Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


During the first hour of Damsel, we are introduced to Sam (Robert Pattinson), a determined man heading west to find Penelope (Mia Wasikowski), the woman he has decided to marry. He has by his side a miniature horse named Butterscotch, in his pocket a wedding ring for Penelope, and on his shoulder a guitar. He searches for the Parson who will perform the marriage and finds him dead drunk lying on his back in the dirt. As they set off to find Penelope, we are wondering why we are supposed to like a movie about an oddball man searching for his woman, a drunk Parson, and a miniature horse.

Our wondering begins to melt when the two men find the cabin where Penelope lives with Anton, the man she loves. Sam and the timid Parson (David Zellner) sneak forward until Penelope’s lover comes outside to relieve himself. Bam. The lover goes down. When Penelope emerges to the awful sight, the movie takes off in the direction it has been preparing us for. This story that unfolds in pre-feminist 1870 is a comic modern take on the real-life roles men have been playing for generations.

Now we begin to understand what writer/director brothers David and Nathan Zellner are up to. The pony, of course, is treated well by everyone; no discussion about that. The men are simple minded relics as they continue to expect to have everything their own way.

Doesn’t every woman wait for the man she likes to make all the moves toward permanence? If the man has decided which woman he wants, doesn’t he already own her even if she loves someone else? For a man, isn’t the whole outdoors his private bathroom? Isn’t it the man who chooses the ring and decides when to give it? Isn’t the miniature horse the perfect anchor for a woman? Once in charge, won’t the man announce where they will live and what each will do? Doesn’t the man always use weaker men to advance his schemes? Hasn’t this all been happening for centuries?

Wrapped in grand exaggeration, Mia Wasikowski’s Penelope hammers home historic male entitlement. She fires back the modern feelings women have toward male dominance. Silent only when the men’s words and behavior are beyond believing she makes us laugh in recognition. As Wasikowski stands strong and ridicules traditional male ways, her performance is made of steel.

Damsel is the brainchild and questionable gift of David Zellner and Nathan Zellner who wrote, directed and acted one of the roles. Their clash of modern values erupts against beautiful western scenery where they create two dense traditional men against one smart woman who has already evolved into the norms of today. It may be set in 1870 but its roots are still present and the two Zellners make us cringe as they face Mia Wasikowski’s terrific Penelope who saw through it all many decades ago. This is a strange one. Odd plot, odd acting. Only you can guess whether you’ll like it.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Damsel
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 1:53
Rating: R

Ocean’s 8

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Ocean's 8

What’s the test of a good comedy? In the case of Ocean’s 8 you know you’re having fun when you feel yourself rooting for the bad guys. When does that happen in this one? In the first scene. As Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean concocts a grand lie to convince the parole boss to let her out of jail, we realize she has already created an entire plan for her next heist. She invites us on board and we jump.

She goes straight from jail to a store where she steals a few things to get back in thieving shape before assembling her new team. Her first enlistee is former partner Lou (Cate Blanchett). The two take a research tour through the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they plan their heist of a necklace worth $150 million.

You will be confused, as I still am, by the number of thieves and their operating speed but credit them all: Anne Hathaway (public focus), Helena Bonham Carter (down-on-her luck fashion designer), Mindy Kaling (jewelry maker), Rihanna (sublime mechanic), Awkwafina (pickpocket), and Sarah Paulson (suburbanite thief).

When else would they plan the heist except on the night of the Met’s annual gala? The team does its thoroughly confusing work while we watch the staff setting the elegant tables for top tier New Yorkers. As they arrive, we follow the men in their unimaginative black as they escort their dates in designer dresses, all of them ready and striving for press coverage. The fakery of that procession whets our appetites for the perfectly timed activities of the burglary team who are now executing their assignments – some in plain sight, some in hiding.

Following the robbers through the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a delight and whenever Debbie Ocean’s intricate theft plan becomes confusing, just enjoy the glorious art. It’s all right there as background for the gang of smart, sophisticated crooks who blend in with the tourists while executing their complex assignments.

The gang of eight is after a necklace and their way of getting it is intricate and full of fun. But getting it, as you’ll see is just the beginning of the plan. Each member of this unique gang has special skills along with a particular assignment from Ocean. The reason it adds up to wacky fun is that it never once pretends to be possible or serious. They give moviegoers a holiday from taking movies as seriously as most of us now do.

Sandra Bullock establishes all that in the first scene. “Here,” she is saying, “Take a rest from your serious life and have some wacky fun.” That’s precisely what we do. Bullock doesn’t dominate the screen but captures us with her sly smile and sharp brain. She has a very adult, quiet sophistication that draws us into all the fun she designs as Debbie Ocean including a wonderful final surprise. Take two hours off from your serious life to chuckle at the craziness she gives us.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Ocean’s 8
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:50
Rating: PG-13
Date: June 24, 2018