Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


A fine cast can enliven a dull story and dull cast can kill a good one. When outstanding actors land in a sharply original story, the results can be explosive. That happens in Puzzle. Don’t miss it.

The movie opens on Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) as she is swamped by domesticity while cleaning the family house and preparing a delicious birthday dinner. She then summons her husband Louie (David Denman) and their children. But wait, whose birthday is it? It’s hers. That is precisely how director Marc Turtletaub tells us in one quick scene that Agnes does all the work for the family without anyone else lifting a hand.

But here’s what creeps up on us very gently. Agnes is not resentful. It’s her work. Louie loves his family and his home and when he comes home from working in his auto shop, he is thoroughly happy to be with the people he loves. Acceptance by all is the atmosphere.

When Agnes starts assembling the pieces of a birthday present puzzle, we realize we are watching a woman discover that her brain can see the whole in a pile of pieces. We all know instantly that she has found something she must follow. Off she goes to New York City – where she has never been – to a serious puzzle store to begin to learn about her new world.

While there she sees an ad from a gifted puzzle man who needs a partner for a championship. She replies, meets Robert (Irrfan Khan) who is stunned by her ability and invites her to join him. In any other movie we would expect to see any number of plot twists involving resentment, jealousy, affairs and the like, but this isn’t that kind of story. For a long while the two new partners prepare for the championship. This is about two oddly gifted people who grow close on the oddest of paths.

The movie is so full of genuine, unspoken emotion, of kind people oddly matched, of two destined to be together – or are they? In this family full of respect and love for each other, none of the ordinary plot twists unfold. By the time we have learned not to expect the obvious, we are enveloped in the fascination of watching Agnes deal with her genius as she steps into a bigger world.

The team that built this piece of art includes director of photography Chris Norr, writers Oren Moverman and Natalia Smirnoff (original story), director Marc Turtletaub and the cast who understood the quality of their undertaking. Kelly MacDonald should be honored for responding with such subtlety to the whole of the film that she carries. And Irrfan Khan gets an equal bow for his ability and extraordinary restraint as her puzzle partner. The story becomes Agnes’ search for who she really is. Because of the quality of acting, directing, writing, and lighting on all levels, ordinary superlatives do no justice to Puzzle, a movie that is a work of art.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Puzzle
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 1:43
Rating: R
Date: August 11th, 2018

This review was posted on August 11, 2018, in Drama.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie have nailed us to our seats with suspense – again. As the credits roll for Mission: Impossible – Fallout, you are likely to sit immobile in in your seat in wonderful fear. If that sounds crazy, it is.

The tale unfolds in Belfast, Berlin, Paris, and London and we follow as the action moves through all the monuments we recognize and love. The secret, as always, is to forgive ourselves for not understanding the plot or the characters. Just listen to the music and watch Tom race through the explosions. The predictably violent sound track is a constant warning of what lies ahead.

Here’s the gut of it: Terrorist John Lark has designed a plan for the destruction of the world with three nuclear spheres that will do the job when one person has all three plus the key to ignite one. Lark’s plans are being carried out by his supporters, The Apostles. Where is the missing plutonium ball? That’s the gut of the film. Can Tom Cruise find it and save the world? Don’t worry about the world or the details or the confusing identities. Just watch the inventive tricks as they unfold.

Watch for a Paris bathroom scene of confined bloody violence, a nightclub scene of the same, and enjoy the sight of each horrifying switch unfolding under amazing light. We’re never sure who is good, who is evil. Watch Vanessa Kirby as “the white widow,” Henry Cavill as CIA operative Walker, villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and enjoy a fine turn by Alec Baldwin as Tom Cruise’s boss. Baldwin drops a strong note of wisdom into the otherwise ridiculous happenings.

Whether Tom Cruise is riding a bike against traffic in a Paris tunnel or dodging bullets everywhere, the tension spirals up. Why are we caught when we know the whole thing is ridiculous? It’s simple. Cruise doing the impossible, especially in the melodramatic, ludicrous finale that absorbs a whole theater.

Why, I asked myself, am I sitting here tied in knots about whether he will fall off a cliff, be hit by a truck, or shot by a traitor when I know perfectly well none of that will happen? The reality of that is the music, the extraordinary filming, and the colors, all of which create tension very successfully. Don’t even wonder who is who; it doesn’t matter a whit.

One appealing thing in all the violence: Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, for all his tough guy stuff, cares far more about one man or woman in danger than he does about the end of the whole world, and as he protects each one, we begin to like him. The plot? Forget it. Just look for the hints of good and bad in the characters. And feel yourself sinking into your chair hoping you can just disappear. And I ask this favor: During the last twenty minutes, see how much you can watch before slamming your eyes shut in fear.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 2:27
Rating: PG-13
Date: August 5, 2018