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The Founder

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Founder

The Founder is a very clever title for this history of the McDonalds empire. A more appropriate title might be Theft of an Empire. The actual founders were Dick McDonald and his brother Mac who opened their first store in San Bernardino, CA. in 1954. They kept it immaculate, controlled the menu carefully, and became known as founders of the first fast food business. Hamburgers, French fries, cokes, and milkshakes were delivered in moments. Instant food in a bag for eating in your car was – and still is – the essence.

And here’s the movie: an ambitious dynamo named Ray Kroc talks his way into the McDonalds’ company and begins building new sites that will carry the stores to 1600 locations around the world.

Kroc sees the potential immediately but the arguments begin early. He is wild-eyed while the McDonalds are conservative. As the restaurants spread, the brothers worry that size will compromise quality while Kroc’s ideas know no limits and they work. New locations are chosen and the global expansion is under way. In a crass grab, Kroc assumes for himself the title “The Founder.”

Michael Keaton’s Kroc is the definitive hustler. He covers the country in his car scouting new locations and new ideas. It’s on one of these drives that he starts noticing that court houses are topped with flags while churches are marked with steeples. Of course. Two golden arches will announce McDonalds. Is there any one of us who sees those arches in towns and on highways without knowing exactly what they represent?

Kroc is so caught up that his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) sinks slowly into alienation even as she tries to tolerate his absences and his absorption. She will be replaced. His relationship with the McDonald brothers is also fraying as he cuts into their guiding principle of honesty by substituting powdered milk in the shakes to eliminate the cost of freezer storage and delivery.

The fine actors – Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the brothers and Laura Dern and Linda Cardellini as Kroc’s wives – deliver fine performances but it’s tough to hold the screen with Michael Keaton who dominates with emotional, nearly physical aggression in his creation of Ray Kroc.

After years as a middling salesman, Kroc saw the vast future of fast food as soon as he met the McDonalds. Keaton captures the 24 hour days of Kroc’s determination to spread his victory all over the world. Persistence is what he calls it. His Golden Arches pepper the globe and are now expanding in China. His widow has given 1.5 billion dollars to charities – primarily to The Salvation Army and NPR. Perhaps that’s something to remember whenever we resent their ubiquitous presence.

It’s hard to love this guy but it’s some story as it explores where his determination and his personality actually took him. I’m not quite sure why Donald Trump’s name kept popping into my mind, but it did.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Founder
Word Count: 496
Running time: 1:55
Rating : PG-13
Date : February 19, 2017

 

Paterson

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Paterson

Let the mood of Paterson roll gently over you. We are taken out of the spinning culture of our lives and dropped into the quiet world of Paterson, driver of bus #23 in Paterson, NJ. By movie’s end we sit in stillness thinking about the man we have been watching and that alone is a tribute to the movie.

How does writer/director Jim Jarmusch create Paterson’s world? As he focuses on one week in the bus driver’s life, we learn that this quiet man wakes up each morning at 6:15 while lying peacefully in bed with his sleeping wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Her sleepy smile says both good morning and good-bye to the man she obviously loves.

Then it’s downstairs to a bowl of Cheerios where Paterson’s attention is caught by a box of matches that becomes fodder for the poem he will write in his head as he drives that day. He listens to the chatter of his passengers, acknowledges a fellow bus driver with a toot of his horn, returns to the bus station, and walks home. When he walks his dog after dinner, he stops at a bar for just one beer and a little conversation, his only connection to the outside world. He is a man of silent habit.

Meanwhile, Laura is at home turning their small house into a canvas of black and white abstractions. Throughout her day she paints the floors, walls, curtains, rugs – everything – including all her clothes in bi-colored angles and swirls. Her art is as demanding of attention as Patterson’s is private.

The two are together in the evening and share the small details she brings up to draw him in. When Laura says she had a dream about having twins, Paterson’s first thought is, “one for each of us.” When he starts noticing twins on his drives, we know they are going into his poetry – one for him, one for her. And that’s their chemistry. In two lives free of bedeviling distractions, they pursue their separate artistic passions. While Laura sees everything in terms of black and white design, Paterson sees everything around him in terms of his poetry.

In answer to writer/director Jarmusch, actor Adam Driver has created a man whose poems emerge from the details he absorbs on his bus drives. When he returns home to the woman he loves, he makes no comment on the extraordinary geometry she has made of their house. That’s hers, not his. And that’s their way.

In Adam Driver, Jim Jarmusch found the perfect messenger for the character and atmosphere he had imagined. We watch a silent bus driver isolated in creative design as he absorbs the smallest details of life around him. At the end of the day, he remains quiet even in the chaos of Laura’s abstractions. Director Jarmusch’s hopes are beautifully realized in Paterson the poet, and we reenter the outside world knowing we have seen something that was dear to its writer/director.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Paterson
Word Count : 500
Running time: 1:58
Rating : R
Date : February 12, 2017