Magic in the Movies – Is it Over?

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Magic in the Movies – Is it Over?

This week is a movie critic’s nightmare. After reviewing the few excellent ones playing now, finding another for this week’s deadline proved impossible. It’s easy to pick a loser and trash it, but what’s the point? Being able to recommend a movie for quality in acting, writing, and directing is the fun of it. And then there’s the magic of a movie that has all of that plus an original premise. That’s what we love, isn’t it?

A few years ago, I vented my frustration, and I will reprint several paragraphs of it now because things have become even worse. Here goes: Much of the magic of movies touches us as we watch in the quiet, dark theater among strangers, and there lies the new threat. While storytellers will continue to write marvelous scripts, the magic of the theater is threatened by escalating prices that have caused a decline in attendance. A ticket plus popcorn and a drink has triggered their departure.

As this new century ticks away, technology is sending movies into homes via Netflix, On Demand, and proliferating streaming techniques. But what teenager wants to invite a date over to watch under the watchful eyes of parents? And what parents want to watch films in the familiar surroundings of their homes with predictable distractions?

Try hunkering down on the comfortable couch. Lights stay on because someone wants to read. The phone rings. The dog asks to go outside at least twice. The fire needs another log. Each distraction breaks the mood. Think about being in a theater. The lights dim and we slip away from the day we just had. The experience of laughing or tensing or crying quietly with a hundred or more people is the essence of movie magic.

As the multiplexes fold, we will adjust our living rooms for a better watching experience by dimming the lights, turning off the phone, putting the dog to bed – creating an environment as close as possible to the one we love. But laughing and crying and being scared alone isn’t much fun so we will improve the experience by inviting a few friends to join us. As we restore the fun of company, we’ll want a communal gathering place and the small movie house will be reborn, and then, because not everyone wants to see the same movie, the multiplex will return. Until then, we’re stuck with the family couch and the small screen. True then, true now.

When I linger in theater lobbies to talk with families, they all say “I can’t afford tickets and popcorn for my whole family.” A movie night in town can cost fifty dollars or more for just four people. For me? I am often alone or with a friend in an empty theater. It still beats sitting on my couch. Save up and see the sailing documentary “Maiden” in June. Great for all ages, it’s one of the best movies I have seen in years.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Title : Magic in the Movies – Is it Over?
Word Count : 495
Date : May 24, 2019

This entry was posted on May 26, 2019, in Documentary.

The Biggest Little Farm

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Biggest Little Farm

The Biggest Little Farm will stand for a long while as a towering example of skill and attention to detail. As one who is not pulled in by stories about farming or animals, I was thoroughly unprepared for the emotional wallop delivered by this movie. Please don’t miss this experience.

John and Molly Chester live in an apartment where Molly indulges her love of cooking and harbors a dream of growing everything she might ever cook. Husband John narrates the story of what happened after neighbors’ complaints about their newly acquired barking dog drove them from their building. They’ve lost me already.

An hour north of Los Angeles, the couple buys 200 acres of uneven, dry, untillable land. Addressing their own ignorance, they also acquire the services of Alan York who advises them to emulate the natural ecosystem and stays on as their advisor. When they advertise for helpers, many come, and they stay.

We watch the gang acquire baby ducks, sheep, chickens, and others who supply the natural fertilizer for bringing the soil back to life. As this unfolds, seventy-five varieties of fruit flourish. Before long – just be patient – we realize we are seeing a kind of filming few of us have ever seen before.

In astonishing closeups, the camera captures the beauty and detail of the lives of the animals as they bring the land back to life under the care of the owners. Open yourselves to the magical creativity of this husband/wife team that never stops learning and loving what they do.

Drought, storms, and toxic water hit repeatedly and yet their dream materializes in a design that stuns us whenever the camera shows us the farm from a distance. In closeups of just a few inches, the behavior of the animals is nothing less than astonishing. From the eyes and skill of a photographer who is an artist, we learn things about beauty, about dedication, and about animals way beyond anything I have ever seen on film.

The ducks eat 90,000 troubling snails; more cows bring more manure; maggots are food for the chickens. The worst drought in 1200 years threatens the whole 200 acres. Then 18” of rain soaks all of it. Hawks attack from above, gophers and snakes from below. As the threats arrive, we watch the faces and behavior of animals as they sleep, stare, and react. We are astonished at the complexity and vulnerability of this web of life that is rooted in impermanence.

You will enjoy and admire the emotional depth of the couple and their tutor who are always growing as they solve the problems in the life they love. They don’t control nature; they live in harmony with what it hands them. The Chesters filmed their experiment in rare closeups every day for eight years in wind, fire, and rain. They have created an unprecedented experience for everyone who is silenced by the beauty of what they have done. 

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : The Biggest Little Farm
Word Count : 496
Running Time : 1:31
Rating : PG
Date : May 12, 2019

This entry was posted on May 11, 2019, in Documentary.