With the awards and holiday seasons coming to a collision course, there is a bounty of new releases hitting theaters and VOD platforms. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a vast amount of content to sift through, especially given the relative dearth of content 2020 has brought on the big screen. However, this weekend’s sizable output gives me little time to cover each release, which is why I am embracing this abridged format to catch you up to speed. Let’s get to it!
AMMONITE – Directed by Francis Lee
Synopsis: 1840s England, acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.
Given all the turmoil going on in the film industry/world at large, there’s something oddly comforting about the latest awards-hopeful Ammonite. Even in a truncated year, studios are still here to greet audiences with flat, Oscar-bait offerings that can’t hide their simplistic intentions.
Ammonite’s middling results are befuddling considering the immense talent behind it. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are compelling as always, unearthing subdued dimensions from the character’s internal struggles. Their longing and displeasure simmer through each frame, with the two combating the societal standards that keep them an arms distance from personal freedoms.
While the two actresses are great as individuals, Ammonite never allows the duo to grow onscreen. There’s no spark to draw from their insular performances, with director Francis Lee struggling to generate emotion from his mannered craftsmanship. Even for a subdued effort like this, the lacking chemistry consistently keeps viewers away from the character’s painful (and exceedingly relevant) struggles. Ammonite rarely makes a major misstep, but the project never resonates the way it intends to.
Ammonite is Now Playing in Theaters
MONSOON – Directed by Hong Khaou
Synopsis: Kit, a British Vietnamese man, returns to Saigon for the first time in over 30 years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War.
Have you ever returned to an old stomping ground only to be met with a lingering sense of melancholy? While you can revisit the sites you once traversed, those once-beloved locations now leave a foreboding malaise. That raw sentiment renders throughout Monsoon, a meditative drama that never loses its humanistic drive.
Don’t get me wrong, this is set-up has been portrayed in a countless array of festival films. Some of these efforts have thrived (The Farewell and Garden State), while others have joined a long list of forgotten festival failures (The Only Living Boy in New York). Director Hong Khaou thankfully makes this premise his own though, favoring a quiet atmosphere that subverts the mawkish sentimentality that typically derives from films of this elk.
Khaou’s visceral craftsmanship registers poetic potency, with patiently-constructed long-takes allowing viewers to breathe in the setting alongside Kit. It also provides star Henry Golding ample opportunities to display his acting chops. The Last Christmas star possesses a natural gravitas onscreen, peeling at Kit’s protective layers through his effectively insular delivery. This film rests solely on Khaou and Golding’s abilities, but the well-matched duo certainly proves they are up for the task. Monsoon unearths its quaint observations with an equal measure of emotion and craft.
Monsoon is now available on VOD Platforms
DREAMLAND – Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Synopsis: Amid the dust storms and economic depression of Dustbowl Era Oklahoma, Eugene Evans finds his family farm on the brink of foreclosure. His last bet to save the farm is the bounty on the head of fugitive bank robber Allison Wells. Once he stumbles upon Allison, Eugene begins to fall for her as he searches for a more profound life.
Dreamland’s set-up reads like a Bonnie and Clyde rip-off, a fact which director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte seems well-aware of. Along with his exquisite visual eye (he takes the empty Dusk Bowl setting and infuses it with a visceral poeticism), Joris-Peyrafitte approaches this familiar narrative ground with a reflective sensibility.
Dreamland operates at its best when uncorking the purpose behind its pulpy plot dynamics. Screenwriter Nicolaas Zwart uses his set-up to observe the respective allures of a grandiose lifestyle, with Eugene willingly embracing a deadly mission after years of being brainwashed by adventure stories. This conceit cleverly comments on our own relationship with high-stakes storytelling, a wistfulness that Zwart and Joris-Peyrafitte aptly juxtapose in the film’s melancholic final third. Credit to stars Margot Robbie and Finn Cole breathing assured performances from the character’s makeshift relationship.
The promising thematic conceits can only take Dreamland so far though. Zwart’s script utilizes a novel-esque approach that lands with an awkward thud, lacking the dramatic grace to completely reinvent its well-trudged devices. That being said, I do think Zwart and Joris-Peyrafitte craft a thoughtful film that lingers with audiences past its runtime.
Dreamland is now available in theaters and on VOD
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