clever critical assessments, but I do have a big crush on brainy brunette Rebecca Hall, and seeing her pop up as a strong lustful muse in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women checked off an impressive number of boxes in my list of reasons why I had to watch it. As it turns out, it’s a film about one of my favourite bits of comic book history: the remarkably daring origin story of Wonder Woman, as coming from the feverish imagination of an academic with a number of then-unusual fetishes. Wonder no more why Wonder Woman loves detecting lies, strong rope, and a bit of bondage: this was right out of its creator’s own preferences. The bulk of the story takes place during the 1930s, a time not usually known for its free-thinking attitudes. In this context, William Moulton Marston, his legal wife Elizabeth and their polyamorous partner Olive Byrne are people out of time. Driven out of academia after inventing the lie detector but having rumours of their unconventional relationship get around, they make ends meet through various means, until Marston hits upon the idea of vulgarizing their ideas through the medium of comic books. Alas, the story doesn’t have a happy ending … but the way there is unusually interesting, with three strong performances from Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote, as well as skilful screenwriting and direction by Angela Robinson that manages to navigate a tricky topic without falling in exploitation. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is probably doomed to remain unseen and under-appreciated, but I’m glad that it exists—not only as a showcase for Hall (who apparently has good fun in the early parts of the film as a foul-mouthed headstrong woman a few decades ahead of her time), but as a decent illustration of an iconic heroine’s fascinating creation, and a great portrait of freethinkers stuck in a society unable to accept them.
(On Cable TV, October 2016) I expected more from D.E.B.S. The initial setup (Young women recruited in a bubble-gum spy organization through SAT test results) isn’t bad and the overall premise (same-sex romance between spy and terrorist mastermind) does have a kick to it. But the way D.E.B.S. is executed usually falls flat. While the film embraces campiness, low-budget production techniques and ridiculous humour, the overall result feels a bit too forced to be enjoyable. The campiness isn’t an antidote for bland dialogue and dumb humour, and there’s a feeling throughout the film that the filmmakers would rather wink and nudge to the audience rather than beef up the script. The low-budget aesthetics (constant green screens, artificial staging, excessive cross-cutting without establishing shots) get tiresome after a while and reinforce the amateurish nature of the film. D.E.B.S. occasionally jolts to life whenever there’s a good line or two, and greatly benefits from the presence of Fast and the Furious alumni Jordana Brewster and Devon Aoki, but ultimately it looks like a punchline in search of a decent setup. The first few minutes’ comic inventiveness is quickly reduced to nearly nothing, while the girl-girl hero/villain romance doesn’t quite gel into something more than moderately interesting. I will certainly give it points for being something self-assuredly different from the norm (and, obviously, being a passion project for writer/director Angela Robinson), but there’s a leap from there to a genuinely enjoyable film that D.E.B.S. doesn’t quite take. It may be worth a look as a curiosity, but otherwise it’s a disappointment even without high expectations.