Love, Cecil

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Love, Cecil

Love, Cecil presents Cecil Beaton, a human enigma who tried throughout his life to figure out who he was until the day he died. This man who achieved worldwide success on many levels never stopped trying to understand himself. During that lifelong search he designed clothes, sets, homes, wrote dozens of books, took thousands of photographs of his famous subjects and became a fashion legend. Director Lisa Vreeland has made a documentary that holds us to every detail.

His work marked an era when the fashion world was far different from what it is today. Whatever Beaton touched became wrapped in folds, flowers, and prints. Cluttered desks, patterned rugs, and intricate wallpapers sprang from his imagination. He created chaos and lived in it.

In a fun aside, he talks about Katherine Hepburn. He saw her as a blank canvas for his work while she refused even to think about being decorated. Years ago, I sat behind her in a New York theater audience and saw just what Beaton describes. She sat anonymously in blue jeans, a wrinkled t-shirt, and a rumpled blazer with a tear down one sleeve. She was a woman who already knew exactly who she was and needed nothing from Beaton. It unsettled him thoroughly to see someone so quietly confident when he was trying so hard to understand himself.

Beaton hated school, never graduated from one, studied theater and photography at Cambridge, failed all exams. In the decadence of the 1890s, he dressed in varieties of costumes that allowed him to become different people. He began to take superb photographs rooted in his belief that a photographer should approach a subject with a point of view of his own.

In 1929 he came to America and stayed until the war ended in 1945. In the era of the American movie star, he photographed Judy Garland, Orson Welles, and Marlene Dietrich. During that time, he took 7000 photos, always looking for beauty in the tragic world of World War II. Even in the despair and hardship of that time, he found beauty for the pictures he took of the wounded in hospitals and of air raid victims everywhere.

From 1948 to 1980 he retreated to the reddish colored country house that he adored. It was his base while he designed for ballet and theater. Always trying to improve himself, he would create an atmosphere and live in it. Clutter – the walls were covered, the shelves filled, flowers everywhere. Simplicity was an alien concept. He loved covering Queen Elizabeth’s coronation where the occasion itself was wrapped in complicated beauty.

Despite his success he said, “I am appalled by the sadness of life.” He found it everywhere. Curious and complex as a person, he lived to create his conception of beauty but never realized fully who he was. He continued taking pictures of himself as he faced a mirror, always asking, “Who am I?” In all his creativity he never found an answer that satisfied him. You will enjoy his complexity.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Love, Cecil
Word Count: 497
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1:38
Date: June 27, 2018

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

Ocean’s 8

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Ocean's 8

What’s the test of a good comedy? In the case of Ocean’s 8 you know you’re having fun when you feel yourself rooting for the bad guys. When does that happen in this one? In the first scene. As Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean concocts a grand lie to convince the parole boss to let her out of jail, we realize she has already created an entire plan for her next heist. She invites us on board and we jump.

She goes straight from jail to a store where she steals a few things to get back in thieving shape before assembling her new team. Her first enlistee is former partner Lou (Cate Blanchett). The two take a research tour through the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they plan their heist of a necklace worth $150 million.

You will be confused, as I still am, by the number of thieves and their operating speed but credit them all: Anne Hathaway (public focus), Helena Bonham Carter (down-on-her luck fashion designer), Mindy Kaling (jewelry maker), Rihanna (sublime mechanic), Awkwafina (pickpocket), and Sarah Paulson (suburbanite thief).

When else would they plan the heist except on the night of the Met’s annual gala? The team does its thoroughly confusing work while we watch the staff setting the elegant tables for top tier New Yorkers. As they arrive, we follow the men in their unimaginative black as they escort their dates in designer dresses, all of them ready and striving for press coverage. The fakery of that procession whets our appetites for the perfectly timed activities of the burglary team who are now executing their assignments – some in plain sight, some in hiding.

Following the robbers through the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a delight and whenever Debbie Ocean’s intricate theft plan becomes confusing, just enjoy the glorious art. It’s all right there as background for the gang of smart, sophisticated crooks who blend in with the tourists while executing their complex assignments.

The gang of eight is after a necklace and their way of getting it is intricate and full of fun. But getting it, as you’ll see is just the beginning of the plan. Each member of this unique gang has special skills along with a particular assignment from Ocean. The reason it adds up to wacky fun is that it never once pretends to be possible or serious. They give moviegoers a holiday from taking movies as seriously as most of us now do.

Sandra Bullock establishes all that in the first scene. “Here,” she is saying, “Take a rest from your serious life and have some wacky fun.” That’s precisely what we do. Bullock doesn’t dominate the screen but captures us with her sly smile and sharp brain. She has a very adult, quiet sophistication that draws us into all the fun she designs as Debbie Ocean including a wonderful final surprise. Take two hours off from your serious life to chuckle at the craziness she gives us.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Ocean’s 8
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:50
Rating: PG-13
Date: June 24, 2018