The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Coco is yet another example of the patented Pixar genius. It's the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel who loves music, but is forbidden from playing the guitar by his family. The reason: a distant relative, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), left his wife and children in order to pursue a professional music career. Their grudge has carried down through generations. Following a series of complications, Miguel accidentally ends up in the afterlife during Mexico's Day of the Dead celebration and has to find his way back. That entails locating the long-deceased de la Cruz.

By now, it kind of goes without saying that a Pixar movie is beautifully animated, but Coco is magnificent in a whole new way. The manner in which it incorporates cultural elements makes it feel very unique and different from anything they've done before. The story, meanwhile, takes a lot of really interesting turns. You think you know exactly where it's going, and then it suddenly tosses in monkey wrenches that spin things off in a fresh direction. And of course, like most Pixar movies, it packs an emotional wallop. The ending of the film is very sweet and tender, with a wonderful message about the importance of remembering the family members who came before you. There are some complex themes here that might make the film confusing for very young kids, but anyone eight and up will easily grasp the meaning. Coco continues Pixar's streak of pushing the boundaries of how deep an animated family feature can go.

( out of four)

Lady Bird

Set in 2002, Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan as a free-spirited Sacramento teenager who just wants a boyfriend, to go to an expensive college in New York, and to have a better relationship with her super-critical mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. The movie follows her over the course of a year, as her wishes alternately do and do not come true. Coming-of-age movies are a dime a dozen, so you might wonder what makes this one special. For starters, it has a brilliant lead performance from Saorise Ronan, who makes the character of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson a real misfit, not one of those annoying "movie misfits" that are obviously the product of screenwriters who aren't half as clever as they think. She captures all the yearning and confusion of adolescence, while also showing how the character learns from the obstacles that wind up in front of her. You additionally get an equally great performance from Laurie Metcalf, playing one of cinema's all-time best nagging moms. The conflicts between mother and daughter ring true because they're arguments of substance.

There are a lot of laughs, too, courtesy of writer/director Greta Gerwig's witty screenplay. Perhaps the best thing about Lady Bird is that it's very detailed in showing how its heroine comes of age. Moment after moment feels as though ripped from real life. If you can't relate to this movie, you probably somehow went from childhood right into adulthood, completely skipping over adolescence. Funny, truthful, and insightful about the sometimes difficult relationships between parents and children, Lady Bird is a true delight.

( 1/2 out of four)

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Denzel Washington has a killer role as the title character in Roman J. Israel, Esq. It's a part unlike any he's played before, and he turns in one of the most interesting performances of his career. The film itself isn't quite on his level, but he makes it worth seeing. Roman is a former activist lawyer who wears an ill-fitting suit and perpetually has headphones over his ears so he can listen to classic soul music. Eager to prove he isn't washed up when the owner of the law firm where he works drops dead from a heart attack, he oversteps his bounds on a murder case, ending up in a predicament from which he may never be able to extricate himself.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) has a compelling core concept about a man trying to figure out how to atone after getting in over his head. The plot never quite finds a way to pay that off as meaningfully as it should, though, going conceptual at the end when we really want it to be concrete. Roman's very real legal jeopardy could have been capitalized upon much more than it is, as well. Washington dives deep into the character, creating a full-blooded, wholly believable portrait of a guy who sees his chance to step out of the shadows, then threatens to blow it. He provides a master class in acting, which helps gloss over Roman J. Israel, Esq.'s weaker moments.

( out of four)

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