Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017) movie poster

director Greta Gerwig
viewed: 11/12/2017

Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s love letter to her hometown of Sacramento, California, quite probably the very first cinematic love letter to the capitol of the Golden State. The film opens with a quote from Joan Didion, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” And that deprecation is part of the tone of the film.

It’s 2002 in Sacramento, very specifically 2002. And though Gerwig says that the film isn’t exactly autobiographical, it’s hard not to think that she found her perfect counterpart in Saoirse Ronan who stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. The whole cast is pretty perfect. Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts are impeccable.

Ronan is lovely and hilarious as the girl from the  (literal) “wrong side of the tracks”. Precocious and out-spoken, she struggles to define and understand her self-image as well as her self. It’s classic coming-of-age stuff. Authenticity and recognition are elements that make a film like this work, and I thought it was interesting that Ronan chose to play Lady Bird with her natural pock-marked cheeks (interestingly enough air-brushed in the movie poster). It adds that je ne sais quoi that I think she intended.

More than anything, it’s a very funny movie, with great character and characters. I took my two teenagers and they both really liked the movie as well.

The Man with Two Brains (1982)

The Man with Two Brains (1982) movie poster

director  Carl Reiner
viewed: 11/10/2017

“Into the mud, scum queen!”

While these days Steve Martin prefers his banjo to comedy, it’s worth recalling that at one point in time (mid-1970’s-early 1980’s), he was one of the funniest people in the world. Some of his best stuff was for TV specials and his own comedy records, but when he first started venturing into movies, he made a series of really interesting features.

Arguably, The Man with Two Brains may be his funniest. It’s co-written by Martin and director Carl Reiner (and George Gipe), and it’s a madcap romp through 1950’s science fiction with a dash of film noir thrown in.

Not only is Martin at the top of his game, the outrageously gorgeous Kathleen Turner is at the peak of hers, with her low sexy voice turned up to 11 and set for comedy.

Frankly, the direction and editing are kind of a hack, but when you’ve got gag after gag flying at you at such incessant speed that you hardly have time for an extra “Hfuhruhurr” much less an “Uumellmahaye”.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it is thoroughly hilarious.

Ghost World (2001)

Ghost World (2001) movie poster

director Terry Zwigoff
viewed: 10/20/2017

This viewing of Ghost World was me sharing it with my teenage kids. They both enjoyed it.

“The girl that looks like Scarlett Johansson” is indeed Scarlett Johansson.

This viewing also reminded me how cool the soundtrack was.

I now need to dig up the comic to share with my daughter.

Also, it’s nice how unresolved the film is at the end. Not knowing what one is and ruining all your relationships while you’re figuring it out. That things don’t always work out and resolution is often unachievable.

Microwave Massacre (1983)

Microwave Massacre (1983) movie poster

director Wayne Berwick
viewed: 10/14/2017

Maybe this is not the best time to watch this sexploitation-cum-gore-comedy, Microwave Massacre. Today is awash in #metoo and the sickening details of Harvey Weinstein’s years of exploitation. For Exploitation film to be fun, it needs a bit more separation from reality…and time, perhaps.

Certainly there are far more salacious and extreme depictions of misogyny, but it’s there, fully baked-in if only nuked on high for 45 seconds. 

Jackie Vernon stars, truly a comic of his time, most certainly akin to Rodney Dangerfield or Jackie Mason, though deadpanning with New York Italian patter (and a voice many people only hear as Frosty the Snowman).

The whole shtick (and shtick it is) is about a poor slob whose wife has gone on into culinary experimentation with her massive new microwave, leaving Mr. Vernon starving for the simple pleasures in eating, comfort foods, etc. This poor guy is pushed to murdering his wife and eventually cannibalism.

It’s not all bad, not all good, but catching it right at this point made it a lot more cringe-inducing and challenging for ironic pleasures.

Video Vixens (1975)

Video Vixens (1975) movie poster

director Henri Pachard
viewed: 09/23/2017

Video Vixens features a premise in which a television executive decides to air an X-rated Oscars on his failing network (most of the film is then elements of this awards show and commercials and clips from the “movies”.) Interestingly, he’s inspired by something very Infowars: he claims that something in soap is turning America gay – (chlorapheme?), so broadcasting good ol’ heterosexual sex will set America straight.

You can readily imagine how all over the place this decidedly un-PC movie is. It is to its credit, an artifact of its time, when sex humor was unfiltered and occasionally amusing.

I think I heard the line: “I used to be able to remember the names of all types of nipples” at one point.

My notes included: Trump, homophobia, and Tex Avery, though as not a very good note-taker, I can’t say why exactly.

The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick (2017) movie poster

director  Michael Showalter
viewed: 09/10/2017 at Ua Stonestown Twin, SF, CA

I have this thing about comedies. They make me feel like I don’t have a sense of humor because I think most of them suck. And romantic comedies? That’s a genre I bypass largely as a rule.

But I do like Kumail Nanjiani (first experienced as Prismo from Adventure Time) and so does my son and so we went and caught The Big Sick.

Perhaps because it’s adapted from Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon’s real life experiences, The Big Sick isn’t quite as formulaic as many romantic comedies. The humor is more lowkey and turns on the development of their relationship in more quiet and naturalistic ways.

And Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are very good, making the most of their characters, probably the better written and best performed in the film. Zoe Kazan is good too.

We both enjoyed it.

Kuso (2017)

Kuso (2017) movie poster

director Steven Ellison
viewed: 08/01/2017

Comic psychedelic gross-out horror, Kuso is a somewhat unique entity.

I’ve seen comments comparing its style of humor, design, and aesthetics to some things on adult swim, and I can see that. It seems apt that George Clinton makes an appearance because there are perhaps antecedents to this surreal humor, comedy and craziness in the weirder ranges of popular culture.

The vignette-narratives are divided sometimes with broadcast snow which reckons a bit of Robot Chicken (or others) but doesn’t make as much contextual sense.

Some of the ideas and aesthetics are better than others. I’m not sure how intentional some of the cheesier CGI was.

Still, it’s not an uninteresting document.

Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver (2017) movie poster

director Edgar Wright
viewed: 07/02/2017 at AMC Dine-in Kabuki 8, SF, CA

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is a pop confection heist car chase action flick comedy. It’s a genre picture, made of genre stuff, and interpreted through an array of popular music selections. There is verve here, quite a lot of it at times, and it’s fun. It’s inventiveness does not lie within pure originality, but rather through its remixing and comic play.

For all its buzz, the trailer didn’t really “sell” me on the picture. Star Ansel Elgort is better than he looks in the trailers, the driver with an endless collection of iPods and sunglasses. He’s “Baby” as Kevin Spacey is “Doc” and Jon Hamm is “Buddy” and Jamie Foxx is “Bats”. Everyone is a nickname and a derivative caricature, and it’s almost as if Wright is daring you to think there should be more to this whole thing.

It’s all surface and action and some decent humor, playing out to syncopation, tuned to the music. Honestly, I enjoyed it throughout.

That said, since watching it, the excitement and fun has diminished and further thoughts have sort of petered out on it. Some movies tend to grow as you contemplate them. Baby Driver has sort of sat there in Park since the viewing, not even idling, just with its engine gone cold.

I’ll see where I’m at with it by the end of the year. It may still be one of the better films of 2017. It may even be a genre classic, cult or otherwise. We’ll have to see.

Killer Party (1986)

Killer Party (1986) movie poster

director William Fruet
viewed: 06/21/2017

Killer Party is a mess, a meta-horror-comedy not committed enough to one direction to succeed fully in any, and yet, I found it kind of fun.

It’s not so much the sum of its parts, nor mostly any one part in particular, save one. And that one, for me, anyways, is Sherry Willis-Burch as Vivia. Willis-Burch has only one other screen credit, a 1981 slasher, Final Exam, but she brings a level of wit to Vivia, carrying off some of the better lines. She’s a bit like a far less polished Kate McKinnon, in looks and character.

The plot, a prank-filled hazing April Fool’s party in a haunted derelict mansion, is almost besides the point. While it’s easy to see why others shrug this film off, I found it amusing.