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Green Book

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Green Book

Green Book may well be the finest movie of this year. It is beautifully made by everyone connected with it and audiences love the rare blend of tragedy and comedy, each delivered in sophisticated ways.

The explosive opening scene in New York’s Copacabana establishes Tony Lip (Viggo Mortenson) as a hot-tempered man who refuses to be insulted. After a brutal fight, he goes home to his wife and two children in the Bronx where he is a calm, loving husband and father. This is a good man whose temper ignites only in the face of injustice.

Tony gets a job as driver for Afro-American classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), who is about to embark on a two-month concert tour from New York through the Midwest and the South to a final concert in Atlanta. When he goes for the job interview, Tony finds the renowned Dr. Shirley in an elegant outfit, seated on a throne, and living in absolute luxury above Carnegie Hall. The two team up for the trip – Tony and Doc.

The renowned pianist is greeted with standing ovations wherever he plays but when he turns southward, those ovations are accompanied by clear instructions as to where he can eat and sleep. This is a true story that unfolded in 1962 and it’s a shock.

Tony drives Doc to all his concerts and becomes more involved as they face racial blocks that grow more ugly as they move southward where signs on inns and hotels read “No Colored.” In the ones labelled “Colored,” the beds, rooms, and bathrooms are filthy.

From that point forward, we watch the subtle deepening of the relationship between the two men as Tony realizes his boss is exploring the depth of racial injustice on his concert tour. Tony himself is the white man outraged by the injustice of what he now realizes he had never noticed before. The bond between the two grows deeper as they face the challenges of the deep South.

As all this unfolds, we begin to understand the subtle gift given us by director, writers, and actors who are re-creating a piece of history in pure art form. There are no slipups anywhere as everyone working on the film seems to understand the blend of two strong men facing the tragedy of racism. Tony and Doc begin to help each other in new ways that are deeply moving for the audience. The cultural changes wrap the two in trust without changing their strong beliefs about themselves.

Special credit goes to director Peter Farrelly and actor Linda Cardellini who plays Tony Lip’s wife. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are subtle and superb as Tony and Doc. They build an unusual friendship rooted in respect and trust though each retains his essential self even when challenged by the other. If you miss this one you will miss a movie where all its creators have worked together to make a genuine work of art.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Green Book
Word Count : 500
Running Time : 2:10
Rating : R
Date : November 16, 2018

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a story rooted in the truth of the life of writer Lee Israel. The movie is carried by Melissa McCarthy as Israel and Richard E. Grant as her accomplice, Jack Hook. I need to say up front that this one is drawing excellent reviews and appreciative audiences while adding that I found it very troubling. Here goes with my take on this movie.

At the opening in 1991, Lee Israel lives on 86th Street in Manhattan in a small apartment that she has no interest in enjoying. In every way, it’s a foul mess and she doesn’t care. She loves her cat and her work but she is in an emotional cave-in right now because her comical written improvements on the work of celebrity authors have become dated. She has known fine success in extending the writings of Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen, Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, and other literary beacons of their day. But by 1991, few in the public are interested in Israel’s articles about past celebrities. She is broke and discouraged.

And then – she takes to stealing original celebrity letters from libraries and bookstores and laces them with her own sense of humor and sharp writing. The next step in her plan: she sells the improved originals for increasing amounts of money. Jack, her homeless accomplice, develops even more sophisticated ways for her to sell the fake originals, moves into her apartment, and together they sell their forgeries of famous people. They get drunk regularly and plan further thefts. Their new business is growing.

My involuntary reaction was disgust. Is there any crime uglier than stealing the words of famous dead authors, adding your own cleverness to their work, and then selling it for publication – especially if it’s a true story? This story is rooted entirely in theft, fraud, and plagiarism and we are supposed to admire Israel’s formidable talent in navigating that ugly world. Surely in this non-fiction tale, a writer with her talent could have found a way to support herself other than heavy drinking with a thoroughly grim fellow loser as they plan attacks on dead authors.

But this movie is drawing appreciative crowds. If you find Melissa McCarthy and Jack E. Grant charming and funny, if you laugh through a movie that is the story of people who have no moral compass, then just dismiss my thoughts. It’s that simple.

If you think that you will enjoy watching Israel’s cleverness in an upbeat ending that lasts for just a few minutes, then go. With this character, Writer Nicole Holofcener and director Marielle Heller have taken women from their relatively new roles as intelligent ornaments, as opposed to boring ornaments, into the comically flawed roles usually reserved for men. Perhaps that’s progress. While I stewed in annoyance at two alcoholic plagiarists, Melissa McCarthy has invented a comically flawed heroine who has carried the movie and herself to Oscar nominations.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Word Count : 496
Running Time : 1:46
Rating : R
Date : November 11, 2018