‘Ammonite’ Review: Love on the Rocks

Leave a comment

Ammonite (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, Gemma Jones, James McArdle

Director: Francis Lee

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Quite Graphic Bedroom Scenes

Release Date: November 13, 2020 (Theaters)/December 4, 2020 (On Demand)

Man, if you’re into rocks AND forbidden love stories, you’re gonna love Ammonite. Me personally, I can certainly enjoy the latter, though they can be heart-wrenchingly bittersweet. As for the former, rocks definitely serve their purpose here on Earth, but I’m not particularly inclined to spend an entire day studying them. Nor am I particularly inclined to watch a movie that dedicates a good portion of itself to people doing just that. But I always aim to be open-minded, so I decided to give Ammonite a chance to see if it could win me over. Ultimately, it all went about exactly as I would have expected, with the paleontology scenes making me go, “Wow, Kate Winslet sure does enjoy studying fossils a lot more than I ever would” and the romance scenes making me go, “Wow, Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan sure do trust each other enough to get really, really explicit.”

It’s the 1840s on the Southern English coast. Winslet plays Mary Anning, who is now officially the most passionate paleontologist I’ve ever heard of. She supports herself and her mother by selling fossils to tourists, and one of those folks, geologist Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), offers her something rather unique. His wife Charlotte (Ronan) is suffering from one of those vague 19th century illnesses that result in general exhaustion, and he’s entrusted Mary to caring after her. Mary and Charlotte proceed to spend plenty of time alone, thus awakening passions that are generally not spoken about in polite British society.

Like most other recent period queer love stories I’ve encountered, the affair between Mary and Charlotte is able to thrive in a little pocket of the larger world. There’s even a hint that it could last indefinitely. So I’m fascinated that the ultimate roadblock for these two is less about society frowning upon them and more about the struggle to bridge the gap between their very different lives. Mary is so married to her work that she cannot imagine uprooting herself in any way (there’s also the matter of supporting her mother). With Ammonite so firmly foregrounded in the literal ground, it comes off as rather quotidian and even dispassionate (though certainly not shy). So in conclusion, I haven’t suddenly been inspired to start studying fossils myself, but I am still heartbroken when two star-crossed souls can’t quite make it work.

Ammonite is Recommended If You Like: Fossils, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Rocks on the beach, Walks on the beach

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rocks

Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ Demonstrates the Power of Renewed Resonance Through Reorganizing

3 Comments

CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Columbia/Sony Pictures

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Few Bloody Knuckles and General Adolescence

Release Date: December 25, 2019

I’m a big advocate for the value of consuming a story in whatever order you damn well please. If you get engrossed in a movie halfway through and then watch the beginning at some future point, then bully on you. If you watch the last season of a popular TV show first and then catch up on previous seasons in a random zigzagging order, that sounds fascinating. If you always skip ahead to the last paragraph of a novel and also reread your favorite chapters before you’re done the whole thing, then it sounds like you’re someone who enjoys experimenting. To all of you who fit in any of those categories, you’ve got a kindred spirit in Greta Gerwig, who plays mix-and-match with her rendition of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 semi-autobiographical novel Little Women, one of the most beloved and oft-adapted works of American fiction.

If I were to extend my advocacy for watching something in whatever order you like to its logical end, then I could say that you could watch this Little Women in an even more chronologically mixed-up fashion than it already is. (Or you could go in the opposite direction, and I bet there is someone out there who will one day re-edit this film into a more temporally linear fashion.) But Gerwig’s chosen order of events is far from arbitrary. The opening scene and one of the final moments especially underscore the themes that she wants to bring to the surface.

There is a general air of light postmodernism to this movie, in the sense that there is a tacit understanding that the majority of the audience is already familiar with the story. Thus, Gerwig begins with scenes in which the little women are closer to, if not already, grown adults. The most iconic episodes from earlier in the March sisters’ lives do not need to be rehashed, at least not right away. Instead, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) kicks things off by bounding into a publishing office to sell a story she’s written. It’s bought by a Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), but he also tells her that if her main character is a girl, she must be married (or dead) by the end. Chances are that most viewers know that these are indeed the fates that await the March sisters, but a collective smirk is likely to form across the crowd at this moment, because we also know that the entire purpose of Little Women is that these significant lives are not just reduced to their expected conclusions.

The other essential moment comes when the far-flung temporal settings have caught up with each other, and Jo is fretting to her sisters that her completed novel, based on her own family life, is about a trivial topic and nothing important. Even though she is mightily invested in her own work, she is still subscribing to the idea that only “important” subjects are really worthy of being written about in novels. But then her youngest, always fiercely opinionated sister Amy (Florence Pugh) insists that the mere act of writing about a subject confers importance upon it. And so, because Gerwig is telling this story once again, and because it is clearly a labor of love for her, and because Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen are there alongside her and Ronan and Pugh to round out and bring to life the March sisterhood, all of that is the reason why Little Women is important in 2019.

Little Women is Recommended If You Like: Revisiting the classics

Grade: 4 out of 5 Adaptations

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Ponders So Many Questions About Who Belongs on the Throne

Leave a comment

CREDIT: CREDIT: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce

Director: Josie Rourke

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: R for A Surprisingly Horny Approach to the Material and the Violent Retribution That Results

Release Date: December 7, 2018 (Limited)

If you’re an anglophile who loves tracking all historical matters of royal succession, then you ought to add Mary Queen of Scots to your to-watch list. But if you’re more ambivalent on the subject, this film is likely to instead get you frustrated and shout at the 16th century to move ahead hundreds of years when questions of leadership have less to do with the intricacies of bloodlines. Of course, 21st century politics has its own problems, but Mary Queen of Scots feels obsessed with the minutiae of what was specific to a bygone era. There is some intriguing conflict to be had, as Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and her cousin Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) both apparently have legitimate claims to the English throne. The internal psychological drama and external tension of impatient courts and citizenry are present, but the same points keep getting pounded over and over.

Part of the problem is the film’s lopsided structure. It makes sense that the title is what it is and not “Mary & Elizabeth,” as this is at least two-thirds Mary’s story, if not more. Perhaps there is an element of correcting the historical record, or the cinematic historical world, as Elizabeth’s story has hitherto been told more often than Mary’s. But if that’s the case, then you might as well go whole hog into Mary’s realm and render Elizabeth more or less heard but not seen. As it stands, though, it makes me wonder, “Why can’t they both be queen?” Alas, for the sake of the narrative (and historical accuracy), that’s probably too pat and conflict-free. But it’s almost all worth it for the scene when Mary and Elizabeth finally meet in person. Ridiculous measures are taken to keep this meeting “secret,” thus fulfilling a promise to really examine the nonsense inherent to this state of affairs. It’s all silly, and should be treated as such, instead of resorting to beheadings.

Mary Queen of Scots is Recommended If You Like: Any and all royal British period piece

Grade: 3 out of 5 Heirs

 

This Is a Movie Review: On Chesil Beach

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Bleecker Street

I give On Chesil Beach 2 out of 5 Past Traumas: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/on-chesil-beach-movie-review-saoirse-ronans-talents-can-only-carry-this-romantic-tragedy-so-far/

SNL Review December 2, 2017: Saoirse Ronan/U2

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Alison Hale/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-saoirse-ronanu2/

White House Christmas – B

Saoirse Ronan’s Monologue – B

Floribama Shore – B-

Action News 9 – B-

“Welcome to Hell” – B-

KMart Returns and Exchanges – B-

The Race – A-

U2 perform “American Soul” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Theresa May – B+
Shelly and Greg Duncan – C

Bachelor Auction (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A-

Late for Class – B+

U2 perform “Get Out of Your Own Way” – B

Aer Lingus – B

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Lady Bird’ Will Speak Volumes to Anyone Who Went to Catholic High School in the Early 2000s, or Anyone Who Was Ever a Teenager at Any Time

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Merie Wallace/A24

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush, Jordan Rodrigues, Laura Marano, Lois Smith

Director: Greta Gerwig

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for Brief Pornographic Images, But Otherwise It Should Be PG-13 for Teens Being Teens

Release Date: November 3, 2017 (Limited)

It makes sense that much of Lady Bird takes place in a Catholic school, as both the Church and Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut strongly advocate for the inherent dignity of the individual human being. Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who prefers to go by “Lady Bird” (which still counts as a given name because she gave it to herself), is a high school senior in Sacramento (“the Midwest of California,” as she puts it) in 2002 (according to her, the most exciting thing about that year is that it is a palindrome) who dreams of escaping to a liberal arts college on the East Coast, despite her thoroughly average academic résumé. There is a hint that she is an underachiever (an offhand comment notes that her SAT scores are surprisingly high), but no matter the why of her being in the middle, her life struggle is still compelling. It is not so much that she has a particularly unusual personality or worldview by teenage millennial standards; she doesn’t really. Rather, she is worth paying attention to because someone bothered to tell her story.

The most filling narrative meat involves Lady Bird’s interactions with her mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Anyone who has had constant drag-out cutting fights with their own mother despite both sides wanting to get along will recognize this impasse. Metcalf is an expert at navigating the fluid dynamics of parent/child relationships, while Ronan is heartbreaking as she attempts to reconcile forging her own identity with pleasing the people she cares about. And let’s not sleep on Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s dad Larry, her quiet ally making his own way through job insecurity and depression. His is a notably un-showy performance surrounded by a couple of demonstrative women, but his quiet embodiment of personal dignity still comes through loud and clear.

For a 90-minute film, Lady Bird has a remarkably deep bench, but that is just natural for a film that values dignity so highly. As Lady Bird’s best friend Julie, Beanie Feldstein could have easily been the wacky sidekick, but instead she’s a supportive, goofy pal who also has her own stuff going on. Lucas Hedges slots in nicely as the first boyfriend who turns out to be closeted – his story is familiar, but deeply felt. We do not see as much of Timothée Chalamet and Odeya Rush as an alternate love interest and the popular girl, respectively, but we get enough that their characterizations go beyond “Strokes-esque rocker boy” and “airhead in advanced placement classes.” All the kids speak in the faux-profundity typical of adolescence (“very baller” is spouted in the same breath as “very anarchist), a touch that is both mocking and respectful, taking these kids to task but also treating them honestly. And special mention must also be made of Lois Smith as a nun who loves a good prank, surprisingly enough.

Gerwig fills in this world with a lot of well-observed details that give a natural sheen to post-9/11 American reality. Lady Bird rebukes a classmate for being “Republican” when bringing up concerns about terrorism in New York. The soundtrack draws from five years earlier more so than it does the hits of 2002, recognizing the eclectic nature of Gen Y (that has only grown more eclectic). Lady Bird is simply a sharply observed film about one voice and many voices, and all anyone has ever asked for is that they be given a chance for their voices to be heard.

Lady Bird is Recommended If You Like: Saved!, Adventureland, An Education

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Communion Wafers