Tag: coming of age

Movie Review: Lady Bird

Lady Bird

I guess we’ve reached the point where 9/11 sight gags are funny. At one point in Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, there’s a montage of fun stuff that happens during the titular character’s senior year at a Catholic High School in Sacramento. During the montage there’s a quick insert of a character giving a speech and behind her hangs an accurately cutesy pushpin bulletin board that features the old slogan, “9/11: Never Forget” in sparkly bubble letters. I laughed at it, then I thought about why that shot got that reaction from me. Part of it is the specificity and authenticity to 2002, one of this film’s strongest selling points, and part of it is the juxtaposition between that serious message and the silly events that surround it. But the element of that quick shot that stood out most to me was the difference in how I felt about that saying in 2002 and how I feel about it 15 years later. Lady Bird is about 4 years older than I was in 2002 but even in late middle school I felt a deep and serious calling to never forget the events of that day. I guess I haven’t forgotten 9/11 half my life later but it feels much less central to my definition of myself than it did at the time. There are all kinds of reasons for this change, from the mere passage of time to the reckoning one must do with the way we responded to the attack (the film also pays attention to this, at least in the background), and I think it is probably a good thing to not have terrorism on my mind 24/7 anymore. Lady Bird isn’t about 9/11, but Gerwig’s film does address all of these other ideas. Its conflict is a fraught mother/daughter relationship among various other high-school-finding-yourself drama and it is so invested in the details of the fights, the way they’ve grown imperceptibly until they explode into month-long silences, that it is very easy to get wrapped up in them. But I grew out of that kind of stuff long ago and Lady Bird is likely to as well. So why look at them? Because those feelings and fights mattered, and the way we think about them now is related to how we thought about them then. Like 9/11, see?


Movie Review: The Long Day Closes

The Long Day Closes is a strange film. It is a movie about a boy who watches. He doesn’t see or look, he watches. This boy, called Bud in the film but I don’t know if that’s a nickname or his given name, loves going to the movies to escape his mid 1950’s life in Liverpool, England. When he goes he can just watch and get a story. Everything makes sense there and nobody does anything off script. That’s not to say that Bud’s life is filled with trauma. He gets bullied at school a little, and he can’t hang out with his older brothers and sisters as much as he’d like to. In fact, when he’s not at a movie he treats his window like a screen unto the world. He sits and watches as people go about their days and it rains and new buildings get erected and old buildings crumble. He sees everybody and constructs them into a film of his own, including a score for every scene and even some borrowed dialogue from movies like Meet Me in St. Louis. Early on he daydreams about a ship sailing by instead of paying attention in class. It’s a majestic moment, but it’s not typical of the film. You won’t find many flights of fancy here. What you will find is a beautiful and engrossing film about growing up and out of things.

There’s a lot for a guy like me to empathize with in Bud. I, too, like to watch. I like to construct people into characters playing out their roles for my enjoyment. I like to watch people do whatever it is that they are doing and make up the “why” for their “what.” For the most part, A Long Day Closes invites us to imagine what Bud is imagining. It doesn’t show us his creations, his scenes. We see him watching and we watch along with him but he never voices his thoughts. The film moves at a slow pace and lasts for only 85 minutes, but that’s enough time for us to know Bud and know what it’s like to be him. He struggles with his religion and sexuality and his watching and creating is enough to convey this. We see him pose his family as the Last Supper at Christmastime. We see him praying and then imagining the nails being driven into Jesus’s hands. It’s the epitome of show, don’t tell.

And how glorious the showing is. The film is full of long shots that move slowly but deliberately towards a subject. Seasons change in a minutes-long shot of carpet as the light shines and then fades, shines and fades again. It opens with a long shot of a street and pouring rain. The shot lasts for a whole song (Nat King Cole singing “Stardust”) and the camera moves down the street, seemingly war-torn, and up into Bud’s house. It feels like it’s raining in there too. Later in the film we hear a part of a lecture about erosion and the many forms it can take. It closes with a dream-like vision of death (or something). As the erosion lecture continues Bud enters the basement of his house and it looks like a bomb has exploded there. The debris is strewn and more falls in from the top of the shot. Bud looks around and then enters a dark doorway. If this film is autobiographical (it is both written and directed by Terence Davies) we can assume that he didn’t literally die, but maybe his childhood is dead. The movies teach us to be optimistic. Usually things work out in the end (and the end is only two hours away, if that). Maybe the ending is Bud realizing that movies aren’t showing us the world as it is, the world as he wants – wills – it to be. The movies present a kind of faux reality, the same faux reality that school and religion present us. The parallel between these three institutions is beautifully expressed in a series of overhead dolly shots that fade between the theater and school room and church pews, everywhere that pretend to give the answers about how everything works. It’s after this series of shots that Bud enters his destroyed basement and then the doorway to nothing. He has been torn down, entering somewhere he can’t even see into. It’s the scariest thing somebody who watches everything can do.

Movie Review: Hanna

I just want her to stop saying vomitorium, alright?

What’s half fairy tale, half revenge movie, and half coming-of-age film? Hanna! And, to ruin the surprise, it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year. It’s not perfect, it’s not unimpeachable, but it’s a load of fun and has a grace and style that propels it past any negative points.

Hanna is the latest film from director Joe Wright, whose earlier Atonement had a lot going for it but never quite congealed into something great. He brings back the breakout star of that film, Saoirse Ronan, to play the title character, a girl raised by her dad (a serviceable Eric Bana) in the snowy wilderness somewhere in Europe. He didn’t just teach her how to play with dolls, though. Her lesson plan includes hunting, multiple languages, combat training, and a story about an evil woman who would kill her. Of course, she can’t stay hidden away in the frozen Tundra, so she activates a beacon which tells the evil woman where she is. What follows is a cat-and-mouse movie where the cat and the mouse change positions and sometimes chase their own tails.

The things that Atonement did right, namely the directorial flourishes and sense of pace and acting, are all done even better here. Hanna is a wild romp through Europe complete with strange campsites and even stranger abandoned amusement parks. The sense of location weighs heavy on Hanna’s shoulders. She’s never been away from her house in the woods and everything is new to her, enhancing the already strong feeling of being out of place. She never stays in the same place for long, but each spot is extremely evocative and you get the feeling that a whole movie could take place at every one of them and there’d still be more to film. In an early prison-break scene a cold-war era building gives Hanna plenty of places to hide from the bad guys and Wright a plethora of backgrounds for his frenetic and inventive camera work. This isn’t one of those super shaky action movies, but the action doesn’t slow down at all. I had no trouble following what was happening in the action scenes, which makes sense, because that’s what Hanna feels most comfortable doing. It’s during the scenes where normal human interaction happens that Hanna feels out of place, and the camera bears that out. Wright manages to get in one of those long takes in here, too, and this one is even more awesome than the one in Atonement.

The problem with Hanna is probably in the character motivations. There’s no real reason for Hanna to hate what amounts to the Evil Stepmother character, played marvelously by Cate Blanchett, outside her father’s brainwashing. Everything works from scene to scene but you just kind of have to accept everybody’s motivations from the get-go and everything will work fine from there. There’s a particularly wonderful set of scenes involving a vacationing British family that are hilarious and sad at the same time. It’s the life Hanna should have had but never will. I love the ending of this movie, also. The location, the direction, the acting, everything works. It’s a spectacular scene, one of the best of the year.

Hanna is a strong, intelligent young woman. A real role model, if such a thing exists. She’s kind of like Alice, wandering through a weird world where little makes sense. Alice with a bow and arrow. And a rocking score by The Chemical Brothers. And people trying to kill her.

Hanna – Directed by Joe Wright

Movie Review: Submarine (2010)

I’ve seen Richard Ayoade in a few things including The IT Crowd, a hilarious Britcom where he plays a socially awkward IT guy of the highest order. He is brilliant in the show but it didn’t prepare me for his superb directorial prowess. He directed the superb Pulp Fiction/My Dinner With Andre episode of Community earlier this year but even that didn’t let on just how good Ayoade is behind the camera. If there is one thing that Submarine has going for it, it’s the supreme technical craft of the film. Everything looks right, feels right, acts right. It’s a subjective film, we only see the events through the lens of Oliver Tate, and as such Ayoade is free to break reality as often as he wants. When Oliver mentions in an early voice over that this moment would be best suited to a rising crane shot but that the film of his life would only have the budget for a zoom out the frame predictably zooms out, even a bit awkwardly. People freeze while the camera moves and when his father talks about “being underwater” the next shot shows him hunched below the large fish tank previously hidden off-screen. But is that enough? Does the story work beyond the technical achievements?

Well, kinda. Mostly. Probably. Yes? The problem (or not) is that Oliver Tate needs a good slap in the face. He’s got a big ego with little to back it up. He’s the victim of bullying but bullies others in order to get the attention of a girl, Jordana Bevan. And she’s not immune to emotional problems. Their relationship seems to be based on doing as little as possible that could be perceived as actual fun. Or love. The practically torture each other, even though they both want to be with each other. It makes for difficult viewing. I just wanted to go into the screen and sit them down for a little heart to heart in the early goings. Tell them that they need to stop being so pretentious. Stop acting so uninterested in everything. Just enjoy things. Luckily, the film does that for me after the first section. With the reintroduction of Oliver’s mom’s old flame creating marital strife and Jordana’s mom having brain cancer these two teenagers are forced to deal with issues outside themselves. They’re kicked out of their own world and into reality, as much as they try to resist.

The acting in this film is phenomenal. Even if I didn’t care for the two romantic leads (Oliver and Jordana), their actors (Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige) perform them quite well. The adult actors play their roles well, too. Paddy Considine (pictured above rocking the silliest haircut I’ve seen outside a Coen brothers film) brings a kind of quiet humanity to a role that could have been over the top and silly, the spiritual new-age-y motivational speaker that used to date Sally Hawkins‘ Jill Tate (Oliver’s mom) before she married Noah Taylor‘s Lloyd Tate. This couple totally works. You can see why they were a good match for each other – the idea of Noah Taylor’s depressed, scraggly professor ripping his sweater vest off to woo Hawkins’ neurotic wannabe actress is one of the funniest images in the film, even though it’s not shown because they bring so much depth to such lifeless characters – and why they are drifting apart. This is where Oliver and Jordana could end up if they aren’t careful. So trapped in their own ways that seemingly nothing can break them out of their idiosyncrasies.

In fact, for all of my misgivings about the early parts of the film (which are spectacularly done, I must reiterate. I just couldn’t stand the characters), this story develops into something with real heart. It is, after all, a coming of age story – a bildungsroman, if you’ll allow me an English major word and let me justify the title of this blog – and Oliver and Jordana develop into better people. They understand that there is more than just their inner lives and that sometimes people screw up. They learn that relationships of any kind are hard to sustain and that the outcome is worth the effort. When the film ends you have hope that these two, and even the three adults, will be able to live with a little bit more compassion instead of the empty affectations they put on in the early goings. And it’s also quite funny. There are clever jokes and character moments and even filmmaking techniques that make the film flow with a quick wit and a quicker pace. Not since Edgar Wright‘s Hot Fuzz have I seen the kinds of filmic jokes found in this movie. It’s always good to see a joke whose punchline is a cut instead of an actual line. Ayoade’s technical and, more importantly, emotional awareness makes him a writer and director to watch out for.

Submarine (2010) – Written and directed by Richard Ayoade