Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


RBG is an intricate portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that is serious, funny, and moving by turns. Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen have laced their documentary with interviews and footage that let us follow this Justice along her path from high school to the Supreme Court. They fill in the blanks about a woman who has worked for equality before the law since 1950. The documentary is by turns a funny – in an affectionate way – and deeply serious look at this strong woman who became a major player in legal history.

We meet a scholar who is a dedicated defender of the Constitution, an opera lover, a mother, grandmother, and wife of Marty Ginsburg – the man she adores. She is a warrior who spreads her beliefs with determination but without anger. And she started early. She was one of nine women in a class of 500 at Harvard Law School who were asked by the Harvard dean how they could justify taking a spot from a qualified man.

Humor? Just watch her workouts with her trainer, Bryant Johnson, who understands completely his student’s absolute determination to stay fit in order to remain on the court. Her marriage? The deeply happy core of the long years with lawyer Marty Ginsburg who she met at 17 at Cornell is heartwarming. After they married he encouraged every detail of her rise from college to the Supreme Court. When he was transferred to New York, she transferred to Columbia Law School where she tied for first in her class at graduation.

During her rise she was determined and quietly defiant even after she became a political target for her views about recognition of women. As recently as 1970 a woman could be fired for being pregnant, and in twelve states, husbands couldn’t be prosecuted for raping their wives. She taught law at Rutgers with a deep determination to create equal protection of the law.

During the 1970s, Ginsburg won five of six cases before the Supreme Court and was appointed to the Court herself by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She excelled at every single point in her career (Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard Law Review, distinction in all subjects). Through all the events on her long legal path, the Justice has been a dignified voice for many of the legal advances that have changed our country.

RBG contains all this but does it with recognition for the ironies in her life and with appreciation for her humor and her perspective. Hers is the story of one person juggling career, marriage, and family in an atmosphere where her beliefs have constantly been challenged. This is a strong, happy, smart woman dedicated to bringing equality before the law to all corners in our society. Directors West and Cohen have created an entrancing documentary that catches the core of the amazing daughter of immigrants who has influenced us all with intelligence, hard work and a smile.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : RBG
Word count : 502
Running time : 1:37
Rating : PG
Date : April 29, 2018


This review was posted on April 29, 2018, in Documentary.

Where to Invade Next

American Problems/American Solutions

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Where to Invade Next

What a surprise. An audience streaming out of a Michael Moore documentary is usually arguing before it gets to the exit door – a sure bet that liberals and conservatives have been re-stoked in their hard core positions. Not this time. At a showing of Where to Invade Next, the audience laughed, sighed in approval, and stood to clap as the credits rolled. What has happened to you, Michael Moore?

In a timely burst of insight, Moore made a list of problems facing America, and because those problems are universal, he decided to visit other countries to see how they deal with them. His list: Italy, to discuss labor. France/ health. Finland/education. Slovenia/quality of life. Germany/work. Portugal/crime. Norway/human dignity. Tunisia/women’s health. Iceland/Women.

It’s easy for us to say that these are smaller countries, that our problems are too big to solve in any definitive way. That’s too facile an answer. The attitudes expressed by the leaders, officials, protestors, and criminals in these countries are rooted in an honest search for solutions. If you feel like raising an eyebrow when human dignity is offered as the basis for a solution to grave problems, at least think of this movie as an invitation to look at how other countries do things. You may be surprised.

It is precisely because of the determination of national leaders to build on such concepts that our own skepticism is suddenly dimmed, if not extinguished. America ranks 29th in the world in education. Listen to the Finns explain how they did it. You say they have a homogenous population? That it can’t be done here? Try to open you mind to their underlying concepts, to those generalizations that we tend to dismiss. The results in Finnish education are not only compelling but deeply appealing.

And then the big surprise. Nearly every one of these countries tells Michael Moore that they built their turnarounds on some version of an American principle. And they wonder why we can do it in our own country in the 21st century. And when one says, “You play more solo,” he hands us the thought that rolls around in our heads for a long time after we leave the theater. Yes, we do play solo, but haven’t we come to the point where we have to devise solutions that will affect many?

If it’s a stretch to say that the strident Michael Moore we all know has become an optimist, it’s a revelation to hear him say “The American dream is alive and well everywhere but America.” Almost everyone he talked to said they have based their new systems on an American idea. So put aside your annoyance at his disheveled appearance, his gimmicky flag plantings, and especially at his past movies that annoyed you. Just ask yourself if we just might be able to steal back our own ideas in working to change our habit of fighting among ourselves. American problems/American solutions.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Title : Where to Invade Next
Word count : 491
Distributor : Dog Eat Dog Films
Running time : 1:59
Rating : R


This review was posted on February 19, 2016, in Documentary.