Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age movie, Lady Bird proves that the universality of high school angst can be fresh, alive and exciting. The title is the nick-name of a Sacramento teen attending an all girls Catholic High School. Longing to escape to New York City, Lady Bird attempts to expand her circle beyond her perpetually sunny Best-Friend, and develops an experimental crush for a boy in the all-boys Catholic school. A moody drummer soon becomes boyfriend #2, but, to Lady Bird’s dismay, he is even more disappointing than boyfriend #1. Unlike most teen movies, parents are critical to the gestalt that is Lady Bird (both the character and the movie). There are interactive scenes between mother and daughter that are miniature masterpieces in a movie filled with astoundingly well-crafted performances. This film is a winner!
Director Kagonda has created a film to watch in the early afternoon so you can spend some time afterwards appreciating what you have just experienced. The story involves what happens when a world-class Korean architect slated to give a talk about the celebrated modernist buildings of Columbus, Indiana is hospitalized. His grown son is stuck in the Midwestern city, but finds companionship with a young librarian as they both try to cope with what life has dealt them, but it is so much more—a poignantly beautiful piece of conversational filmmaking where buildings become part of the cast.
I’m surprised the opening music isn’t Peter, Paul and Mary singing “If I Had a Hammer,” for that is the premise of the impressive film, Thor: Ragnarok. Thor, the mighty God of Thunder and Lightning, has lost his beloved talisman and is imprisoned on the other side of the (Marvel?) universe. Meanwhile, Hela, the Goddess of Death is hastening Ragnorak (the prophesied End of Times) to Thor’s Asgard homeland. A long role of odd characters helps Thor in his mission to thwart extinction, including the Incredible Hulk, who first appears as his opponent in a kill-or-be-killed gladiatorial contest. The destructive fight is presented with the same tongue-in-cheek humor that has always made Thor a likable character, but changes the audience’s assumption that the Hulk, is just angry grimaces. Surprisingly, these two incredibly different heroes become buddies who delight in trading one-liner zingers with each other. Marvel purists will probably cringe at all the light hearted jibs and jabs, but they will love the over-the-top climax of the film. I credit screenwriter Eric Pearson and director Taika Waititi for making everything work so well.
Faces Places (PG) 4 pieces of toast Octogenarian Agnes Varda makes another compelling “slice of life” documentary as she travels across the French countryside with photographer and street artist JR. This time, she confronts remnants of her Nouvelle Vague previous life Jane (NR) 3 and 1/2 pieces of toast Paleoanthropologist Jane Goodall’s career as a professional “wait and watcher” is beautifully preserved in Brett Morgan’s astounding doc. The audiences gets the chance to wait and watch as Jane finally gains acceptance from her beloved chimpanzees, and the primate rituals observed in the wild are mirrored by Jane and her National Geographic photographer husband. One flaw is the jarring music and fast-paced editing techniques Morgan unwisely uses to “jazz things up a bit.”
Arizona Hot Shots, Harry Dean Stanton, NY Pubic Library and Ranchera singer Chavela provide real choices
Locals brave enough to watch this bio-pic of the Arizona “Hot Shots” firefighting crew can learn a great deal about how puny little humans fight a monstrous firestorm. One thing that stands out, is the contrast between those who fight rural wildland fires and those who confront urban structural fires. The tactics, skills, techniques and equipment are quite different. Which is part of the reason the response to our local “once in 150 years catastrophe” as so unique. In this film, the Prescott, Arizona fire crew are the underdogs striving to become “Hot Shots.” The crew is capable, but are assigned “mop-up” jobs and therefore don’t get the frontline experience they need to go up a grade. The underdog story is predictable, but the actors involved elevate stock characters into individuals you feel for. Kudos to cinematographer Claudio Miranda. Only the Brave should add another Oscar to his wall of trophies.
Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast New Releases For the Week of 10/13/17 Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (R) Starring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote Directed by: Angela Robinson Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston & the Wonder Women would make an excellent double-bill with Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman. I’ve written before [...]
In 1983, Ridley Scott’s astoundingly lyrical sci-fi-noir film Blade Runner took audiences to a place they had never been before. Set 30 years late, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 has an even greater “cool factor” than the original. In dystopian Los Angeles, elite teams of “Blade Runners” are assigned to “retire” (kill) any rebellious replicant (bioengineered slave laborers) who get a little too “uppity.” There are two types of replicants (called by their uber-industrialist manufacturer “bad angels” and “good angels”). I have sworn to the powers that be not to give away too many plot secrets, but it is helpful to know that two of the new replicants are named Joi and Luv. One other thing, Harrison Ford returns as Deckard.
In 1973, an over-the-hill tennis champ and serial self-promoter Bobby Riggs (astoundingly personified by Steve Carrell) is certain that no female can ever beat him. So after stunts like playing tennis dressed as Little Bo Peep (complete with her sheep), he challenges the World’s #1 women’s tennis champ, Billie Jean King to a Battle of the Sexes, $100,000 prize tennis match televised from the Huston Astrodome. Coincidentally, King has just come out of the closet. What could possibly go wrong?
Unknown to each other, a couple of musicologists from Berkley and Cambridge head South in June, 1964 on a search to find two elusive blues singers named Skip James and Son House. At the same time, throngs of other college students travel to Mississippi as part of a Civil Rights/voter registration event labelled “Freedom Summer.” Three of these activists, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney are murdered by the KKK. Documentarian Samuel D. Pollard masterfully weaves these stories together with a voice-over narration read by Common, and punctuated by the blues of Skip James and Son House. Here is how documentaries should be made!
Viceroy’s House takes place in and around the official domicile of England’s last British Viceroy just before India’s borders were shifted to create the Muslim country of Pakistan. Opening as comfortably as an Upstairs/Downstairs reset in India by Merchant/Ivory, it is, instead, a very personal tale of historic (and violent) sea-change written, directed, and produced by Gurinder Chada with input from Prince Charles. (This is because the Viceroy was Lord Louis Mountbatten, AKA Prince Charles’ Great-Uncle, and the Prince wanted things “portrayed completely”). Chada also drew on the stories told to her by her own family about living through this tumultuous time-period. Wisely, she chooses to focus on the lives of individuals to present her movie on an easily assimilated “human scale.”