MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Wonder’ surprises as well-rounded comedic drama


“Wonder” is a surprisingly strong film that left me feeling thankful, blessed, and joyful when I left the theater, and that’s a pretty good way to feel going into the holiday season.

Directed by Stephen Chbosky, “Wonder” is based on a novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio that I now feel compelled to read after seeing the movie about a family dealing with Treacher Collins syndrome. Yes, only the son Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) suffers from the condition that left his face deformed from birth, but the film shows how the adjustments made for him affects each member of the family as well as their relationships outside the household.

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Isabel Pullman (Julia Roberts) has homeschooled Auggie, but she decides middle school is the time for her son to integrate into a private school because all the other children in his grade will be making a changes as well.

Auggie, who is fascinated with space, science, and Star Wars, isn’t gung ho about the idea, but after visiting the school, he is intrigued by the science lab.

Telling much more of plot that follows Auggie and his family through his fifth-grade year would give away details best discovered on your own.

However, it’s important to point out that while Auggie is the center of the movie’s universe, Chbosky’s film delivers heartfelt and strong arcs for several of the characters that gravitate around the young boy. Sixteen-year-old actress Izabela Vidovic gives a wonderfully subtle performance ad Via, Auggie’s sister, who loves her brother so much, but is more than a bit tired of her family revolving primarily around him.

Vidovic is a veteran of several Hallmark films and the TV show “The Fosters,” but she has a film career ahead of her if she continues to shine as she does in this movie.

Noah Jupe, who plays Auggie’s friend Jack Will, is also compelling as goodhearted boy who lets his mouth and desire to fit in lead him down a road he didn’t intend to travel.

Roberts and Owen Wilson as Nate Pullman, Auggie’s dad, have a nice chemistry and play their roles well. Roberts’ is a bit juicer, but Wilson does fine work comedically and dramatically when called upon is several short but key scenes.

Tremblay, who gained strong notices for his role in “Room,” is very good in the central role; however, the movie does feature narration by Tremblay as Auggie, and sometimes his line readings are a bit stiff or even lazy. That is a minor quibble, though, for a film I greatly enjoyed.

The movie deals with some difficult topics, but it is an uplifting story the whole family can enjoy together.

(PG) 1 hr. 53 min.
Grade: B+

Justice League

Warner Bros.

Justice League is like eating an ice cream cone in the hot summer sun. It’s messy and sticky, but tasty and sweet, and on balance, worth the effort.

Justice League makes no sense if you give the movie much thought, but like most thrill rides, it is a load of fun.

Seeing such classic super heroes as Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and Superman, — yes, Superman —on the big screen together for the first time is gleeful.

Picking up where last year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” left off, Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead after giving his life to save the world in a fight against the deadly Kryptonian monster Doomsday.

With the world becoming darker without the Man of Steel’s standing as a beacon of hope, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are left to pick up the pieces. An invasion is impending, and to fend it off, Batman and Wonder Woman begin to recruit others with strange powers and abilities like half man, half computer Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the super speedster Flash (Ezra Miller), and the surly, ocean-dwelling Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) to help fend off evil Steppenwolf and his evil horde of Parademons.

“Justice League’s” production had it’s issues. Zack Snyder is the director, but Josh Whedon (“Avengers” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) was brought in to write new scenes and to polish the dialog in others late last year. However, Snyder left the film in March to tend to family after his college-age daughter committed suicide. Whedon ended up re-writing, re-editing, and reshooting a lot of the movie. After producing a three-hour cut of the film, Warner Bros. executives call for a two-hour running time.

Justice League isn’t a masterpiece, but considering all the behind-the-scenes issues, it remains a very entertaining film because of the strength of the cast’s performances and the chemistry exhibited between the characters.

While messy, summer is better with ice cream, and the movies are more fun with the “Justice League.”

(PG-13) 1 hr. 59 min
Grade: B

The Star

Sony Pictures Animation

“The Star” is an animated, comedic retelling of Jesus’ birth from the animals’ point of view, and it’s completely adorable.

The hero is Bo the donkey (voiced by Steven Yeun) who is the proverbial donkey Mary (Gina Rodriguez) road into Bethlehem on, along with Joseph (Zachary Levi).

They are aided by the voice talents of Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Delilah, and Mariah Carey, who performs the movie’s lead song.

The concept isn’t the most original, but the funny-animal characters are charming, and many of the gags land in the retelling of how the Messiah was born.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and feel that it could take its place among other Christmas classics in the future, it’s a story that would be as fun to watch on the small screen as the big.

(PG) 1 hr. 26 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner

Objective, Burma

“Objective, Burma” is Errol Flynn’s last great movie, and to many it is his best. It’s a hard point to argue, although I favor “The Adventures of Robin Hood” as his best.

The 1945 film, directed by Raoul Walsh, was adapted from reports on Burma Campaign in the Pacific Theater of the World War II, and went into production swiftly after the its completion.

The movie has an authentic feel thanks to footage supplied by the U.S. Army Signal Corps cameramen, and the use of U.S. Army equipment while shooting at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

Flynn is the lead, but unlike many of his roles he’s not a hero’s hero. He’s just a soldier doing his duty, and he faces the difficult consequences of commanding men under dire circumstances. The film is hard-hitting for its time and does a better job than most war films of its period in depicting the hellish nature of combat.