Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


The fun of Colette is irreverence. The independence of women was not a value as the 20 th century began. They lived within the parameters assigned to them – being wives, mothers, and support systems for their men in a world of total artifice for women. What outlets existed for women with creative ideas begging to get out of their heads? George Sand solved it by using an alias. Others dealt by publishing under their husbands’ names.

In the 1890s, Colette (Keira Knightly) is married to Willie (Dominic West), a con man by instinct who is delighted with the collaboration he and his wife invent. She writes; he publishes her lighthearted work under his name. “The hand that holds the pen writes history” she says to her husband. She sees the truth and she is honest but in the long run, she will not be content to be a victim of a tough historical time for women. She becomes Colette, renowned French writer who gradually embraces the off-beat social scene of Paris.

The books she writes are stories that fit perfectly in the existing world of total artifice. Light to the core, they are picked up by a world living in that prevailing culture, and Willie’s stream of stories – all by his wife – become celebrated. Why does he feel no guilt at taking credit for all her work? He’s perfect for the role – an uninhibited player in a culture that celebrates artifice. Writer/director Wash Westmoreland paints the whole thing with an appropriately light hand and never succumbs to the temptation to make everything come out right.

Of Colette’s husband Willie, her mother tells her daughter “he’s a drunken, broken man,” and suggests she handle her writing and her life as she wants it to be. That includes an unappealing gay affair with an American and then a dandy one with Missy (Denise Gough) that is everlasting. Of her now nationally celebrated fictional character Claudine, the evolved Colette says “I’ve outgrown her.” She turns with great success to the music hall and the theater – moving now on her own talent without having to channel it through Willie.

Keira Knightly does a fabulous job of creating Colette. From the lightweight writer whose Claudine has captured the French public, she evolves into resentment at her husband for taking the credit. The smart gal who has tired of creating Claudine switches to music hall and theater work while living with the woman she loves.

That’s quite a series of life and mood changes and Knightly makes the whole trip credible and full of fun. She conveys Colette’s free spirit with abandon. Yes, she goes through a whole array of emotions but she isn’t trying to teach the audience any lessons and neither is writer/director Westmoreland. When we realize there will be no moralizing, we are free to float with the zany script that delivers Keira Knightly’s terrific bundle of talents. This is a fun one.

Film Reviewer: Joan Ellis
Film Title : Colette
Word Count : 495
Running Time : 1:51
Rating : R
Date : October 14, 2018


First Man

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

First Man

First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong’s successful moon landing, is both a technical triumph and a deeply personal portrait of a couple. The degree of your enthusiasm for it will probably be determined by your interest in the subject itself. If you have no interest in the moon landing you may feel lukewarm because the film is focused entirely on the people and the feat.

Credit for the quality goes to Ryan Gosling who creates a quiet, serious Neil Armstrong and to Claire Foy who plays his wife Jan in a way that you won’t forget. Gosling and Foy deliver the intensity of the life Armstrong has won in deep competition with other astronauts who wanted the job. An unprecedented mission wraps the couple in the deep pressures and the dangers that accompany it. Both these actors generate the power that comes from failed moon shots in the past. The only precedents they have are the deaths of the astronauts who have died while trying.

We are awash in the reality of the personal danger and the justification for spending the money that was spent between 1961 and 1969. Is the spending really justified? Was the enormous amount of money spent in order that the Russians not be the first nation to plant a flag on the moon? Have Americans really been told what has been accomplished since Armstrong’s successful trip? With all the problems facing our country – education, medical, economic, decaying infrastructure – was it really wise to spend so much to plant a flag on the moon?

Assuming your answer is yes, you may well love watching this beautifully made movie. It unfolds to a brutally loud score that emphasizes everything that happening on screen. Watching Armstrong pilot the capsule through space as he is nearly killed by vibration and noise is unforgettable, no question. It’s so bad that the question roars: why did he want to do this? As the soundtrack overwhelms us, we begin to explore the reality of piloting that capsule through the layers of space with no room at all for even a simple mistake.

Claire Foy makes Jan a loyal but often angry wife who says once, “I married Neil because I wanted a normal life” and then forces him to have what may be a last conversation with his son. Both Foy and Gosling create two intelligent people who love their family and face the possibility of losing it all. When the movie is in space, the sound is deafening. When it is on Neil and Jan, the silence and the confrontations are acted with extraordinary skill by Claire Foy and Ryan Gosling. They are awash in unprecedented emotions and they convey their fear with quiet, powerful talent. No one in history has ever had their experience.

As we watch two endangered lives unfolding, we are physically overwhelmed by the relentless sound and danger of the capsule. The humanity is delivered quietly by two intelligent actors.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: First Man
Word Count: 496
Running Time: 2:18
Rating: PG-13
Date: October 7, 2018