Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


In the troubled world where we all live now, Wonder is a gift of two hours to think about basic human decency. If you are even for a moment tempted to label it as too sentimental, you would miss a grand two hours. Stephen Chbosky has written and directed a story that might have been just that in lesser hands, but the cast that delivers his story is so good that it becomes an invitation to sink in and appreciate the message.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is a ten year old boy with facial scars that are the result of surgeries aimed at repairing birth defects. Against all odds, he is alive, well, and very smart, but he has been home schooled by his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) who wanted to protect him from any possible ridicule. He hides his face full time in an astronaut suit with a helmet that hides his scars.

As the movie opens, Auggie is going to school for the first time. On that first day, he inevitably suffers the stares of his classmates. From that point forward, we get alternating glimpses of Auggie’s life at school and his life at home. We learn that his parents have built their lives around their love and support for him while ignoring the emotional needs of his lovely older sister Via. But when he sees the stares of his classmates, he crumbles.

Under the wise encouragement of school headmaster, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin), Auggie wends his way through rebuffs and hurt along with the beginnings of humor and acceptance. The politics of the sixth grade are sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, and often hurtful. The whole is done so well that we find ourselves deep in the story wondering how we ourselves could have done it, how we could have taught an entire sixth grade to celebrate acceptance of this smart, funny classmate whose face is the initial announcement of who he is.

This movie that might have been mawkish becomes genuinely moving for one reason: the cast. Without even a hint of overacting, Julia Roberts creates a mother attuned to her son’s childhood needs and to the moment when he must step into the real world. Isabela Vidovic creates Auggie’s older sister who is loved but often ignored by her parents because she is both pretty and smart and will make it on her own. Vidovic’s performance in nuanced and beautiful, and she is matched perfectly by Nadji Jeter who becomes her boyfriend with great appeal of his own. Owen Wilson is okay as Dad, but seems an oddly alien presence in his own family.

Don’t waste a minute resenting the sentimentality. When a cast like this reminds us of the rewards of abandoning judgement, we realize how widely this is needed in so many areas of life today. Is it possible to bring open minds to issues instead of the partisan entrenchment we see in both the sixth grade and in our world? Hail, Auggie.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : WONDER
Word Count : 501
Running Time:1:53
Rating : PG
Date : December 10, 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