Mike at the Movies

Lady Bird (R) *****

It’s pronounced Ser-sha (Saoirse Ronan) and you better get used to saying it and hearing it because this performance is a showstopper. She is 23 but in this marvelous film she is 17 and 18, called “Lady Bird” (really Christine) in her final year of high school. Unfortunately for her, she lives in Sacramento. “Do you think I look like I’m from Sacramento?” she laments early on in the film. Indeed, she wishes she looked like anywhere else, especially somewhere on the East Coast. That’s where she wants to go to college but Mom (Laurie Metcalf) wants her closer to home because they can’t afford the East Coast.

Lady Bird is a rebel attending a Catholic high school. Her family is mixed. Her brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), is adopted and Hispanic, while another family member, Shelly (Marielle Scott), has been de facto adopted and is also Hispanic. Lady Bird’s father, Larry (Tracy Letts), is sympathetic, warm, understanding and calm—all the things that Mom is not.

This is a typical story, in a way, as Lady Bird suffers many of the troubles of the typical high school senior—bad boyfriends, disappointing initiation into sex, and friend drama. The film’s best moments may be in the interchanges between Lady Bird and her mother. They tear at each other constantly and only in the last reel is there some sort of reconciliation.

You will laugh and you will cry with Lady Bird, but you will also witness some masterpieces of film acting under the guidance of a superior script and direction by Greta Gerwig. Yes, this film is getting a lot of talk. See it and you’ll know why.

The Disaster Artist (R) *****

This is a hard movie to deal with because it is so unreal, but it is based in truth: It is the story of the production of the possibly worst movie ever made! “The Room” is so popular today that you can’t find its DVD anywhere—“sold out.” My son, who works in Hollywood, advised us to see “The Room” before we saw this movie but it was not possible. It plays, either way.

James Franco, who directed and stars as Tommy Wiseau, joins up with the rookie Greg (Dave Franco) at an acting class; they go to Hollywood together to make a movie because neither can get a job in San Francisco. They move into Tommy’s one-bedroom apartment and start checking the papers for work. In the process of NOT finding work, we see several familiar faces in cameos: Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Megan Mullally, Jackie Weaver and Zac Efron among them. Allison Brie as Amber, Greg’s girlfriend, has a larger part as does Seth Rogen, the accursed director of this disaster—and it truly is.

Franco, as Tommy, speaks with an unknowable accent. He leaves out many verbs and slurs most of everything else. His accent is particularly funny when he is doing Shakespeare, which he does frequently and never for a good reason. Nobody wants to hire an unknown and unknowing director so Tommy decides to write, produce and star in his own film, using his own money. Tommy is inept and cruel. He curses regularly, throws tantrums, takes 58 takes to deliver eight lines correctly and generally makes a hash of it.

Franco is mesmerizing as the clearly demented Tommy, and his brother, Dave, is terrific as Greg. The entire cast somehow maintains their poise long enough to make this crazy movie without breaking up. Not for the kids or the faint of heart, but a laugh riot. See it.

Just Getting Started (PG-13) ****

If you’re looking for hard laughter, this is not for you. Those who like a light-hearted giggle or two and an occasional guffaw, though, will find “Just Getting Started” OK. The film brings two actors in the twilight of their careers into the sunlight—Morgan Freeman (Duke) and Tommy Lee Jones (Leo) as rivals for the indestructible Rene Russo (Suzie). Duke runs the Villa Capri, an elderly resort allegedly in Palm Springs but actually filmed in New Mexico.

Leo comes to town as a mysterious Renaissance Man, spouting poetry, playing great golf, painting landscapes, winning at poker, even winning Rene Russo. There is nothing this man cannot win. Suzie, on a mission from corporate to fire someone (notably Duke), fights against Duke’s charm. Duke, on the other hand, vows, “I’m going to take a bit of corporate starch out of that lady’s knickers.” Since he already has a comely trio of pursuers (Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley and the late Glenne Headley), he struggles to add Suzie to his list without success.

But somebody is trying to get rid of Duke, notably Jane Seymour, outlandish as the villain. Her orders result in a rattlesnake in Duke’s golf bag, destruction of his golf cart and a strafing of Leo’s new truck.

In the meantime, Duke fights to keep his job as head man at the Villa Capri where he has established a successful formula for success: “Sex, booze, golf and then you die.” Things get even crazier as the film winds down and Duke and Leo enter a final competition for “the right to court (Suzie).”

This is light-hearted holiday fare, but watching Jones and Freeman bond is memorable. Worth a look over the holidays.