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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 10, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 45
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Gerwig's Lady Bird absolute perfection
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LADY BIRD
Now playing


I knew I was in love with Greta Gerwig's solo directorial outing Lady Bird less than a third of the way through. Her script is just so pure, so deft at bringing out whatever emotion it is aiming for, it ultimately achieved a level of intimate authenticity that captured my imagination in a way that had me recalling the highs, lows and perplexing in-betweens of my own high school years back in the 1990s. Mixing the introspective resilience of Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (which Gerwig co-wrote) with the whimsical emotional dramatics of a 1980s John Hughes comedic melodrama like Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful, the movie never hits a false note, each beat of the story building one upon the next to produce a melodious coming of age symphony that's absolutely sensational.

Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson has started her senior year of high school. While her grades are good, they're not spectacular, and while she longs to get out of Sacramento in order to fly across the country to attend college on the East Coast, it's going to take some doing in order to see those dreams become a reality. Granted, her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) doesn't see the point. With the local economy so stagnant, with her beloved husband Larry (Tracy Letts) laid off and their eldest son Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) currently living back at home with his longtime girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) even though they're both Berkeley grads, she just doesn't think it will be possible for the family to find the money to assist their daughter in what she views as a fanciful flight of fancy. Marion feels her daughter needs to set her sights lower and go to school closer to home, no shame in attending a local college right here in good old Sacramento.

What follows is a year-in-the-life saga where Lady Bird pals around with best friend Julie Steffans (Beanie Feldstein), thinks she gets swept off her feet by the star of the school play Danny O'Neill (Lucas Hedges), attempts to become a part of the rich kids clique by making the acquaintance of Jenna Walton (Odeya Rush) under somewhat false pretenses and ends up making goo-goo eyes at delectable bad boy Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet). She learns things about her mother that take her by surprise, says things to Julie she instantly regrets and discovers there's so much more to her father than initially meets the eye. Through it all, the teenager keeps her own idiosyncratic point of view about the direction her life is going to take, realizing in the process which friendships are worth doing whatever it takes to save, that compassion should extend even to those we believe have wronged us and that family, in all its crazy, messed-up, backwards-is-forwards and up-is-down glory, whether it be biological or not, is always worth fighting for no matter what the cost.

Gerwig handles it all with rapturous grace and ruggedly steadfast perniciousness. She allows the beautiful and the ugly to coexist side by side, sometimes in the same frame. The relationships Lady Bird has with her best friend Julie, with her father Larry, with her brother and his girlfriend, and most of all the one she shares with her mother Marion, they all sparkle with a blissful specificity that is undeniably genuine. Gerwig refuses to sugarcoat things yet at the same time her film maintains a lithely balletic levity that's intoxicating, all of which only makes the emotional extremes that fuel the drama that much more refreshingly mighty as events progress to their conclusion.

Ronan, so amazing in Brooklyn, so stunning in Byzantium and Hanna, so marvelously enchanting in Atonement, is as breathtaking as she has ever been as the title character. Lady Bird is her own person, but that doesn't mean she is immune from falling into some fairly predictable teenage sinkholes, each decision a learning process that will have bearing on what kind of person this youngster will eventually become. Ronan brings a bright-eyed irascibility that is immediately captivating, watching her navigate through a complex maze of her own creation a constant joy. It's a beguiling portrait of youth in revolt and adulthood in embryonic development that I instantly related to, the twice Oscar-nominated actress a divine presence who fills the frame with her charismatic joie de vivre.

Metcalf is even better. Marion is a woman from a different age, one who isn't altogether certain how best to navigate the 21st century, especially when things inside the household get flipped on their head and she's the one who needs to keep things financially afloat while Larry does what he can to find a new job. The way she butts heads with her daughter, one moment angry as a devil at Lady Bird's refusal to listen and in the next instant overwhelmed with heavenly, heartfelt joy when she does something selfless or steps out of a dressing room looking gorgeously unsullied, all of it rings with a simple, hardscrabble truth that oftentimes broke my heart in two. Metcalf takes what Gerwig has gifted her with the character and runs with Marion in directions that are a continual surprise, every facet of her performance echoing with a profound candor that's sublime.

Working with a collection of behind-the-scenes craftsmen, including composer Jon Brion (Magnolia), editor Nick Houy ('The Night Of'), cinematographer Sam Levy (Wendy and Lucy), production designer Chris Jones (20th Century Women) and costume designer April Napier (Certain Women), featuring additional supporting performances from veteran character actors Lois Smith and Stephen McKinley Henderson, both of whom are perfect, Gerwig grants them all the freedom to create to the best of their collective abilities. At the same time, her control over things isn't ever in doubt, the film never drifting off course no matter how outlandish some individual moments might appear to be. The bigger picture is always in focus, and while none of Lady Bird's realizations are particularly original or unexpected, that happily does not make them any less profound in their truthful elasticity.

I've seen some terrific teenage coming of age efforts these past few years. Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my favorite films of this century, while last year's introspective stunner The Edge of Seventeen written and directed by the fabulously talented Kelly Fremon Craig only gets better with each passing day. There is a possibility Gerwig has surpassed the both of them with Lady Bird. It has overwhelmed my imagination and reignited within me creative desires I'd almost forgotten where there. As stated, I love this movie, and it's hard not to believe that general audience who head to the theatre to give it a look will not end up feeling exactly the same.


Branagh's Orient Express a treat for the little grey cells
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Now playing


It's likely Agatha Christie's 1934 classic Murder on the Orient Express might be the most influential mystery novel ever published. Featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot's most bone-chilling adventure, all of it involving a cadre of diverse characters who initially appear to have nothing in common, it's hard to imagine television series like 'Perry Mason' and 'Murder She Wrote' even existing had the author not crafted this particular tale. Heck, the board game 'Clue' is essentially this story combined with Christie's 1939 murderous whodunit And Then There Were None, all of it broken down into intuitive investigative basics fit for the whole family to gleefully enjoy.

As for this book, it's been adapted a number of times, most notably by director Sidney Lumet in 1974 (for which Ingrid Bergman won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Albert Finney was a Best Actor nominee) and as part of the BBC's long-running 'Poirot' television series in 2010 (with the superb David Suchet returning as the titular detective and Jessica Chastain in a key supporting role). There's even been a video game created for the PC in 2006, but even with Suchet's participation there's a reason not a lot of people know a thing about its existence.

Now comes director/star Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Thor) and screenwriter Michael Green (Logan), the duo joining forces to bring Christie's Poirot back to the big screen in a star-studded adaptation that, if it doesn't rival Lumet's 1974 version, at the very least equals it. Their Murder on the Orient Express doesn't follow the book exactly, adding a character here, changing another's race and nationality there, yet overall it still manages to capture the tone and the style of the author's prose nicely. A handsomely mounted production, Branagh's unfussy, classically professional style will not please everyone, its old school, visually resplendent largess of a type and an era seldom utilized all that much anymore. Yet I instantly responded to this aesthetic, losing myself inside the story, characters and images from the moment the cast first came together upon the titular train. I liked this version, and while I have minor nitpicks that gently gnaw at me, as someone who has watched every episode of BBC's 'Poirot' and 'Miss Marple' television series and who was also schooled on the finer arts of Christie's prose by an enthusiastic mother as a youngster, this still proves to be a movie I find very easy to recommend.

After quickly dismissing with a politically explosive case of thievery in Jerusalem, renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is off back to London to solve another mystery even though he'd rather go on vacation. Booked on the fabled Orient Express for what he thinks will be three days of relative peace and quiet, things take a decidedly nasty turn when the train is derailed by an avalanche and one of the more egregiously disreputable passengers ends up stabbed to death in their First Class compartment. With no one else to handle the case, Poirot takes charge, rounding up the small group of passengers in order to investigate their backgrounds in order to ascertain who has committed this heinous act. What he discovers is a plot so byzantine it puts even his phenomenal little grey cells to their ultimate test, the solution to this particular mystery leaving him shaken and disturbed in a way no other case up to now ever has before.

The cast list portraying the various passengers includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Lucy Boynton, Tom Bateman, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr. and Olivia Colman. Many of them are utilized wonderfully, most notably Pfeiffer, Ridley, Odom Jr., Dafoe and Jacobi. Others, like Cruz and Colman, sadly don't get the chance to make much of a lasting impression. Some, like Dench, Gad and Depp, make the most of what is offered them, delivering the best possible performances all things considered. Yet, even with this imbalance, for the most part Branagh and Green do a solid job of painting a clear picture of what is going on and why things are happening as they are, each character their own distinct human being worth keeping an eye on in case they happen to turn out to be the killer.

Where the movie truly excels is on a technical front. Haris Zambarloukos's (Locke) shoots on 65mm, his handsomely luscious camerawork achieving a chilling majesty that suits the material perfectly. Jim Clay's (Woman in Gold) production design is equally luminous, his crafting of the Orient Express's magnificent interiors sublime. Best of all might be Oscar winner Alexandra Byrne's (Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) bravura costumes, her attention to detail felt in every last thread and button she designed for the actors to wear. Frequent Branagh collaborator Patrick Doyle (Much Ado About Nothing) also makes magic of the film's evocatively melancholic score, a few of his themes having a haunting eloquence that shook me right to the bone.

As for the director's performance as the famed detective, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to saying both his Belgian accent as well as his massively curly mustache didn't get me to giggling on more than one occasion. Yet, while no one will confuse Branagh's work here with his brilliant turns in Henry V, Dead Again, Hamlet or Rabbit-Proof Fence, that does not make his gloriously theatrical presentation any less masterful. As self-indulgent as casting himself in the role might appear to be, he's still terrific, especially as things twist and turn their way towards the story's emotionally catastrophic finale, the veteran actor tapping into a place of such profoundly miserable regret and disappointment the overall effect it ended up having on me was nothing less than devastating.

There's no reason to go into great detail on the plot more so than what I've outlined above. Same with talking about which actor plays which role and what their individual significance in the proceedings might prove to be. For those unfamiliar with Christie's novel or with prior versions of the story, not knowing the specific details will likely increase the odds they'll like Branagh and Green's adaptation. If they are familiar, then it goes without saying my talking about it here won't add anything new to the conversation. More, my staying mum might mean that the various changes the filmmakers have made to the material might come as something of a moderate surprise.

As for the overall movie, I liked to what Branagh was doing. While his typical Shakespearean swagger cannot be found, there is still a confident playfulness to his handling of things that brought a smile to my face. Even if some of the plot points feel a little underdeveloped, and even though a few of the characters never spring to life the same way here as they do in the novel, the director still does Christie proud, his version of Murder on the Orient Express a gorgeously widescreen old school mystery I'd happily watch again right this second.








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David Duvall presents 'The Kanreki Concert'

A benefit for Jewish Voice for Peace / Network Against Islamophobia and Organization for Refugee Asylum & Migration

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Social Justice Film Festival brings the #Resistance to the screen
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PNB'S Her Story a chance to see three great choreographers who happen to be women
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Spectrum Dance Theater announces 2017/18 Season
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ONE-NIGHT ONLY: Tricked: A Mostly Male Burlesque Show featuring Miss Exotic World 1995, Pillow
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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Burien Library and VietQ Greater Seattle to screen short film and host panel discussion about Vietnamese youth who identify as LGBTQ
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Gerwig's Lady Bird absolute perfection
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Branagh's Orient Express a treat for the little grey cells
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