A high school senior wars with her mother in the year before graduation.
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf
Review by Jon Kissel
Greta Gerwig, queen of indie cinema, has been in a dozen films about tentative young women trying to figure out the next steps of their lives. The best of these, like Frances Ha and 20th Century Women, balance a light tone with serious introspection, while the worst, like Greenberg and Lola Versus, devalue Gerwig’s character as either a prop or a caricature. Having taken part in so many versions of that particular archetype, Gerwig is uniquely suited to turn back the clock to 2003 and make her own film about the kind of person some of her characters might’ve been in their teenage years. By also turning the protagonist into a rough approximation of herself, Gerwig can also construct a deeply specific coming-of-age story with an anti-indie sensibility. For all the focus on the titular Lady Bird in Gerwig’s immaculate directorial debut, she’s only one grounded and affecting character in a film packed with them. No props or caricatures here, just love for everyone that graces the screen and a film that is impossible to not fall for.
Of all the sequels in all the world, it’s only a scarce few that top their respective originals. Even the best sequels, like Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back, have plenty of honest detractors who prefer what came before. There’s always that feeling of discovery that is associated with a franchise’s first entry, as well as the dangling suspicion that the sequel is more of a commercial enterprise than a creative one, especially in recent cinematic history when a list of any given year’s top grossing films is dominated by remakes and next chapters in ongoing stories. Paddington 2 avoids that stink by replicating the warmth and charm of the original and incorporating indelible new characters. It also has the gift of timeliness, a pitch for friendliness and good faith towards one’s neighbors when the world seems to be taking the opposite stance. Paul King’s film qualifies as one of 2018’s biggest surprises, a joy delivery system that takes what works from the original Paddington and crushes it into a diamond of irresistible delight.
We’ve been down this road before. I don’t get Adam Sandler as a writer or an actor. Uncut Gems is less than a year old, and here’s Hubie Halloween, another Netflix, Steven Brill-directed predictable pile of warmed-over trash featuring Sandler and his buddies with varying prosthetics or accents. They didn’t even get to go a fancy locale this time. The guy is putting his finger in my face and saying, “You know movies, that thing you love that’s starving for production budgets and is probably a dying art form? I can get 8-figure salaries for a movie that has nothing at stake artistically or economically, and the bloopers over the end credits won’t even be funny.” It’s the complete lack of effort that gets me first and foremost, but it’s not like Hubie Halloween doesn’t have other sources of irritation.
Welsh director Gareth Evans’ first three movies, Merantau and the two Raid movies, put him at or near the top of the list for martial arts filmmaking. His work with Indonesian casts are sweaty, bone-crunching monuments to the brutality of feet, fists, and elbows crashing into an opponent, and they put most other action movies, martial arts or not, to shame. They are also some of the most violent movies I’ve ever seen, particularly Raid 2. Evans has moved on from Jakarta-set crime epics to period horror with Apostle, leaving behind almost all of the hand-to-hand combat but keeping the violence and gore. Evans pays tribute to earlier movies about creepy British cults like The Wicker Man or Kill List while putting his own stamp on the subgenre with some eyelid-searing imagery and unique cinematography. A more complex story than his earlier work slows Evans down and reveals the limits of his powers, but Apostle bolsters a director whose visual sense is impeccable even if he might need some help in the writer’s room.
The tropes of horror movies have to come from somewhere, and it seems like a lot of them come from Sam Raimi’s micro-budget cult classic The Evil Dead. Whether or not this is the first ‘cabin in the woods’ type film, it certainly isn’t the last. The film warns its characters from taking certain actions, warnings that are duly ignored. Behavior makes little to no sense, but as long as it leads to more violence and thrills, who cares. There isn’t the repayment of sexuality with death and dismemberment exactly, though there is a gross scene of exploitation that even Raimi says he regrets. As one of the titans of horror, Raimi is familiar enough with all these tropes that much of the rest of his career has been spent commenting on them, but the film that made his name is played as a straight-ahead, claustrophobic gorefest. Future installments will send his giant-jawed protagonist back to the Middle Ages but Ash Williams’ introduction is your average tale of Sumerian ghosts and the bodies they inhabit, at least until they explode in a shower of creamed corn.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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