Wonder

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Wonder

In the troubled world where we all live now, Wonder is a gift of two hours to think about basic human decency. If you are even for a moment tempted to label it as too sentimental, you would miss a grand two hours. Stephen Chbosky has written and directed a story that might have been just that in lesser hands, but the cast that delivers his story is so good that it becomes an invitation to sink in and appreciate the message.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is a ten year old boy with facial scars that are the result of surgeries aimed at repairing birth defects. Against all odds, he is alive, well, and very smart, but he has been home schooled by his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) who wanted to protect him from any possible ridicule. He hides his face full time in an astronaut suit with a helmet that hides his scars.

As the movie opens, Auggie is going to school for the first time. On that first day, he inevitably suffers the stares of his classmates. From that point forward, we get alternating glimpses of Auggie’s life at school and his life at home. We learn that his parents have built their lives around their love and support for him while ignoring the emotional needs of his lovely older sister Via. But when he sees the stares of his classmates, he crumbles.

Under the wise encouragement of school headmaster, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin), Auggie wends his way through rebuffs and hurt along with the beginnings of humor and acceptance. The politics of the sixth grade are sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, and often hurtful. The whole is done so well that we find ourselves deep in the story wondering how we ourselves could have done it, how we could have taught an entire sixth grade to celebrate acceptance of this smart, funny classmate whose face is the initial announcement of who he is.

This movie that might have been mawkish becomes genuinely moving for one reason: the cast. Without even a hint of overacting, Julia Roberts creates a mother attuned to her son’s childhood needs and to the moment when he must step into the real world. Isabela Vidovic creates Auggie’s older sister who is loved but often ignored by her parents because she is both pretty and smart and will make it on her own. Vidovic’s performance in nuanced and beautiful, and she is matched perfectly by Nadji Jeter who becomes her boyfriend with great appeal of his own. Owen Wilson is okay as Dad, but seems an oddly alien presence in his own family.

Don’t waste a minute resenting the sentimentality. When a cast like this reminds us of the rewards of abandoning judgement, we realize how widely this is needed in so many areas of life today. Is it possible to bring open minds to issues instead of the partisan entrenchment we see in both the sixth grade and in our world? Hail, Auggie.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : WONDER
Word Count : 501
Running Time:1:53
Rating : PG
Date : December 10, 2017

 

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

For movie lovers, anticipation and reality are the two states we inhabit in relation to any movie. When the reality turns out to be disappointment, we feel let down for ourselves and sympathetic toward the people who worked hard to make a good film. Roman J. Israel, Esq. was a big disappointment for me. Here’s the why of that.

For twenty-six years, Roman Israel (Denzel Washington) has been the in-office work horse of a two man criminal defense firm while his partner did the public work in the court system. That partner has had a heart attack and lies dying slowly in a hospital.

George (Colin Farrell), an upscale, successful lawyer, steps in to shut down the dingy office where Roman works to redesign the court system that punishes down and out lawbreakers without any effort toward rehabilitation. George hires Roman to address the social justice side of life in a token way in his own big firm.

This is a one man show for Denzel Washington and that is a big undertaking for one actor whose character rarely interacts with others and walks through life talking mostly to himself. His Roman Israel has an encyclopedic grasp of the criminal codes along with dedication to social justice, 1960s style.

For two hours this is what you will see: Roman coming to the office in ill matching old pants, shirt, and sweater or jacket, talking to himself about injecting rehabilitation into the system. His only social interactions unfold with George who hires him for his mastery of the criminal code and with Maya (Carmen Ejogo) who sees he is as troubled as she is. Even when he is with either of those two, he is muttering under his breath in an unreachable inner place. He cannot relax enough to get to know either of them. This is a man so trapped in himself that he can’t respond to the two people who reach out to him.

Roman searches for a job with civil rights in his heart and tears in his eyes as he sees his dream of a grand new era of social reform is of little importance in the world of modern law. Whenever he tries to sell his reform, he is dismissed as a nuisance. He is an eccentric in a world that sees little importance in his ideas. A few light hearted scenes unfold when he violates his own code to stay in a fancy hotel and cavort in the ocean. Can he walk comfortably in the shoes of a rich man?

Writer/director Dan Gilroy creates a character so absorbed in his own dreams that he is of little interest either to on screen characters or to theater audiences. One actor must create this man who is a prisoner in his own mind. He must carry the movie for two hours, and that’s a devil of a load for any actor, even for the grand Denzel Washington.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Word Count : 495
Running Time: 2:09
Rating : PG-13
Date : December 3, 2017

 

This review was posted on December 3, 2017, in Crime, Drama.