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Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Lady Bird is about a 17 year-old girl (played by Saoirse Ronan) dealing with her life and her future, and her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) trying to steer her in the right direction.

Lady Bird is a top contender for this year’s Academy Awards. If you’ve seen it, you can see how this film is not a typical ‘teen movie’ and actually a story with a lot packed in.

Christine McPherson is a frustrated 17 year-old girl living in Sacramento in 2002. She has a stormy relationship with her parents as well as her adoptive brother and his girlfriend. To make things more frustrating, she’s put in Catholic school for Grade 12 because there was a shooting at her public school. She appears unclear about her life direction and frequently insists that all people refer to her as ‘Lady Bird,’ including family.

Starting school, she has a close friendship with Julie Steffans whom she joins the drama club with. Through the club, she meets a sweet talented boy named Danny O’Neill. They soon start dating and they appear to be a match made in heaven until Lady Bird catches Danny in a bathroom stall kissing another boy.

Throughout her time at the school, Lady Bird develops a mean streak of rebelliousness. One minute, she’s consuming Eucharist wafers with Julie. The next, she vandalizes the nuns’ car with a sing saying “Just married to Jesus.” Another moment, she lashes out at a pro-life speaker who visits her school, which leads to a two-week suspension. This leads to a lot of friction with her friend Julie who sees her as one who does things for attention.

During this time, it all leads to a lot of friction with her mother Marion, who has a lot of high expectations for Lady Bird and her life, especially with applying for colleges. Marion often feels that Lady Bird lacks goals or appears like she doesn’t want to do anything meaningful with her life. Marion feels that way because she had to work hard to achieve. This generation gap appears to Lady Bird that her mother is an interference to her life and her own goals. To make family struggles worse, her father loses his job and is struggling with depression.

Lady Bird tries to escape from those headaches. She gets a job at a cafe where she meets Kyle Schieble, a boy from school she knows is part of a rock band. She strays away from Julie and starts hanging out with popular girl Jenna Walton. She sees opportunity after Jenna was reprimanded by the school for wearing short skirts. Thus Lady Bird bring Jenna into the ‘just married to Jesus’ prank. However none of her efforts to mix with the ‘cool kids’ works out. She lied to Jenna about her house so she can fit in, but Jenna finds the truth out. Also she agrees to have sex with Kyle, believing his claim that he’s a virgin, only to find out he’s had other girls before.

As graduation nears, things change for the better for Lady Bird. She gets a letter from a college in New York saying she’s on the waiting list, though she tells her mother she’s been accepted. She’s willing to go shopping for a prom dress with her mother. Her relationship with her brother and his girlfriend gets better as he gets a major job. On prom night, she forsakes a party with Jenna and Kyle to meet up with Julie. There, she rekindles the friendship and they go to the prom together. She even attends Danny’s school performance.

Over at the graduation party, Lady Bird admits to her mother that she was on the waiting list to the university in New York, to which Marion appears either hurt or angry. Lady Bird’s 18th birthday comes soon after. Marion has a letter written for Lady Bird to read when she’s settled in her college dorm. Then it’s the flight to New York. Marion does not talk to Lady Bird, appearing like she’s disappointed with her. Marion even drives away when Lady Bird enters the airport, but cries soon after. It’s in her first month in New York after reading the letter and a near-fatal bout of alcohol poisoning that she leaves a heartfelt message to her mother.

The biggest quality of this film is that it’s a story many people can relate to. Sure, it’s about a 17-year-old tart-tongued girl from Sacramento who’s clueless about which direction to go, but one will find themselves relating to this story. Many can watch what Lady Bird is going through at school, through her job, through falling in love, or through her stormy relationship with her mother and say: “That’s also what I went through,” or “That was my attitude at 17,” or “I knew someone like that.”

One of the things is about the character of Lady Bird is that despite her eccentricities, it also captures the essence of being a seventeen year-old well. Seventeen is that bizarre age where one is just a year away from becoming an adult. It’s a bumpy road as they are in the process of defining one’s self and making choices of what direction in life they want to pursue. We see that in all of the seventeen year-old characters in the film like Julie, the best friend who’s a social misfit, Jenna who thinks she’s too cool, Kyle who thinks he’s all that just like every rock star, and Danny who’s struggling with being gay in a conservative Catholic family.

Lady Bird is at the centre of being seventeen. The character of Lady Bird captures being 17 in a lot of its best traits, but also in some of its worst traits too. Lady Bird is all about her self-definition where she feels she has to find herself in the drama club. Lady Bird is one who also still feels social pressures despite her individualism and tries to fit in with the cool students despite leaving close friends behind. Lady Bird is also about her spiritual confusion too. She wants to be an individual and think for herself, even rebel against the Catholic Church at times, but somehow shows that she longs to believe in a god despite her rebellion.

Lady Bird is also about having that teen frustration towards her parents, especially her mother. In fact, the mother-daughter relationship between Lady Bird and Marion has to be one of the biggest elements of the film, if not the biggest. Lady Bird has desires for her life, but Marion has goals for her. Often Lady Bird feels she has to explode at Marion, but she learns to calm down and have the normal frustration a 17 year-old has to their mother. As for parent-teen relations, the film is also about Marion too. The personalities of Marion and Lady Bird are like oil and water trying to mix. Marion had her own upbringing and her own difficulties resonate in her personality and even how she raises Lady Bird. Marion feels that the best way she can steer Lady Bird down the right path is to tell her off about her misdoings and wrong directions. She has expectations for Lady Bird, but often feels she falls short. Over time, Marion becomes more accepting of Lady Bird, but she does show disappointment when she finds out Lady Bird lied about her application. That scene near the end where Marion is unemotional in the ride to the airport but cries after dropping Lady Bird off is an example of her personality.

I’m sure many people first thought that this film would be about Lady Bird Johnson. The funniest thing about this film is that there is not a single reference to the former First Lady! Not even a case of one of her classmates uttering out: “Hey Lady Bird, where’s LBJ?”

The true star of the film isn’t exactly an actor, but writer/director Greta Gerwig. After years of having an acting career of mixed results, she came up with this story that is not completely biographical. There are some similarities in Lady Bird that tie into Greta’s own teenage years, but Gerwig insists it’s its own story. Whatever the situation, Gerwig did an excellent job of constructing an entertaining story about a 17 year-old that anyone could relate to. I’m sure anyone no matter what race or gender can identify with moments in Lady Bird to moments in their own life at 17.

Additional top kudos go to Saoirse Ronan for delivering a character that is quirky, but shares a lot of common traits of teens. She does an excellent job of making the role of Lady Bird multi-dimensional. Also worthy of praise is the performance of Laurie Metcalf. She succeeds in turning this film into Marion’s story as much as it is Lady Bird’s story. She’s good at capturing the essence of the mother of a teenager both inside and out. She also does a good job of blending in Marion’s own personality traits of hardship and having a hard attitude. Laurie’s also very good at leaving out all traces of Jackie from Roseanne. Fans of the show would be surprised how different she acts here.

The actors in their supporting roles also did a great job of owning their moment. The most noticeable being Beanie Feldstein as the best friend who sometimes appears to be Lady Bird’s better half, Lucas Hedges as a boy who loves to act but is troubled by his sexuality in school, Timothee Chalamet as the teenage bad boy girls drool over but parents hate, Stephen McKinley Henderson as the priest that’s troubled on the inside, Jordan Rodrigues as the brother caught in the middle, and Tracy Letts as the father trying to make sense of it all.

Lady Bird is a quirky and humorous film about a mother-daughter relationship and the difficulties of being seventeen. Despite its off-the-wall humor, it’s also deep and touching and will resonate with the audience.

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Superman Comparison: Man Of Steel Against 1978 Original

Brit Henry Cavill is the latest Superman in the movie Man Of Steel

Brit Henry Cavill is the latest Superman in the latest Superman movie Man Of Steel.

For some odd reason, Hollywood feels it’s time to revamp Superman. Apparently the original from 1978 doesn’t cut it anymore and there needs to be a new Superman. Does Man Of Steel cut it?

Here this isn’t necessarily to be a review of Man Of Steel but more of a comparison to the original Superman from 1978 and I will commonly refer to Man Of Steel as ‘the new movie.’ Superman fans will notice that Man Of Steel is a lot different than the original 1978 version. First off the original movie was the telling of how Superman the legend came to be. It was adventurous and thrilling but it was also light-hearted and funny too. We saw Superman go from the sole survivor of Krypton to growing up to be Clark Kent and then the Man Of Steel. I still remember one of my favorite parts being when Clark is left behind by the football team so he shows them by running home. In the process, he dazzles a 9 year-old Lois Lane who watches him outrun her train.

The new movie is something very different than the original first Superman movie. For one thing you will notice the strife on the planet Krypton as it is about to explode. Instead of dying with the planet, Jor-El is murdered by General Zod just before he and the exiled Kryptonians are to be taken off the planet. Superman’s youth is also shown significantly different as he’s shown as a young child first disturbed with all the human images he sees. Then shown as a life-saver as a teen after a schoolbus plunges in a river. None of which are as light-hearted as the original. One difference that actually added to the new movie was Clark’s work as an adult in various odd jobs such as fisherman or oil rig worker. Even though the original featured Clark only ever working for the Daily Planet, that change from the original was one changed that worked well if not great.

One element the new movie has in common with the original is Jonathan Kent is seen as a positive father figure to Clark as he grows up on Earth. Jonathan’s death in the new movie is different from that of the original. Martha Kent’s portrayal in the new movie however is more different. First difference would be her presence as compared to that in the original; she is way more present her and shown throughout. Back in the original Martha was seen as the mother figure that Superman eventually had to leave behind in order to discover himself and define himself and his existence on Earth. Here in the new movie, Clark doesn’t leave Martha behind and even returning to her in times of crisis often looking to her as one to confide in.

Another difference you’ll notice is Lois Lane’s involvement in this. Just like in the original, Lois is again the one person who can get through to the identity of Superman while the whole world wonders about him and gets a lot more. Lois however is not a colleague of Clark Kent’s because Clark is seen through most of the movie employed outside of the Daily Planet. Nor is Lois seen dating the social awkward Clark in the new movie. Man Of Steel sets Lois’ discovery and involvement in the Superman story right as she’s on top of another story deep in the snowy mountains. It progresses further with each battle Superman has to face to the point the inevitable between the two happen.

Jor-El’s presence is another noticeable difference. Those who remember the original may remember Jor-El as the scientist who launches baby Kal-El to Earth to keep the Kryptonian race alive. Jor-el would be a mentor to Superman as he learns of his identity and of his origins. One thing about Jor-El’s existence to Superman outside of Krypton in the original is that he would only be present to Superman in voice only. Also one will remember from the original is that Superman received from Jor-El the instruction: “It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history.” Here in the new movie, Jor-El makes appearances to Superman in the flesh and even gives him words of encouragement in his interaction with humans: “You can save them… You can save all of them.”

Another noticeable difference is the villain in this. The villains in the movie were the Kryptonians: General Zod and five others. Those were the villains in the second Superman. It almost seemed like the new movie was trying to mix the original first and second movies together. The original had Lex Luthor as the villain with the Kryptonians only seen sent off in their sentencing. Here there’s no presence of Lex. That totally surprised me because I always considered him Superman’s #1 nemesis. It also dampened my hopes as I was hoping to see who Lex Luthor was in this version and what tricks he had up his sleeve. The battles Superman faced too were also more different than in the other two movies. Also in the new movie was the fact that the US Military was growing suspicious of him. Funny because I don’t remember anything about the military and its concerns in the original. In fact the police were very cooperative with Superman and even welcoming of his support.

Even the ending was different. If you remember the original, you’ll remember Superman would circle around Earth to reverse its spin and bring those killed by Lex’s missile including Lois Lane back to life and reverse the damage. I won’t give away all that happens at the end but the most I will say is Lois is not fatally hurt.

Looking at the overall picture of the movie, I have to say that it does not work as well as the original. It’s been a common theme in this millennium to either remake movies or tell tales with a much darker theme. It’s been a common belief that such a thing would work considering movies with dark themes have been hits at the box office. However dark remakes haven’t paid off as well. A darker version of Peter Pan in 2003 didn’t fare as well as it hoped. A darker version of the first Spider-Man movie from last year didn’t do as well as the 2002 original at the box office. And now a darker version of Superman doesn’t fly as well as the 1978 original. It’s like its trade of charm and lightness for a darker edge didn’t pan out as much as they thought. Those unfamiliar with the 1978 original may welcome the new movie but I feel it will disappoint Superman fans.

Outside of comparing Man Of Steel to the original 1978 movie, I would have to say that the movie did have some good acting. Russell Crowe was very good as the mentor Jor-El. Amy Adams was also good as Lois Lane however she gave a Lois that lacked the girl-next-door quality Margot Kidder gave in the original. Henry Cavill did a good turn as Superman but he was meant to have a more dramatic role than that of the light-hearted Superman role Christopher Reeve was given. Diane Lane was good as Martha Kent but she lacked the Midwestern characteristics so it was not easy for me to believe this Martha was from Smallville, Kansas. I can’t really compare the acting of the villains from the original second movie but they were believable as cold and vicious. Hans Zimmer did a score that fit the movie well even if it’s not as memorable as John Williams’ score from the original, especially the opening theme. Zack Snyder has a reputation as being a director of dramas just like Richard Donner and this movie should add to his credit. Also it’s obvious the scriptwriters of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer aimed for a story more intense and more drama driven than that from the six scriptwriters of the original.

If there’s one thing Man Of Steel did surpass the original in, it’s in its action scenes. There’s no question that the action scenes were more sophisticated and more believable and more spellbinding than in the original. Mind you that you have to give the original credit. Back in 1978 they didn’t have the technologies, especially the computer technologies, to create the visual effects we have now. Most of what was done back then had to be done in Hollywood studios and with more effort from set designers and operators than computer operators.

Man Of Steel is like a lot of movie remakes that take a risk out of giving a different version of the original and hope it will pay off for today’s audiences. Sure the effects and action are bigger and better but the story falls short and doesn’t charm as the original. It may be a hit for some but it’s a miss for others, including me. I feel like renting the original from my local DVD store right now.