Thanks to this fine documentary, we now have much more knowledge than ever before about Jane Goodall, the nearly mythic wildlife naturalist, who was caregiver, friend and attempted savior of chimpanzees in the wild for more than 50 years. We see her as she is today at age 83, her reminiscences clear-eyed and moving but delivered with classic British understatement. We also witness Jane from the beginning of her journey into the wild at age 26, courtesy of 16MM films that were presumed lost until 2014 and recently edited by director Brett Morgan. Professional wildlife photographer (and future husband) Baron Hugo van Lawick was assigned to film Goodall by National Geographic from the beginning and they show a lovely young Englishwoman with a gentle, natural beauty and a steely determination not to give up. Her journey, both the personal and the scientific one, was made up of love and heartbreak, successes and failures, notably one: Jane had hoped she could show that chimps possess a more peaceful nature than humans do, but we watch in horror as the adorable babies and nurturing mothers and fathers become warlike and savage, just like us. We are so lucky to have had Jane Goodall in our lives; what a treasure she is. And what a treasure is “Jane.”
Who could have expected so much fun from yet one more sequel to yet one more comic book hero come to life? But that’s what this film is: fun, and plenty of it. Granted, there’s not much plot, and there are the by-now-usual amazing special effects, but this third installment of the Marvel comic book creation based on Norse mythology almost seems to be laughing at itself or at least the genre, which is refreshing. And who would have thought that gorgeous, pumped, calendar-worthy actor Chris Hemsworth would have such a flair for comedy, both verbal and physical? In fact, his face and body are a drawback, because he’s much better playing the clown than the leading man. The film has a talented supporting cast: Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, Thor’s malicious, bordering-on-evil half brother, as does Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk. We thoroughly enjoy Cate Blanchett vamping it up as an evil villainess, glaring at us through smoky eye makeup and spitting out nasty dialogue. Like I said: Fun.
Greta Gerwig has been a mainstay in independent, mostly comedic films, such as “Frances Ha” and “Twentieth Century Women.” Here she is not onscreen, but off, having written and directed her winning debut, the semi-autobiographical “Lady Bird.” It’s 2002, just post the 9/11 bombings. It’s also senior year in a Catholic high school in Sacramento, and Christine (dramatically self-named Lady Bird) does not fit in. She has big dreams of moving “East” and living a full, artistic life. The movie is a study not just of the angst of being a teenager, but also a troubled mother-daughter relationship between rebellious Lady Bird (brilliant Saoirse Ronan) and her extremely intense and critical mother (the always-stellar Laurie Metcalf, who makes a difficult character understandable). It’s also funny, very real and fast-moving. So many interesting people come in and out of Lady Bird’s world, all of whom could have had their own chapter in the film: the overweight best friend, Lady Bird’s secretly gay first boyfriend, her easy-going but depressed father (Tracy Letts) and many more. In fact, if there is any flaw here, it’s that there are too many brief glimpses into these other lives and barely any follow-through, so they seem thrown in as great ideas only, more surface than possessing any depth. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed “Lady Bird.” Well done, Greta Gerwig!