An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


Have you discovered, as I have, that most young people have never heard of Dunkirk? Writer/director/producer Christopher Nolan has recreated it in an inspired movie that runs just one hour, forty-six minutes, exactly the right length for a required high school history class. Nolan’s film is a tribute to the men who died and to those who rallied to rescue the allied forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. It couldn’t be a better lesson that war can no longer be a solution for settling disagreements.

Christopher Nolan filmed Dunkirk in three alternating sections on the beach, on the water, and in the air, all of it set against a relentless score of pure tension by Hans Zimmer. They have turned the volume high on the explosions, plane crashes, and bombs blowing ships and men to bits. Far louder than a normal soundtrack, it stuns the audience with the sounds of war. This is not the background noise of an ordinary war movie. It is the relentless noise of brutal death, and Nolan leaves us caught in tension through the whole battle. That’s the way it was.

This is history brought to gruesome life at a time when the outcome of the war was thoroughly in doubt after the fall of France. Western Europe was broken. The allied forces went into full retreat ending in unimaginable death and injury as they came to the beach and the water where there was no safety. The few naval ships became targets for Nazi planes that were being shot down by British Spitfires. Soldiers on foot were trapped and dying in the open, no place to hide.

The reason it is hard to salute specific actors is that there is very little dialogue here. Every young man is enveloped in noise and fear and all of them are surrounded by dying, broken soldiers. Suddenly the theater, rocked by an hour of noise, sees the screen fill with the small boats that came from everywhere to save 330,000 men. The audible gratitude throughout the audience is a tribute to the reality of the battle created by Christopher Nolan.

A special salute is due Mark Rylance who, as a rescuer with a small boat, creates a character driven to stay in the danger by a deep set of personal values, a stand in, as it were, for all the civilians who rallied in their small boats. There are no false notes among others in the cast, just silent men knowing many of them will die. The beach behind them will soon be full of Nazi soldiers. The water ahead, the sky above, all full of German soldiers, sailors, and pilots determined to slaughter them as they wade into the open sea.

War movies have never conveyed the reality of the sound of war and death. That is what Christopher Nolan has done to audiences with this movie. No one who sees it will forget the terrible sounds of inevitability.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title Dunkirk
Word Count : 501
Running time : 1:46
Rating : PG-13
Date : July 23, 2017


The Beguiled

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Beguiled

Early reports promised that The Beguiled would be a top rank film from Director Sofia Coppola who was named this year’s Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. So off I went in happy anticipation that turned quite quickly to disappointment.

It’s 1864. In an old southern Virginia mansion that had served as a girls’ boarding school before the war, a handful of students, a teacher, and their headmistress are stranded because they have no place to go. The movie opens beautifully as a young girl is gathering mushrooms in a forest of majestic trees whose enormous branches shut out the sun. As Amy’s (Oona Laurence) peaceful walk in the woods goes on just a bit too long, we realize in scary anticipation that something is about to happen. It does.

She stumbles across a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) and helps him back to her school where headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), rebellious student Alicia (Elle Fanning) and the younger girls discuss what to do about this enemy in their midst. Miss Martha washes and stitches his serious leg wound and all agree they will shelter him until he recovers.

Still afraid of him, they lock the soldier alone in the room and decide to send him on his way as soon as he can walk. By then, the movie is wrapped in stiff formality. With the sounds of war in the distance, and a wounded soldier in their midst, it is almost laughable that teachers and students are dressed immaculately throughout in perfectly ironed long white dresses while they move about with slow formality. As time passes much too slowly forward, sexual attraction surfaces, then erupts. We welcome this last half hour because it punctures the stilted propriety that has enveloped us for an hour.

Sofia Coppola did interesting work here by observing the reactions to the emergency of three women of different ages. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning react according to age but during the first hour they are too much alike, too contained for the audience to get to know them as individuals. We try but can’t succeed in piercing the prohibitive formality. Colin Farrell, on the other hand, is credible during the first half only to undergo a character change that, while understandable on one level, is beastly and prolonged on the other.

Director Coppola’s filming is grand as she creates the atmosphere of seven women isolated in the woods during the Civil War. The singing of the young girl who opens and closes the movie is extremely moving. For the first hour, the actors seem trapped in their silence while the whole goes from mild mannered propriety in one crisis to hysteria in the next. Feeling somewhat sad to be going against positive advance word, I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to talk about this movie lover’s dilemma. Am I crazy?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Beguiled
Word Count : 491
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : July 2, 2017


This review was posted on July 1, 2017, in Drama, Western.