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Widows

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Widows

It can easily be said that Widows is first rate on many levels. Director Steve McQueen and actor Viola Davis create a strong core for the movie as they and their cohorts break new ground for women in many ways. The movie has become a hot topic in long, favorable press articles that credit it with exploding the usual Hollywood guidelines regarding race, gender, sex, and murder. All true with one major reservation: is this an acceptable moment to have women celebrate their new freedom with guns and killing?

The movie opens with a prolonged love scene between Harry (Liam Neeson) and Veronica (Viola Davis) that establishes their passion. Shortly after that, Harry is killed during one of his criminal projects leaving his wife Veronica vulnerable to other crooks owed money by her newly dead husband. When she learns that Harry had hidden $5,000,000 in a now unknown place, she assembles several needy widows of fellow criminals to help find that bundle for splitting among themselves. All this will unfold in Chicago, the big city with its own deeply dark side. And so we have men, women, and a backdrop all involved in theft and killing.

Add to that one more first: the unpleasant fact that the moviemakers decided that in addition to breaking new ground for women they would show all crimes and murders in prolonged and full view of the carnage as it unfolds. We are treated to lingering shots of faces and bodies carved up and awash in blood.

The genuine misfire here is the choice of proving the equality of women to men in the one grim way that has usually been the prerogative of men: violence. Women have chosen alternative paths in the past and those ways are now gaining public acceptance. Let’s hope writers will begin to focus on some of the extraordinary ways they are now making themselves felt by solving problems in ways other than traditional male violence.

All that aside, performances by Michele Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Ervio are fine and those by Viola Davis and Liam Neeson are so strong that they literally become the impact of the movie. I am not asking for old-fashioned feel good movies, but let’s hope someone will film the amazing breakout stories of the past couple of years – the MeToo movement in response to the school shootings, the rise of teenagers in fighting the violence their elders continue to ignore.

The glorification of violence as women’s path to equal strength with men is unpleasant and childish. Now that they are no longer housebound as they have been for centuries, let’s write and film stories that celebrate their new freedom to explore their skills. The relationship between Viola Davis and Liam Neeson is a good start in destroying old rules, but imagine the great story that could have followed if each of the featured women had bold ideas in their heads instead of guns in their hands.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Widows
Word Count : 500
Running Time : 2:09
Rating : R
Date : November 25, 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