A beautiful coming-of-age film
Lady Bird (2017): The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.
Ah! You see this Zack Snyder/Warner Brothers? THIS is how you do an intimate film! Holy crap this movie is amazing. Writer/director Greta Gerwig makes her (solo) directorial debut here with Lady Bird, a film which is loosely based on her own experiences growing up. It is a simple, yet wonderful premise: a young woman is trying to make it through her senior year in northern California. That's it! And yet it had laughing, having fun, and even rocking the ugly cry before the end of the film. While it's not quite perfect, it is still the best film I have seen so far this year, and will almost certainly make it on to my end-of-year lists when the time comes. So, let's talk about what makes Lady Bird so great!
At the centerpiece of this film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson is played brilliantly by the great Saoirse Ronan, (in the best performance of the year so far) and her mom is played by Laurie Metcalf. Their chemistry and their dynamic is SPECTACULAR. One minute they're best friends, the next they're yelling at each other at full volume in a public place, and the next they're best friends again. That feeling of spontaneity makes these performances amazing, and they are captured brilliantly by Gerwig. Ronan's performance is as good as her role in Brooklyn (which was in my top 5 best performances of 2015) and is the best I've seen so far this year because of how grounded and subdued it is. The glamour of Ronan is gone in this gritty, down-to-earth, and slightly nerdy high school senior that insists on being called Lady Bird. It's always amazing to see someone as recognizable as Saoirse Ronan be totally sucked into a role, but that's exactly what happens here. She, along with Laurie Metcalf (who does the same thing) carry this film, and are the reason it's worth watching. Outside of these two, there's a strong supporting cast as well, with father-figure Tracy Letts and love interests Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet leading the way. I only wish that Gerwig herself made a cameo in this film at some point! Especially since this film is based around her own personal experiences.....but I digress.
So let's talk about intimacy, shall we? Because we have another major film recently, Justice League, that tries (and fails) to create some intimate moments, while something like Lady Bird does it so well. First off, the biggest thing Lady Bird hits out of the park to create this intimacy (that Justice League fails at) is the production design/cinematography. So many of the scenes in this film take place in small and quiet locations. A thrift store. A car. A kitchen. And when they happen, they're shot sooooo much better than Justice League could even dream of! If you're trying to have an intimate moment, close-ups are the key. This film allows the actors playing these characters to show their emotions so well because, you know, we are looking at the actors! And there's nothing else on screen besides them to distract us. Justice League director Zack Snyder just can't help himself. Whenever there's an attempt at an intimate moment in that film, they are always filmed with these grand wide shots with a bunch of excess crap in the frame. Snyder really takes a note out of Michael Bay's playbook with this, and I don't know why because it doesn't work for him, either. About the most "action-packed" shots we have in Lady Bird are of simple things, like the countryside in the background because the car our characters are in is moving, or our characters are looking at various pieces of clothing while they bicker. And it's quiet! This film, when it's trying to convey its emotions, understands the power of silence. No unnecessary "white noise" score underneath. When someone does something particularly heinous, we're given a moment of complete silence to let that sink in. Thank you, guys!
Sorry got on a bit of a tangent there so let's move on. Anyway, this movie is also funny. Like, I was laughing hysterically more times than I could count. I mean the film opens with Lady Bird jumping out of a moving car in the middle of her mother yelling at her! Then she wears a cast for half the movie because of it. Talk about hitting the ground rolling! (Don't worry I'll be here all night) About the only issue I had with this film (and what prevents it from having a perfect score) was that it was WAY too short. It clocks in at only 94 minutes, and it could've easily have been 124 minutes, and no one would've blinked an eye. That's usually not enough to affect anything on its own, but because of the short run-time there were some deep and interesting themes that were hastily investigated in this film. Particularly with one of the love interests: something major is brought up with a love interest but is then quickly dropped because there's only so much you can do in 94 minutes. But that's about the only misstep in this film. It is amazing, and WELL worth a watch. I've said it before, and I'll say it again here: A24 is on top of the world. Well done, guys. What a debut for Greta Gerwig, and what a performance by Saoirse Ronan. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.
The Critique: The best film of the year so far, Lady Bird is a funny and emotional movie featuring a brilliant and engrossing relationship between a young woman and her mother.
The Recommendation: You knew this recommendation was coming. Lady Bird is an absolute must-see for all!
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Almost perfect
All the Superheroes
Justice League (2017): Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.
You can probably guess where this review is going to go. Justice League is........fine. It has some decent action set pieces, a good cast, and some good effects. (Good in the sense that never once did I sit there and think everything in front of me was CGI, so kind of a low bar there) But there's a lot of problems too. The film is, once again, ugly to look at, everything feels rushed, (again) and the witty dialogue WB marketed the crap out of feels out of place. Especially coming from Thor: Ragnarok just a few weeks earlier. But, at the end of the day.....the superhero movie fatigue is in full swing at this point. I'm glad DC is only releasing one film next year, though we'll get no shortage of Marvel movies so I don't expect this fatigue to go away anytime soon. Anyway, let's dive into it, shall we?
First off, the good. Let's start with the cast. The cast for this film is massive, and I managed to have some fun watching big names like Diane Lane, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, and Billy Crudup all show up for a scene or two. Ironically, Diane Lane provided the most emotional moment of the entire film in one of her two scenes. While Amy Adams was definitely sleepwalking in her role as Lois Lane, (though she's still a great actress in her sleep so that's not saying much) most of the new members did everything they could to establish their characters for the upcoming films in the 2-3 scenes they got. Additionally, the main cast was pretty good. Ben Affleck is......Ben Affleck, but the rest of the crew seems right at home with their new roles. Ezra Miller stole the show here for me personally. His portrayal of Barry Allen was fantastic! I think DC may have found lightning in a bottle again with that casting. (Pun intended) They need it, too, because there's really only so much Gal Gadot can do to carry the DC franchise. (Though the execs at WB definitely realize that Gadot as Wonder Woman is DC's equivalent of the Wolverine/Iron Man portrayals so they are trying to get her as much screen time as possible.) Ray Fisher was fine as Cyborg, but there's only so much you can do when all you get to work with is half your face. He was definitely featured enough, but.....eh? Not much you can do with that character. He's just a cyborg. Jason Momoa was as charming and charismatic as Aquaman as you would expect. But, because they're not around water in the major battles, he basically just flew around and did ridiculous things during the set pieces. It was cool, but again.....eh? Speaking of! The set pieces here are way better than that of Batman vs. Superman. WB figured out that they were being rightly criticized for that final battle in BvS because it was shot in rainy darkness for some inexplicable reason, so they told Snyder to not only film this final set piece during the day, but have the sky be a BRIGHT color so we could see everything! Yay! To be fair, though, I'll take that over what we got in BvS. Finally, the effects were pretty good. I WISH we had a chance to see Ciaran Hinds as the villain, Steppenwolf, because he was so covered in makeup and effects it was only after I watched the movie and entered it into IMDB that I realized "Hey! That was Ciaran Hinds!" But his bug-like minions looked pretty good, and he did too.
But now it's time to talk about the bad. Let's talk about how rushed this movie feels, shall we? The negative of having this giant cast in Justice League means this film is inevitably going to feel very bloated. It definitely feels like the crew is trying to set up 18 films at once here, (hey, they are!) and it definitely makes me a tad cynical as I'm watching this. It's like watching teasers for upcoming films while watching a movie. Those work, right? Additionally, even though the final set piece was decently shot, there's still a lot of Snyder-esque scenes throughout this film. It worked for Watchmen, but it STILL doesn't work here. We don't need shot after shot at night or in the rain, do we? Do we really? Also, can we PLEASE get some silence every once in a while! There are several attempts at some intimate scenes scattered throughout this film, but there's still so much extra crap going on in these sequences (like the forgettable and unnecessary score underneath and all these grand shots with a lot of action happening in them) that you can't really appreciate them. It's like watching Michael Bay try and have an intimate moment surrounded by explosions. It just doesn't work! Diane Lane almost makes it work as there's a close up of her in one of the more emotional moments, but then we cut to a wide shot of corn! And wind! And a grand sunset! You just can't really get those intimate, emotional points across with so much crap happening. Also, can we take a minute to talk about the humor? Because.....it's here, but dear GOD does it feel out of place. And it's not even all that good! I think I chuckled maybe 4 or 5 times? But it was definitely unnecessary and out-of-place for our heroes to be cracking one-liners as the world is falling around them. This was a mandate from WB, and it feels very, VERY forced most of the time. Humor just doesn't work in Zack Snyder's world.
All of this combines to make Justice League a fine film, but not one that I plan on seeing again any time soon. At least this one was shorter, clocking in at exactly 2 hours. Sure better than the 150 minute endeavor that was BvS. I don't even know what they could do to make the DC Universe better. Wonder Woman worked because of its star and its director, so maybe Snyder is the common thread in all of this? I really don't want to just blame him for all of DC's problems, but him being out of the picture entirely, and WB being willing to take a chance, like Marvel did with Taika Waititi for Thor: Ragnarok, may make this franchise feel less cynical than it is. Hey! James Wan is leading Aquaman, so maybe it'll be good! I just don't know how many more chances I'm willing to give DC/WB.
The Critique: Despite a huge and great cast, Justice League still feels corporate-mandated with out-of-place humor and a rushed and bloated story, which, combined with the Zack Snyder's dismal touch, leads to an average film.
The Recommendation: If you want to see this you probably already have, but there are DEFINITELY better films out there at the theater right now. Like Thor: Ragnarok! And Lady Bird! And heck, I've heard Wonder is pretty good so spend your money on that before you go see this.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTY5MDU2MjAxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODA2NDAxNDM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_.jpg (Gordon pic)
Great to look at, but offers little else
Murder on the Orient Express (2017): A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man's race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
Geez that is quite the IMDB description. Why is it so hard to sum up a movie in a sentence or two for the IMDB description? "There's a murder. It happens to be on the Orient Express." Done. See? Easy! Anyway, that long IMDB description is actually a good segue to the biggest problem of the film: it's bloated. This movie lasts 114 minutes, but 30 of those minutes could've been cut out with ease and no one would've blinked an eye. Heck at 84 minutes this thing would probably still be too long. However, I cannot deny that this film is great to look at. This film is gorgeous! The fashion of this movie is wonderful. The production design, once we're actually on the train, is great. I also had a blast watching some of the hottest actors on the planet interact with each other in a confined space. But still. At the end of the day, this movie is simply..... fine. It takes way too long to get to the actual story, but once it gets there, I had fun watching it. Despite some sloppy directing. So, let's dive into it, shall we?
Let's start with the good. As I said, this film looks GREAT. I think you could definitely find enjoyment in just looking at the film and not even listening to it. From the costumes to the production design to the makeup, there is a clear and meticulous attention to detail taken here. Additionally, the acting is great. As it should be as this cast is ginormous! I mean Willem Dafoe, fresh off of one of the best performances of the year in The Florida Project, has like 5 lines in this whole movie! That's when you know your cast is stacked, and of course everyone brings their A-game. Kenneth Branagh is the focal point here as Detective Poirot, and my God is his accent amazing. It was actually almost too good as there were points where I couldn't understand what he was saying, though I think that was more a fault of the sound editing than anything else. Finally, once we're on the train and in the thick of the whodunit, I had fun watching it. The whodunit is pretty fun, but even this they manage to butcher a bit. Whoa! Another good segue!
So, as you can probably guess, the biggest problem of this film by FAR is that it is too long. It is rare for me to hold that complaint as the biggest one for a film, but when almost the ENTIRE first half of your film feels unnecessary, you know you have a problem. See, the movie opens with this entire sequence in the Middle East (I think? I can't even remember at this point) that has nothing to do with, you know, the murder. On the Orient Express. This part was rather sloppy, and made Detective Poirot feel like a French version of RDJ's Sherlock Holmes. (Another complain I had.....this movie makes little to no effort to make you not think about Sherlock Holmes the entire time.) After some more (relatively) pointless dawdling, we're finally to the train station, and this is where we are greeted with some rushed character introductions for the A-list cast. Which makes NO SENSE. Why do we have to waste 20+ minutes of valuable screen-time in sequences that add nothing to the film, just to rush through the character introductions? You know, the things that are relevant to the film? I don't know how much of this falls on Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the film) and how much of it comes down on writer Michael Green, but the first act of this film is very frustrating and, well, terrible! Fortunately, the second act turns it up to eleven as we finally get, you know, the Murder on the Orient Express, (ah! He said it!) as well as the initial "interviews," which basically just put Kenneth Branagh on screen with every member of the cast for entirely too short a period of time. These sequences were easily the best of the film, particularly the exchanges with Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench. Talk about an insane amount of charisma there! Buuuuuuut then the film goes right back to being messy in the third act as we're greeted with at least one completely unnecessary MacGuffin that exists just to add more screen-time. Also, as I mentioned before the sound editing at points was rather sloppy, as I simply could not hear what some of the characters were saying at several points. I don't usually make note of that because it may be the quality of the speaker system in the theater itself, but I was in a brand-new movie theater (less than a month old) so I do think this one was on the movie and not the theater.
At the end of the day, I think this film would have been better served as a 45-minute made-for-TV movie, because it really could've been done in that kind of run-time. But obviously a TV movie would never receive the kind of money this film received, so it seems we're stuck between a rock and a hard place with this movie. I'll give it a lot of points for being great to look at, but the second you start thinking about it, it falls apart. It's average, at best. I say it's worth watching if you're a big fan of Kenneth Branagh, but everyone else? Even big fans of Agatha Christie? Don't bother with this. I think it'll leave you far too frustrated and wishing for more time on The Orient Express.
The Critique: Sloppy directing and a hilariously bloated story undermine this otherwise fun, beautiful, and charismatic whodunit.
The Recommendation: I really would not recommend this to many people. I think even fans of Kenneth Branagh may get a bit frustrated with this one just because they want to like it so much. If you do check it out....turn your brain off and just enjoy this film's good looks. Because it doesn't have much else to offer.
The Verdict: 5/10
The Best Marvel Movie Yet?
Thor: Ragnarok (2017): Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.
Hey, look! A superhero movie done the way a superhero movie should be done! Light, refreshing, and fun to watch, filled with charming and charismatic leads and a great villain. It seems simple, right? Well, that's exactly what Thor: Ragnarok is. This film, which is the only Thor film worth watching, moves briskly through its 130 minute run-time and is full of witty dialogue spoken by a cast that just seeps charisma, even from its relative newcommers. I mean in a cast that consists of Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum, (oh, and an AMAZING cameo) you know you have lightning in a bottle when Tessa Thompson steals the show. In other news.....welcome to Hollywood, Tessa Thompson. And welcome to A-list status, Taika Waititi. What a great choice to have him direct this!
So, what makes this movie so good? Well pretty much the entire planet has already seen this sucker, but by far the biggest thing is the fact that it's FUNNY. This movie is laugh out loud funny from start to finish. It might as well be considered a comedy.....and honestly it was funnier than Guardians 2. Now this humor does hurt it at points, as the heroes would be in a life threatening situation and still spouting off one-liners, but is that really that big a deal? No. Also, this movie is colorful! I mean just look at the pic above. So many different colors. All the suits are diverse and are quite nice to look at. The movie is well acted by all parties involved, with Tessa Thompson leading the way. But really the strength of this movie can be traced to director Taika Waititi. Marvel took a big risk with this guy.....before this movie, his highest grossing film made somewhere around $5 million. But the guys over at Marvel knocked this one out of the park, as having Taika direct was a superb choice. I expect he'll have a lot more directing gigs in the future. Also, and this is just a minor thing, but I LOVED the fact that Doctor Strange was in this. It was a brief cameo, sure, but I just really appreciated the fact that FOR ONCE someone did something in the MCU, and another superhero actually acknowledged it! THANK YOU.
There's not much to say that's bad about this film. I guess my biggest complaint is that there's not enough of the villain in it. I LOVED Cate Blanchett as Hela. She's an extremely strong villain, but was not in this film NEARLY enough. It's really funny to me that this is the case, because a typical complaint of Marvel movies is that they have a very underwhelming villain. Well here, they finally have a great villain, but they just don't feature her enough! Geez, guys! Other than that, I guess the only thing I can say is I am starting to get fatigued as a whole about superhero movies. I'll keep seeing them, obviously, but it's getting harder and harder for me to not look at the latest Marvel movie as "just another Marvel movie," and I have a feeling that outside of Avengers: Infinity War, that feeling is just going to get worse and worse as time goes on. But still. This is a great movie, and that complaint doesn't do anything to diminish that. Just.....don't forget about other movies, please?
The Critique: Taika Waititi directs another strong addition to the Marvel franchise filled with great humor and entertaining action.
The Recommendation: At this point, I might as well ask.....who isn't going to see this movie?
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
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