Tuesday, July 25, 2017

[Review] Maudie

Sally Hawkins gives an incredible performance in Maudie, a genuinely heartfelt portrait of a modest Canadian folk artist named Maud Lewis.

In the small village of Marshalltown, Nova Scotia--we meet Maud (Hawkins). She's hunched, has a prominent limp, and is a bit peculiar. But what stands out is her sweet personality and passion for painting: flowers, birds, butterflies... Eventually, she gets job working as a live-in maid for Everett (Ethan Hawke), a grunty and distant fellow who lives in a tiny, rustic shack on the backroads.

Things don't go very smoothly at first. Early on, Ethan Hawke's character is so cruel and unlikable that it's difficult to approve of this situation. But eventually, the two form a mutual bond, and things lighten up as Maud begins to exhibit her craft, putting her charming touch on any canvas that she can get her hands. Pretty soon, the town catches wind of her paintings, and the demand for them goes through the roof. So much so that Maud becomes a nationally renowned artist. With all the knocks at door, and all the money coming in, the dynamics in the household certainly shift.

Fittingly, the film itself is artistically shot, displaying some great views of the picturesque seaside town and its beautiful surrounding landscapes. It also captures the changing of the seasons and the extremities between the hot and cold weather, which is sort of representative of Maud and Everett's complicated relationship. It would be interesting to see a side-by-side image of the shack before and after Maud arrived, because she practically transforms the place with her colors. Sally Hawkins is absolutely fantastic in a performance that I think is Oscar-nom worthy, from her evocative expressions, to her impressive range of emotion, to the deeply-felt depth she embodies the character with. There are definitely some tearjerking scenes that stick with you long afterward.

This story is all about tough lives and how they're lived. How art can be an escape or a coping mechanism amidst the harsh times. And how little old Maudie made the world a nicer place.

* 8.5/10 *

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Monday, July 24, 2017

[Review] Dunkirk

Seminal director Christopher Nolan returns with his newest film, Dunkirk, an expertly crafted World War II thriller that leaves you breathless.

It focuses on the efforts of the Dunkirk evacuation, where upwards of 400,000 British and French soldiers were essentially trapped in a harbor by German forces (also a subject in this year's under-the-radar Their Finest). The hostile narrative is presented through three different perspectives: land, air, and sea.

The film wastes no time plunging into the center of the crisis. It's intense. It's engulfing. And it's immersive. The film's visual scope is nothing short of astounding, giving us a 360-degree impression of the area with expansive views of coastlines, shifty seas, cloudy skies, scattered vessels, and the point where they all converge. The sound design pummels with booming tenacity, and Han Zimmer's clock-ticking score escalates the urgency, while doubling as a racing heartbeat as well as inhales and exhales as the characters dodge bullets and bombs and fight to stay above water. This is a very wet film--to the point where you might feel the urge to throw the characters some towels.

The ensemble cast--including the likes of Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and newcomer Fionn Whitehead--is solid all around. And while there isn't one main protagonist or standout performance, the actor who actually impresses the most is, surprisingly, pop star Harry Styles. He's legitimately good in this, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Aside from a couple varying time frames, Nolan has no major tricks or plot twists up his sleeve with this film, and there aren't any lofty concepts at work. It's a very straightforward, matter-of-fact tale of rescue and survival that's told with minimal dialogue, and it's just as impactful anything he's done.

* 9/10 *

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

[Review] To the Bone

Based on her own real-life experiences, writer-director Marti Noxon's To the Bone adeptly follows the struggles of a young woman battling anorexia.

That young woman is 20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins), a sarcastic and artistic soul who enters an inpatient group home under the guidance of an unconventional doctor, played by Keanu Reeves (!).

It's a surprisingly subdued film, and for the most part, it avoids melodrama. The narrative approaches difficult subjects of body image, addiction, and illness--with honesty, insight, poignancy, and even humor. Lily Collins gives a really good performance as the central character, but the film refreshingly casts a lot of focus on the rest of the ensemble in the home, too. They're an eccentric and sympathetic bunch, and the way they all interact with each other is the most interesting aspect of the story. We witness them all strive to get better under the same roof together, through the ups and the downs.

Of course, this isn't a definitive depiction of eating disorders, but its intentions come from a good place. Unfortunately, the film's final act delves into some strange existential sequences that just don't feel consistent with everything that comes before it. Still, that 'everything that comes before it' is pretty substantial.

( 7/10 )

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

[Review] Tramps

Released on Netflix back in April, Adam Leon's Tramps is a sprinting street caper with a hint of romance, and it's worth checking out.

Set in New York, the story revolves around Danny (Callum Turner) and Ellie (Grace Van Patten), two young strangers whose lives become intertwined during a botched briefcase exchange. From there, they must team up and scramble in order to track down the correct briefcase. The case's contents are a mystery, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter what's inside.

The whole thing takes place over the span of about 24 hours. Throughout the jaunt, there are dicey mix-ups, complications, and feelings that get in the way. The snappy editing and handheld camerawork captures the hustle and bustle of the city, while giving the film a sense of immediacy and momentum, which is fitting for the brisk 80-minute runtime. Turner and Van Patten both exhibit realism-based performances that blend with the aesthetic. Great comedian and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia even shows up as a small-time crook, and I love the guy, but frankly he seems out of place here.

In terms of themes, concept, and style, Tramps covers well-trodden territory, and it definitely works as a similar companion piece to Leon's previous little indie flick Gimme the Loot. But even though it never feels like you're watching anything new, it won't disappoint if you're a fan of this genre.

( 7.5/10 )

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

[Review] 47 Meters Down

Last year's The Shallows was a surprisingly well-crafted tale of shark attack survival. 47 Meters Down feels more like a secondary version of that, but it still has its moments of suffocating thrills.

While vacationing in Mexico, Lisa (Mandy Moore, fresh off "This Is Us" success) and her sister Kate (Claire Holt), get coerced into scuba-diving down into Great White Shark territory, with just a cage of rusty bars separating them from carnage, because you know, there's nothing like putting yourself in the way of a creature that will tear your limbs off. As you can guess, things go wrong. Terribly wrong.

The majority of the film is set amidst ominous ocean depths--the thick, inky darkness of the water giving the impression that the sharks could come out of nowhere, and at any moment, and they do...striking with major jolts of intensity, while instilling fear, panic and screams. Between the chomping madness, there are a couple of lulls in the midsection, like the scene where the sisters spill their figurative guts to each other, and it's never quite convincing. And let's just say the dialogue isn't this film's biggest strength. The biggest strength, of course, is the sharks. Now they're convincing.

Despite the pitfalls, there's just enough urgent tension, hefty obstacles, wire-snapping setbacks, and shark action to make 47 Meters Down a decent escape from a hot summer day. Plus, Shark Week is approaching!

( 7/10 )

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