The Hollars

A Small Winner

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Hollars

With The Hollars, a talented group of filmmakers has turned the ordinary into a memorable bit of magic. Will you rush off to the theater if I tell you this is a movie about a dysfunctional suburban family? Of course not. What if I add that every character in the movie is a small story in itself, each dealing with the ups and downs in his/her personal life in relation to the others? The chemistry that evolves as they are drawn together by the matriarch’s illness bubbles to life until we realize we are watching something very unusual, and if you think a matriarchal illness is a negative, I promise you this is no ordinary matriarch.

So right up front the credit goes to John Krasinski who directs and stars, to James C. Strouse who wrote without cliché and with much imagination, and to actors who endow their characters with genuine originality. There isn’t one of them – in small or big parts – who fails to catch our interest. What will happen to him – to her? To this whole gang that is not a close family? The fact that we care is a salute to everyone involved.

Frustrated artist John Hollar (John Krasinski) comes home as the family gathers for his mother’s brain surgery. He is joined soon by his loyal pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). We meet grumpy unemployed brother Ron (Sharito Copley), father Don (Richard Jenkins), and Reverend Dan (Josh Groban) who is the live-in boyfriend of John’s old girlfriend. Above and beyond all we meet actor Margo Martindale who creates ailing mother Sally Hollar in short bursts of wisdom and comic skill. There’s not a cliché in this woman’s head. Her delivery of insights in short, thoughtful bursts shows us the intelligence and humor that brought the whole family together.

Richard Jenkins creates the weak but devoted patriarch who can’t stop crying when he thinks about losing his wife. He gives us a man who drew any strength he had from her and finally says, “It’s terrifying to find out this late in life what you should have done.”

John Krasinski wraps John Hollar in an appealing insecurity about being an artist but also makes him a man who responds with deftness and strength to what he finds when he comes home. His direction of Strouse’s clever script is subtle. Together they hand us fully realized family, and not one of them has the feel of a supporting player.

Until, that is, we realize we are watching a rare performance of sophisticated subtlety by Margo Martindale as Sally, mother in spirit to all the rest. Martindale builds her performance slowly without ever appealing for sympathy. She offers short, sharp observations that reach both her family and the audience.

It isn’t often that writers, directors, and actors combine to bring such pleasure to a small movie. We may be lucky enough to see Margo Martindale again during the approaching awards season.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Hollars
Word count : 498
Running time : 1:28
Rating : PG-13
Date : July 23, 2016


This review was posted on September 24, 2016, in Uncategorized.


Pardon or Jail?

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


Hero or villain? Ever since Edward Snowden revealed the fact that the National Security Agency had recorded more than three billion phone calls of Americans, the argument over his motivations has continued – usually in an angry partisan way. The bedrock here is the Constitutional guarantee under the 4th amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

No such warrants were ever sought by the NSA. Edward Snowden had reached a high level of responsibility and trust in the NSA and CIA when he learned this. His personal battle over whether to reveal the government crime boiled down to his deep belief that privacy itself is a uniquely American concept. We are free here to believe and to act as long as we don’t violate the Constitution or criminal laws.

That, Snowden believes, is what sets America apart in the best of ways. Diminishing privacy is the first step toward dictatorship, and indeed that has always been true, Hitler being the prime example. When privacy is compromised, the seeds of fear and self-censorship are planted. “Without privacy,” he says, “we cease to be ourselves.” That is the core of this movie.

What’s new is this: from Snowden’s revelations forward, it is up to us to listen carefully to his reasons for revealing the NSA actions. That’s a tough one given that they and the CIA have operated since their inception without being held to account for any violations, criminal or constitutional.

What happened this past week on September 14th was this: The first showing of the movie was followed in selected theaters by a live split screen interview with Edward Snowden in Russia, and in America with director Oliver Stone, and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. This gave audiences a real chance to study both Snowden and the issues. Is he a man to be thanked or punished?

It is clear in the interview that Snowden sees the 4th amendment as protection of the privacy that makes Americans who they are. Exactly who, he asks, gave the NSA and the CIA the right to invade the privacy of so many who were not suspected of any crime?

Before you label Edward Snowden hero or villain, find the September 14th interview (soon on YouTube). Study his face, his manner, and his words very carefully. Measure your reading against the facts and then decide for yourselves whether he should be pardoned or jailed.

Those of us who still think of war as between countries and leaders have much to learn. Our surveillance agencies have the tools now to spy on and act against individuals and countries electronically without ever leaving their offices. Consider Snowden’s warning: “The modern battlefield is everywhere.”

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Snowden
Word count : 500
Running time : 2:14
Rating : R
Date : June 16, 2016