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Maudie

Atomic Blonde

July 27, 2017

Maudie (***) PG-13

The life and times of folk painter Maud Lewis forms the basis of Irish filmmaker Aisling Walsh’s biopic Maudie, a quietly affecting tale that is more than elevated by the performances of its two leads, Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Their performances go a long way in making these two feel like fully fleshed out human beings as opposed to the caricatures that the subjects could have easily become in the hands of less capable talent. Their presence also glides the film across its troublesome spots, particularly its tendency to be a bit too low key for its own good at times.

The film’s narrative picks up with Maud (Hawkins) as a twentysomething living out her life in rural Nova Scotia in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s clear right from the get-go that something isn’t quite right with Maud from a physical standpoint. She suffers from what is apparently an arthritic condition that has now reduced her to a painful limp. None of this deters Maud from her real passion of turning out beautifully rendered watercolor landscapes in a very prolific and inspired manner. It eventually would capture the attention of the locals and reward her some measure of fame in the process. 

Maud yearns for more of a life than the one she currently has and accepts a position as housekeeper for local bachelor, Edward Lewis (Hawke). Lewis offers Maud living quarters in his home as part of the deal, a development which Maud’s ultra conservative parents have trouble processing.

Ethan Hawke & Sally Hawkins in Maudie

Eventually, Lewis offers to marry her but even after the two become a couple Edward isn’t really able to give himself to Maud emotionally. At times his behavior towards her is even brutish, and credit must be given to the film for not attempting to make him a saint which Lewis clearly was not.

All the while, through all of the ups and downs of her life, Maud continues to paint. Her work eventually gains her some notoriety once the word gets around regarding her talent. Maud’s celebrated status also leads to conflicts with Edward who isn’t sure how to process all of the flurry of attention being showered on his wife. The film’s final act wherein Edward does come to some appreciation of Maud’s place in his life is very moving indeed.

One of the strengths of Maudie, outside of its terrific performances, is in its strong evocation of time and place. Kudos must given to the wonderful lensing of the pic by Guy Godfree, who manages to assemble images that have a kinship with Maud’s work in terms of their beauty. Maudie may be a bit laid back for its own good but there’s still much to admire in this portrait of an artist whose work—and life—deserve to be known.
     
Atomic Blonde (**) R

Consistency has always been a litmus test as to whether a film passes or fails on my terms. Take the latest graphic novel/comic book adaptation Atomic Blonde, for instance. Here is a film where in one scene a character gets stabbed in the head and yet there’s hardly a drop of blood in sight. A little farther down the line a character is dispatched with a shard of glass in the neck and the blood flows freely. I kept wondering to myself if this was just a lapse in continuity or if it was just lazy filmmaking. If pressed I’d say it falls into the latter camp.

Charlize Theron is the titular character of the film, the Atomic Blonde. In the film she goes by the moniker of Lorraine Broughton. The statuesque and immaculately chiseled Theron is perfectly cast in the role and, despite being at an age when most actresses have long ago shed their sex symbol status courtesy of Hollywood’s unbalanced standards and practices, she’s sure to catch the eye of male audience members half her age. She gives it her all and Theron, who also gets a producer credit, certainly can’t be faulted for not doing the best with the material she’s been given. Unfortunately, when saddled with such a weak script there’s only so much onscreen talent can do. Therein lies the rub.

The film opens with a title card telling us that the setting is November 1989, just after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde

Lorraine, an MI6 spy, is all battered and bruised. Presently, she’s being interrogated by her boss (Toby Jones) and a CIA Chief (John Goodman) regarding a recently completed mission to recover a dossier containing the names of British agents that the Russians are all too eager to get their hands on (in the movies, aren’t they always?). The story is related in flashback. We see how Lorraine beat and pummeled her way to locating and recovering the secret list, along the way partnering with another agent (James McAvoy, chewing scenery much as he did in his dreadful turn in the film Split, from earlier this year) in her quest.

One thing the film has going for it comes courtesy of director David Leitch, a former stuntman turned director who was also responsible for the monotonous but well orchestrated John Wick films. Leitch’s penchant for successfully staging action scenes that, for the most part, look realistic is an asset. Unfortunately, all the great action scenes in the world can’t compensate for a script that feels like a rejected James Bond film penned during the Reagan era. This one has gloss to spare but, unfortunately, that’s about all it has going for it.

Maudie is playing at the Regal Manor Twin in Charlotte.

Atomic Blonde is playing at AMC Hickory.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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