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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘Dunkirk,’ ‘Maudie,’ ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

World War II’s Miracle of Dunkirk has never been addressed in American cinema. “Dunkirk” details the epic rescue of 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France: the biggest evacuation in military history.

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From May 27 to June 4, 1940, the Allies were surrounded on all sides by German forces (never named, just referred to as “the enemy”), while the Luftwaffe repeatedly buzzed and bombarded the beaches.

Since the water was too shallow for destroyers to get close to the beach, brave British civilians volunteered to cross the English Channel in everything from fishing boats to barges to retrieve the troops—while under constant bombardment.

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar”) tells the suspenseful survival story from three meticulously interwoven perspectives, based on fictional characters.

The terrified men on the beach are personified by Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who joins a fellow soldier (Aneurin Barnard) and an infantryman (Harry Styles) in a desperate fight to make it off the mole, an 8-foot-wide pier that’s overseen by Naval Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh).

There’s the aerial perspective of Farrier (Tom Hardy), a senior RAF Spitfire fighter pilot who has only one hour to take out Nazi planes and provide cover for the men on the ground and in the water.

Sailing from England, there’s a small, wooden yacht, resolutely piloted by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) with his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and tagalong pal George (Barry Keoighan). En route, they save a shivering, shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) from a torpedoed ship.

Utilizing minimal dialogue and eliminating backstory, Nolan relies on cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s visual imagery, Hans Zimmer’s music and primal sound to propel the visceral drama.

FYI: Pop heartthrob Harry Styles of the beloved band One Direction makes an auspicious acting debut. Because of his presence, his devoted fans around the world will get a much-needed history lesson.

Since Nolan shot with IMAX cameras, the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk is the only Connecticut theater utilizing full IMAX projection. On the six-story IMAX screen, audiences will see almost 40 percent more of what Nolan shot, compared to what will be seen on smaller, horizontal screens in other local theaters. It’s virtual reality without the headset.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dunkirk” is a taut, tension-filled 10 – the most intense, immersive war story since “Saving Private Ryan.”

In “Maudie,” Sally Hawkins delivers an exquisite performance as eccentric Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis.

Set in the late 1930s in rural Nova Scotia, Maud has been crippled since childhood with rheumatoid arthritis. Cheated out of her parents’ inheritance by her selfish brother (Zachary Bennett), she’s sent to live in Digby with her stern, spinster Aunt (Gabrielle Rose), who treats her as if she’s feeble-minded.

Determined to make her own way in the world, indefatigably optimistic Maudie spies a HELP WANTED ad in the general store and trudges several miles on a dirt road to the ramshackle cottage owned by surly fish-peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) to apply for the job as his live-in housekeeper.

Since no one else will come near him, grumpy Everett grudgingly hires Maudie, although he constantly berates her, curtly telling her that his dogs and chickens are more valuable to him than she is.

Resolutely cheerful and creative, Maudie slyly finds time to paint, dabbing colorful flowers and vibrant birds on the shelves and walls of Everett’s tiny house, along with any scraps of wood she can find.

Everett’s verbal abuse of Maudie continues until a visitor (Kari Matchett) from New York shows interest in buying some of her decorative artwork, prompting Maudie to post a sign: “Paintings for sale.”

Meanwhile, Maudie and Everett get married, and she gradually confides shameful secrets from her past which, eventually, lead to a deeper understanding of her loneliness and need for independence.

Scripted as a simplistic biopic, splendidly photographed and sensitively directed by Aisling Walsh, Maudie’s spirited plight strikes a poignant chord, culminating in a short clip from Diane Beaudry’s National Film Board documentary “Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows.”

On the Granger Gauge, “Maudie” is a simplistic, sincere 7, an improbable success story.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” finds the webslinger joining Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, cavorting with the Avengers like Iron Man and Captain America.

Frantic 15 year-old, high-school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is frustrated because, although he’s been given an awesome high-tech suit by billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he’s told not use his superpowers except on a local level, reporting to Stark’s flunkie, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).

Although he’s supposed to keep mum about his alter-ego, in chemistry class Peter thoughtlessly tinkers with his web-fluid formula in chemistry class, blowing his cover to his quintessentially geeky best bud Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and, eventually, to his bewildered Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

While Peter’s grades are suffering at the Midtown School of Science and Technology, his hormones are ranging over a flirtatious senior (Laura Harrier), daughter of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a salvage contractor-turned-contraband alien-arms merchant, known in the comics as The Vulture.

Riffing on the iconic comic-book character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, it’s a fragmented collaboration between team of six screenwriters and Jon Watts, whose direction is uneven.

Filled with running gag references to other Marvel movies, there’s a segment in which Captain America (Chris Evans) figures not only in Peter’s history class, as the teacher lectures about conflict over the Sokovia Accords, but also in gym, saying, “So your body’s changed. I know how that feels.”

There are also amusing cameos from Zendaya (as Mary Jane, a.k.a. MJ), Donald Glover (as burglar Aaron Davis), and Stan Lee (as an irate Queens neighbor). But I felt the final post-credit scene with Cap chiding the audience for its patience fell flat, although a Spidey sequel is obviously in the works.

On the Granger Gauge, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a scrappy 7, evoking fond memories of the adolescent angst in John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 07/19/17 at 08:33 AM  Permalink



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