Aug 09

“Maudie”: How Her Folk Art Bloomed from Within

 ...(A) story of art rising from adversity. Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail, about Maudie

Director Aisling Walsh‘s Maudie was inspired by the true story of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who lived with a form of progressively debilitating arthritis and struggled to find love, independence, and inner peace.

A few brief descriptions of the portrayal of Maudie:

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “Sally Hawkins turns a crumpled misfit into an affecting figure of fortitude and optimism…”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Hawkins plays her as always possessing a kind of coy, rueful smile, but it’s one that betrays a hardscrabble life marked by trauma and abuse.”

Thelma Adams, New York Observer: “…an obscure figure who couldn’t stop her arthritic fingers from painting the world around her in vibrant colors on whatever surface she could access, from walls and windows to boards and post cards.”

Early in the film’s timeline we learn that Maudie has lost both her parents to death and has been abandoned by her only sibling. When she abruptly leaves the home of her unwelcoming aunt, Maudie is in dire need of a job and place to live. She applies to be a live-in maid to Everett (Ethan Hawke), the “crabby, orphanage-raised, antisocial misfit who makes what passes for a living peddling fish and chopped wood” (Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter).

For various reasons, their challenging coexistence quickly evolves into a marriage; their challenging marriage gradually evolves, over the course of many years, into a deeper, though awkward, love.

Watch the trailer below:

Maudie and Everett

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “Despite his meager circumstances, grumpy Everett makes it clear Maud rates only third in importance in the household, after his dogs and chickens.”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Maud and Everett Lewis’s relationship can be tough to watch—he’s at times plainly abusive (physically and emotionally), and at other times hurtful and dismissive.”

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times:

Between Everett’s blunt insistence on traditional gender roles and Maud’s patient long-game to blur those lines and fill the space with who she is — literally too, since their painted house is now on display at an art gallery in Halifax — ‘Maudie’ is like a charmingly cracked domestic play about waiting the other person out. As she blossoms — just enough, not too much — he grunts and softens, just enough, not too much. Unlike the thick directness in Maud’s work, the movie about her is almost pointillist in detailing the tiny steps that make up an enduring marriage.

Selected Reviews

David Sims, The Atlantic: “This is neither a forgettable biopic nor a piece of shameless Oscar-bait; it’s a film that feels no need to make easy judgments about its subject, or any vague assumptions about the origins and meaning of her work.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

How much of it is true…remains unclear; certainly the movie deviates sharply in sweep and detail from some accounts…
Like many screen biographies, ‘Maudie’ vacillates unsteadily between the brute realities of a difficult existence and its palatable imagery. The movie doesn’t erase the hard edges of Lewis’s life. Instead, it attenuates them — a brutal slap across the face, you suspect, stands in for more instances of physical abuse — and casts many of Maud and Everett’s difficulties as personal ordeals, playing down the institutional forces, like an orphanage, that discreetly hover in the background. There’s an argument to be made against such softening, though, as Lewis’s work suggests, there’s something necessary about the fantasies we make of our lives as we spin beauty and hope from despair.

Thelma Adams, New York Observer:

Maudie celebrates the capacity to appreciate the world that lies framed within a window, to see the cruel beauty of the everyday and transform it into art. This wedding of craft and imagination also describes Walsh’s textured filmmaking, connecting frame after frame of gorgeous vistas to an emotionally rich female-driven narrative about art’s healing power and the potential for redemption in everyday acts of grace.

Aug 19

“Blue Jasmine” Updates “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Just out is the new character-driven film written and directed by Woody AllenBlue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett as a New York City woman in crisis who reconnects with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Watch the trailer here:

MORE ABOUT THE PLOT

Everyone agrees—Blue Jasmine is Allen’s modernized version of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News, offers further info about the plot:

In a series of flashbacks, Jasmine’s investment broker ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is revealed as a philandering sneak. His Hamptons home and Park Avenue life were paid for via Bernie Madoff-style schemes.

After Hal commits suicide in prison, Jasmine, who’s been wandering the streets, winds up at Ginger’s. But Ginger’s fiancé Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a speak-the-truth mechanic with a rough persona, sees Jasmine for what she is, throwing her even deeper into her mental crisis.

JASMINE’S MENTAL HEALTH: CRITICS WEIGH IN

Rex ReedNew York Observer:

Like Blanche in Streetcar, Jasmine is a mystic combination of purloined innocence and Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis—exasperatingly manipulative but meltingly vulnerable, always waiting for someone to save her…

…Cate Blanchett dominates this film from start to finish. As a mortgaged soul in the gradual stages of a nervous breakdown, she is heartbreaking and hypnotic. From black-belt shopping, window-gazing at Cartier and matinees on Broadway to anxiety, depression and shock treatments, she runs the gamut of psychiatric forensics. Jasmine is blue, all right, but she remains trim and stylish, a real Bergdorf mannequin, until she winds up talking to herself on street corners.

Dana StevensSlate:

Washing down her Xanaxes with a vodka martini (or in a pinch—and Jasmine gets into a lot of pinches—a straight shot of vodka) as she narrates her constant, anxious inner monologue to whoever will listen, Jasmine attains the paradoxical state of being fascinatingly tiresome…

Jasmine’s various pathological behavior patterns are on ample display—in scene after scene, we watch in squirming half-sympathy as she traps herself with self-aggrandizing lies…She disintegrates beautifully before our eyes…

Claudia Puig, USA Today:

She lies incessantly, recasting situations to put herself in the best possible light. She pops fistfuls of Xanax and tosses back vodka to numb her pain.

‘She’s cuckoo, baby,’ says Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Ginger’s boyfriend.

Allen’s well-structured, deftly written story centers on a complex character struggling with mental illness. Blanchett gives Jasmine dimension. She’s entitled, egocentric and unsympathetic. But she’s also a victim of a devious spouse, heartless friends and a culture whose materialistic values have encouraged her vapidity.

SISTERS JASMINE AND GINGER (AND SUPPORTING CHARACTERS)

Andrew O’HehirSalon:

…Ginger and Jasmine are both adopted and not biological sisters, but despite their drastically different personalities, both are stuck in a repeated cycle of domineering and borderline abusive men. Both meet white knights who offer the promise of redemption and are way too good to be true. Ginger has a torrid fling with a sound engineer named Al (comedian Louis C.K.), while Jasmine meets a smooth-talking, well-dressed diplomat named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), who moves with startling speed toward a marriage proposal and promising Jasmine a future as a politician’s wife, smiling beside the lectern.

Stephanie ZacharekVillage Voice: “Only Andrew Dice Clay, in a small role as Ginger’s Low-Class™ onetime husband, pierces the movie’s highly polished bubble world; he comes off as a person whose veins run with blood rather than some liquefied director’s conceit.”

Richard CorlissTime: “If the film has a vital, complex character, that would be Ginger…This congenital optimist does the best with the scraps life offers her: a sister she has little in common with and, cross your fingers, a kindly new beau, Al (Louis C.K.). Her affair with Al summons Blue Jasmine’s most plausible, affecting scenes.”

SHOULD YOU SEE IT?

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: “…(T)here’s something cathartic about a contemporary film that’s willing to explore madness as an expression of who a person really is. Blue Jasmine is about what happens when one lost soul meets the cruel real world.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Richly chronicled characters, sharp dialogue and that stupendous centerpiece performance by Cate Blanchett are contributing factors in the best summer movie of 2013 and one of the most memorable Woody Allen movies ever.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

I haven’t even brought up Tennessee Williams’ ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ or the doomed character of Blanche DuBois (whom Blanchett has played on Broadway), for a couple of reasons. If the specter of Blanche hangs over this whole movie like a combination of San Francisco fog with New Orleans humidity, it’s also the ultimate invidious comparison. On one side, we have one of the greatest works of American drama, whose tormented and self-deluded central character stands for so many inexpressible things about women and sexuality and the painful cost of pretend normalcy and the divided soul of the South. On the other, we have this pallid imitation, a freak show whose alternately compelling and repulsive heroine can’t disguise the fact that it’s a movie by a sour old guy who no longer likes anything or anyone and who also, more damningly, just isn’t interested.