The Greatest Showman

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Greatest Showman

After opening to middling reviews, The Greatest Showman has become one of the surprise hits of the season and no one seems to know why. On one level, it is a chronicle of the rise of P.T. Barnum from a young unemployed man to creator of what Americans remember as The Greatest Show on Earth. On another, it tells the tale of the circus that toured the country by train for spectators who could never get to New York. Why do audiences love the movie after so many critics dismissed it?

Think about what Barnum did that was celebrated all those decades ago. The core of his early circus was known as his freak show – a group of disfigured humans to be stared at by audiences. The elephants that eventually opened his show as it grew are now protected. Carrying the animals and performers cross country by train is now considered cruel. Gradual but enormous changes in our culture began to demand more respect for both people and animals.

What people find in this movie is an old-fashioned movie musical that is magical in many ways. Both the acting and the score lift audiences into the story for two hours of pure pleasure as we revisit the spectacle. The movie sizzles on the performances of its actors.

Those formerly known as “the freaks” are brought to life by fine actors who let us get to know them as unique people rather than as a side show. We root for Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle as he grows from supporting pal to real strength. We cheer quietly for P.T.’s wife Charity (Michelle Williams) as she leaves her affluent family for life with an unemployed man with a dream. We find real joy as the gang known as freaks become a real force in the film. And Hugh Jackman builds and sustains the fun with his singing, dancing, and determination. He creates the infectious myth that Barnum began.

The music, dancing, and singing are unfailingly terrific and I, for one, was very glad to be sitting there with a sentimental tear in my eye. Thank you, Benjamin Pasek and Justin Paul for the music that is the heart of the movie and never dims. It is old fashioned in the best of ways as it carries all of us back to another time.

On a personal note, while at college I watched the Ringling Bros. circus train cross the Hudson River while marveling at the giraffes with their long necks sticking straight up from the open car. When I decided after set up to crawl under the side of the tent for fun, I came up under the belly of an enormous elephant in a long line of them and scurried through his hooves with the hope he wouldn’t lift one to smash me. The fun and the charm of this new movie is the mix of Hugh Jackman and the music. Let yourself go for two hours. It’s carnival time.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Greatest Showman
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: PG
Date: January 21, 2018


Beauty and the Beast

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast was written in 1740. Imagine the many versions of the story that have passed through the following centuries. And yet, one sentence carries its essence down through time: a handsome young prince imprisoned in the body of a beast can be freed only by true love. What a premise to hand to future authors about the power of love in all kinds of circumstances. The wonder of the new Walt Disney Pictures movie springs from new technology that allowed creative animators to wrap the story in full time magic. Add to this a set of performances that are subtle and irresistible.

Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast ((Dan Stevens) spend much of the movie in the enchanted castle where all the beautiful objects – candelabra, cups, and furniture that surround them – are imprisoned in those forms while waiting for their salvation to arrive when at last the Beast is loved.

Belle is absorbed in ensuring the safety of her beloved father Maurice (Kevin Kline). His time is divided between their home village and the enchanted castle. Hers is spent unloading Gaston (Luke Evans), the arrogant, aggressive village suitor.

Today’s techies enable the castle itself to cast a beautiful spell by imaginative use of their new tools. The settings are magical. So what could go wrong? Casting? Not one mediocre performance.
Emma Watson’s Belle is never silly or vulnerable in any situation. She has grown from Harry Potter fame into a composed, subtle actor who has an inner antenna about the danger of overacting. She makes falling in love with the Beast a gradual, believable happening.

As her dad, Kevin Kline is also grand. He’s brave and loving with the vulnerability that comes with age and any audience understands instinctively why his protective daughter loves him so much. As the Beast, Dan Stevens manages – despite his hideous horns – to convey his inside self gradually as he falls in love with Belle. When love releases him, we see only a few moments of him as a human being. Probably, I think, so the audience won’t think of him as less than magical. The director was wise just to plant him in our imagination. In this case, the dream is better than reality.

Quality is guaranteed by the presence – actually or in voice – of Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, and Stanley Tucci. For all of you who no longer watch fairy tales, borrow a child for the afternoon from family, friends, or neighbors or go with a pal. Age doesn’t matter. Give thanks to Walt Disney Studios for releasing a good one in the spring and ignoring the practice of holding their best until Oscar season.

Beauty and the Beast is the rule breaking exception that will win hearts and endure. It is also one moment when technology and humanity meld in the best of ways – an old fashioned story in modern day dress. Have fun.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Beauty and the Beast
Word Count : 495
Running time: 2:09
Rating : PG
Date : April 4, 2017