Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


“There’s only one of her.” So says a friend of Judy Garland in the new film Judy. That comment summons the complications in the grand new wave of biographical fictions that are flooding our theaters. Many of them are finely made, as this one is. What’s more fun than looking under the surface of someone who has charmed much of the world? For those who are seeing her as a past performer, Judy Garland is just a famous singer. For those of us who were alive during her time, she is something else.

This movie digs into the culture of her family and her era and for me it just doesn’t make the grade. The reality: Frances Ethel Gumm was born in 1922 and spent 45 of her 47 years loving to sing even when sickened by pep pills and sleeping pills supplied by her vaudeville performer mother. Her life behind the scenes became one of collapses and illnesses leading to a series of suicide attempts starting at 28. In the same period, she won a special Oscar and went on to score in movie and stage musicals.

In June of 1968, on Saturday night, I sat in the relatively New Jersey Garden State Arts Center to hear Judy sing and watch her perform. She had collapsed 15 minutes into her first show and was taken to Riverview Hospital. Next time round, we could all feel the deep audience support for the singer whose voice and antics we all loved and sensed she was close to the end. It was sad.

The most interesting part of Rene Zellweger’s new portrayal of Judy is her consistent lack of self-puffery or ego. Judy is a damaged woman in her 40s, loved by the world until she falters from drink and drugs. Then the comeback in England, and her final downfall as audiences threw napkins at her. Her walkouts and bursts of temper are sad and grim but they represent her own decay that is never aimed at hurting others. Her self-destruction is aimed entirely at herself. We feel sorrow, not anger at the behavior that follows. She is entirely self-oriented but not cruel to anyone.

Rene Zellweger has a fine voice and creates a character thoroughly rooted in the real Judy Garland but for those of us who saw her at the end of her performing life, if feels odd. It’s not Judy. I suggest, with an apology, that you ask your contemporaries for their opinions. For me, the realities of Judy Garland’s career and her on-stage weakness and final collapse in the late ‘40s are vivid. Is it possible that watching real life tragedy engulf someone just carries a message that says “Leave this one alone?” Judy Garland’s voice and behavior were hers alone and it’s tough to watch even a good actor try to capture that. She had a mixture of personality, drive, and love of song that were unique.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : JUDY
Word Count : 498
Running Time : 1:38
Rating : PG-13
Date : 29 September 2019

Official Secrets

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Official Secrets

What is the role of an unimportant person who knows the truth of lies told by important people? Official Secrets is the story of Katherine Gun [Kiera Knightly], a young woman who discovers the shameful truth of the American invasion of Iraq fifteen years ago.

Writers Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein dig into the ugly complexity of the details that were hidden for years by top level British/American collusion. Director Gavin Hood has turned their work into an uncomfortable ride through lies, blackmail, and plots. This movie uncovers the carefully calculated role of America in the story even after the British found the bravery to withdraw in shame.

The complexity of the unfolding story demands our close attention and were it not for two things – the truth of it and the actors who present it – the movie might have been a tough ride. The tragic deaths of thousands of young people are due to the administration of George Bush. His administration’s manipulation in taking our country and Britain to war in Iraq for no reason is criminal and has been kept secret for fifteen years. At rifle speed, the movie spews forth the names of people who worked for the press, in politics, and in the intelligence community at the time.

Kat Gun is a young worker in British Intelligence who is given a top-secret memo from America’s NSA that enlists Britain’s help in blackmailing UN Security Council members in supporting an invasion of Iraq. When Gun leaks that memo to the press she ignites a chain of events that threatens both her and her husband.

When Kat goes public with the scandal, the government responds with accusations against her character, deportation of her immigrant husband, and a brutal public trial. She is charged with violating the Official Secrets Act and is swamped with public humiliation. Under threat of prosecution and jail, Kat explores her conscience and summons an iron mix of bravery and determination. Even after she is told of the probable consequences to her and her family, she will not step into the illegal government plot to hide a war that had no purpose and killed thousands.

Under that public cloud, Kat meets with lawyers but talk in specifics is tough because the whole government operation is labeled Top Secret. We are watching the drama of the world’s respected democracy lying about their scandalous war, imprisoning a young woman who knows the truth, and deporting her husband to silence her.

As the government’s criminal actions, conspiracy, and lying are revealed, audiences are walloped with the realization that this is American behavior, not that of other countries we criticize readily. It is ours. All this is delivered by a strong cast. The final scenes are all powered so outstandingly by Kiera Knightley, that audiences sit in silent astonishment at the enormity of the criminality of our own country. We did this? Yes, we did. Who was punished for it? No one.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Official Secrets
Word Count : 502
Running Time : 1:42
Rating : R
Date : 22 September 2019