Tag: 2016

*** 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 - New Releases

*** (out of 4)

When it comes to selecting a career, the post of obituary writer probably isn’t anywhere even close to the top of your list. It lacks the prestige and name recognition of a job as a critic or columnist…and given what the position entails, you wouldn’t think it exactly invigorating. Yet as anyone who even glances at the back page of The Economist soon realizes, good obit writers easily defy the stereotypically morbid limits of their genre – to the point that they’re often more fun to read than anything else in whatever publication they’re working for. In many ways, a well-written tribute to a dead person can be the exact opposite of what you’d expect: an unabashed celebration of life.

In its best moments, Obit, a Page One-esque documentary about the obit writers at The New York Times, succeeds in translating the surprising vibrancy of the obit-writing world to the screen.

Reviews - New Releases

**** (out of 4)

Towards the end of Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion, a new “biopic” of the poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), there’s a shot in which Dickinson is shown lying on her bed. The mood is not a relaxed one; she’s just been struck by a debilitating series of seizures, and in the next scene, she’ll end up passing away for good. What’s striking about this moment, however, is the combination of the anguish on Dickinson’s face, the foreshortened way her legs stand out in the foreground, and the way the bed fills the center of the frame: taken together, the whole image provides a very close imitation of Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna’s famous depiction of a dead Jesus in Cristo morto. It’s almost as though Dickinson, like Christ, has reached some form of transcendence through death.

Alas, if there’s just one thing Davies’ take on Dickinson teaches you, it’s that this transcendence is only attained after a lifetime of emotional and spiritual agony.

Reviews - New Releases