Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi unfolds in two utterly different locations: an austere, treacherous island in the most remote part of the Galaxy and the vast, infinite sky that is the setting for war. The steep, rocky island establishes a mood of danger while Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to lure Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) away from his isolation (“It’s time for the Jedi to die”) and back to the life in the sky that he left.

That sky is alive with the turmoil of war that roars at the audience in superb designs of modern abstractions. The sound designers have created aerial turmoil, death, and danger in nearly constant fiery explosions that blow up all manner of futuristic space vehicles and men. The ability to create this spatial chaos has grown since the first Star Wars movie in 1977 to the point where we feel nailed to our seats as the screen morphs into fiery orange violence. We marvel at what artists in 2017 can do to bring a digital story alive.

The visuals are extraordinary, the acting excitingly appropriate. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are terrific as the alienated brother and sister who are older and wiser than the younger warriors. Laura Dern endows Vice Admiral Holdo with the great dignity that comes from calm presence. Daisy Ridley turns Rey into a young woman who injects intelligence and power into her violent trade along with an underlying sense of fair play and kindness. She is enormously appealing.

Because the whole thing is imagined, writer/director Rian Johnson was free to create a marvelous mix of humans and animals who navigate the violent warfare. There are no rules in this world of the imagination and Johnson’s work is creative artistry.

But there is something else going on here. In this year’s other big success, Wonder Woman, the terrific actor Gal Gadot stamped the women’s movement with approval and encouragement and gave young girls the super hero they’ve never had. Ask any teenager; they love their new role model. After that unexpected twist, women began to get stronger roles in movies just as they have begun to assert themselves powerfully in real life.

Now, in this Star Wars episode, three good actors portray three strong women leaders. Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, and Laura Dern have created characters whose attitudes establish the tone of the story. This is another movie that has stepped into the tide with public recognition of the strength of women. Along with the new “Me Too” movement, this is what’s happening in the real world at a fast, long overdue, and exciting clip.

There is one possible cause for worry: the dark side of the explosive expansion of Star Wars style robotics. How soon will we see robotic tools of warfare and relationships erupt in our own life on earth? Perhaps next year’s Star Wars will give us some answers. Until then, they’ve given us the questions.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Word Count : 498
Running Time: 2:32
Rating : PG-13
Date : 24 December 2017


Wonder Woman

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Wonder Woman

The timing of the release of Wonder Woman is rare and perfect. Could anyone have foreseen that its arrival in theaters would coincide with both women’s frustration at their lack of power and their anger at war as a tool for settling arguments? A woman director and a fine actor have crafted some grand symbolism just when the world needs it most. A comic book hero speaking to the troubles of today? Let’s look.

Director Patty Jenkins has said that she wanted to tell a story “about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind.” She has done just that. By allowing only women on the set, she created an atmosphere that reflected the innocent essence of the Amazon nation. There would be no room for cynical thinking in this movie.

Gal Gadot, a former combat instructor in the Israeli Defense Force, creates Diana, daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), queen of the women on the Amazon Island. Diana rescues Steve (Chris Pine) when his plane crashes off-island, the first man anyone on the island has ever seen. With a craving to see the outside world, Diana leaves with him and steps into the tricky role of sticking to her principles during the carnage of World War I. This woman who has never seen war steps into the savage slaughter as young men erase an entire generation of their peers on both sides by orders of their elders.

Armed with golden bracelets, knives, and a terrific “lasso of truth,” Diana attacks brutality wherever she sees it on her way to eliminate Aries, the God of War. Like her fellow Amazons, Diana is innocent in all the ways of the prevailing world and brings to that a firm determination to end war. When, in that innocence, she makes it clear that she can’t understand why men would do this to each other in 1918, she hits the nerve that is rattling us with the same question nearly 100 years later. Same men, same thinking, worse weaponry.

Why does this projection work so well? Gal Gadot, with her dignity, her quietness, and her smile, is thoroughly credible as she makes choices from her heart. Her physical beauty is rooted in the expression of her feelings. When she dances with Steve, she asks, “Is this what people do when there are no wars?”

How often does a comic book hero trigger the contemporary emotions that are spreading through theaters now? And through me. I bought the first Superman comic book in 1938 for ten cents and love him still. How often does a peace message reach more than 150 million people in one weekend? If director Patty Jenkins hadn’t fallen in love with Superman when she was a little girl, this super hero movie wouldn’t resonate the way it does. But she did, and it does. Ask your kids to take you along.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Wonder Woman
Word Count : 497
Running time: 2:21
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 11, 2017