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Never Look Away

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Never Look Away

The title: Never Look Away. The length: three hours and eight minutes. You plan to skip it? For all that time I never once wanted to leave my chair and the whole film still runs quietly through my mind. Its length is part of the reason. It takes all that time to do for us what writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck intends while painting his portrait of an artist based on a leading German artist, Gerhard Richter.

It is 1933 and the opening scenes set the horrendous tone of Nazi control. In an art gallery tour, the Nazi guide announces which paintings are good and which are bad. Kurt (Cai Cohrs), a small boy, is there with his aunt Ellie who feeds him the message of free expression while they walk through the art show under the shouted instructions of what they are to like or dislike. Ellie’s stream of free thought lands her in the hands of Professor Carl Seband (Sebastian Koch) who is heading the new sterilization program that will deal with unwanted women.

While the country is soaked with Nazi horrors, young Kurt (Tom Schilling) grows up knowing he will be a painter and we in the audience follow his search for his artistic core. The Nazi culture is utterly invasive but Kurt is embedded in his search for how and what he wants to paint.

As history unfolds around him, we in the audience become fascinated with his personal quest. Though the realities of the Nazis abound, we follow Kurt as he searches for the focus of his great talent. He can paint, but what will he paint? That happens only after he moves from the artistically conservative Dresden to Dusseldorf under the prodding of his fellow artist friend.

Even in this city that encouraged freedom, Kurt finally sits in frustration before blank canvases in his frustration at discovering who he is as an artist. He senses a something deep in his core and hasn’t yet discovered what it is. His search becomes our focus. Watching him explore his talent as his emotional tools unfold is thoroughly intriguing in the hands of this fine actor. His father-in-law: “Mozart was dead at 30, and you still don’t know? You’re still a student?”

This is a story of a man in search of what he wants to create with his deep talent and we in the audience have become silent partners in his determination. Tom Schilling’s creation of the artist in search of himself is a thoroughly compelling mystery, deepened by his fine acting and the quiet way he moves through his confusion. It is deeply refreshing to follow an artist who is looking not for fame but to realize himself in the crushing times he and his family have lived through.

Though many intriguing small plots and emotional entanglements abound, we are absorbed by this artist who reaches not for success but to record and explain the destroyed world that surrounds him.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Never Look Away
Word Count : 501
Running Time: 3:08
Rating : R
Date : 17 February 2019

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