See A Movie This Weekend!

By Chris Narloch

The Tower Theatre is the place to be this weekend as local girl-turned actress-turned acclaimed movie director Greta Gerwig’s new film “Lady Bird,” which is set and was mostly filmed in her native Sacramento, opens to the public.

Also on the big screen at the Tower is another must-see indie film, “The Florida Project.” Read on for reviews of both those titles, plus some other movies currently in theaters.

The Florida Project
This is one of the finest films of the year, but it’s only playing at two area cinemas: Sacramento’s Tower Theatre and the Varsity Theatre in Davis. I urge you to see it soon, before it vanishes from our region.

From director Sean Baker (“Tangerine”), this Cannes Film Festival official selection tells the story of precocious six year-old Moonee (the amazing Brooklynn Prince), who lives with her unemployed single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in an extended-stay motel on the outskirts of Disney World.

“The Florida Project” delves into impoverished America through the eyes of Moonee and her friends, whose summer break is filled with childhood wonder and possibility, despite the extreme poverty of their circumstances.

An almost documentary-like portrait of lower class struggle, “The Florida Project” features a superb supporting performance from Willem Dafoe as a sympathetic motel manager, and the movie has an unbelievably poignant (and virtuoso) ending that can’t help but have you in tears.

Murder on the Orient Express
Some flawless films – “The Wizard of Oz,” for example – should never be remade. 1974’s original “Murder on the Orient Express” is another movie that was perfectly cast, perfectly written, and perfectly directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet.

Kenneth Branagh attempts the folly of remaking that great flick, and the results are predictably disappointing, beginning with Branagh himself as Agatha Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot – the actor’s moustache and accent are both over the top.

An all-star cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, and Michelle Pfeiffer can’t save this dud. Johnny Depp, in a smart career move – rare for him, recently – gets killed off early and avoids going down with the ship (or rather, the train).

Only The Brave
Movies based on true events have had a tough go of it at the box office this year, but “Only The Brave,” about the firefighters who battled the Yarnell, AZ wildfire in June of 2013 is a film that demands to be seen.

A terrific cast that includes Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, and Andie MacDowell brings great feeling and realism to a truly heroic story that hits close to home for California residents, especially those of us in NorCal.

The Mountain Between Us
This film is still playing at one theater in Sacramento – the UA Sunrise 4 discount theater in Sunrise Mall – and it’s an entertaining film, despite numerous flaws. Kate Winslet and Idris Elba (who is built like a mountain) star as strangers who must bond in order to survive a snowy wilderness after a plane crash.

The movie’s ending is cheesy, and there are implausible moments galore, but Winslet and Elba are always watchable and make an intriguing couple. (Even in 2017, it’s rare to see sex scenes between a black man and a white woman on the big screen.)

Lady Bird
If you only see one movie this month, I recommend you check out the fantastic first solo feature film from actress-turned-director Greta Gerwig, who has written a wonderful coming of age story that is also a terrific tale of the relationship between a mother and daughter.

“Lady Bird,” which could find itself nominated for multiple awards early next year, is also a love letter to Sacramento, Gerwig’s hometown and the city that provides the backdrop for the story, which was filmed here as well.

Gerwig (“Frances Ha,” “Maggie’s Plan,” “20th Century Women”) has always been such a smart and funny actress in her movies, that I should not have been surprised by what a smart and funny director she is with “Lady Bird.”

The revelation is how fully formed and confident she is as a screenwriter and also behind the camera on her first solo feature. It’s not easy to write joke lines that are insanely funny yet also sound like things people would actually say.

In “Lady Bird,” Gerwig gives her remarkable cast, including Lucas Hedges as the teenaged heroine’s closeted crush, many funny things to say and do without ever compromising the truth and the drama in between the laughs.

The prodigious Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan, who is only 23, could find herself nominated for her third Academy Award for playing Lady Bird, who is one of those distinctly memorable teen characters that stay in moviegoers’ minds, like Tom Cruise in “Risky Business” or John Cusack in “Say Anything…”

Laurie Metcalf, as Lady Bird’s frazzled mother, is also excellent, giving her exasperated, sarcastic line readings real bite. The third major star of “Lady Bird” is Sacramento itself, which is showcased in a way that I’ve never seen before in a major movie.

You’ll have fun spotting many familiar local landmarks during the film, which may wind up being my favorite movie of the year.

“Lady Bird” opened at Sacramento’s Tower Theatre on Nov. 10.  

Thor: Ragnarok
Perhaps I have reached my limit of Marvel movies, but I fell asleep a couple of times during the third “Thor” movie, despite the fact that the film has been getting rapturous reviews from many critics.

Chris Hemsworth again brings the brawn, and Cate Blanchett is equally delicious as the fashion-forward villainess, but “Thor: Ragnarok” misses the mark by aiming for the sort of wacky, satirical style that worked much better in the first “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

After two-plus hours of watching actors that aren’t all that adept at comedy strain to be funny, I just got tired of the whole thing, especially the intentionally cheesy-looking sets and Jeff Goldblum’s costume, which looks like something you might find in the Halloween section at Dollar Tree.

If you must see this big, dumb movie, by all means go for broke and watch it on the largest screen in town -- six stories high and 80 feet wide – at the Esquire IMAX Theatre on K Street. Visit

Taxi Driver
It should be fascinating in the age of Lyft, mass shootings, and PTSD to revisit this classic film from 1976 about an emotionally unstable Vietnam vet turned cab driver who becomes dangerously disturbed.

One of Robert DeNiro’s and Martin Scorcese’s finest collaborations, “Taxi Driver” is a riveting drama about urban alienation and loneliness that features amazing performances by DeNiro, Jodie Foster, and Harvey Keitel.

See it on the big screen at Sacramento’s Crest Theatre, at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12. Visit


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