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The Last Word

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Last Word

Shirley MacLaine has used all her natural ingredients to enliven The Last Word – a movie that wouldn’t make it without her. Known in real life for her belief in reincarnation, MacLaine must have enjoyed this chance to evolve from control freak to thoughtful mentor of others. Is it for you? Take a look.

At 82, Harriet Lauler (MacLaine) lives in luxury but hates the fake praise that infects so many obituaries. She induces obit writer Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write hers – not after she dies, but now when she can control its content. As Anne begins her research, she discovers that Harriet was disliked by everyone she suggested as a source.

As Harriet begins to grasp her public reputation, she decides to fix things by changing herself. She engages Anne as her teammate and Brenda (Ann Jewel Lee Dixon) a tiny, foul mouthed bombshell of a little girl as the protégé she will mentor. Working with these two, she sets out to memorialize herself through new achievements.

At some point in the process the whole thing begins to feel disjointed. Writer? Director? Subject? All of those but with Maclaine as the self-rehabilitating control nut, the audience seems happy. Amanda Seyfried works hard as Maclaine’s new friend and final rehabilitation candidate, but her scripted part is repetitive and quite dull. The talented Seyfried is set adrift too often. Little Ann Jewel Lee Dixon makes us smile as she uses any musical excuse to dance and any verbal challenge to spew forth foul language.

The first scenes are the perfect introduction to what lies ahead. Actual pictures of Shirley MacLaine from earliest years through her career to the present are a quick summary of her life. Those shots lead to MacLaine as the fictional Harriet wandering through her luxurious house and finally reading the stuffy obituaries that will lead her to ask Anne to write her obituary while she’s alive so she herself can edit it. How can this happen when everyone Anne talks to dislikes Harriet? The control freak decides on reinvention – of herself.

In fine Shirley MacLaine fashion, Harriet unearths her record collection from many decades and uses it as a turning point in a life that is no longer lonely. Can she turn this last decade into what it should have done all along? Can she right some of her past wrongs? Can she chuck her “unyielding belief that everyone else is the problem?”

She may be creating her own obituary but in doing that she is also building on the lessons she has learned over eight decades. She is no longer waiting to die as she was in the early scenes. She has become an accomplished old woman with a purpose who doesn’t think about death. Labored as much of the movie is, you will probably be happy if you are a Shirley MacLaine fan. She manages to keep it all a small notch above sentimentality.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Last Word
Word Count : 497
Running time: 1:48
Rating : R
Date : March 19, 2017

 

 

This review was posted on March 18, 2017, in Comedy, Drama.

Land of Mine

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Land of Mine

In all my years of slipping off to movies, I have never experienced anything like Land of Mine, a Danish story set in 1945 when the Danes forced German prisoners to search for and dismantle mines buried on the beautiful beaches of their country.

In the first scene, the Danish sergeant in charge displays his brutality with a force that silenced the theater for the full length of the film. After that there was not a sound in the theater. The natural expectation had been that it would be the good guy Danes vs. the bad guy Germans. That’s far too easy for this extraordinary study of what happens when men acquire the power of life or death over others, especially when the power shifts from one side to the other.

By assigning just twenty German boys to clear all the buried mines on just one beach, the movie becomes a graphic lesson of brutality unleashed on a personal level, a lesson in what war does to individuals. It is crafted so beautifully that it’s a safe bet that few stray thoughts came to anyone in that theater. Is anyone unaffected? No one moved when the lights came up and when they did, they lingered in the hallway, clustered in shock.

The monstrous Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) has complete control over twenty young German soldiers, the skinny adolescent boys who were pulled in as the German ranks shrank as the war wore on. Under the sergeant’s brutal treatment, they crawl the beaches on their bellies as they stab the sand with probes. When the probe hits metal, they scrape the sand with their hands and unplug the fuse – unless it blows up. As if to confirm our broken assumption of the goodness of the Danes, we learn that the sergeant’s superiors are equally brutal. When we see flashes of decency in the sergeant, we realize again what war has done to him.

With rare skill, the film deals with what happens to those we think of as the good guys – here the Danish military who feel free to exact vengeance on the Germans who caused WWII, complicated by the fact that the enemy soldiers in this case are German schoolboys.

Those beautiful beaches became a field of death for Danes during war and for Germans post war. Both the Danish military and the German boys are acted with conviction so strong that it is no accident that we find ourselves astonished that our sympathies can shift at all.

When a movie is this overwhelming, the critical questions it raises become absorbing and the primary one is why, after centuries of wars that have killed millions, do men still sit around tables discussing war as a solution to disputes? This mighty film screams “Is there no other way?” Credit writer/director Martin Zandvliet with forcing us to think about that question. And credit the Danes for addressing both sides of it.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Land of Mine
Word Count : 493
Running time : 1:40
Rating : R
Date : 17 March 2017