Author: <span class="vcard">Andrew Xu</span>

**** (out of 4)

Of the repressed 19th-century women whose stories have appeared in theaters this past year (e.g. Emily Dickinson of A Quiet Passion, Rachel of My Cousin Rachel, Miss Farnsworth of The Beguiled), Katherine (Florence Pugh) of Lady Macbeth easily proves the most intense in her reaction to her condition. She’s been coerced into becoming a housewife to a womanizing drunkard (Paul Hilton) in an estate run by her domineering father-in-law (Christopher Fairbank) – and understandably, she isn’t too happy about any of that. So when her father-in-law slaps her during a confrontation over her inability to “produce heirs,” she feeds him poisonous mushrooms. When her husband discovers that she’s having an affair with a worker named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), she beats her husband to death. And when a kid arrives at her estate claiming to be her deceased husband’s out-of-wedlock son, she smothers him with a pillow. Throughout it all, Katherine, contrary to what the title of her movie implies, never even remotely suggests that her actions unsettle her.

From the above description, you might think that Lady Macbeth is just an extra-dramatic rehash of movies like A Quiet Passion and The Beguiled. In fact, however, director William Oldroyd’s take on 19th-century women proves unique in several meaningful ways.

Reviews - In Theaters

*** ½ (out of 4)

On the surface, Aisling Walsh’s Maudie would appear to be the umpteenth biopic about a person – in this case, the beloved Canadian folk painter Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins) – who overcomes adversity. And unlike in movies like The Theory of Everything, there’s more than one obstacle standing in the protagonist’s way. First, Maud suffers from a crippling form of arthritis that makes every walk to the local grocery store a drawn-out ordeal. Second, like most women who came of age before the advent of second-wave feminism, she’s held back by her gender, as evidenced by the condescending treatment she receives from both her older brother (Zachary Bennett) and the employer who eventually becomes her lifelong husband (Ethan Hawke). And finally, Maud in general proves to be shy and lonely, the kind of person who talks in bursts of half-formed phrases and who always finds herself lingering at the back of her local nightclub.

With all these barriers looming over Maud’s life, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for two hours of I’m-a-human-being-too melodrama. Thankfully, however, Walsh wisely chooses not to devote much energy to the stereotypically inspirational aspects of Maud’s life.

Reviews - In Theaters

*** (out of 4)

Thanks to films like Saving Private Ryan, the oft-used saying that “war is hell” tends to conjure up images of huge explosions, flying bullets, and injured soldiers writhing in trenches. In Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, however, the hell of war is something both far less flashy and far more insidious: constant apprehension. The movie recounts the story of the “miraculous” Dunkirk evacuation  from three perspectives: a soldier (Fionn Heyward) willing to do whatever it takes to board a ship home, a civilian (Mark Rylance) who sails to Dunkirk to pick up soldiers, and a couple of RAF fighters (Jack Lowden, Tom Hardy) chasing Nazi planes over the English Channel. In each storyline, there are indeed plenty of explosions and shoot-outs. Yet such flashes of action prove secondary to the large stretches of time said characters spend sitting, sailing, and flying in silence – quietly waiting for the attack they know is coming, but unsure of when it will happen or how to prepare. This, Nolan suggests, is the most debilitating aspect of war: a permanent, simmering sense of dread, almost like a perpetual state of unsatisfied suspense.

Many war movies play like secondary sources: they provide context on the war and their protagonists’ lives with a slight detachedness that makes you think you’re watching the cinematic adaptation of a biography. The best thing about Dunkirk, however, is that it’s very much a primary source – a loose, almost impressionistic portrayal of various individuals’ struggles to survive that prioritizes direct sensorial experience over exposition, acting, and dialogue.

Reviews - In Theaters