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.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) movie poster

director Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 11/11/2017

It had been a decade since I saw Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth on its initial release in the theater. Like a lot of people, I’ve considered it his best film, certainly a partner to his 2001 The Devil’s Backbone.

I generally enjoy del Toro’s work, though his more commercial stuff seems thin on substance, if aesthetically pleasing and occasionally pretty fun.  I follow him on social media and even got to go see his collection of stuff at the LACMA Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters.

In 2007, my kids were 6 and 3 so I didn’t take them to see Pan’s Labyrinth at the time. I’ve long thought they might enjoy it, but only just now got around to sharing it with them.

I was surprised that my daughter was sort of nonplussed about it. I’d thought she would dig it more. My son, as is his wont, fell asleep early on but wanted to watch it again.

I think it holds up pretty well. The aesthetics and story are nice, the performers solid. It’s a dark fairy tale about childhood, escapism and fantasy. The CGI doesn’t hold up as well, but it never does if you ask me. Maybe it’s not as deep or rich as it could be, but I’d still call it his most complete film.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) movie poster

director Yorgos Lanthimos
viewed: 11/04/2017 at the Alamo Drafthouse – New Mission, SF, CA

A slow-burn blackly comic, surrealistic thriller. With the heaviest emphasis on “slow-burn”.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s second feature in English, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is on a continuum of his other awkward worlds, ruled by random logic, in which human connection is ultimately impossible.

Like his breakout film Dogtooth (2009), The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the study of a family and its patriarch. Though Colin Farrell’s heart surgeon here isn’t so much controlling the world of his nuclear clan but rather trying to somehow protect it from an ill that he has brought upon it.

The whole thing uncoils very slowly, impregnating the strangeness of the world and the characters with a sense not just of discomfort but of dread. Something is behind Farrell’s unusual relationship with sleepy-eyed teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan). His illegitimate son? His teenage lover?

Of course, it’s not anything remotely so straight-forward. When Farrell’s son and daughter fall ill with paralysis, lack of appetite, and eventually bleeding eyes, it takes the surgeon a long time to figure out that there isn’t anything medical but what? supernatural? uncontrollable?

Lanthimos continues to be one of the most interesting directors to me. Always a lot to ruminate on afterwards.

 

The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables (1987) movie poster

director Brian De Palma
viewed: 11/03/2017

Personally, I think Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime movie The Untouchables holds up pretty well.

There is a lot of cool cinematography and set pieces, the highlights of the film. That opening overhead shot of Robert De Niro getting a shave. The whole sequence of the bar getting blown up. The baseball scene. The interior tracking and everything happening in Sean Connery’s apartment when he gets it.

And the cast is great. Okay, I won’t argue strongly for Kevin Costner. He’s a bland lawman at the head of the thing. But Connery, De Niro, Andy Garcia, and in particular Charles Martin Smith are solid and each gets some choice lines and scenes. Can you imagine it if Mickey Rourke had been Eliot Ness?

Certainly, it’s a man’s man’s man’s world. And it takes some fascism (via David Mamet’s script) to gain control of Al Capone and the mafia.

The one scene that didn’t hold up so well is the balletic slo-mo Odessa Steps homage shootout. I recall thinking it was really cool back in 1987. Now it seems like a lot of build-up to almost comedic action. My son chuckled during it.

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.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) movie poster

director Denis Villeneuve
viewed: 10/09/2017 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

The film nerd world is seeing its deepest desires brought to light. A new Star Wars trilogy? Ridley Scott returning to Alien? A new Blade Runner movie?

As we have come to learn, you need to be careful what you wish for.

Unlike the others, commercial success has not overwhelmed Blade Runner 2049 yet. So we may not be awash in the franchise-ization of the beloved 1982 film. Which may well turn out to be a good thing.

First and foremost, it’s overlong, by a long shot. Its 163 minutes move slowly, steadily, intentionally. But in the end, it drags, perhaps where it most certainly shouldn’t.

Yes, it’s gorgeous. Villeneuve and Roger Deakins along with some very pretty production design absolutely craft a film worth looking at.

But what’s with all the giant naked ladies in advertising and ruined statuary? Issues of the film’s representations of women aside, I’ve cultivated a theory. When watching Alien Covenant earlier this year I began to wonder if Ridley Scott’s Alien movies and his Blade Runner movies were meant to exist in the same universe and timeline. And whether or not that is true, the statuary of Prometheus (2012) featured giant sized men. Is this somehow a feminine counterpart? Sure, this is Villeneuve’s film, but Scott is still executive producer.

I watched this with my son, who managed to sleep through the original when I showed it to him. So, he was a little confused about the story, but he wound up really liking the movie.

Still several days out I’ve not really come to a full conclusion. It’s a gorgeous spectacle, though a slow-moving performance. Still contemplating its meanings and ideas.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) movie poster

director Matthew Vaughn
viewed: 10/01/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My kids both wanted to see this so I complied.

None of us was overly impressed. We had watched and kind of enjoyed the first Kingsman movie, though the political reading of the film I’d read at the Guardian made me feel a little dirty.

I started to try to get my head around a political reading of Kingsman: The Golden Circle and it’s ripe for criticism and analysis. Matthew Vaughn is a talented action director, one of the few fairly conservative mainstream big Hollywood directors still pumping out A-list stuff.

I have to say this Kingsman is kind of interesting in its un-PC brashness, but it’s also kind of a flop as a successful action flick. The action is so over-the-top that from the opening car chase, we’re seeing wildly impossible flights of physical impossibility at such breakneck pace that even if you don’t have the time to question it, it’s impossible to pretend this isn’t anything but highly manipulated CGi.

I could go on but it’s not really all that worth it. A couple other thoughts:

  • Elton John was maybe the best part of the movie.
  • Channing Tatum was a bit of a bait-and-switch as he spends most of his time not doing anything.
  • I’ve got a feeling that this was more “cartoonish” than any of the comic books.

The Monster (2016)

The Monster (2016) movie poster

director  Bryan Bertino
viewed: 09/22/2017

Is The Monster a metaphor, or is The Monster not a metaphor?

In the end, it’s not a metaphor, but it really seemed like it wanted to be.

What’s left is a thriller about a dysfunctional mom and her daughter stuck on an isolated road with a shadowy beast. Who is not a metaphor for mom’s alcoholism.

Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine carry Bryan Bertino’s 2016 The Monster as far as they can. Unfortunately, his script and direction leave them shy of something totally worthwhile.

It (2017)

It (2017) movie poster

director Andy Muschietti
viewed: 09/17/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

How do you like your 80’s? Drenched in wistful retro pinings for a Spielbergian past? It (2017) channels the 80’s so hard, it’s not surprising that you’ve even got one of the kids from Stranger Things in this gang. Only Stranger Things is a better pastiche.

I never read Stephen King’s book and somehow managed to never see the Tim Curry TV series of It. 2017’s It is my first first-hand dealing with this story. My daughter has a friend who is reading the book right now, and made note of the whole second half of the book that is apparently going to be this film’s sequel.

It did not work for me. Much at all.

The CGI horrors of Pennywise the Clown’s morphing were extremely uninspired. I get it that he’s “all horrors” embodied but when everything is scary, nothing is scary. The point of the story was never made, for me.

Does my lack of connection to the novel or even the original adaptation make me immune to finding this interesting? Is it a necessity to feel the pull of sentimentality and nostalgia to enjoy this?

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) movie poster

director Colm McCarthy
viewed: 09/16/2017

The zombiepocalypse over-saturation probably hasn’t peaked yet, so it’s harder than ever to make something new in this genre. The Girl with All the Gifts does try to push the zombiepocalypse a little and its efforts are not for naught.

The film opens on a young girl in a jail cell who has to be strapped down in a wheelchair and rolled by armed guards into a classroom of other young people. Right off the bat it’s a bit interesting. What is going on? Why are the kids in wheelchairs? Strapped down? Why are they being educated?

Really, most films try to tell you what’s going on from the get-go so the audience doesn’t have to figure anything out. So right there, it’s already kind of interesting.

It doesn’t totally stay with that. We find out pretty quickly that these kids are infected with a zombie fungus on the brain, but that they are different from freshly infected adults in that some sort of symbiosis exists that allows them to maintain a form of normality when they’re not hungry.

Eventually the movie goes pretty The Walking Dead, except these are speedy zombies, infecting at zero-to-sixty in a second and running fast at their food.

The film turns again toward the ending with more of its inventive qualities about these second generation zombie kids and the fungal apocalypse. I’ve always liked Gemma Arterton, who plays the good-hearted teacher. Sennia Nanua is Melanie, the girl with all the gifts, and she’s very good too.

Just sort this list of zombie films by date and you tell me when you think we’ve reached max saturation in the zombiepocalypse market.