Lady Bird movie review

For inSing

LADY BIRD

Director : Greta Gerwig
Cast : Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Odeya Rush, Lois Smith, Jordan Rodrigues, Stephen Henderson, Jake McDorman
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 34m
Opens : 12 February 2018
Rating : M18

Lady Bird is one of the last big awards season contenders to arrive on our shores. After an excellent showing at the Golden Globes and five Oscar nominations, this little movie comes with big hype.

‘Lady Bird’ is what the title character, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), calls herself. It is 2002, and Lady Bird is a high school senior in Sacramento. She has a contentious relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), and is constantly trying to assert her own identity. She also doesn’t quite get along with her adopted older brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), whose girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) lives with Lady Bird and her family.

Lady Bird dreams of going to college in New York, but her mother insists on her going to one in California instead. The family is weathering financial difficulty, with Lady Bird’s father Larry (Tracy Letts) struggling to make ends meet. Lady Bird develops a crush on Danny (Lucas Hedges), her co-star in the school’s production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. She also has feelings for the cool musician Kyle (Timothée Chalamet).

Lady Bird’s desire for the acceptance of Kyle’s friend, the wealthy and popular Jenna (Odeya Rush), drives a wedge between Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein). Lady Bird undergoes formative experiences as she figures out who she’ll become and works through her relationships with those who care about her and, though she won’t admit it, whom she cares for too.

The film has enjoyed an immensely positive reception, with a 99% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps it’s not fair to expect Lady Bird to be the greatest movie ever made and a life-changing rapture, but it is excellent as what it is – a coming-of-age indie comedy-drama.

Writer-director Greta Gerwig has created a film that’s personal but not self-indulgent, executing a masterful balancing act. Indie darlings are often either quite dull or stuffed with histrionics. It’s challenging to keep the dial centred, and Gerwig has more than succeeded. Lady Bird is never boring, but its characters don’t feel like overblown caricatures. Some interactions between characters are perhaps a little more heightened than they’d be in real life, but the film remains easy to connect to throughout.

The film’s authenticity comes in part from how Gerwig draws on her own experiences: like Lady Bird, Gerwig grew up in Sacramento, her mother was a nurse, and she attended an all-girls Catholic high school. Gerwig has gone from being one of the more prominent stars of the ‘mumblecore’ indie film movement to only the fifth woman in history to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. Perhaps her own experience as an actress has helped her draw out entertaining, sensitive and authentic performances from her cast.

The preternaturally talented Saoirse Ronan once again proves herself as among the finest young actors working. Lady Bird could easily have come off as obnoxious and insufferable, so it’s to Ronan’s credit that she is easy to root for – not despite, but because of her flaws. The character’s search for a direction in life, the tension between her and her parents, her sexual awakening and romantic relationships, and her angst towards her hometown – these are all things that teenagers have grappled with in one form or another. The balance of the universal and the specific is something that crystallises in Ronan’s portrayal of Lady Bird.

The testy bond between Lady Bird and her mother is something that has resonated strongly with audiences – Metcalf has said in interviews that people have told her that the film made them want to call their mothers afterwards. There is never any doubt that Marion loves her daughter, but even parents with the best intentions have difficulty articulating their love for their children. The film makes it easy to see things from both Lady Bird’s and Marion’s sides, with Metcalf taking great care in giving the character enough layers.

Letts, who often plays imperious, unyielding authority figures, brings welcome warmth to the role of Lady Bird’s father Larry. Larry must often be the mediator, since his wife and daughter are so headstrong, and he gets caught in the middle. He also bears the burden of the family’s financial difficulties but internalises this to try and minimise the heartache for everyone else, something many fathers can relate to.

Both of Lady Bird’s love interests are sufficiently distinct: Hedges’ Danny is awkward and sweet, while Chalamet’s Kyle is the artsy rebel-philosopher. This is different from your typical love triangle, and Lady Bird always retains agency such that it never feels like the plot device of a requisite romance is the driving force of the narrative.

The film’s depiction of high school friendship dynamics rings true as well – the way Lady Bird and Julie grow apart when Lady Bird gets accepted by the popular kids is handled with a little too much drama, but Ronan and Feldstein share excellent chemistry.

The way the authority figures are portrayed demonstrates the film’s maturity – the nuns and priests who run the Catholic school aren’t monstrous or ridiculously strict, they’re just a little detached from their charges because of the generation gap. Some fun is had at the expense of religion, but it never registers as bald-faced mockery.

Lady Bird is better approached as a low-key indie gem than as a masterpiece that will change the face of cinema forever. That’s not to downplay the accomplishments of its cast and crew, but one might be better positioned to take in the film’s gentle humour and quiet wisdom without the awards season baggage attached. Lady Bird is just that little bit more relatable, more entertaining and more personal than your typical coming-of-age film, benefitting from its writer-director’s perspective and its leading lady’s significant skill.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hunter’s Prayer

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNTER’S PRAYER

Director : Jonathan Mostow
Cast : Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Amy Landecker, Martin Compston
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug References and Violence)

Sam Worthington was once a Terminator, and in this action thriller, he becomes a hunter. Worthington plays Lucas, a hitman in the employ of ruthless English magnate Richard Addison (Leech). Metzger (Compston), another one of Addison’s assassins, kills Martin (Eben Young) and Pamela (Stephanie Dooley) Hatto, torching their upstate New York home. Martin’s daughter Ella (Rush) is studying at a boarding school in Switzerland. Addison is eager to tie up loose ends, and sends his goons after Ella. Lucas takes it upon himself to protect Ella, who vows vengeance upon Addison. Because of Addison’s wealth and influence, he is untouchable. With Lucas as her guide, Ella goes to great lengths to wreak vengeance upon Addison, in a mission that takes the pair from Switzerland to France to the United Kingdom.

The Hunter’s Prayer is based on Kevin Wignall’s novel For the Dogs. The film was shot from late 2014 to early 2015, and appears to have sat on the shelf for a while. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but it’s hard to look at the poster featuring Worthington and Rush looking serious in front of a rack of guns and not think “generic action thriller”. That same poster calls Jonathan Mostow, who helmed Terminator 3 and Surrogates, a “visionary director”, which is cause for stifling laughter.

Mostow adopts dreary post-Bourne spy movie sensibilities in telling what amounts to your typical hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold tale. The Hunter’s Prayer was shot in Hungary and England, but the European locations are deliberately deprived of substantial glamour, so this doesn’t come off as a scenic James Bond-style travelogue. The action sequences are nothing to write home about, with a cliffside car chase early in the film generating the most excitement.

The adjective “bland” is often used to describe Worthington, who seemed poised for superstardom after Avatar, but then James Cameron took too long in prepping the sequel. To his credit, Worthington takes the role of Lucas quite seriously, and musters up as much intensity as he can playing the tortured hitman. While Lucas is deadly and efficient, he is also shackled by a crippling drug addiction. Much as Worthington tries, the character is too bound by genre clichés to be distinct, or for the audience to care too much about him.

There’s a legacy of action films in which young girls play the lead or co-lead, including The Professional, Kick-Ass, Hanna and recently Logan. Rush won the role after the initially-cast Hailee Steinfeld dropped out due to scheduling issues. The Hunter’s Prayer is meant to be grounded, so Ella doesn’t possess any wild combat proficiency. She’s spoiled and sheltered, but is sympathetic because she’s been neglected by her father and packed off to boarding school. The trajectory of the bond that forms between Ella and Lucas is predictable, and while Rush isn’t outright annoying in the role, Ella should be easier to root for than she is.

Leech’s Addison is the typical corporate creep villain, a wealthy tycoon who delegates the dirty work to his minions. Leech does have some fun with the role and indulges in a spot of moustache-twirling, but like most everything about The Hunter’s Prayer, he just doesn’t stand out. There’s a hint of intrigue in the severe way in which Addison treats his son, but that isn’t sufficiently explored. Compston, whose Metzger is supposed to be an utterly scary henchman, isn’t as intimidating as he needs to be. Landecker’s crooked FBI agent is meant to add a layer of intrigue to the proceedings, but not enough is done with her insidiousness.

The Hunter’s Prayer has a little more polish than your run-of-the-mill straight-to-DVD action flick, but it’s an almost completely joyless enterprise. Whether it’s the bottled-up emotions, the inner conflict, the child who is ripped from their innocent existence or the car chases and shootouts, anything you’ll see in The Hunter’s Prayer has been done considerably better elsewhere.

Summary: Sam Worthington takes his role more seriously than he must, but that doesn’t help The Hunter’s Prayer rise out of the straight-to-video action flick doldrums.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Goosebumps

For F*** Magazine

GOOSEBUMPS

Director : Rob Letterman
Cast : Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Dylan Minnette, Ryan Lee, Ken Marino, Halston Sage
Genre : Horror/Adventure
Opens : 29 October 2015
Rating : PG (Frightening Scenes)
A malicious menagerie of monsters is tearing free of the confines of the written page in this comedy-horror adventure. Zach (Minnette) and his mother Gale (Ryan) move from New York to Madison, Delaware, where his mother is taking up a position as the new vice-principal at the local high school. Zach befriends his neighbour Hannah (Rush), daughter of the secretive children’s horror author R.L. Stine (Black). Stine makes it clear that he wants Zach to stay away from Hannah, but Zach suspects that Hannah might be in danger from her father. Together with his new friend from school, goofy misfit Champ (Lee), Zach breaks into Stine’s house and unlocking the original Goosebumps manuscripts, unwittingly unleashes sheer havoc. It turns out that the creatures Stine has written about actually exist, with the sinister ventriloquist’s dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) leading the charge. It is up to Stine, Hannah, Zach and Champ to re-capture them and save the town from supernatural devastation. 
Robert Lawrence Stine’s Goosebumps series is massively successful and something of a cultural touchstone, spanning 62 books, numerous spin-offs and a TV show. Combining the spooky and the funny, many kids who were in middle school in the 90s regard Goosebumps as a nostalgic favourite. After a feature film adaptation failed to materialise in the late 90s with Tim Burton attached to produce, we finally have a Goosebumps movie. The screenplay, re-written by Darren Lemke from a draft by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, takes a tongue-in-cheek meta-fictional approach. The germ of the idea, with a fictionalised Stine trying to wrangle his creations after they’ve run amok, is a clever starting point and also lets the filmmakers cram all the fan-favourite characters, from the Mummy of Prince Kho-Ru to Murder the Clown to the giant praying mantis, into the movie. 
Apart from a pretty neat central twist, things go very predictably indeed. Goosebumps does what it says on the tin: there are laughs and tame scares and an okay, if not great, time is to be had by all. It does feel like a Disney Channel original movie with marginally better production values, and despite some moments of meta humour, it’s very formulaic. The visual effects lack polish and many of the CGI-created creatures are far from convincing. Perhaps the reasoning is that kids won’t be too picky about that sort of thing, but then again, kids today are used to the level of visual effects seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The most effectively creepy monster is Slappy the Dummy himself, and it is a good move to have him as the evil mastermind. This is due in no small part to the fact that Slappy is a physical puppet instead of a synthetic digital critter. Presumably a vestige of Burton’s involvement, there’s composer Danny Elfman doing a spot of self-parody with a very Elfman-y score indeed.
The cast of characters is as standard for a kid-aimed adventure flick as they come: there’s the new kid, the girl he has a crush on, the goofy best friend, the well-meaning, sometimes-embarrassing mum, the adult with a mysterious secret that the kids uncover, etc. Minnette is not spectacularly interesting to watch, but he doesn’t project that self-conscious “I’m so cool” vibe most teen actors have. Rush is very appealing, looking more and more like Mila Kunis each time she appears in a new movie. Lee has been typecast as the dorky kid, but we’ll be darned if he isn’t the complete embodiment of that trope. 
Of course, the big draw is Black, whose Stine starts out creepy but eventually becomes more sympathetic as we root for him to regain control over the terrifying denizens that populate his books. Stine’s contempt for another famous horror author is the source of some of the movie’s funniest jokes. Goosebumps reunites Black with director Rob Letterman, who also helmed Gulliver’s Travels. Thankfully, Goosebumps is less cringe-worthy than Gulliver’s Travels. Black’s having fun, but doesn’t go too over the top. Black also voices Slappy and the Invisible Boy – his delivery as Slappy is a cross between the Crypt-Keeper and Mark Hamill’s Joker, distinctive and entertaining. 
Genuinely enjoyable kids’ adventure flicks such as The Goonies, Monster Squad and of course E.T.: The Extraterrestrial have kind of gone out of fashion, with young adult novel adaptations taking their place. Super 8, in which Lee also had a role, is probably the closest we’ve come to that in recent years. Goosebumps falls short of that magic, but it’s evident that the filmmakers do have a fondness for the source material and with this premise, they manage to wrap their arms around the vast number of stories in the book series and capture that overall spirit amiably. It’s hard to argue with the appeal of Jack Black trying to wrest a killer gnome off his face. Look out for the R(ea)L Stine himself in a cameo towards the end of the movie. 
Summary: Goosebumps is largely an unremarkable, generic kids’ adventure, but the target demographic will be entertained and the meta-fictional approach does work. 
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong