Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Laura Dern’

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen

“LITTLE WOMEN” My rating: B+

134 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Each generation, apparently, gets its own cinematic “Little Women.” Count Greta Gerwig’s new version among the best.

Beautifully acted, classily mounted and delivering its emotional detonations with almost clocklike precision, this adaptation manages to do justice to Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel while viewing the tale through a protofeminist lens.

Gerwig lets us know what she’s up to in the opening scene, where aspiring writer Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) meets with a New York publisher to discuss her latest story.

“If the main character is a girl,” the bewhiskered editor (Tracy Letts) advises, “make sure she’s married by the end…or dead.  Doesn’t matter which.”

This is only the first of several moments in which the film takes aim at male privilege and arrogance in 19th century America (and, by implication, in today’s world).  Not that the film ever mounts a soapbox or goes strident.  Gerwig’s screenplay effortlessly incorporates a modern sensibility into the classic tale; it feels as if she discovered these  millennial attitudes  in the original story and merely amplifies them.

This “Women” is novel as well for its narrative juggling.  The film opens several years after the Civil War…the March sisters from Concord, Mass., are now young adults.

We’ve already seen Jo pursuing a career in the Big Apple.  We find sister Meg (Emma Watson) back in Concord; she’s married, a mother and struggling with money issues.  Little sister Amy (Florence Pugh) is in France studying painting under the watchful eye of their wealthy Aunt March (Meryl Streep, doing her best Maggie Smith).

There’s a fourth sister, Beth (Eliza Scanlen), whom we meet in the flashbacks that make up the bulk of the film.  (One of the great pleasures in Gerwig’s narrative sleight-of-hand is that we’re able to compare the mature women we first meet with their much more innocent selves seven years earlier.)

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Scarlett Johanssen, Adam Driver

“MARRIAGE STORY” My rating: B+ (Premieres Dec. 6 on Netflix)

136 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The opening moments of Noah Baumbach’s latest film finds a couple — Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) — rhapsodizing about the other’s best features.

Each has a laundry list of his/her spouse’s positive attributes.  My God, you think, these two are wildly in love.

Uh, no.  The cataloguing of lovable traits is simply an exercise developed by a marriage counselor.  In fact, Nicole and Charlie seem destined for the big split.

“Marriage Story” — which more accurately might have been entitled “Divorce Story” — is a black comedy that leaves audience suspended between laughter and wincing.  It’s about how despite the best efforts of the people involved, a marital breakup takes nightmarish turns.

It’s funny and heartbreaking.

Nicole and Charlie live in NYC with their adorable son Henry (Azhy Robertson).  Charlie is the director of a semi-celebrated experimental theater company; Nicole’s the leading lady  in most of their productions.

But Nicole has long felt stifled, artistically and emotionally. Over Charlie’s objections she takes a role in a TV series being filmed in Hollywood and with young Henry heads West to live — temporarily Charlie assumes — with her mother Sandra (Julie Hagerty). It eventually dawns on Charlie that Nicole won’t be returning to their life in New  York.

Now Nicole and Charlie are decent folk and they agree up front that while the marriage may be doomed, there’s no reason to become enemies.  They have a child to think of and, anyway, who wants to get all wrapped up in recriminations and resentments?  Why not just split up the common property and make it all as painless as possible? (more…)

Read Full Post »

Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern

“TRIAL BY FIRE” My rating: B

127 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Familiarity breeds contempt. But given the right circumstances, it can breed compassion and understanding as well.

Edward Zwick’s “Trial by Fire” is a fact-based film inspired by the story of Todd Willingham, who was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young daughters and executed by the state.

As protagonists go, Willingham is at first a hard man to care about. But by the time this gut-wrencher has come to its conclusion that proposition will be turned inside out.

The film opens in 1991 with Willingham (Jack O’Connell) crawling from his burning house in small-town Texas. He grabs a  jack from the trunk of his car and uses it to break the window of his daughters’ bedroom.  For his efforts he is very nearly incinerated by an erupting fireball.

Wellingham is arrested on the drive back from his childrens’ funeral.  The experts say the fire was deliberately started. Which makes this a case of murder.

And, frankly, the portrait of Willingham that emerges only cements his guilt.  For he is one unlikeable individual, a sort of white trash poster boy who beat and cheated on his wife Stacy (“The Deuce’s” Emily Meade), who drank and brawled and was known to have lied to the cops in the past.

His court-appointed attorney mounts not even a half-hearted defense, and in short order he’s on Death Row.

Geoffrey Fletcher’s screenplay (based on David Grann’s New Yorker article) dispenses with the nuts and bolts of the case in the first half hour.  The bulk of the film depicts how while awaiting execution Willingham finds his better self.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill

“STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI” My rating: C

152 minutes |MPAA rating: PG-13

Over the last 40 years “Star Wars” films have thrilled and delighted (the original “A New Hope”) and occasionally pissed off and dismayed (the George Lucas-directed prequels).

But until now I’ve never been bored.

We’re talking I-don’t-know-if-I-can-keep-my-eyes-open bored.

It’s not that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is terrible. It’s just that writer/director Rian Johnson is so handcuffed by the franchise’s mythology that there’s no hope of actually delivering anything new and unusual.

A “Star Wars” movie is now like a giant hamster wheel. We keep loping along but the scenery never changes. The same narratives, motifs and tropes play out over and over again. The filmmakers may tinker with small details, but there’s no way they can give this series the swift kick in the narrative ass it needs.

Actually, Johnson (“Loopers,” “Brick,”  “The Brothers Bloom”) delivers a flash of hope early in “Last Jedi” when the pompous General Hux (Domhnail Gleeson) delivers one of those vituperative “rebel swine” declamatory speeches, only to be phone pranked by rebel pilot Poe Dameron who cuts in on the imperial cruiser’s radio frequency.

It’s a refreshingly gonzo sequence, one that not only re-establishes Dameron as the new Han Solo but  acknowledges the cardboard villainy that has always been the hallmark of “Star Wars” baddies.

Alas, that moment passes, never to be repeated. Yeah, there are a couple of mildly amusing flashes still on tap.

“If they move, stun ’em” one of our heroes says of captives, a clear nod to “The Wild Bunch’s” “If they move, kill ’em.” And we get a throwaway glimpse of an imperial dreadnaught’s laundry room where all those fascist uniforms are being starched.

But for the most part “Last Jedi” takes itself very, very seriously. It needs a lot more finger-in-the-eye subversiveness.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams

“CERTAIN WOMEN” My rating: B-

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The cinematic minimalism practiced by writer/director Kelly Reichardt can be deceiving. Films like “Old Joy” and “Wendy and Lucy” creep up on you slowly…sometimes a bit of time has to pass before they set up shop inside a viewer’s head and a movie’s little moments coalesce into an overall feeling.

“Certain Women” is based on three Maile Meloy short stories, all set in a small burg in the Pacific Northwest and each concentrating on a woman struggling for a degree of independence and recognition. The stories  stand alone, but characters from one might pop up in a cameo role in another.

In the first a lawyer (Laura Dern) is called to help negotiate with a client (Jared Harris) whose workman’s compensation case is going nowhere. Now the poor schlub has taken extreme measures. He’s armed himself and invaded the offices of his former employer, taking a security guard hostage. The local sheriff wants the lawyer to get him to surrender.

In the second story a wife and mother (Michelle Williams) is pushing her foot-dragging husband (James Le Gros) to build a new family home on a few acres out in the woods. Much of the running time is devoted to her negotiations with a crusty old local (Rene Auberjonois) to acquire a pile of sandst0ne rocks that have been sitting in his rural front yard for at least 50 years.

In the third episode a loner stablehand (Lily Gladstone) becomes quietly obsessed with the new law school grad (Kristen Stewart) who weekly drives four hours each way to hold evening training sessions on education law for local public school teachers and administrators.

(more…)

Read Full Post »