The Greatest Showman

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Greatest Showman

After opening to middling reviews, The Greatest Showman has become one of the surprise hits of the season and no one seems to know why. On one level, it is a chronicle of the rise of P.T. Barnum from a young unemployed man to creator of what Americans remember as The Greatest Show on Earth. On another, it tells the tale of the circus that toured the country by train for spectators who could never get to New York. Why do audiences love the movie after so many critics dismissed it?

Think about what Barnum did that was celebrated all those decades ago. The core of his early circus was known as his freak show – a group of disfigured humans to be stared at by audiences. The elephants that eventually opened his show as it grew are now protected. Carrying the animals and performers cross country by train is now considered cruel. Gradual but enormous changes in our culture began to demand more respect for both people and animals.

What people find in this movie is an old-fashioned movie musical that is magical in many ways. Both the acting and the score lift audiences into the story for two hours of pure pleasure as we revisit the spectacle. The movie sizzles on the performances of its actors.

Those formerly known as “the freaks” are brought to life by fine actors who let us get to know them as unique people rather than as a side show. We root for Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle as he grows from supporting pal to real strength. We cheer quietly for P.T.’s wife Charity (Michelle Williams) as she leaves her affluent family for life with an unemployed man with a dream. We find real joy as the gang known as freaks become a real force in the film. And Hugh Jackman builds and sustains the fun with his singing, dancing, and determination. He creates the infectious myth that Barnum began.

The music, dancing, and singing are unfailingly terrific and I, for one, was very glad to be sitting there with a sentimental tear in my eye. Thank you, Benjamin Pasek and Justin Paul for the music that is the heart of the movie and never dims. It is old fashioned in the best of ways as it carries all of us back to another time.

On a personal note, while at college I watched the Ringling Bros. circus train cross the Hudson River while marveling at the giraffes with their long necks sticking straight up from the open car. When I decided after set up to crawl under the side of the tent for fun, I came up under the belly of an enormous elephant in a long line of them and scurried through his hooves with the hope he wouldn’t lift one to smash me. The fun and the charm of this new movie is the mix of Hugh Jackman and the music. Let yourself go for two hours. It’s carnival time.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Greatest Showman
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: PG
Date: January 21, 2018


The Post

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Post

The Post does a grand job of filling in the cracks of a major historical scandal. It often takes a long time to do that – in this case five decades. Over time, the primary players confess in regret or die in silence while others feel entitled at last to pull together the details of a major event.

This movie shows us the threads of the Pentagon Papers case that ignited Watergate. Those threads were suppressed under four administrations while American boys died in Vietnam. Now they are given us by Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradlee, Meryl Streep as Post owner Kay Graham, and the fine director Steven Spielberg.

At the outset, Bradlee is editor of The Post when it was considered just Washington’s local newspaper. Kay Graham’s husband, editor of the paper, has recently committed suicide. Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) is a Post journalist on assignment in Vietnam to assess the validity of the controversial war.

Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), thoroughly disillusioned by the human cost of the war, risks taking five thousand pages of incriminating papers to the New York Times from his job at Rand. A judge shuts down publication by the Times.

Ellsberg then delivers those papers to The Post where Bradlee and Graham explore both the politics of the Vietnam war and the possible consequences if they publish the papers. Prison sentences and destruction of their paper hang over their heads as a possibility.

As Tom Hanks literally becomes Ben Bradlee, we drop fully into the story. He gives us Bradlee’s determination to publish if he can convince Kay Graham it is the right thing to do. Meryl Streep’s Kay Graham, now owner after her husband’s suicide, gets a fast course in courage. She must decide whether to risk everything by publishing the papers the court has forbidden. In that process, she shows us Graham’s deep mix of brains and courage that had been used before her husband’s death in social and volunteer situations. Together Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep bring these two figures to fighting life and lift the movie to top of 2017. Both are thoroughly convincing.

Matthew Rhys’s Daniel Ellsberg is a deeply caring idealist determined to stop the dying of American boys in a political war. Rhys endows Ellsberg with a brave mixture of courage and fear.

We see glimpses of the future (this was 1971) in short shots of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson as they argued and covered the truth of that war while allowing it to continue. The movie tackles and exposes the bi-partisan wrongs of the war and shows us the enormous courage Kay Graham showed in encouraging Ben Bradlee to publish at great risk to all of them and to their paper. A short final shot reminds us that the release of the Pentagon Papers led to the biggest scandal in American political history. We look forward to watching this same cast deliver the story of Watergate.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Post
Word Count: 495
Running Time: 2:33
Rating: PG-13
Date: 21 January 2018