10 November, 2013

Savannah review bundle: "How I Live Now" (***½), "About Time" (****), "East of Acadia" (**½)

Saoirse Ronan stars in "How I Live Now"
"How I Live Now" is prolific filmmaker Kevin Macdonald's latest film, adapted from a 2004 novel by Meg Rosoff and starring Saoirse Ronan in perhaps her most assertive performance yet. While young adult adaptations set in a post-apocalyptic world are dime-a-dozen these days, "How I Live Now" manages to set itself apart by not compromising edginess for a lower MPAA rating and a wider audience. At the start, Ronan's Daisy seems nothing more than a cliched, rebellious teenager, but as the film progresses and the story takes increasingly more devastating turns, it becomes clear that she is the film's greatest strength. The young actress maintains a firm grasp on her character, anchoring a film that—while not desperate—wouldn't really know where it was going without as laser-focused a lead as Ronan provides. Visually, the film is not very uniform in terms of its pallet or composition, but successfully relays to the audience Daisy's reactions and experiences through urgent representations of dreams, visions or her confounded physical and emotional states. Jon Hopkins' score is surprisingly beautiful in between louder soundtrack selections. "How I Live Now" is—thankfully—not as reliant on its grim, dystopian setting as most of its YA counterparts, allowing it to be more of a backdrop for its characters rather than the emphasis for the story itself. However independent and hard-boiled it manages to be, it still doesn't capture the mood of such a world as well as, say, "Children of Men." Regardless, Ronan and her supporting players are easily worthy of your time. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

"About Time" and "East of Acadia" after the jump.

Rachel McAdams stars in "About Time"
"About Time" was the surprise Director's Choice film at this year's Savannah Film Festival. Though I must confess to my disappointment that the chosen film was not a potential awards hitter like the suspected alternatives "Dallas Buyer's Club" or "Saving Mr. Banks," I was very pleased with the charming selection. From smaller roles in "True Grit" and "Never Let Me Go" to an impressive turn in "Anna Karenina" that showcased all the charisma and talent necessary of a leading man, Domhnall Gleeson has become one of the most exciting up-and-comers in the industry today. Truly, it is Gleeson and his wonderful co-stars that really lift "About Time" into the stratosphere above a land over-populated with mundane romantic comedies. It helps that writer-director Richard Curtis has crafted a film full of realistic, quirky characters, but the cast truly achieves cohesion as a singular unit. Were it in my power, I would lobby for an Oscar nomination for Bill Nighy anytime he appeared on screen, and it is no different here. Rachel McAdams is aglow, though it helps that she is already everyone's dream girl. Curtis and his cast take an easy and overused sci-fi theme like time travel and rather than over-exploit it, they use it as a commonplace, secondary conduit for the story—the first being love. By the end, "About Time" tries too hard to be profound about life lessons, using terms like 'remarkable' and 'extraordinary' too often. But just as we all can expect by now, Richard Curtis delivers another sweet and solid film, sure to be loved for years to come. 4 out of 5 stars.

Rachel Miner stars in "East of Acadia"
Writer-director Brad Coley's second feature, "East of Acadia," had its world premiere in Savannah. The film follows Claire, a recently divorced New York City woman played by Rachel Miner, as she returns to what remains of the rural Maine commune she was born into. Though the film's first shot is a beautiful, slow zoom through a conference room overlooking Midtown Manhattan, nearly all of the film takes place in a rustic small town. The tone of the film shifts too frequently between family crime drama, potential horror film and mystery thriller—distracting the audience and damaging their investment with every shift. The interesting premise is built up with solid plot development but polluted by too many characters and often stagey performances—although Shamika Cotton and former Oscar-nominee Chris Sarandon are clear bright spots. Coley's screenplay fails to incorporate enough realistic conversation between characters, keeping the story from breathing easily and relying too heavily on histrionics, exposition and collective realizations through visions and flashbacks that just don't sit well.
The visuals—in terms of the prologue, Claire's dream sequences and the sense of community captured throughout—are the film's greatest strengths, showcasing Coley as a promising filmmaker with a good grasp on visual storytelling. Unfortunately, "East of Acadia" is under-equipped by its screenplay and comes across as a bit heavy-handed in the search to discover what type of film it really wants to be. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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