Five Lines on Five Films, Including Lady Bird and Coco

Lady Bird actress Saoirse Ronan, left, won Best Actress at the Golden Globes

Just in time for your arctic viewing pleasure, here’s a quick take on five new flicks, three we saw in theatres and two documentaries viewed while home on the couch.  Since Lady Bird was a top winner at the Golden Globes on Sunday (Best Motion Picture and Best Actress), let’s start there. 

Lady Bird – 1 hr. 34 mins

  1. Just how does a teenage movie – with much of the angst and drama that typically accompanies such masterpieces – become one of the best movies of 2017? When the acting is so good, the story portrayed so genuinely, that the short-lived romances, shifting friendships, and strained mother-daughter relationship don’t seem clichéd, trivialized, or overdone.
  2. Our very real high school heroine does have a goal: to attend college 3,000 miles from home in NYC – it is pure enjoyment to witness the drama that seems to be around every bend (the troubled teen throws herself from the car in the opening scene), as “Lady Bird” pursues her dream while navigating the ups and downs of life with her peers and family in Sacramento.
  3. Two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, with her outstanding and self-possessed portrayal of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, has already landed the 2018 Best Actress Award by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Golden Globes.
  4. And there’s speculation that the 23-year-old will receive her second Best Actress nomination from the Academy Awards (she received the Best Actress nod at age 21 for “Brooklyn,”) again this year.
  5. Ryan Gosling, who worked with Ronan in 2014, has labeled her a ‘genius’ and even called her ‘the new Meryl Streep’ – apparently Gosling is one of the rare few who is also able to pronounce her Irish name.

Coco 1 hr. 45 min.

  1. The fast-paced Coco is a charming, moving film of vivid colors and graphical magic, an animated number that pound for pound is the best in this bunch (granted, hard to fairly compare all these apples and bananas).
  2. This Disney/Pixar effort beautifully conveys the special reverence for family and faith and heritage at the heart of Mexican culture and identity.
  3. Chasing a musical dream far away from his family’s shoe business, 12-year-old Miguel finds himself transported to a bizarre and comical land of the dead, facing a kind of Marty McFly Back to the Future-scenario: he must get back home before the Dia de los Muertos comes to a close or he’ll be consigned to exist forever among the non-living.
  4. Coco is straightforward but clever, clever but not cute; as far as films in its class go it thankfully is not preachy or pretentious or maudlin.
  5. This film engages on the big ticket issues of the afterlife, spiritual-based beliefs and the essential import of family and intergenerational love and connectivity – ideas the industry too rarely dares to explore in an meaningful or serious way, so Coco’s success hopefully will show there is a market of paying customers happy to line up for one of those giant reclining seats at Brandywine Town Center.

Gianni Agnelli, the charismatic head of FIAT, was a cultural icon

Agnelli – 1hr. 44 minutes on HBO

  1. The Italian industrialist and Fiat heir Gianni Agnelli was a player’s player – born to incredible wealth, he lived a ridiculous fantasy life of decadence, business accomplishment and political intrigue, setting a stratospheric good-at-many-things-while-being-very-rich-bar that is safer from being reached than the gold in Fort Knox.
  2. This documentary lavishly portrays his social exploits and sexual conquests that included doing lots of cocaine and crashing a Ferrari at high speeds, bedding legendary mid-20th Century café society sirens Anita Ekberg, Pamela Churchill Harriman and … perhaps Jackie O (?we are left to guess), leaping from his helicopter into the Mediterranean and friends’ pools to kick off the season at Cap Ferrat, and the odd day that might include gathering up his cook and a few friends on the jet for lunch in Rome, a quick schuss down the Matterhorn and a late supper in Paris.
  3. Produced by former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, the film plays like a piece from his old “style is everything” magazine: long on glamourous photos and footage of La Dolce Vita and speckled with cheeky testimonials from family members and bold-name pals like Henry Kissinger, but a tad thin on substance.
  4. But to be fair, that substance is important and reasonably well told: sure, he was always impeccably dressed (when not wearing his birthday suit while cruising the Mediterranean on his beloved 82-foot yacht Agneta), but Agnelli was a weighty guy who played a pivotal 1970s role in preventing the murderous Red Brigades from dragging Italy’s already rickety economy into a Bulgarian-like commie paradise.
  5. For all his power and privilege, like all mortals Agnelli could not escape the cruel clutches of human existence – the film depicts his heartbroken slide toward the end following the suicide of his only son after an all-too-short life spent by Agnelli fils vainly trying to get his father’s attention.

Author Joan Didion lived a star-crossed life

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold – Netflix, 1hr. 34 min.

  1. The celebrated author Joan Didion is still with us, thank heavens, and this documentary brings us a spry, earthy whisp of a woman, now clocking in at 83 years and about as many pounds – one hopes she isn’t caught off guard and unescorted in a strong Manhattan gale.
  2. Didion is one of the great, trenchant observers in contemporary American literature – a less acidic and judgmental Tom Wolfe, writing without guile or pomposity – who with her husband John Gregory Dunne made up the great power couple of the 1960s-70s literary (NYC)/film (Hollywood) scene.
  3. In contrast to the gauzy biopic on Signore Agnelli, if you weren’t already interested in/a fan of Ms. Didion, this film probably won’t be for you; she lived a fascinating, star-crossed life to be sure (Charles Manson, Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones and others make appearances), but she was ultimately a detached, wry watcher and cataloguer of the action vs. being a “doer” in the thick of it.
  4. Her nephew Griffin Dunne – the actor (early credits include Nighshift and American Werewolf in London– two great ones!) and son of her late brother-in-law Dominick Dunne – made this film about his aunt with the help of a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $200,000.
  5. Dunne rhetorically queries at the top of the show why his aunt’s life had not yet been examined in this form but his documentary – although speckled with worthy moments – shows it can be hard to translate the life of a writer into compelling content in the medium.

An all-star cast in ‘Orient Express,’ including Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh

Murder on the Orient Express – 1 hr. 54 mins

  1. By the way, first off, how about a cheer for these movies all running under two hours? That’s a welcome development in modern cinematography after seemingly being stuck with skads of 150+ minute shows.
  2. Kenneth Branagh directed this film and he also leads an all-star cast (including Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judy Dench and Penelope Cruz – do they all still qualify as “all star”? I thought Depp actually did OK with a weak role), playing Agatha Christie’s legendary detective Hercule Poirot.
  3. Hard to pinpoint exactly where this remake of Sidney Lumet’s 1974 original went off the rails (ahem) but from the first churn of the steam engine the movie didn’t seem sure how it would go about distinguishing itself from what was a superbly done film featuring Albert Finney as a Poirot with real gravitas and a genuine A team cast including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vannessa Redgrave, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset and Anthony Perkins.
  4. Which leaves you wondering what the point was – if you are remaking a film of that quality, shouldn’t you have a clear idea of how you are going to improve on the True Gen?
  5. With a lack of character or plot development, “Murder” left us confused about the significance of the bloody crime at the heart of the film and caring little about who would be fingered for the deadly act (well, actually since we saw the original we knew how it ended, but still…) and feeling a bit like the real point of the train was to carry the studio’s mail.

 

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About the Contributor

Michael Fleming

Michael Fleming

Wilmington resident Michael Fleming is a marketing and communications executive.

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