SAM ELLIOTT BECOMES OUR GENERATION'S ROLE MODEL IN "THE HERO"
Lee (Sam Elliott) and Charlotte (Laura Prepon).

You will walk out of Sam Elliott's “The Hero” saying “That was a depressing movie. Why did I like it so much?” Of course, a big part of the reason is Elliott, but yet, there is more.

Writer/director Brett Haley has taken a familiar story told with traditional strokes and turned it into a touching film experience for anyone who remembers the lanky man's essence of cool in “Lifeguard,” or maybe “Tombstone.”

Exactly what defines that essence? What causes that big gulp to rise in your throat watching Elliott stare off into a timeless horizon of southern California ocean, knowing his own perpetually sparkling twinkle has begun to dim?

Do we see our own fading generation now so detached from current fashion, disappearing along with the lost importance of anticipating another person's needs and filling that space with unspoken understanding?

Somehow without ever being maudlin, Elliott conveys the quiet reassurance that when it comes time to hear the doctor say “I'm afraid I have some bad news...” each of us will be able to accept that message with the same equanimity as Sam Elliott.

Here's the scene. Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a Hollywood actor much like himself, defined forever by the cowboy role he played decades ago in a Western called “The Hero.”

And then times changed. Values changed. Lee didn't change. In the national marketplace of attitude and style, his corner kept shrinking. He never knew why. It just seemed like his trademark collection of little winks and gestures stopped working.

So here we are, when the movie opens Lee is slump shouldered and leaning into a studio microphone, his rumbling voice repeating for the hundredth time a meaningless voice-over line endorsing Lone Star Barbecue.

A few more movie minutes later and Lee is in his doctor's office hearing the pronouncement that he has pancreatic cancer.

Eager to keep that bad news at bay, Lee heads straight to his favorite pothead friend and dealer to toke up just before he learns the Western Appreciation Society wants to give him a lifetime achievement award.

Just as Lee is pondering the proximity of these two opposites he meets and gets mixed up with the much younger Charlotte (Laura Prepon).

It's enough coincidence to remind you of the old joke about how every guy is convinced as soon as he says “I do” and starts back down the church aisle a married man, he will see Miss Right waiting in the reception line.

So what is Lee to do? Charlotte's interest seems sincere. His cancer might take its time developing. What is the value of his life right now?

To Lee's estranged daughter he refuses to say a word about cancer. To Charlotte he doesn't say anything, either. Meanwhile the clock of wellness keeps ticking.

Elliott meets all these situations with a performance that answers the tough questions in every scene. For a guy who is always remembered as a symbol, but seldom as an actor, “The Hero” becomes for all of us Elliott's finest contribution as a role model for the endgame of life.













"WONDER WOMAN" WILL LICK YOUR FACE LIKE A GOLDEN RETRIEVER
Gal Gadot gives the mythical Wonder Woman a timeless  quality.

It is reassuring to see that in “Wonder Woman” our distaff superhero – as played by Gal Gadot, as written by Allan Heinberg, as directed by Patty Jenkins – still has a few traditionally female qualities. She does prefer loving to fighting, appreciates the eye appeal of a muscular guy-type body and sees herself as a warrior for peace who isn't afraid to say she loves “mankind.”

Considering the fevered pitch of feminism these days, guys who get tagged to be the male companion in seeing the first female action hero on the Big Screen, created long ago in those fertile comic book bins of the 1940s, can be reassured this version of Wonder Woman is neither intolerably strident nor impossibly overbearing.

The movie itself, all two hours and 20 minutes of it, could use a little slimming but is so good-naturedly over the top, so encouraging in its attitude to just go with it, you walk out afterward with a smile, wondering how Wonder Woman's Hollywood brain trust will ever be able to top this pic depicting her origins with a sequel that will be still more ridiculously outrageous (but in a good way).

Gadot has won the cinema lottery with her performance as the mythological Amazon, finding that delicate balance between inspiring warrior and gentle soul who doesn't give up any charisma when she appreciates how her guy has some talents that she doesn't have.

With such appealing film qualities at her command, Gadot should be able to keep this role running further than the bionic man. No matter how many sequels the future may hold, people of every sexual preference will continue lining up to see a woman who can top off her own testosterone but who also values her female side.

As for the plot, well, it just keeps coming at you like a floppy Golden Retriever who's gonna fill your personal space with love and a wet tongue no matter what.

We begin “Wonder Woman” on the mythical Amazonian island of Themyscira where we first see a feisty 8-year-old tomboy named Diana who loves swinging her fists like a guy, though she doesn't look anything like one. Next we see her as a more disciplined teen gifted with good combat instincts.

Then all of a sudden there she is, Diana full of sculpted grace glowing with muscles made for fighting -- and no sexual experience whatsoever.

Once all that gets established, from out of a big blue quavery special effects sky comes American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) decked out in German pilot gear, desperately trying to steer a failing military airplane that looks very vintage World War I.

Soon enough romance grows between them, even though Diana is very upset to learn Ares the God of War (someone she knows personally) has Europe in his angry grip. When Steve says that's where he comes from, too, Diana insists they go confront Ares to put their feet down and insist he knock it off with all the fighting.

Quickly enough a lot of explosions and stuff fill the screen for quite some time. Steve also does his best to convince Diana her sword, shield and Lasso of Truth are no match for the German war machine.

As it turns out, Steve is right about that. But, wouldn't you know, the Brits and Yanks do beat the Germans in that war, setting it up nicely for Wonder Woman to reach her full maturity in the Roaring 20s, probably in Gotham. That's where they have the best music.