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 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.

 

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.

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 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.

Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk (2017) movie poster

director Christopher Nolan
viewed: 07/23/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Dunkirk is a pretty impressive bit of filmmaking by one of the more interesting and ambitious directors working in the Hollywood mainstream today. Eschewing his trademark headtrippy convolutions, Christopher Nolan poses the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 through a somewhat experiential lens, following three main story sites with differing timelines and interweaving narratives and cross-cutting action throughout the film.

The aerial scenes, centered around Tom Hardy as a flying ace picking off German aircraft as they can, capture the vistas of the sea and air and the beaches, are the film’s most stunning elements. Many potent scenes play out almost wordlessly, sometimes entirely so.

I’m a bit at a loss for what more to say. I sense that Dunkirk will be regarded as Nolan’s best film. I also sense that it may go into the pantheon of great war films ever made. At least, these seem likelihoods.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) movie poster

director Matt Reeves
viewed: 07/22/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

War for the Planet of the Apes is the final in the prequel trilogy, a surprisingly decent threesome of films. Though the creators are apparently discuss additional films in this line, so who knows?

I have to say that this film didn’t quite work for me as well as it has for others. Director Matt Reeves isn’t the least bit subtle in his homages and cultural references. And though Andy Serkis and the technology team do a great job with Caesar, the emotional heft of the story was sort of limited.

The Steve Zahn chimp? The film is very dour and dark, but throwing in a stock comedy character is so Hollywood playbook, I don’t know what to say.  For all the good in it, and it is good, the film shows its weakness in Woody Harrelson’s scene that does all the explication and backstory.

There is a lot to appreciate too, I don’t mean to sound harsh. But I didn’t find it as good or interesting as the others and in trying to tease out why, these are the things that I come upon, clichés and other storytelling weaknesses.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) movie poster

director Jon Watts
viewed: 07/16/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My kids got back from camp for a brief weekend before other summer travels and I posed to them the idea of seeing a movie. Either Spider-Man: Homecoming or War for the Planet of the Apes. Surprisingly, they agreed on Spider-Man (they never agree on anything), and so Spider-Man it was.

I didn’t have high expectations, despite having liked Tom Holland’s brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War, was it?

Color me surprised. This is probably the second best Spider-Man movie, next to Spider-Man 2 (2004).

They dialed it back down a lot here, letting Spider-Man fight a more localized villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. He’s scavenging and stealing alien technology from government clean-up sites and selling the weaponry to small-time crooks. More like old-fashioned Spider-Man comics, the story is more concise and less existential in its threats. Peter Parker is believably a teen (though maybe barely) and the cast around him, particularly Jacob Batalon as his chubby, funny pal and Zendaya shows promise as the next film’s “MJ”.

It’s funny throughout. I particularly liked the Captain America PSA’s.

It’s not great film-making, but it’s more fun than it seems, and then you start to realize that the bar isn’t all that high for Spider-Man movies. It still has other issues and short-comings, but we all enjoyed it, and that is not a common enough result of a movie these days.

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.