Lady Bird

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Directed by: Gerta Gerwig (debut)
Written by: Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”)

It may not push past all the tropes of coming-of-age films that came before it, but “Lady Bird,” the directorial debut of indie-darling actress Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”), is a wonderful testament on how not everything has to be exceptionally groundbreaking to be an intelligent and insightful contribution to a subgenre. With “Lady Bird,” Gerwig has created a tender, engaging and clever script that any first-time filmmaker would love to claim as his or her introduction to the cinematic world from behind the camera. Gerwig has a distinctive voice – although there are hints of directors like Noam Baumbach, Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers sprinkled into it – that should be interesting to watch as she grows into her own.

In “Lady Bird,” two-time Academy Award nominated actress Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character, a teenager living unhappily in Sacramento with her sympathetic father (Tracy Letts) and overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf) and attending a Catholic high school with her best friend Jules (Beanie Feldstein). As a somewhat autobiographical take on her own life, Gerwig maneuvers through the narrative with compassion and humor as Lady Bird plans her escape from her hometown and hopes to attend college in New York City, although her grades are mediocre and her family can only afford community college.

Lady Bird’s teenage angst takes over most of the picture, but Gerwig doesn’t allow her main character to ever become unlikeable. Sure, she’s a bit of a spoiled brat with her mom, but her overall personality makes up for it and audiences are able to root for her as she tries to “find herself” and find a way out. The film mostly hinges on the tempestuous relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. The multifaceted dynamic between the two is deep, and Ronan and Metcalf are sharp when they share the screen.

While the storytelling is fairly ordinary, there is life behind the universal themes Gerwig explores with her own sense of satisfaction, frustration and wide-eyed wonderment. This definitely feels like a “first film,” but not all first films feel this rich with potential.

August: Osage County

January 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis
Directed by: John Wells (“The Company Men”)
Written by: Tracy Letts (“Killer Joe”)

After coming out with one of the most twisted films of last year, an adaptation of his own play, “Killer Joe,” playwright and screenwriter Tracey Letts might have hit the limit of how depraved his material really can get. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still toy around with some dark themes. Making use of a cast of acting veterans and Oscar nominees/winners, Letts pens another Southern-skewed darkly comedic drama, “August: Osage County.”

When the patriarch of a family goes missing, a dysfunctional and estranged family comes together in the house they grew up in. At the center is a mother, Violet (Meryl Streep) and her three daughters. With the stress stemming from a missing patriarch, Violet’s pill addiction and some heavy family tension, the Weston house becomes a place of utter chaos.

As an adaptation of a play, obvious attention is paid to the screenplay. Though it certainly has some sharp, witty dialogue, it is also deeply flawed with an insistence on big, loud, theatrical confrontations. Even though some of them are legitimately interesting and well-performed, the design of jam-packing melodramatic moments around every corner is taxing and leads to a few instances of perceived overacting, most of which is at the hands of Streep. She’s constantly spewing big, dramatic monologues with a thick, put-on accent, though this might be more of a character design flaw than anything else. This isn’t to say it’s a bad performance. All things considered, Streep is good in the role as the foul-mouthed and inappropriate Violet. She is, however, overshadowed by Julia Roberts who is fantastic in the best role she’s had in years.

In fact, many of the performances are mostly strong as director John Wells gets solid turns from such actors as Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and Juliette Lewis, to name a few. It’s a shame that the structure of packing so many over-the-top dramatic moments makes the film become exhausting to watch at times. Still, “August: Osage County” gets by based on the strength of its acting, especially Roberts.

Killer Joe

August 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple
Directed by: William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”)
Written by: Tracy Letts (“Bug”)

If a film like 2011’s sexually explicit British drama “Shame” taught us anything, it’s that being slapped with a dreaded NC-17 rating these days doesn’t always ensure a death sentence. Sure, its box-office numbers will be affected by those close-minded theater chains refusing to screen movies considered too provocative because of the MPAA label, but as the critically-acclaimed “Shame” proved, sometimes the content of a film is so essential to the story, it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it might be for some viewers. “I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter,” Fox Searchlight Pictures’ President Steve Gilula said last year about the film. “We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner.”

The same can be said for the dark comedy thriller “Killer Joe,” but with a more tongue-in-cheek approach. Supporting the “artistic integrity” of Oscar-winning filmmaker William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”) and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Letts, the studio decided to keep the film intact and not edit it down to a more desired R rating. It was the right choice, especially since its badge of honor was earned for one specific incident in the third act of the film featuring a fried chicken drumstick. Touch that scene in any way and “Killer Joe” is a different movie.

Never mind the full frontal nudity, language, or hardcore violence. Besides the KFC scene, there’s nothing that hasn’t been seen or heard before in other NC-17 or hard R-rated movies with one other exception. As the title character, a contract killer in Texas hired to murder a mother so her twisted family can collect on the insurance policy, Matthew McConaughey is dangerously good. As the head of this diamondback-rattlesnake-of-a-film, he strikes within a sadistic realm very few actors would dare to tread. The venom behind “Killer Joe” is extremely palpable, which makes it all the more disturbing to watch.