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There have been a lot of Little Women film adaptations. Most of you who go to the movies or watch them on TV are probably most familiar with the 1994 adaptation that starred Winona Ryder; the little vampire from Interview With the Vampire; and Batman. I recall liking that one. I mean, it had Batman and Vampire Girl in it, for God’s sake. And the girl from Beetlejuice!

Now comes the umpteenth adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel—and it’s safe to say this one is the best adaptation of the story. Ever. Directed by rising directorial juggernaut Greta Gerwig (the magnificent, ultra-fantastic Lady Bird), who has a vision with her films that declares, “Hey, we aren’t screwing around here!” her third feature effort is a stunner across the board.

It’s a beautiful thing to look at due to some of the year’s best art direction and camerawork. It’s chock full of tremendous performances, and it’s written and directed by Gerwig, whose vision makes this an admirable update of a precious work.

Saoirse Ronan, who also starred in Lady Bird, headlines as Jo March, eldest sister of the March clan, which also includes Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Ronan, not surprisingly, makes the intrepid character of Jo her own; she’s a budding writer who is trying to get her ideas past a crusty editor (Tracy Letts, who had a damn fine 2019).

Gerwig, in a departure from past adaptations, focuses more on the girls as adults, with flashbacks to their younger days. As a result, she has chosen not to cast Amy with two different actresses. Pugh, who is well into her 20s, plays Amy at every stage, even falling through the ice as a pre-teen. I’d say that was an odd choice, but the other choice would have meant less screen time for Pugh, and I say a big “no” to that. She doesn’t look like she’s 12, but who cares? She’s a master in every scene.

Timothée Chalamet steps in for Batman as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, and there couldn’t have been a better choice for the role. His first dance with Jo, where they go a little crazy outside on a porch alone during a party, is as timeless as movie dancing gets. Chalamet has such skill and charm with every line delivery that not a single second of his movie time is wasteful.

My one minor quibble with the film: Gerwig is so damned ambitious with the way she shows the many timelines—out of chronological order—that there were definitely moments when I was a little confused. Again, it’s a minor quibble, because even though Little Women is occasionally confusing, it is always enjoyable.

Filmmakers: This is how you do a period piece, dammit. It’s a fresh take that makes you feel like you are seeing a story for the first time, even when you’ve seen that story multiple times before. This Little Women also transports you to another time—and it doesn’t hurt to have Meryl Streep (as Aunt March) in your period piece. Always a good thing.

Driving it all home are characters you root for, played by one of 2019’s greatest ensembles. All hail Greta Gerwig for bringing this group together in delightful, superbly entertaining fashion.

Up next for Gerwig? Possibly a Barbie movie with Margot Robbie. I am curious to see how that one pans out. It’s going to be interesting if it moves forward … because films are always interesting when Greta Gerwig is at the helm.

Little Women is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Partially inspired by real events, and partially inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare, Netflix film The King features Timothée Chalamet as Hal, King Henry V of England—and it’s a barnburner of an acting turn.

Chalamet has made a name for himself by playing complicated, quiet characters, but this role gives him a chance to rage on occasion—and he’s more than up to the task. Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the screenplay) is on hand as Falstaff, Hal’s complicated right-hand man, and Robert Pattinson once again shows that he just might be the finest actor of his generation with a brave and crazy performance as The Dauphin of France. Simply put: Pattinson’s accent is one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed in a movie this year, as is his final stunt in full armor.

Director David Michod stages some fine action scenes, and Lily-Rose Depp makes a nice late-film appearance as Catherine, Hal’s bride-to-be—who will not stand for any of his toxic-masculinity bullshit.

Chalamet and Pattinson impress the most in this grand experiment of a period-piece film. I want a sequel.

The King is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is an uncompromising, brutal Western. It makes Clint Eastwood’s classic, somber Unforgiven look like Mary Poppins.

Christian Bale turns in another spellbinding performance as Capt. Joseph J. Blocker. Joe—a quiet, tired, jaded soldier—is spending the closing days of his military career in 1892 capturing and imprisoning Native Americans. He has fought many battles, seen many atrocities, and committed many of his own.

When aging and terminally ill Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) is granted freedom by the president of the United States, somebody who knows his dialect must be chosen to escort him and his family back to Montana. Joe is the best candidate for the job … but it’s a job he doesn’t want: Joe fought against Yellow Hawk and witnessed him murdering his friend many years ago. The idea of leading a man he sees as the worst of murderers to a graceful death in Montana doesn’t appeal to him; in a scene as tense as any other filmed last year, he says so to his colonel (Stephen Lang) and a stuffy bureaucrat (Bill Camp, who occupies one of the few characters in the film that qualifies as cartoonish). This scene makes it clear that Joe is going to rank among Bale’s best performances … and the movie has barely begun.

Actually, Cooper establishes the unrelenting darkness of the film before the title credit. Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) is seen teaching her young children what adverbs are as her husband tends to their farm. In an instant, Rosalie’s family life is decimated by Comanche bandits, who kill her husband and all of her children.

Joe, having no real choice but to lead Yellow Hawk to his homeland (his colonel threatens his pension), reluctantly sets out on the journey with the dying chief, the chief’s family (which includes the terrific Adam Beach and Q’orianka Kilcher) and a handful of soldiers. He then stumbles upon a destroyed Rosalie and her dead family at their burned-out homestead. He takes her into their traveling party—a gesture that possibly starts to awaken a decent human being within himself.

Cooper, who also wrote the screenplay, avoids sermonizing, and opts for a film that takes its sweet time delivering its message. The movie is far from predictable, and nobody in the cast is safe. That cast includes soldiers played by Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird), Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad) and impressive relative unknown Jonathan Majors. Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused) is a true standout as a longtime fellow soldier of Joe who is battling “the melancholia.”

Adding to one of 2017’s greatest—and most underrated—acting ensembles is Ben Foster, who shows up late in the film as Charles, an imprisoned soldier handed off to Joe mid-journey. It’s Joe’s job to lead the murderous Charles to the gallows; in an undeniable way, Charles represents the horrors of Joe’s past ways. It’s no surprise that this results in more than one tensely acted scene between Foster and Bale.

Pike, who hasn’t done much since her bravura performance in Gone Girl, shows devastating grace and beauty as the mother who loses everything. She makes Rosalie a true symbol of human resilience during harrowing times. Studi is pure brilliance as Yellow Hawk, saying everything with his majestic, chiseled face. He has a moment with Bale near the film’s end that is heartbreaking and beautiful.

How Max Richter’s haunting soundtrack failed to garner an Oscar nomination is beyond me. Also delivering top-notch work is cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who has helped make one of 2017’s better looking films.

Bale deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in this film. Joe is the sort of complicated, wounded character at which he excels, and Bale’s work with Cooper (they also partnered on Out of the Furnace) continues to be one of cinema’s more compelling partnerships.

While Hostiles is far from a fun time at the movies, it’s an essential film for those who like their history served with a fair share of truth and tragedy.

Hostiles is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Call Me by Your Name is one of 2017’s better love stories—a sumptuously filmed romance set in Italy that is a thing of beauty. Lush settings, stunning locations and two adorable leads in Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet contribute to a sweet, and heartbreaking, story by André Aciman (who wrote the novel), with a screenplay by James Ivory.

In an Oscar-nominated performance, Chalamet plays Elio, an American living in Italy with his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg). When his father takes an assistant in the form of Oliver (Hammer), Elio is smitten—and so is the older Oliver. They wind up having a fling that carries deep meaning for them, and for those who know them.

Chalamet (who was also terrific in Lady Bird) makes Elio so much more than a confused teen in love; this guy is really in love in a way that will affect his entire life, and the viewer feels it. Hammer continues to evolve as an actor, and this is his best work yet; he also gets high scores for his stellar dance moves whenever somebody plays the Psychedelic Furs. But as good as the two leads are, my vote for the best scene in the film goes to the underrated Stuhlbarg, who has a speech relating to his son that is an absolute showstopper.

Call Me by Your Name is a sweet movie that features an end credits sequence that, well, just says it all.

Call Me by Your Name is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Greta Gerwig makes her solo directorial debut with Lady Bird, a semi-autobiographical look at her life growing up in Sacramento—and she immediately establishes herself as a directing force to be reckoned with.

Saoirise Ronan, who should’ve won an Oscar for Brooklyn, will likely get another chance for her turn as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, an artistic Sacramento youth who yearns for the East Coast and some distance from her domineering mom (Laurie Metcalf). This is a coming-of-age story like no other thanks to the insightful writing and brisk directorial style of Gerwig, who makes Lady Bird’s story consistently surprising.

Ronan’s Lady Bird is a rebel with a good heart—a theater geek who stinks at math—but she’s on an emotional rollercoaster. She also gets a lot of laughs, especially in her showdowns with Metcalf, who has never been better.

Lucas Hedges, on a roll after Manchester by the Sea and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is funny and sad as one of Lady Bird’s young love interests, while Odeya Rush is golden as Lady Bird’s best friend, Jenna. Tracy Letts is perfect as the nice dad dealing with warring factions in the household, while Timothée Chalamet (currently racking up awards for Call Me by Your Name) is perhaps the biggest laugh-getter as another love interest, the aloof Kyle.

Lady Bird is a triumph for Ronan and Gerwig, and while it would never happen, I’d love to see a sequel about Lady Bird’s college years.

Lady Bird is showing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews