Welcome to the calm before the holiday storm, that big breath you suck in, and hold, before dropping into something gnarly.
It's a slow week at the Village 8, but Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens next Thursday and once that happens everything will become a blur (especially if you are working in the local service industry). Which means right now is a good time to take in some character-driven award-season bait, and Lady Bird fits the bill. It's also the only new flick opening.
The mainstream directorial debut of actress turned writer-director Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Wiener-Dog) Lady Bird is a "growing-up-sucks" comedy with equal doses of zest, heart and grade-A acting talent, led by Saoirse Ronan (Byzantium, Brooklyn) as an about-to-graduate Catholic school girl with a penchant for doing things her own way, despite badly wanting to fit in.
Set in Sacramento in 2002-03 (which is right after Britney Spears stopped dating Justin Timberlake, if you need a cultural reference point), Lady Bird follows Ronan as she navigates the realities of knowing there's a better world out there, but feeling like it may be out of reach. Amidst an impressive script and rock solid supporting cast, Ronan's "Lady Bird" (her given name — she gave it to herself) battles with her hardworking and equally quick-witted mother, crushes on the (semi) emotionally intelligent boy from the school up the road, rants, raves, and ditches her friends in hopes of advancement. Cue the valuable life lesson.
However, despite being set in and amongst a plethora of familiar teen-flick scenarios, Lady Bird soars on Gerwig's ability to mix relatable, adolescent feelings into characters that feel utterly unique and personal. Reminiscent of classics like Rushmore and Juno, Lady Bird finds the heart in the most important, and most trivial, moments of teenage life. This one will be making some noise come awards time and don't be surprised to see first-timer Gerwig on the list for Best Screenplay and Best Picture Oscars. Catch Lady Bird this week, while you can. It's one of the year's best.
On the small screen, both Dunkirk and It will be available to stream before Christmas but there's not much new this week. Instead, dig up these documentaries about a couple of legends: Heath Ledger on the silver screen and Bert Burns in the recording studio.
Made for TV and released last May, I Am Heath Ledger revisits the life of the beloved actor, who tragically passed away at age 28, just months before the world saw his (now legendary) portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. (Ledger would later posthumously win an Oscar for the performance.)
Traditional, doc-style interviews with Ledger's friends, colleagues and family (with the exception of actress and former partner Michelle Williams), are cut amongst unseen home video footage Heath shot by himself, of himself. On set, at home, and making little thriller flicks about hotel room service, Heath's first-person video diaries serve up an inside look at a true creative spirit who burned too bright to last. Checking out I Am Heath Ledger will likely spin you back into Brokeback Mountain, A Knight's Tale, Monster's Ball and of course The Dark Knight. It's not easy to dethrone Jack Nicholson as "Best Joker Ever," and Ledger explains how he did it (he designed the makeup by himself too!). There's a version of this flick on Vimeo.
BANG! The Bert Burns Story recounts the life of a guy very few people know about, but everyone knows his work. Straight off the mean streets of New York City in the 1960s, Burns was an ace record producer, a visionary label head, and most of all, a genius songwriter. He wrote "Twist and Shout" (for The Isley Brothers, then the Beatles turned it into a bit of a hit) and a veritable shitload of other soul and rock hits including "Piece of My Heart" and "Hang on Sloopy." He also co-wrote "I Want Candy," "Here Comes the Night" and produced Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl."
This one is definitely aimed at the people who read the brackets underneath the song title on their 45s, but there's also some good organized crime tales, golden-era '60s party stories, and Keith Richards calling Burns "one of the greatest bloody songwriters of all time." Bang! is available on iTunes and Apple Music.