The Lost City of Z

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z is an intriguing movie that ignores conventional story line structure in favor of deep character studies of its principals. We are invited to watch real growth as each of them struggles to follow passion instead of conforming to the rules of English propriety in the early 1900s. Don’t look for a dramatic arc here, just enjoy watching these people grow.

Just the facts: in the early 1900s, Army soldier Percy Fawcett ( Charlie Hunnam) is chosen by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the jungle in Eastern Bolivia. The cloud hanging over the mission carries the message that no one has ever returned alive from going “up river.” Several countries are planning to explore this region for its black gold/oil. Fawcett is looking instead for the ancient civilization he believes is there and to get there, he must fight the bigotry of British Conservatives and the Church. “We have been so arrogant for centuries,” he says of them.

Fawcett, stuck in Army mediocrity because of his father’s alcoholism (yes, this is 1906), says “My reputation as a man rests entirely on our success.” In a finely written scene that is beautifully acted by Charlie Hunnan as Fawcett and Sienna Miller as his wife Nina, we understand both their mutual love and the depth of his need to grow by taking on this mission. He will be gone for three years.

That short scene tells us these two people are smart, strong, and independent – traits at the gut of their behavior throughout the story. Director/scriptwriter James Gray sends Fawcett off with his friend Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) to indulge those traits in three trips to the Amazon jungle against all odds. If his decision to go springs from who he is, that core also produces his ability to understand the natives he encounters.

What sets both Fawcett and Nina apart is a quality each has that lifts them above the stereotypical demands of their era that might have molded them differently. Even Fawcett couldn’t stamp out his wife’s need to explore the unknown. She does that in raising her children. He asks himself in the jungle, “What kind of a fool am I to leave my family for this place?” Nina understands her husband’s need to return three times to the unknown.

Director Gray has assembled a marvelous cast of military leaders to give us the flavor of acceptable behavior in early 1900s England. Against that background, the primary actors deliver the flavor of people motivated by an inner core. Robert Pattinson is superb as Fawcett’s quiet co-explorer who stays with Fawcett until he can’t. Angus Macfadyen creates the British villain who messes things up repeatedly.

We won’t forget the inner strength that led both Percy and Nina Fawcett to respect and understand the deep determination each would show throughout their lives as they made tough choices. And we might not see better acting for quite a while.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Lost City of Z
Word Count : 499
Running time: 2:21
Rating : PG-13
Date : 5 April 2017


A Dog’s Purpose

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

A Dog's Purpose

A conversation is running through the movie world about the pros and cons of seeing A Dog’s Purpose. Naysayers tend to be people who regard themselves as too sophisticated to endure a sentimental movie devoted to dogs. Consider the alternative. Imagine a theater full of parents with children, teenagers, and adults of all ages. What happens? Ripples of laughter, sighs of appreciation, silence when tears come. My suggestion: If you have ever loved a dog, chuck your doubts and go. If you disapprove of sentimentality, just stuff it and go. Chances are you’ll love it in spite of yourself.

Five scriptwriters and director Lasse Hallstrom have created a story about a dog who moves through reincarnations in four bodies and tells us about what he learns in each life. Dogs and human actors, all of them, are thoroughly on board with the premise. In his first life, Bailey (a retriever) lives with Ethan (K.J. Apa) and also gets to know Ethan’s girlfriend Hannah (Britt Robertson). His second unfolds as a German shepherd mastered by a lone policeman (John Ortiz). In his third, he is a Corgi, and his fourth – well, you’ll find out about that one. You’ll love Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton who create two people who have suffered without ever surrendering their dreams.

We listen to animal and human thoughts through Bailey’s four lives and we learn with great pleasure and sometimes with sadness about the interplay between them. How does each change the life of the other and what goes on while they are together. If you are a dog lover, you will love watching what Bailey, in his four selves, teaches people and what they teach him.

Much of the fun comes from sharing the movie with an audience made up of many ages. Loving a dog at some time in your life is a warm common bond. Credit an enormous number of people for making that happen. Director, cast, the dogs, and perhaps most of all, those five scriptwriters who do a terrific job on the dialogue of the dogs and their masters. All of it unfolds to a just right score assembled by music supervisor Gedney Webb.

We root for Bailey as he adjusts to life with each of his new masters. He analyzes them for us in short, often comical judgements. He is a dog looking for the purpose of his life through several lifetimes and several owners. Will there be a next round for us? If you’ve loved a dog, or loved and lost one, you’ll be happy to smile a lot, cry a little and you’ll be especially grateful to Director Lasse Hallstrom for making that happen. C’mon people, abandon your sophisticated self and enjoy the story of one fine dog working his way through several lives while looking for his purpose. There aren’t many times when you can sit in an audience of all ages that finds a movie irresistible. Try it.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A Dog’s Purpose
Word Count : 496
Running time: 1:40
Rating : PG
Date : February 5, 2017