Sometimes all you need in a movie for it to be good is a great performance. In Francis E Lee’s ‘Ammonite,’ you get to: Kate Winslet’s and Saoirse Ronan’s. Without them, I really don’t know how the film would have held up. But with them in it, they make the whole thing soar.
Franci E Lee’s second feature has similarities to his first: there’s the love that dare not speak its name, there’s that love in an idyllic setting. ‘Ammonite’ is a lot of atmosphere as it is set in 1840s Lyme Regis in Southern England. And Lee knows how to do atmosphere well. In here, it really enhances – defines – Winslet’s character, Mary Anning, a paleontologist who spends her days looking for rocks, and fossilizing what she finds. When she meets Charlotte (Ronan) her life changes.
There isn’t much narrative, to be honest. But both actresses make up for it. They start off cold, but bring enough passion in their performances that ultimately you believe in their love. You may not necessarily be swept away by it, though – this film is subtle with sentimentality – but there isn’t a doubt in your head by its existence. Winslet is truly fantastic here, a woman who never wallows in her existence. On the other hand, Ronan as Charlotte rises from the wallowing, and that’s when you can see the fires in their. love.
Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ is the perfect Christmas movie. It bristles, it makes you wonder, it makes you think, it entertains. But then again, i feel like the ultimate target market for the film, as it seems like I have been seeing its trailer from all the movies I have sen since September. I was a bit skeptical at first – do we need another film adaptation of this? – but the only way I can describe this film is that Gerwig has ‘remixed’ the material. It’s still the same great story by Louis May Alcott, but it somehow feel urgent, current, and modern.
Maybe it’s the performances. Saoirse Ronan is at the core of this, and she gives us a great Jo March – relatable, strong willed, a woman of today set in the 1800s – who values her art in her own tomboyish feminine way. She broke my heart towards the end when she sees the consequence of turning away Laurie. On paper, I could say that I am not too fond of Amy, but Florence Pugh here gives us depth that for maybe the first time I understood the character much more. The rest of the cast is great – Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Lara Dern – and Meryl Streep steals the scene in every that she is on. I also think we should give Timothee Chalamet props – he holds his own here as Laurie against all the girls, and he is swoon worthy with his high cheekbones. As Amy Pascal noted, ‘he has the most beautiful face on screen since Elizabeth Taylor.’ This film made me feel good, and I can’t think of a better Christmas present.
For most of ‘On Chesil Beach,’ I was underwhelmed. I guess my mind is too much into what I have known – a child of the 80s – that I thought a lot of what is in the movie ‘much ado about nothing.’ Do people really break up over sex incompatibility (or lack of trying?) Do people really have no premarital sex? But this is 1962, and I admit I don’t know much about 1962. But then towards the end of the movie, a certain sentimentality was tagged in the movie, and hopeful romantic me just lapped that up. Curiously, here I am days after seeing the film and I am still thinking about the characters.
That’s where the irony lies. A lot of write ups about the movie say that that tacked-on sentimental ending does a great disservice to Ian McEewan’s brilliant book. But can we really say that, knowing McEwan was also involved int he screenplay? I hear that a lot of what is touching in the book rests on the ambiguity on the ending – something that is ‘answered’ on the film version. Of course this would just implore me to just read the damn thing, and curse myself for going by life this far without doing so.
Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are perfectly cast as this couple. Ronan is truly a great thinking actress – we see her give us surprises on a character we thought we understood. And where did Howle come from? He expresses anger and confusion and charm all in one gaze, matching Ronan’s complexity.
The film makes us wonder about decisions we make, and maybe that’s why ultimately, it made me think about all the “what might have beens” in my life. In my old age, there have been a lot of those, and though I am a lot better now with them, something triggers sometimes. ‘On Chesil Beach’ did that, and here I am wondering is that is a good or bad thing.