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Drama

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Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s picture is assured, ingenious, and alternatively, hilarious and moving. A coming-of-age story that touches on the themes of leaving home and the mother-daughter relationship is not exactly original, but in Gerwig’s hands, it is fresh. Lady Bird (Saiorse Ronan of last year’s beautiful Brooklyn) is a Catholic school senior in Sacramento navigating her college choices, academic ennui, sexual inexperience, insecurity, and her family’s economic frailty, all while negotiating an increasingly strained relationship with her passive-aggressive (and sometimes, aggressive-aggressive) mother (Laurie Metcalf).

Gerwig stitches a narrative together with brisk and evocative vignettes, and her characters carry the nuance and surprise of real people. Lady Bird’s reach for popularity and desire for something beyond what she deems the stodgy and suffocating Sacramento might normally make her empathetic, but she is of her age, which means selfish and even cruel, in her ambition. This harsh light prevents the film from becoming maudlin. She’s a real girl and her world feels authentic. I watched the film with my wife and daughter, and their knowing glances and nonverbal communication throughout certified the truth of its nature.

I was reminded of different films at different times while watching Lady Bird. Gerwig’s command of pace and sharp timing evokes Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, shorn of his mannered style. Her strong portrayal of the bond of family and place also brought to mind last years’ incredibly under appreciated 20th Century Women. Finally, the mother-daughter dynamic on the eve of separation made me think of Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said.

I don’t mean to convey that Gerwig’s picture is derivative, only exceedingly accomplished. These are great pictures for purposes of comparison.

This is one of the best of the year, and I expect nominations for best picture, best director and best original screenplay. At a time when Hollywood may very well want to go with films that are smaller and more pure, keep this one in mind when filling out your Oscar ballot.

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Taylor Sheridan, the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, has turned in a stunning directorial debut that melds his signature economy of dialogue and accomplished feel for the ebb and flow of backcountry America with a lyrical visual style. The frozen mountains of Wyoming serve as the locale to a murder investigation where FBI outsider (Elizabeth Olsen) partners with a fish and game tracker (Jeremy Renner) and an Indian reservation sheriff (Graham Greene) to solve the rape and murder of a teen found in the snow.

Sheridan is the nephew of a former U.S. Marshal and a Texas sheriff, and as with his prior films, his replication of the patter of law enforcement feels as if he has spent a great deal of time at their knee. His characters avoid the bravado and cliche’ of too many movie cops. It’s a matter-of-fact world but not cartoonish macho, one that exudes cynicism but professionalism. Like Emily Blunt in Sicario, Olsen is not the standard female cop who has to “prove” herself. There is no overcompensation.

The performances are understated and moving, and Renner in particular well renders the pain of a haunted but determined man.

Sheridan is also deftly political, never overt but still seamlessly intertwining some of the cultural realities in rural American with the narrative.  It never gets in the way of the pace, and Sheridan’s handling of the thrill part of thriller is assured.  The crescendo to a violent explosion is damn near excruciating

One of the better films of the year, which admittedly ain’t saying much this year, but that shouldn’t be held against this picture.

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John Ford’s western, an extremely loose re-imagining of the Custer massacre, surprises in numerous ways.  The film has a heady sense of humor – the hard-boozing Irish of The Quiet Man are present, but not quite so cartoonishly so.  It again reveals that John Wayne was quite underrated as a dramatic actor.  But it is most unique in its melding of patriotic lore and bitter cynicism, ultimately concluding that the fraudulent propagation of patriotic heroism is at a minimum a necessary evil and perhaps even a critical component of the national ethos.  What matters, ultimately, is the myth.

It is also, of course, beautiful in its use of Monument Valley.

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My first thought for a first sentence of this review was “I don’t get it.” But that was at about 1/4 of the way through this sparse (budget – $100,000) and ingenious film that unfolds at its own languorous pace, with every scene building upon the last.

The story is simple. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are a young couple on the verge of a move from their home when Affleck dies in a tragic traffic accident. Rather than ascend to the hereafter, his ghost returns to the home. And that is where we find him. For all ages. Mind you, he is not in a CGI, wispy and elegiac form. He is wearing a sheet with two holes cut out for eyes.  And his rambler (not a creepy Victorian) is the place he haunts, throughout eternity.

Wordlessly.

The film is at first uncomfortable.  It’s hard to adjust to the low-tech representation of ghostdom, and writer director David Lowery’s penchant for lassitude tests, but soon, through the patience of the director and the stoic and sad nature of Affleck’s choice, you invest totally in his journey.

This is an art film. As such, it takes chances other movies would not dream of. Not all of its choices hit the mark, but by the end, it proves to be thoughtful, accomplished, and really intriguing.

I am stil not sure that I get it. But have been thinking and talking about it ever since watching. That alone merits high marks.

 

There’s nothing particularly bad about this biopic of Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, the fighter who went the distance with Ali (mainly as a human punching bag) and was the inspiration for Rocky.  Liev Schreiber gets to trot out his semi-lovable, Joisy-accented galoot, and at times, you actually feel bad for the guy, a palooka with a heart of tin who is given a taste of the big time and handles it poorly (drugs, booze, women, and perhaps most distressingly, disco).  But you don’t ever really develop an interest in him.

You’ve seen it all before, and even with the exertions of Schreiber, a pasty and portly Jim Gaffigan (as Chuck’s loyal and unctuous sidekick) and Elizabeth Moss (his suffering wife), you end up asking “to what end?”  Or, in Joisy parlance, “What the fuck?”

The film also makes a huge mistake by trying to recapture the Ali-Wepner fight, which feels as if it was held in a community rec center.

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The ridiculous premise of this movie, and the ensuing byzantine plot, are so audacious that it almost makes up for being such a piece of crap. Ben Affleck is an accountant. But not your everyday accountant. He is autistic, but has had the more extreme manifestations of that condition beaten out of him by his rigid, military father. Accordingly, he can function, and function he does. He has millions of dollars. He owns a Jackson Pollock. He has gold bullion. He can shoot a watermelon from a mile away.

He works in a strip mall as an accountant, when he is not doing the books for local farmers, he is doing them for  large, dirty multinational corporations while ratting out their wrongdoing to the Department of the Treasury.

The only really good things I can say about this movie are that it is watchable in an aghast, mouth open kind of way, and Affleck, playing a character who is struggling to convey emotion, almost appears to be on the verge of laughing out loud every scene. And every scene gets progressively funnier and funnier.

It’s terrible but marginally entertaining.