Never Look Away

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Never Look Away

The title: Never Look Away. The length: three hours and eight minutes. You plan to skip it? For all that time I never once wanted to leave my chair and the whole film still runs quietly through my mind. Its length is part of the reason. It takes all that time to do for us what writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck intends while painting his portrait of an artist based on a leading German artist, Gerhard Richter.

It is 1933 and the opening scenes set the horrendous tone of Nazi control. In an art gallery tour, the Nazi guide announces which paintings are good and which are bad. Kurt (Cai Cohrs), a small boy, is there with his aunt Ellie who feeds him the message of free expression while they walk through the art show under the shouted instructions of what they are to like or dislike. Ellie’s stream of free thought lands her in the hands of Professor Carl Seband (Sebastian Koch) who is heading the new sterilization program that will deal with unwanted women.

While the country is soaked with Nazi horrors, young Kurt (Tom Schilling) grows up knowing he will be a painter and we in the audience follow his search for his artistic core. The Nazi culture is utterly invasive but Kurt is embedded in his search for how and what he wants to paint.

As history unfolds around him, we in the audience become fascinated with his personal quest. Though the realities of the Nazis abound, we follow Kurt as he searches for the focus of his great talent. He can paint, but what will he paint? That happens only after he moves from the artistically conservative Dresden to Dusseldorf under the prodding of his fellow artist friend.

Even in this city that encouraged freedom, Kurt finally sits in frustration before blank canvases in his frustration at discovering who he is as an artist. He senses a something deep in his core and hasn’t yet discovered what it is. His search becomes our focus. Watching him explore his talent as his emotional tools unfold is thoroughly intriguing in the hands of this fine actor. His father-in-law: “Mozart was dead at 30, and you still don’t know? You’re still a student?”

This is a story of a man in search of what he wants to create with his deep talent and we in the audience have become silent partners in his determination. Tom Schilling’s creation of the artist in search of himself is a thoroughly compelling mystery, deepened by his fine acting and the quiet way he moves through his confusion. It is deeply refreshing to follow an artist who is looking not for fame but to realize himself in the crushing times he and his family have lived through.

Though many intriguing small plots and emotional entanglements abound, we are absorbed by this artist who reaches not for success but to record and explain the destroyed world that surrounds him.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Never Look Away
Word Count : 501
Running Time: 3:08
Rating : R
Date : 17 February 2019

The Upside

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Upside

The Upside almost sinks in an intense and overlong introduction to its characters. That done, the actors calm down and act the roles they have been handed while we in the audience have at last become interested in them. When this happens, this cast delivers.

Bryan Cranston creates Phillip Lacasse a billionaire who became a quadriplegic during an accident while indulging in the sport he loved – hang gliding. The actor faces the challenge of acting the whole movie from a wheelchair where he must create all his moods and conversations with just his voice, facial muscles and his eyes. Nothing else moves. Over the course of the story, he creates a man of intelligence, acceptance, kindness and humor. Doing that without moving a muscle is quite an achievement.

Unable to do even one thing for himself, Phillip needs a man who will take full emotional and physical care of him for the rest of his life. As he interviews a long line of applicants for that job, he is drawn – for reasons we will learn later – to the thoroughly inexperienced Dell Scott (Kevin Hart). Against all advice, Phillip chooses Dell who appears to be the worst possible choice as caregiver to a quadriplegic. But as each shares things he knows the other needs, trust and friendship grow in the two men and in the audience.

The first half hour plus the premise are not promising. After that, settle in and enjoy watching some good actors make that improbable premise work in a way you don’t expect. How? There’s not a flawed performance. Nicole Kidman’s Yvonne, who runs Phillip’s business for him, is loyal and never overdone. Kidman has an instinctive sense of what might be too much or too little and she creates a fine character who we watch carefully for subtlety. Julianna Margulies appears for a short, sharp few moments in a role that’s tough to play given the situation.

If you are trying to decide whether to see a movie about a quadriplegic and his caretaker, it would be easy to imagine a downer of an evening. Don’t do that. Because of the performances there is a lot of laughter here, all delivered for our pleasure in a way that is thoroughly natural rather than contrived.

Both Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston do something that is unusual and extremely moving: each finds a way to contribute something major to the other’s life. There have been several movies this year that are rooted in tough truth that bring a fine gift to the audience. This is one of them. On this particular team of director Neil Burger and his cast, every one of them creates an interesting individual. Once again, because of strong, quiet talent, a sleeper of a movie surprises and moves its audiences. And yes, you are likely to tell people you’ve just seen a quadriplegic and a down and out street walker create great pleasure for audiences.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : The Upside
Word Count : 497
Running Time : 2:06
Rating : PG-13
Date : February10, 2019


This review was posted on February 10, 2019, in Comedy, Drama.