Tag Archives: Kate Winslet

Portrait of a Lady of Science

Ammonite

by Hope Madden

Writer/director Francis Lee’s Ammonite is a beautiful, insightful, lonesome film about European women falling in love in a time when patriarchal society only allowed that to happen because they weren’t paying attention. It boasts beautiful cinematography and two utterly stellar performances.

And it suffers by comparison to Celine Sciamma’s similarly summarized 2019 masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing—it absolutely is. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan—simply two of the most talented humans ever to grace a film screen—play, respectively, British paleontologist Mary Anning and the married woman she falls for, Charlotte Murchison.

Anning is, in fact, among the most influential scientists in British history. Being a woman in Victorian England, her work was accepted while she herself was not. There’s an interesting tale to tell right there, but Lee chose that repressive cultural landscape as more of a backdrop, like the forbidding English Channel coast town of Lyme where Anning did her fossil hunting.

There’s no historical evidence that Anning was gay. There’s also no historical evidence that she was not, and filmmakers have told Emily Dickinson’s story dozens of times, only once actually addressing her sexual preference. If it’s OK for them to fictionalize, why not Lee?

The telling gives Winslet opportunity—partly thanks to excellent support from Fiona Shaw, Gemma Jones and Alec Secareanu—to present a woman so ill-used by and out-of-step with the world around her that she sees a miscarriage of justice in every exchange. Winslet is sharp and brooding, superior and insecure. It’s another quietly outstanding performance.

Aglow and lilting, Ronan is all warmth, offering a swoon-worthy counterpoint to Winslet’s chill. But there is something rushed about her attraction, and the deep, risky longing never feels authentic.

The affection, however, feels painfully true, and that’s at the core of a story about limited possibilities. Lee’s no Tarantino, but keep an eye out for bare feet and (less Tarantino-esque) insects. There is something slightly melancholy in these images of freedom and vulnerability that suit the effort.

Lee doesn’t try to answer every question he raises or resolve every conflict he presents. Instead, he brings us into a story of outsiders trying to define their own realities, however limited they may have to be.

Family Matters

Blackbird

by Darren Tilby

Based on his own Danish-language film Silent Heart, writer Christian Torpe partners with director Roger Michell for the Anglo-American remake, Blackbird. You likely know the story already: an ailing matriarch invites her fractured family around to stay for one last weekend of joy and festivities before she plans to end her life through euthanasia. But, as is so often the case in films like this, everyone’s a long way from even pretending to play happy family.

Susan Sarandon stars as Lily, the head of the family unit. Sam Neill puts in a career-high as Paul, Lily’s husband, who proceeds with a stoic, removed air about his wife’s illness and impending self-death.

Kate Winslet’s Jennifer is the first to arrive, early, along with husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and son Johnathan (Anson Boon). Straight-laced and proud, Jennifer is the polar opposite of her younger sister, Anna (Mia Wasikowska); a flighty young woman who traipses in late, “looking like shit,” with girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus) in tow.

Completing the family unit is Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily’s oldest and dearest friend.

As you can probably tell, the film’s main attraction is its star-studded cast. A sea of riveting performances is what awaits us and Torpe’s well-written, character-establishing (and building) dialogue make these people come alive and feel genuine—even if some of their actions don’t. Indeed, Michell relies heavily on the strength of his actors to deliver the emotional clout the movie promises. There’s no denying the cast is up to the task, although other aspects of the film feeling like an afterthought.

The plot mechanics are hackneyed and unoriginal, while Peter Gregson’s score feels generic and uninspired. Mike Ely’s crystalline visuals, though, are an absolute delight, and effortlessly reflect the beauty and tragedy of both life and death.

It’s unoriginal, and it’s certainly not perfect, but this is a beautiful piece of filmmaking about the celebration of life, love and family, rather than the sadness of death and loss. And it brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.

The Studio’s Apprentice

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

by Matt Weiner

There’s something about the helpless awkwardness of growing up that guarantees the enduring appeal of magic. Mary and the Witch’s Flower taps into that spirit with appealing grace. And it’s a promising first feature from Studio Ponoc, home to a Studio Ghibli diaspora that formed after the venerable Japanese animation studio announced a production break back in 2014.

When a walk in the woods leads to a chance encounter with special flowers, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill in the English language version) gains temporary magical powers. Her broomstick whisks her away to the magical college Endor, which looks about like if Hogwarts put down stakes in Spirited Away.

Mistaken for a witch and propped up by the magical flowers (apparently the PEDs of the wizarding world), Mary is deemed a prodigy by the excited school faculty. She soon learns she’s not the only one interested in those flowers, and outsider or not it will be up to her to save magic for everyone.

Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Ghibli veteran and Oscar nominee for When Marnie Was There, keeps the visual charm turned up throughout the film—a good thing, given that his script (co-written by Riko Sakaguchi and based on a children’s novel by Mary Stewart) lacks the heft of a typical Ghibli film.

For adult viewers, Yonebayashi’s light touch can be a bit too light. Mary, with her wild hair and strong will, is a charming stand-in for kids, but her hero’s journey will be instantly familiar. Endor professors Madam Mumblechook and Doctor Dee (Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent) exude sinister charm, but the rest of the sparse supporting roles don’t have much to add beyond perfunctory plot points.

These are minor complaints though. And the animation, especially the magical set pieces that test Mary’s mettle, makes up the difference. The film offers up a fully-formed magical world with smart visual economy over exposition (cough Fantastic Beasts cough). Mary’s determination is contagious, and even if her saving the day is inevitable it’s impossible not to feel moved by the choices she makes to get there.

For all the magic that infuses Endor, Doctor Dee was on the right track when he told Mary that electricity is just another form of magic. If Mary and the Witch’s Flower doesn’t always have the preternatural spirit that animates the best of Studio Ghibli, it’s a delightful visual successor even when it’s working a little harder to keep the spark alive.





Island Life

Wonder Wheel

by George Wolf

The sheer number of films Woody Allen continues to churn out almost guarantees that some will hit (Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and some will miss (Cassandra’s Dream, Magic in the Moonlight).

Wonder Wheel is more of a pop foul.

Allen’s latest (I think…what time is it?) is wrapped in nostalgia for 1950s Coney Island, lovingly photographed and peppered with characters that never quite become as interesting as Allen intends.

Ginny (Kate Winslet) works as a waitress in a Coney Island seafood joint, frazzled by the antics of her budding arsonist son and disenchanted by life with husband Humpty (Jim Belushi – surprisingly good), who runs the Wonder Wheel carousel. Lately, Ginny has begun a secret affair with Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a younger lifeguard whose fourth-wall narration is awkward and unnecessary.

The arrival of Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) only adds to Ginny’s frequent migraines. Not only is Carolina on the run from some mobsters (The Sopranos’ Tony Sirico and Stephen R. Schirripa – nice!) but she might be catching Mickey’s eye as well.

Winslet is sensational, tapping squarely into Ginny’s maniacal desperation for any shred of hope for the future. Initially, Allen seems intent on building the film from Winslet’s performance outward (much like he did with Cate Blanchett in the sublime Blue Jasmine), only to over-indulge with repetitious dialog and pointless diversions.

Though set in the heart of Coney Island’s summer sun, Wonder Wheel’s mind is never far from stage nor screen. Ginny had dreams of being an actress, while Mickey fancies himself a writer, and we’re often reminded that life is a series of parts being played by characters with a succession of fatal flaws.

Allen’s story arc may be aiming for grand tragedy, but it can never move past bittersweet melodrama. Well-acted throughout and often striking to look at, Wonder Wheel ends up as an aimless kid at the amusement park, running in too many directions at once.

 





Strangers on a Plane

The Mountain Between Us

by George Wolf

The Mountain Between Us is the type of film that wants to reach us by watching two wary characters slowly reach each other. Through talented actors, it wants to speak softly but cut deep.

Well, it nails the talented actors part.

Kate Winslet is Alex, who’s getting married tomorrow in Denver. Idris Elba is Ben, a neurosurgeon who’s also headed to Denver to perform delicate surgery on a ten-year-old. Problem is, they’re both in Idaho and all the flights are canceled due to weather.

They team up to charter a private plane from Walter (Beau Bridges), a local pilot with a lovable pooch, but when he suffers a stroke not long after takeoff, two strangers and a dog are left alone in the snow-covered mountains.

Screenwriters J. Miles Goodloe and Chris Weitz adapt Charles Martin’s novel with enough contrivance and melodrama to render Goodloe’s credit on a Nicholas Sparks film (The Best of Me) anything but surprising.

Director Hany Abu- Assad (Omar) serves up some majestic scenery and a nifty crash sequence, but settles for Sparks meets Castaway. Somehow, Winslet and Elba get us invested throughout the convenient, telegraphed plot turns. It is their seasoned talent and effortless likeability that ultimately saves the film from becoming a complete eye-rolling travesty.





Grief, Lies and Videotape

Collateral Beauty

by Hope Madden

It’s December. That means many things to many people – to Will Smith, it means Oscar bait season.

The Legend of Bagger Vance. Ali. The Pursuit of Happyness. Seven Pounds. Concussion. Collateral Beauty.

One of those movies is pretty good. It isn’t this one.

In Collateral Beauty, Smith plays Howard, a charismatic ad exec whose daughter died three years ago. Since then, he’s been a zombie, rarely eating, riding his bicycle dangerously and spending his work days building elaborate domino structures just to watch them collapse.

Oh, the symbolism!

In a fit of grief one night, he writes three letters: one to death, one to time, and one to love.

In an audacious contrivance, wheels turn in the minds of his friends and colleagues – played by Kate Winslet, Ed Norton and Michael Pena – and the next thing you know, those letters are returned to sender, by hand, by the recipient.

Death – played with panache by Helen Mirren, has lessons to share, as do Love (Keira Knightly) and Time (Jacob Latimore).

Grief is a tough topic. It’s easy to be emotionally manipulative. It’s easy to be patronizing. Director David Frankel and writer Allan Loeb like easy.

Loeb tackled the same theme with his first feature, Things We Lost in the Fire – a well-cast effort that seeks to provide resolution to the grieving. From there, he’s mostly written bad comedies, often starring Kevin James.

Smith stares, tears up and rarely speaks in this cloying, predictable piece of pseudo-enlightened garbage – a film that offers telegraphed twists and jaw-dropping self-satisfaction.

One person’s grief is really nobody else’s damn business. It’s not a learning opportunity for those around, and there are no easy resolutions. Collateral Beauty does not empathize with the grieving. It empathizes with those uncomfortable with grief.

This is selfish. And yet, selfishness is applauded in this film, reframed as confused acts of love.

Verdict-1-5-Stars





Stand Still, Look Evil

Insurgent

by George Wolf

Just last year, Divergent glimpsed a dystopian future where destinies rose and fell with the company you kept, and social cliques were used to enforce a merciless pecking order. In short, high school all over again.

Insurgent, part two in the latest “three books as four movies” franchise, ups the ante on action, but delivers little more than some flashy CGI amid a formula growing increasingly tiresome.

Tris Pryor (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend Four (Theo James) are on the run from henchmen sent by Council leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet). Seems Jeanine has uncovered a strange, Hellraiser-looking puzzle box containing a message that could end the civil strife among her subjects. But this box can only be opened by a “divergent” with enough specialness to pass a variety of deadly tests…so Jeanine is hunting them all down to find the one.

Whoops, I mentioned “the one,” so I’ll pause now while director Robert Schwentke swoops in for a quick tight shot of Tris looking pensive. Get used to it.

There are some nifty visual sequences, but the core of Insurgent remains overly familiar young adult elements and overly bland presentation. The special girl burdened with a uniqueness she didn’t ask for, angst, melodrama, parental issues, walking among the rubble…all the basics are here. Ironic, then, that Schwentke (R.I.P.D., Red) doesn’t seem interested in moving his film beyond the ordinary.

The dream/virtual reality red herrings are as numerous as they are obvious, and those high drama arm -grab turnarounds are better left to the daytime soaps. Woodley is one of the best young actresses working, and she is plenty spunky during Insurgent‘s action scenes, but she’s saddled with dialogue and direction that is difficult to elevate. Even the great Winslet is reduced to standing still and looking villainous.

Attempts at social commentary are clunky at best, while contrivance in the script finally gives way to outright laziness, as when the common folk are enslaved by a behavior modifying implant which can’t be removed – until it is.

Tris is told, “We finally found a way to remove it.” Okay, then.

Two more Divergent films may be coming, but Insurgent will only leave you eager for the next round of Hunger Games.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suZcGoRLXkU





Five More Remakes in Need of an All Female Cast

Rumors of an all-female Ghostbusting team got us A) excited for the reboot, and B) thinking of other movies we’d love to see reimagined with women in the lead. Here are the 5 films we think could benefit from some gender-retooling, along with our dream casts.

Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s 1975 great white classic benefitted from one of the best buddy trios in cinema with Roy Scheider’s reluctant shipmate Sheriff Brody, Richard Dreyfuss’s on-board scientist, and salty sea dog Quint played to perfection by Robert Shaw.

Who has the gravy to run nails down a chalkboard, frighten the locals and bark that she’ll find the shark for $3000, but “catch him, and kill him, for 10”? Nobody but Jessica Lange. We’d flank her with Anne Hathaway as the transplanted cop who wants a bigger boat and Emily Blunt as the oceanographer willing to take the risk when the cage goes in the water.

Easy Rider

How fun would this be? Let’s rework the classic American outlaw motorcycle ride! Who’s the laid back badass looking for an unsoiled America? We’d put the great Viola Davis in Peter Fonda’s role. For the thoughtful square up for an adventure, we swap Amy Adams in for Jack Nicholson. And who could fill legendary wacko Dennis Hopper’s motorcycle boots? We want Melissa McCarthy. (Come to think of it, she’d give Blue Velvet an interesting new take as well.)

Glengarry Glen Ross

Who on this earth could take the place of Alec Baldwin with perhaps the greatest venomous monologue in film history? Jennifer Lawrence – can you see it? We really, really want to see a movie with JLaw chewing up and spitting out this much perfectly penned hatred.

“Put that coffee down!”

And at whom should she spew? The wondrous Meryl Streep should take Jack Lemmon’s spot as loser Shelley Levine. We’d put Kate Winslet in Pacino’s slick winner Ricky Roma role and Kristin Scott Thomas in Ed Harris’s shadowy Dave Moss spot. Then we’d pull it all together with the magnificent Tilda Swinton in the weasely role worn so well by Kevin Spacey.

Predator

We knew we needed an action film, but who could be the new Schwarzenegger? Our vote: Michelle Rodriguez. We then put the ever formidable Helen Mirren in the Carl Weathers boss role. Obviously. The ragtag group of soldiers sent to, one by one, to be skinned alive? Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington and Gina Carano. Done.

Reservoir Dogs

Picture it:

Ms. Orange (Tim Roth): Rosamund Pike

Ms. White (Harvey Keitel): Julianne Moore

Ms. Blond (Michael Madsen): Charlize Theron (Cannot wait to see her get her crazy on.)

Ms. Pink (Steve Buscemi): Lupita Nyongo

Ms. Brown (Tarantino): Shailene Woodley

Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn): Cate Blanchett

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney): Kathy Bates

 

All right, Hollywood. We’ve done the hard part. Now get on it! All we ask is executive producer status and points on the back end.





Apparently High School Still Sucks

Divergent

by Hope Madden

High school sucks, but like all harrowing experiences and universal truths, it can lead to valid and valued artistic expression – nearly all modern adolescent literature, for instance.

Whether it’s The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game or the more clearly allegorical Divergent, the story is basically the same: a powerful system requires helpless parents to submit their precious children to bloodsport (high school); cliques are mindless and dangerous; the kid with the most power is a manipulative asshole; only the outcast can ultimately thrive. (Hell, even the magnificent Harry Potter series plays off the same riff.)

While it doesn’t make prom seem very appealing, in the hands of professionals, it can make for a compelling tale.

Director Neil Burger does a lot right with this film. Not everything, but a lot. He’s blessed with a straightforward script that won’t confuse the uninitiated. A hundred years after a great war, the world is broken into factions, each of which match individual personality types (and, to a certain degree, high school cliques): the smart kids (Erudite), the nice kids (Abnegation), the pot heads – I mean, happy, peaceful types (Amity), the honest (Candor), and the brave/fun/bully/popular kids (Dauntless). And then there are the dreaded factionless – a fate worse than death, like unpopularity.

People stay with their faction, and all is peaceful. But unique souls who don’t really fit – divergents –  threaten the system.

Divergent also boasts two profound talents: Kate Winslet and Shailene Woodley. Winslet commands respect and awe as leader of the Erudites and general evildoer. Woodley plays our hero, the divergent Tris.

Both performers deserve stronger material, to be honest. While the screenplay, adapted from Veronica Roth’s novel by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, offers a fairly smooth streamlining of the story, it too often proves a bit toothless. The strength of the performers helps to compel attention. Woodley’s onscreen chemistry with Theo James as love interest Four gives the film a pulse, and her big-eyed vulnerability makes the sense of loss and longing palpable.

Too bad Berger felt it necessary to include so much exposition. An unfortunate symptom lately of Episodes 1 of a trilogy, Divergent simply takes so long to get to the action that you get bored.

Roth’s source material offers several clever conceits to play with, and both Woodley and Winslet seem game, but Berger can’t quite settle on a tone or a pace. It’s too bad, because comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable, and Divergent could easily have become a worthwhile companion to JLaw’s Kickass Quadrilogy. Instead it’s a fun but forgettable way to waste time before the real blockbusters release this summer.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=336qJITnDi0





What Gives?

 

by George Wolf

Walking out of the preview screening for Labor Day, a woman behind me remarked, “I don’t know..I need action, a hook in the back or something!”

So, while the film won’t please the “hook in back” demographic, it will also let down fans of writer/director Jason Reitman, who makes a curious left turn into overcooked melodrama.

Adapted from the source novel by Joyce Maynard, it is a story told in flashback narration by Henry (Tobey Maquire), recalling one memorable Labor Day weekend from his youth.

While shopping with his mother Adele (Kate Winslet), young Henry is approached by Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict on the run.  Quietly forcing his will upon them, Frank takes refuge in their New Hampshire home, nursing the wounds from his jailbreak and slowly becoming a savior to both mother and son.

The breakdown of her marriage has left Adele constantly depressed, and left Henry without a strong male role model. How fortunate that Frank cooks, fixes most anything, knows baseball, swears he’s not the monster the papers say he is, and oh, yeah, simmers with sexuality.

As does most of the film, juxtaposing Adele’s clear ache for a man with young Henry’s exploding hormones. It’s all very earnest and obvious, miles away from the brilliant edge Reitman brought to every other feature he’s done (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult).

It makes you wonder just what inspired Reitman to film this story, one that is equal parts Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Sparks. Perhaps it was just the challenge of elevating it, to see if his talents, combined with those of strong actors, could give it resonance.

While Labor Day is indeed better for all of their efforts, the air of disappointment lingers.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars