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Wonder Woman

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Wonder Woman

The timing of the release of Wonder Woman is rare and perfect. Could anyone have foreseen that its arrival in theaters would coincide with both women’s frustration at their lack of power and their anger at war as a tool for settling arguments? A woman director and a fine actor have crafted some grand symbolism just when the world needs it most. A comic book hero speaking to the troubles of today? Let’s look.

Director Patty Jenkins has said that she wanted to tell a story “about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind.” She has done just that. By allowing only women on the set, she created an atmosphere that reflected the innocent essence of the Amazon nation. There would be no room for cynical thinking in this movie.

Gal Gadot, a former combat instructor in the Israeli Defense Force, creates Diana, daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), queen of the women on the Amazon Island. Diana rescues Steve (Chris Pine) when his plane crashes off-island, the first man anyone on the island has ever seen. With a craving to see the outside world, Diana leaves with him and steps into the tricky role of sticking to her principles during the carnage of World War I. This woman who has never seen war steps into the savage slaughter as young men erase an entire generation of their peers on both sides by orders of their elders.

Armed with golden bracelets, knives, and a terrific “lasso of truth,” Diana attacks brutality wherever she sees it on her way to eliminate Aries, the God of War. Like her fellow Amazons, Diana is innocent in all the ways of the prevailing world and brings to that a firm determination to end war. When, in that innocence, she makes it clear that she can’t understand why men would do this to each other in 1918, she hits the nerve that is rattling us with the same question nearly 100 years later. Same men, same thinking, worse weaponry.

Why does this projection work so well? Gal Gadot, with her dignity, her quietness, and her smile, is thoroughly credible as she makes choices from her heart. Her physical beauty is rooted in the expression of her feelings. When she dances with Steve, she asks, “Is this what people do when there are no wars?”

How often does a comic book hero trigger the contemporary emotions that are spreading through theaters now? And through me. I bought the first Superman comic book in 1938 for ten cents and love him still. How often does a peace message reach more than 150 million people in one weekend? If director Patty Jenkins hadn’t fallen in love with Superman when she was a little girl, this super hero movie wouldn’t resonate the way it does. But she did, and it does. Ask your kids to take you along.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Wonder Woman
Word Count : 497
Running time: 2:21
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 11, 2017

 

Beauty and the Beast

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast was written in 1740. Imagine the many versions of the story that have passed through the following centuries. And yet, one sentence carries its essence down through time: a handsome young prince imprisoned in the body of a beast can be freed only by true love. What a premise to hand to future authors about the power of love in all kinds of circumstances. The wonder of the new Walt Disney Pictures movie springs from new technology that allowed creative animators to wrap the story in full time magic. Add to this a set of performances that are subtle and irresistible.

Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast ((Dan Stevens) spend much of the movie in the enchanted castle where all the beautiful objects – candelabra, cups, and furniture that surround them – are imprisoned in those forms while waiting for their salvation to arrive when at last the Beast is loved.

Belle is absorbed in ensuring the safety of her beloved father Maurice (Kevin Kline). His time is divided between their home village and the enchanted castle. Hers is spent unloading Gaston (Luke Evans), the arrogant, aggressive village suitor.

Today’s techies enable the castle itself to cast a beautiful spell by imaginative use of their new tools. The settings are magical. So what could go wrong? Casting? Not one mediocre performance.
Emma Watson’s Belle is never silly or vulnerable in any situation. She has grown from Harry Potter fame into a composed, subtle actor who has an inner antenna about the danger of overacting. She makes falling in love with the Beast a gradual, believable happening.

As her dad, Kevin Kline is also grand. He’s brave and loving with the vulnerability that comes with age and any audience understands instinctively why his protective daughter loves him so much. As the Beast, Dan Stevens manages – despite his hideous horns – to convey his inside self gradually as he falls in love with Belle. When love releases him, we see only a few moments of him as a human being. Probably, I think, so the audience won’t think of him as less than magical. The director was wise just to plant him in our imagination. In this case, the dream is better than reality.

Quality is guaranteed by the presence – actually or in voice – of Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, and Stanley Tucci. For all of you who no longer watch fairy tales, borrow a child for the afternoon from family, friends, or neighbors or go with a pal. Age doesn’t matter. Give thanks to Walt Disney Studios for releasing a good one in the spring and ignoring the practice of holding their best until Oscar season.

Beauty and the Beast is the rule breaking exception that will win hearts and endure. It is also one moment when technology and humanity meld in the best of ways – an old fashioned story in modern day dress. Have fun.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Beauty and the Beast
Word Count : 495
Running time: 2:09
Rating : PG
Date : April 4, 2017