March 2018


lady_bird_ver2A generation much younger than mine will surely look at Lady Bird and think of it as their The Breakfast Club. That’s how much I loved this movie. And to make it even better, it doesn’t rely on an eighty-five-year-old Judd Nelson pretending to be sixteen. Huzzah!

Saoirse Ronan, fast becoming one of my most favorite actors, plays the titular teenaged Lady Bird, a name she gives herself to replace the far more everyday Christine that her parents thought to give her. Sheldon’s mom, Laurie Metcalf, plays her mother. Laurie Metcalf is also excellent. I kinda love Laurie Metcalf. No, that’s not right. I love Laurie Metcalf. From the opening scene, we understand everything we need to know about their relationship. On a drive somewhere, they’ve been listening to the audiobook of The Grapes of Wrath. They share a tear together, and then fall into a horrendously bitter argument that ends with Lady Bird throwing herself out of the moving car.

There’s little plot beyond that, as such, and the story as it exists is based around Lady Bird’s final year of high school, how her relationships change and she grows up. Lady Bird longs to move from her Sacramento hometown to attend college on the East Coast. She hates her home life. She thinks she deserves better. She thinks that her family should appreciate this. She’s embarrassed by her surroundings. Her mother responds to this by reminding her of what she owes to her family, particularly her depressed but hard working father. And that’s pretty much it.

As light as that sounds, it’s heart-breaking, it’s funny, it’s real, it keeps true to its ideals throughout, and most importantly, it works. Everyone involved in this project is at the height of their game. The acting is first rate. Aside from the leads, Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s dad, and Beanie Feldstein as her best friend are equally great but for different reasons. Director Greta Gerwig is clever enough to not let any scene drag too long. She’ll happily cut where another director would be half way done. How so much talent to write, direct, act and still just be in her thirties is beyond me, and slightly infuriating.

So is there anything I didn’t like about it? Well, yes. There’s a toilet door that you’ll question why it wasn’t locked, and there’s a job interview confusion that felt a little there just because of plot. That’s it. I’m done. It was great. It was emotional enough to make me cry, and say Ooft! but not in the places I expected it to. If you haven’t seen it, you should do so now.

A triumph!

 

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death wishAt the time of writing, there are exactly 297 days left in 2018. Which means that 2018 has 297 days left to release a 90 minute movie of Bruce Willis doing nothing more than sitting in the middle of a paddling pool full of creamed rice, wearing an Easter bonnet and making bibble-bibble noises by drumming his fingers over his lips. If 2018 delivers, and that movie actually comes out, there’s only a 50/50 chance that it will be more stupid than Death Wish.

It’s the remake no one was waiting for. Michael Winner’s 1974 original, starring Charles “Charlie” Bronson, was extremely problematic thanks to a brutal rape scene and the unquestioning siding with the vigilante. The solitary positive to be taken from this mess is that Eli Roth’s 2018 version chooses not to linger too much on the sexual violence. If this were an M Night Shyamalan movie, that would have been the twist.

Bruce Willis, almost ten years older than Bronson was at time of filming, plays Paul Kersey, who seems to be the only working surgeon in Chicago. At the start of the movie, before the opening credits, he’s interrupted from one operation to try to save another gunshot wound victim, something he ultimately fails to do. For a good fifteen minutes, the movie does it’s level best to make us care about him and his family; wife Lucy (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter Jordon (Camila Morrone) and ne’er-do-well brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio). It does so by allowing us to watch them have breakfast and be cute together. It doubles down on this by showing Jordan playing soccer while Paul confronts but fails to fight a profane parent on the sidelines.

Try as we might, we simply don’t care about those people so when the house is broken into by masked people related to the baddies from Home Alone, leaving Lucy dead and Jordan in a coma, aside from an unintentionally funny pan-of-boiling-water-to-the-face, it’s difficult to muster up anything more dramatic than a sigh.

Enter at this point Chicago’s only working detectives; Dean Norris (who you’ll remember being a million times better in Breaking Bad) and Kimberly Elise (who you’ll probably remember from nothing at all). They’re really bad at their jobs, which may or may not be intended to be funny, and after an amazingly strange post-funeral encounter with his father-in-law, Paul decides to investigate the crime himself and take matters into his own hands by becoming a cold-blooded killer and tactical mastermind after watching one gun shop commercial. Hey, he didn’t spend all those years at medical school NOT learning to how to hurdle dumpsters while escaping gunfire.

We all know how this is going to turn out. What’s disappointing is that Eli Roth does nothing to usurp that sense of premonition. The kills are largely dull and uninteresting, given his track record, and when we see a bowling bowl, inexplicably poised on a raised shelf, anyone who’s ever seen a Fred Quimby Tom & Jerry cartoon know that ball is destined to meet cranium before too long.

As predictable and stupid and bothersome as it is, it’s fatal crime is that it is terminally boring. Bruce Willis seems to be forgetting how to act. Eli Roth doesn’t know how to shock anymore. When the most memorable thing about the movie is Dean Norris’s attempts to stick to his diet, you know that you’re in trouble.

Okay 2018. Let’s see what you’ve got. 297 days and counting. Bibble-bibble.

annihilationThere’s something quite refreshing about seeing a familiar genre take a turn in a new direction. Last year’s Arrival was a great example of an alien movie that took linguistics and determinism, locked them in a room with a bottle of red and a Barry White CD and waited to see what happened. Annihilation very much continues in that manner. From the opening shots when we see what is presumably a meteor crash through a quiet oceanside lighthouse, we get the impression that we’re aiming for a quieter, more nuanced experience. Otherwise, it would be Grand Central Station that would’ve been totaled. Again. Maybe it’s not really about the meteor. Maybe it’s not really about the alien threat.

A quite fabulous Natalie Portman plays Lena, a former soldier who now teaches biology at a big fancy university. Her army husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac out of Star Wars), has been missing for a year and then suddenly returns a different man with no memory of where he’s been. When he takes violently ill, he’s rushed to hospital but on the way the ambulance is ambushed by some military types and the couple are transported to a base on the edge of a mysterious, fluid barrier called The Shimmer, which basically looks like the solution used for blowing bubbles, all rainbowy and oily. With Kane on death’s door thanks to the affects of a mission inside The Shimmer, it isn’t long before Lena and an all-female crew (but not in a 90s remake way) are tooled up for their own mission to discover what secrets The Shimmer holds and for Lena to (somehow) save her hubby. They’ll have to be quick, though, because everything on the wrong side of the barrier is changed, and dangerous. It’s all a bit like Evolution but without the laughs and lubrication (assuming you found Evolution funny (which it was)).

Fans of the Jeff VanderMeer novel will most likely be perplexed by this. Aside from the general concept, the movie bears no real resemblance to the book. The characters are named, the whole basis of The Shimmer is different, we start and end in completely different places. One has to wonder what VanderMeer thinks about this state of affairs, in between counting his piles of money.

Portman is entirely believable as the biologist, and we get a real sense of the pain she has to go through losing her husband twice. She’s supported by a strong supporting cast. Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr Ventress, the base’s rather socially inept therapist, and Gina Rodriguez as the fiery Anya are in excellent form. Visually, for the most part, it’s stunning and Garland isn’t scared to take his time in the exploration of the environment or the themes. A two hour running time, particularly these days, seemed to be on the ponderous side for other audience members, but felt just about right to me.

Where it really works is in its exploration of depression. Lena has her demons, Anya is an addict, another member of the party is mourning the loss of a daughter, Ventress is a friendless mystery who barely seems to exist on any level outside of work. And here they all are, facing an unseen but quickly changing demon that lurks in the shadows, or under the water, or in the depths of the night. This is something that I didn’t really spot in the book, most likely because the book is about something completely different, but it’s front and center in the movie.

There’s a short section towards the middle where there’s a conversation about how everyone self-destructs in one way or another — be it drugs, alcohol, philandering, whatever. It’s an interesting observation and one that applies to all the characters in the film, and a nod to the sense of depression that permeates practically every scene. There’s an awkwardness about it all, from the position in which Lena wakes up, to Ventress’s posture in the opening, to any number of uneasy conversations. Everything is set to make us feel uncomfortable, and while the price for that is the arm’s length distance that’s kept between audience and characters, it remains true to the thrust of the movie.

The whole project, though, is let down a little by some ropey animal CGI and for all its attempts to be mysterious and enigmatic, the flashback structure of the movie robs it of any tension that may otherwise have been present.  We know who lives and dies fairly early on. Also, as well acted as it is, and as clear as the themes are, it’s difficult to feel much for these flawed characters.

It’s still a pretty decent addition to the library of 2010s Sci-Fi movies and while I kinda enjoyed the new Blade Runner, for example, it’s more refreshing to see something like this take a more unusual, and for our times, salient path.