Lady Bird

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Much like making it to the end of the film, finishing this review will be an emotional triumph for me. Lady Bird put me into a time machine. For an hour and a half, I existed vicariously in a different time and place that was so similar to my own life once.

Coming-of-age stories tend to glamorize actually coming of age. Refreshingly, this one neglects that approach for one that is gracious in its inelegance.

Marion and Larry (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts, respectively) — Mar and Lar, as I call them — are heading a household in which their heavily pierced son, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), his equally holey girlfriend, Shelly (Marielle Scott), and their daughter, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), miraculously coexist.

Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) — a name which she has bestowed upon herself — is on the verge of high school graduation, facing the paramount choices every almost-adult must; she could play it safe and attend community college or risk it all for whatever’s behind door number 3.

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A realist with her heart in the right place, her mother discourages any of Lady Bird’s lofty ambitions of attending a decent college, especially after Larry is laid off. LB’s solace exists in high school theater, the dreamboat star thespian, Danny (Lucas Hedges), her BFF Julie’s (Beanie Feldstein) predictable self-deprecation, and fleeing Sacramento for greener pastures.

This film is a transcendent experience. The viewer doesn’t necessarily only find common ground with the titular Lady Bird, but with so many of its rich characters. It is intrinsically cast, making these quirky little slightly misshapen pieces form a Kintsugi sort of whole.

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This movie mirrored instances in my life so closely that I had to side-eye Writer/Director Greta Gerwig a little bit. I think she’s been following me. One scene — in the supermarket — shows Lady Bird having the guts to walk right up to Danny and talk to him with heavy eye contact and everything.

My high school crush worked at our grocery store and my mother always had to strike up conversation with him for me. Humiliating at the time, I can see now that those moments are cornerstones in becoming a person in this world.

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All of the treasures that adolescence holds are represented; pressure to be cool, fear of rejection, other-worldly elation after a first kiss, and imploding after your first real heartbreak. Amid the tragedy of youth is the presence of the calamity that exists throughout adulthood and well into old age, as well.

The idea that coming of age happens when we’re young is debunked a bit. The only character in this film who isn’t transitioning any longer and appears sure of herself is stage and screen legend Lois Smith’s.

While my favorite actor of all time, Laurie Metcalf, drew me to this film, the entire cast filled my heart. As your resident score junkie, my face lit up at Jon Brion’s name in the opening credits. The score he composed to accompany Lady Bird on her journey is like one of those intricate garnishes on an elegant dish; a radish sliced perfectly to resemble a rose.

Lady Bird is charming and wistful. It struck a range of emotions in me that was perhaps wider than I’d experienced in one sitting before. One of the warm-ups LB’s theater group does is introduced by their teacher, Father Leviatch (Stephen Henderson), as a game called Whoever Cries First Wins.

I won.

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Marjorie Prime

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There are countless inevitablilities in life; disappointment, the start of a new day (should we continue to be so fortunate), the barista spelling your name incorrectly on your cup. These unavoidable parts of life keep us on our toes and give birth to statements like, “If it wasn’t this, it would be something else.”

Perhaps the most recurring and absolute of these certainties is, naturally, death. As mortals, each and every one of us faces it as something that will happen. Circumstantial and wildly unknown, expiration isn’t just for dairy.

As human beings, we’re equipped with different emotional ranges and — as such — we all cope with passing from one life to the next in our own way. With the impressive strides in technology, we’re able to accomplish feats that were unthinkable before. For example, in 2012, at the popular music festival, Coachella, a hologram of deceased rapper Tupac was projected on stage for a performance with Snoop Dogg.

What’s to say that a computer couldn’t learn the mannerisms of a loved one who has passed away and take on a holographic form designed by the grieving party as a method of dealing with the loss? That’s precisely what happens in Marjorie Prime.

Marjorie (Lois Smith) lost her husband, Walter (Jon Hamm) 15 years ago. These days, her days are spent with Walter Prime — a handsome, 40-year-old projection of her beloved. Her daughter, Tess (Geena Davis) and her son-in-law, John (Tim Robbins), live with her in the gorgeous, serene beach house Walter bought years before.

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While Tess has reservations about her digital dad regaling her ailing mother with stories of their salad days, John spends time with him, teaching Walter the memories he shares with Marjorie.

An information sponge, Walter remembers everything he’s told to appear as hominid as possible to maintain Marjorie’s illusions.

Marjorie Prime is a stunning interpretation of the role memory plays in our lives. Memories — as they are explained by Tess — are never exact. Every time we remember something, we’re remembering the memory, never the event itself. Like a dream that wakes us suddenly and feels as though it is a permanent fixture in our psyche, it, too will become fuzzy and eventually fade away, leaving only spotty remnants.

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I read once, that after heartbreak — when some time has passed — the memories that muster overwhelming sentimental strain, will someday illicit different feelings and no longer create the same ache. While my experience with this idea has proven to hold some truth, the levels of relief vary.

This film features sublime, multi-faceted performances while giving each viewer a different experience. It takes on different shapes for everyone because much of it is left open to interpretation. This was evidenced by the Q&A after the film that stage and screen legend Lois Smith took part in. The audience members around me expressed much different sentiments than the ones I felt, and that’s a remarkable feat for a film.

To achieve a varied visceral response from each person is something that just doesn’t always happen at the movies.

I wanted to ask Lois who would be her date to the Oscars, but I chickened out. That said, my heart will be full on nomination announcement day to see her name on the list.

As your resident score junkie, I must also say that Micachu beautifully captured the emotion of the film. She set a deeply profound emotion to music, making Marjorie Prime a film you don’t just see, but one you feel.

Mudbound

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As we continue to face ubiquitous racism on a day-to-day basis, here in 2017, it’s pretty jarring to see a film that addresses it head-on and realize that — while slavery was abolished so long ago — we haven’t progressed as much as we’d like to think.

Mudbound is the story of a well-read, firey young lady by the name of Laura (Carey Mulligan). Shortly after she meets the man who would become her husband, Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke), his brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) is drafted as a fighter pilot to fly in WWII.

Henry is the type of husband that — here in 2017 — would likely sleep on the sofa pretty often. Back in the Depression Era, a good man was — I guess — even harder to find, and women were staunch believers in the “stand by your man” principle. All of that said, Henry, in bed one night, casually drops into conversation that he’s uprooting their family and moving to a house on the farm he purchased.

I admire Laura for her restraint in not smothering him in the night.

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Piling the kids in the car, along with Henry’s massively bigoted father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks), they leave behind their happy home for a new life. Surprise surprise when Henry, the savvy business man he is, finds out he was swindled on the deal and the new home they’re headed for is already inhabited by a man who I would liberally describe as unfriendly.

Fortunately, there’s a house — er, a shack — on the farm that they can stay in. This place can best be described as an oozing hellscape.

Not far from there, in another, smaller home, are the Jacksons. Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) — along with their children — work on the McAllans’ farm, often going above and beyond the call of duty. They, too, are awaiting the safe return of a loved one — their son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) — to safely return from the nightmare of war.

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When the day finally arrives that these men come marching home, their reception is lackluster at best, and hostile at worst. Finding camaraderie in their time spent in battle, Ronsel Jackson and Jamie McAllen strike up an unheard of friendship at the dismay of everyone in town, but especially, Pappy.

Their bond will be tested in an excruciating fashion before it’s all said and done.

Mudbound is extraordinarily well done. In a time when our already shaky foundation as a country is crumbling atop a crust of rampant nationalism, this is a film that needs to be seen. Not only is it and incredible story, but it speaks to a three different generations — each of which has their own experience with race riots.

Months ago, Nazis marched through Charlottesville, Virginia and the current “president” defended them. It’s an ongoing problem and movies like Mudbound are profoundly deep statements of the evil that still lurks in broad daylight.

If you disagree, consider this — Jordan Peele’s Get Out is nominated for a Golden Globe for best Comedy. This plight is not satirical. Mudbound is available for streaming on Netflix November 17th.

Murder on the Orient Express

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When my editor assigned me to see this film, all I could think of was Steve Carell as Michael Scott saying, “There’s been a murdah… in Savannah,” and I laughed for three days.

I’ve never read the novel by the same name penned by Agatha Christie, so if we’re being honest, I thought this was another Polar Express movie.

I am an idiot.

Murder on the Orient Express is a whodunit that takes place in 1930s Europe on a train that has been derailed due to an avalanche. With the suspect likely still aboard, passenger and world-famous Detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) — who is supposed to be taking a break from cracking cases — is thrust back into his role mostly against his will.

Among the other passengers are a criminal by the name of Rachette (Depp) and his associate, MacQueen (Josh Gad). Ms. Caroline Hubbard (Pfeiffer) — a woman on a husband hunt — and a woman who is already married — to Jesus — Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz).

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A bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked Governess by the name of Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) freely expresses her disdain at the narrow-mindedness of other riders over diversity and the mixing of “white” and “red” wine. Meanwhile, a real life princess (Judi Dench) holds court nearby with her pups and her loyal handler, Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman).

When the body count on the luxurious locomotive goes from zero to one over night, Poirot calls for the assistance of Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.) to deduce time of death and other details that might lead to the capture of the killer.

 

Yes, this is a star-studded mystery and feels very much like a game of Clue. While I enjoyed trying to place the assassin’s identity before it was revealed, I found myself swept up in the romantics of it all. Murder on the Orient Express is very much a love story of a different size and shape than we’re used to.

Kenneth Branagh as Poirot is bright, witty, and engaging — and always leaving the viewer wanting more. Branagh has no trouble sitting behind the camera in the Director’s chair and holding his place firmly on-screen. Having a heavy-hitting cast — and seeing these players in roles we’re not accustomed to — adds something truly unique and enjoyable.

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The film is an exercise in right and wrong and leaves the audience feeling wholly fulfilled. A story delivered as only celluloid can, Murder on the Orient Express showcases brilliant cinematography and just the right amount of secrecy to keep you on your toes.