Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Lady Bird

“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Wonder Wheel,” and “The Man Who Invented Christmas” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

Generations are an interesting topic. The people in them all tend to be defined by certain traits. These traits are painted on with a very large brush using very broad strokes, but there is truth to them. It’s also interesting to note the overlap. For example, the Baby Boomers born in the early 1960s have more in common with the Generation Xers of the mid to late sixties than they do with their fellow Boomers born in the ‘40s or ‘50s. Likewise, there seems to be an overlap in which Millennials born in the ‘80s have more in common with Gen Xers than they do with Millennials born in the ‘90s.

Of course, the defining characteristics of any generation are very simplistic and over-arching, plus they fail to take into account an individual person’s character and experiences. However, they can be useful as general guidelines for a point in the right direction. That’s how I came to reconcile the fact that while the title character of “Lady Bird,” played by Saoirse Ronan in an Oscar nominated role, is a Millennial--a generation known for conformity and obedience—she behaves like a Gen Xer, a generation known for questioning the status quo and not trusting authority. It’s telling that the action of the movie takes place over the course of Lady Bird’s senior year in a Sacramento High School, from 2002 to 2003. She’s seventeen when the movie starts, so she was born in 1985. Now the rebellious streak makes sense.

Who is she rebelling against? Well, for starters there’s her mom (Laurie Metcalf, nominated for an Oscar for this role). The movie opens with the two traveling home by car from a road trip to visit colleges. As the conversation between them morphs from good to bad to awful, it looks like there is no escape and they will simply have to endure each other’s company for the entire ride. Things then take an abruptly shocking turn that I dare not spoil.

Her mom is in no way a bad or mean person. She clearly loves Lady Bird, whose real name is Christine, and wants what’s best for her. The problem is that what mom sees as best and what Lady Bird sees as best are two different things. The main issue between them is college. Mom wants her to go somewhere local, whereas Lady Bird wants to go to an east coast school. She’s tired of Sacramento, which she derisively regards as “the Midwest of California,” and seeks the fast-paced excitement of a city like New York. Compounding the issue is the fact that the family does not have a lot of money and Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) was recently laid off from a job at a tech company. Even if Lady Bird gets her act together so her grades are good enough to get into an east coast school, there is still the whole other issue of paying for it.

Catholicism plays a major role in “Lady Bird” and is another thing that she rebels against. Take every stance that the Catholic church has on gays, pre-marital sex, and abortion, and Lady Bird rebels against it in one way or another. The brilliance of the story by writer-director Greta Gerwig, who is nominated for Oscars in both categories, is that the way those hot button issues are addressed is never preachy or condescending and comes from a place of character. We see the world through Lady Bird’s eyes so that we can sympathize with her and understand why she feels certain ways and says and does certain things, even if we don’t agree with them.

“Lady Bird” is a movie that feels more of its time than it does of our time. In other words, someone who did not know this movie was made in 2017 could easily mistake it for a movie made in the early 2000s. It harkens back to other teenage girl coming of age movies of the era. “My First Mister” from 2001 springs to mind, but there are a few others. I find this movie to be in that vein. These movies have a certain charm and authenticity to them when done well, and “Lady Bird” is definitely done well. Buy it on Amazon: Lady Bird [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

Thor: Ragnarok

Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor in “Thor: Ragnarok,” a much needed breezier outing after the morose “Thor: The Dark World” from 2013. This time he and his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are trapped on Sakaar, a trash-filled alien planet with a gladiator tournament run by a man who calls himself The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). In it, Thor must battle his Avengers ally Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and with the help of an exiled Valkyrie from Asgard (Tessa Thompson), return to his kingdom and take the throne back from his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett, looking super fit in her skin tight body suit), who has enslaved the Asgardian people.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is the first of the mainstream Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies to focus on the word “comic” in the phrase “comic book movie,” and the result is a colorful, light-hearted romp that is never asks to be taken too seriously. The sight gags are pretty funny, and Goldblum steals the show with line delivery and mannerisms that only Goldblum can pull off. The movie may be more than a bit over-plotted (way too many coincidences abound in the story), but that’s easy to forgive when having this much fun.

More importantly, “Thor: Ragnarok” makes itself an important part of the MCU as well as a noteworthy Thor movie in its own right. There are things that happen to Thor in this movie that have permanence not only for Thor, but for the MCU as a whole. If you stay for the end credits (and by this point, you should know that you should), you’ll be treated to a set up for the next movie, and as it states in a very James Bond-esque way at the very end, Thor will return in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Looking forward to it because based on “Thor: Ragnarok,” I can’t wait to see where things go from here. Buy it on Amazon: Thor: Ragnarok [Blu-ray].

Wonder Wheel

“Wonder Wheel” is a peek into the lives of circa 1950 Coney Island, NY, residents Harold “Humpty” Jablon (Jim Belushi), his wife Ginny (Kate Winslet), his daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), and Ginny’s son from another marriage Richie (Jack Gore). Carolina is a mobster’s ex-girlfriend, and she is hiding out from two goons, played by ”Sopranos” alums Tony Sirico and Stephen R. Schirripa, sent to find her and silence her—permanently. Meanwhile, Ginny is having a summer fling with life guard Mickey (Justin Timberlake), who also serves as narrator.

It may sound like a lot is going on, but there really isn’t. If my complaint about “Thor: Ragnarok” is that it is over-plotted, then my complaint about “Wonder Wheel” is that it’s under-plotted. We see Humpty and Ginny bicker and squabble in scenes derived right from Tennessee Williams. Humpty in particular is basically an older, overweight version of Stanley Kowalski—with a little Ralph Kramden thrown in to spice things up. The scenes are powerfully written and incredibly well-acted, but they don’t amount to much.

There’s a subplot involving Richie seeking psychological help for pyromania, but it too goes nowhere. In a better plotted movie, that subplot would have mattered and made a difference to the overall main story in some way. As it stands, all we do is come into their lives at a certain point, then leave at another point. Some things happen, sure, but not enough to be compelling. Writer-director Woody Allen’s minimalist approach can be effective when used appropriately, but “Wonder Wheel” is not one of those times. Based solely on the strength of the dramatic scenes and the performances given, Stream it.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Down on his luck Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) needs a hit. Turning to the “minor holiday” of Christmas, and full of disgust at the greed and lack of concern for humanity that he sees surrounding him in 1843 London, he sets out to write the story of a penny-pinching miser who learns a valuable lesson. This miser is, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). In Dickens’ mind, as part of the creative process, he verbally spars with Scrooge and gets to know him. Dickens acts like a man possessed and tortured, keeping his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) up at night with concern for his well-being.

Stevens plays Dickens as an energetic and fervent man in “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” It’s fun to watch his creative process as he paces around his writing room trying to come up with names and ideas, and flying off the handle at any one who dares to interrupt him. It’s interesting to note that each character a writer creates has a bit of the writer in them, and through Scrooge, Dickens seems to be battling his own demon of bitterness and resentment. Though for Dickens, instead of holding the poor and needy in contempt, he reserves those feelings for his father John (Jonathan Pryce). The reasons why become clear through a series of flashbacks involving a young Charles (Ely Solan) being sent to one of the infamous work houses of the time to help pay off his father’s debt.

The story of “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is multi-layered. One layer is the creative process in the writing of the novella “A Christmas Carol.” Another layer is deeper and more personal, as Dickens learns to let go of his anger and be a much happier man. Sound familiar? Rent it.

More New Releases: “Scorched Earth,” starring Gina Carano as a bounty hunter out to find a gang leader in a post-environmental collapse world; and “The Clapper,” in which 15 minutes of fame destroys the life of a man who works as a clapper in television, starring Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, Leah Remini, and Alan Thicke.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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