Tag Archives: Sally Hawkins

The English Way

Spencer

by George Wolf

The opening credits of Spencer include a declaration that the film is “a fable from a true tragedy.” Indeed, it is a story draped in sadness and longing, but one that uses what you already know about its subject to its advantage, completely enveloping you in an otherworldly existence.

Much like 2016’s Jackie – his compelling take on Jackie Kennedy – director Pablo Larraín has no interest in the overreaching realism of bland biopics. Here, he chooses to dissect a few precious days over the Christmas holiday, roughly ten years after Diana Spencer (Kristen Stewart) married Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) and became Princess Di, worldwide obsession.

Diana is late arriving at the family gathering on the sprawling Sandringham estate in Norfolk, and this, like so many other aspects of her behavior, simply will not do. Diana and her two young sons often complain about feeling cold, and though she wonders why they can’t just “turn up the heating,” screenwriter Steven Knight isn’t just referring to the thermostat.

Through evocative visual storytelling and restrained, insightful dialog, Larraín and Knight set clear parameters for the haunting pressure of Diana’s daily life.

A new head of security (the great Timothy Spall) seems to lurk around every corner, reminding Diana of expectations and missteps. Her dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins, perfect as always) has been sent away, apparently for the crime of being Diana’s one true friend. And as Charles’s longtime affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles becomes impossible to ignore, unsettling visits from Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson) make their way into Diana’s dreams, reinforcing her belief that past and present have conspired to deny her a future.

If you haven’t been keeping up with Stewart’s string of fine performances since the Twilight films, don’t be surprised when she starts collecting the award nominations this performance richly deserves. Yes, she has the mannerisms (shoulder turns, head tilts), the lithe movements and even the voice and accent down, but Stewart carries this film by completely embodying the quiet desperation (“the English way,” as Pink Floyd famously dubbed it) of a woman suffocating in real time.

Jonny Greenwood’s score should also be an Oscar contender, as his cascades of alternating strings, organs, drum rolls and a solitary horn give Larraín a major assist in setting a disorienting, almost Hitchcockian mood.

Diana must work hard to enjoy even a few moments of happiness, like a beach stroll with Maggie or eating KFC and singing along to Mike + the Mechanics with her boys. But when Charles admonishes Diana for forgetting that public persona always trumps whatever the heart might crave, the true weight of her crown is finally felt.

Spencer approaches Diana’s story from perhaps the only angle that fits such an icon. The goal here isn’t to tell her life story, but instead to reimagine it, and rethink what it may have cost – and Larraín is clearly unconcerned with any cost from alienating Royal Family fans. He chooses the word “fable” at the start for a reason. This film is no fairy tale, but Larraín’s committed vision and an achingly poetic turn from Stewart make Spencer a completely fascinating two hours of story time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20BIS4YxP5Q

In My Oils

Eternal Beauty

by George Wolf

Actor and filmmaker Craig Roberts has pointed to a family member beset by mental illness as the inspiration for Eternal Beauty. You can feel the care Roberts takes in trading stigmas for “superpowers,” as well as the trust he puts in his stellar ensemble to mine the subtle humanity in his script.

Roberts played Sally Hawkins’s son in the sublime Submarine ten years ago, and arranging a working reunion sits right at the top of the smart choices made for his second feature as writer/director.

The Oscar-nominated Hawkins plays Jane, a woman managing to live independently with paranoid schizophrenia, constant medication and bouts of depression. She still has scars from being left at the altar years before, and receives precious little affection or encouragement from her mother (the always welcome Penelope Wilton) or sisters (Alice Lowe, Billie Piper).

Jane’s choice to take a break from her meds brings concerns (like the giant spider hallucinations) but also some welcome clarity amid her constant fog. After first rebuffing the interest of Mike (David Thewlis), an aspiring musician with similar mental issues, Jane accepts his advances, and the two begin a relationship bearing all the awkwardness and free-spirited fun of first love.

Hawkins, again, is a wonderful vessel of expression. Jane may stumble through her days wearing oversized clothes and offering hushed sentences, but she’s always observing and dissecting. She can notice the red flags of her brother-in-law’s wandering eye, and sensibly concoct a darkly hilarious plan to improve her family’s choice in Christmas gifts. Through it all, Hawkins’s vision of Jane is never less than human, and always deeply affecting.

Roberts often films with disjointed angles and changing colors to reflect Jane’s worldview, which sounds more cloying than it actually is, much like the tonal shifts that Roberts softens through a wise commitment to understatement.

More than once in the film we hear a doctor advise: “Don’t fight depression, make friends with it.” By treating Jane’s joy and heartbreak less like a clinical study and more as parts of a greater familial whole, Eternal Beauty finds a way to make those orders seem doable.

A Very Rare Sort of Bear

Paddington 2

by Cat McAlpine

Paddington 2 paints a beautiful, pop-up love letter to London. It breaks down something like this:

Wes Anderson aesthetic + Lemony Snicket whimsy + marmalade = Paddington Bear’s latest adventure.

Sure, this is a kid’s movie. The main character is a talking bear. His greatest aspiration is to buy a rare pop-up book of London for his Aunt’s birthday. In most ways, the film is predictable. Almost rote. But there’s some sparkle there, too.

Firstly, the movie is incredibly well lit. Lighting this good has no business in a children’s film’s sequel. And yet there it is. Warm yellow homes, moody shafts of light through window panes, snowy alleyways. That light isn’t wasted either. It illuminates bright, punchy sets and colorful costumes hung on a parade of quirky characters.

The Wes Anderson inspiration shows up in bright green rooms and pastel pink prison uniforms. Director Paul King finds sweetness in even life’s most ordinary moments. Where he cannot find sweetness, in a grimy pipe or a shattered telephone box, he finds curiosity instead, playing with light and camera angles.

Following a pop-up book of London, King makes sure to hit all of London’s beloved landmarks. London is a part of Paddington’s mythology. It’s a magical kingdom full of fun and mystery. King paints the city beautifully.

Secondly, what a cast. Sally Hawkins, fresh off her incredible performance in The Shape of Water, oozes gumption. English favorites parade across the screen: Peter Capaldi, Richard Ayoade, Brendan Gleeson.

None quite as fun, though, as Hugh Grant in his role as an unhinged stage actor. As the baddie, Grant never slips into evil. Nefarious, yes, but never evil. King keeps his film silly, always, but never allows it to be hollow.

For every predictable gag there’s a genuinely funny moment, too. Good children’s films cater to their whole audience, kids and parents. Its important to screen films like these in theatres. I was reminded of this when a character passed out, face down, into a cake. The children in the audience shrieked with delight.

That’s Paddington 2’s final merit. It’s good natured. It has jokes, visual gags, and constant reminders to be kind. Paddington believes in himself, his family, and his friends. Sure, a children’s film about a talking bear isn’t destined to be profound. But it manages to be sweet all the way through, just like marmalade.





Swimming in Romance

The Shape of Water

by Hope Madden

In its own way, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a tragic romance. But what if it weren’t? Tragic, I mean. What if beauty loved the beast?

It seems like a trend this year.

An unforgettable Sally Hawkins—an actor who has never hit a false note in her long and underappreciated career—gets her chance to lead a big, big show. She plays Elisa, a mute woman on the janitorial team for a research institute in Cold War era Baltimore.

Enter one night a malevolent man (Michael Shannon), and a mysterious container. Color Elisa intrigued.

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is an overt romantic. So many of his films—Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Crimson Peak—swim in romance, but he’s never made as dreamily romantic or hypnotically sensual a film as The Shape of Water. And he hasn’t made a film this glorious since his 2006 masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth.

Del Toro favorite Doug Jones—Pan’s Pale Man and Hellboy’s Abe Sapien—gets back into a big, impressive suit, this time to play Amphibian Man. His presence is once again the perfect combination of the enigmatic and the familiar.

The supporting cast—Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg—are among the strongest character actors Hollywood has to offer and del Toro ensures that they have material worthy of their talent. Each character is afforded not only his or her own personality but peculiarity, which is what makes us all both human and unique—important themes in keeping with the story. With Hawkins and Jones, they populate a darkly whimsical, stylish and retro world.

Characteristic of del Toro’s work, Shape of Water looks amazing. Its color scheme of appropriate greens and blues also creates the impossible truth of sameness within otherness, or the familiar with the alien.

The aesthetic is echoed in Alexandre Desplat’s otherworldly score and mirrored by Dan Laustsen’s dancing camera.

The end result is a beautiful ode to outsiders, love and doing what you must.





Suitable for Framing

Maudie

by George Wolf

“Show me how you see the world…”

Thanks to a glorious performance from Sally Hawkins, Maudie shows us the enduring flame of creativity, and how a Canadian folk hero harnessed it to rise above the challenging hand life dealt her and become a sought-after artist.

Born in Nova Scotia in 1903, Maud Dowley suffered with rheumatoid arthritis from a very young age. By 1937 both her parents had died, and not long after Dowley answered an ad from local fish peddler Everett Lewis for a “live-in housekeeper.” The two were married some weeks later, and Maud began her professional art career selling small, hand painted Christmas cards to the locals.

While director Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White can’t follow through on all the possibilities for resonance that Maud’s story offers, Hawkins carries the film. Hers is a warm, endlessly captivating performance that fills nearly every frame with the sweetest of heartbreaks.

As Maud’s gruff and often disagreeable husband Everett, Hawke continues his recent streak of impressive performances with a turn that gives Hawkins a fitting bookend. But this is her show, to such an extent that the sheer joy of watching her can compensate for when the film takes the road more traveled.

While Maud’s talent and ingenuity are in focus, and we see her rise above those who would cast her off as nothing but a burden, Maudie‘s spirit soars. But Walsh and White then become too satisfied with a by-the-numbers love story pastiche.

It’s a curious destination for a film that seemingly had much more to say.

Still, it has Hawkins in nearly every scene, all suitable for framing.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Too Good to Hate

 

by George Wolf

 

Here’s a news flash:  Cate Blanchett can act a little bit. In fact, her performance in Blue Jasmine is so effortlessly great, it’s as if we’re discovering her wealth of talent all over again.

It doesn’t hurt that writer/ director Woody Allen has given her a fantastic character to dig into, and Blanchett gives Jasmine multiple dimensions from the very first scene. Jasmine is bending the ear of a fellow air traveler, her neurotic front of superiority on full display. It is a complex role to be sure, but Blanchett has us hooked from the start.

Jasmine’s marriage to Hal (Alec Baldwin) has crumbled, taking with it a luxurious life in New York. Broke and desperate, she’s forced to swallow some of her ample pride and move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco.

Ginger and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay– surprisingly effective) have a suspicious history with Jasmine, while Ginger’s new boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) tries to stay friendly through the constant, sometimes not so subtle put downs. As we witness Jasmine’s effect on everyone around her, frequent flashbacks slowly provide answers to questions from the past.

Though Blanchett and the excellent ensemble cast do find some humor in Allen’s sharp dialogue, this isn’t funny business. After scoring with wonderful, whimsical, globe-trotting comedies the last few years (Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Allen comes home to craft a finely tuned drama on common anxieties of modern American class warfare.

The film offers plenty to like, but Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy performance sits at the very top of the list. She makes a shallow, obnoxious character so completely human you can’t bring yourself to hate her.

A sublime intersection of character and actor, Blue Jasmine should not be missed.

 

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars