Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


During the first hour of Damsel, we are introduced to Sam (Robert Pattinson), a determined man heading west to find Penelope (Mia Wasikowski), the woman he has decided to marry. He has by his side a miniature horse named Butterscotch, in his pocket a wedding ring for Penelope, and on his shoulder a guitar. He searches for the Parson who will perform the marriage and finds him dead drunk lying on his back in the dirt. As they set off to find Penelope, we are wondering why we are supposed to like a movie about an oddball man searching for his woman, a drunk Parson, and a miniature horse.

Our wondering begins to melt when the two men find the cabin where Penelope lives with Anton, the man she loves. Sam and the timid Parson (David Zellner) sneak forward until Penelope’s lover comes outside to relieve himself. Bam. The lover goes down. When Penelope emerges to the awful sight, the movie takes off in the direction it has been preparing us for. This story that unfolds in pre-feminist 1870 is a comic modern take on the real-life roles men have been playing for generations.

Now we begin to understand what writer/director brothers David and Nathan Zellner are up to. The pony, of course, is treated well by everyone; no discussion about that. The men are simple minded relics as they continue to expect to have everything their own way.

Doesn’t every woman wait for the man she likes to make all the moves toward permanence? If the man has decided which woman he wants, doesn’t he already own her even if she loves someone else? For a man, isn’t the whole outdoors his private bathroom? Isn’t it the man who chooses the ring and decides when to give it? Isn’t the miniature horse the perfect anchor for a woman? Once in charge, won’t the man announce where they will live and what each will do? Doesn’t the man always use weaker men to advance his schemes? Hasn’t this all been happening for centuries?

Wrapped in grand exaggeration, Mia Wasikowski’s Penelope hammers home historic male entitlement. She fires back the modern feelings women have toward male dominance. Silent only when the men’s words and behavior are beyond believing she makes us laugh in recognition. As Wasikowski stands strong and ridicules traditional male ways, her performance is made of steel.

Damsel is the brainchild and questionable gift of David Zellner and Nathan Zellner who wrote, directed and acted one of the roles. Their clash of modern values erupts against beautiful western scenery where they create two dense traditional men against one smart woman who has already evolved into the norms of today. It may be set in 1870 but its roots are still present and the two Zellners make us cringe as they face Mia Wasikowski’s terrific Penelope who saw through it all many decades ago. This is a strange one. Odd plot, odd acting. Only you can guess whether you’ll like it.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Damsel
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 1:53
Rating: R

The Beguiled

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Beguiled

Early reports promised that The Beguiled would be a top rank film from Director Sofia Coppola who was named this year’s Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. So off I went in happy anticipation that turned quite quickly to disappointment.

It’s 1864. In an old southern Virginia mansion that had served as a girls’ boarding school before the war, a handful of students, a teacher, and their headmistress are stranded because they have no place to go. The movie opens beautifully as a young girl is gathering mushrooms in a forest of majestic trees whose enormous branches shut out the sun. As Amy’s (Oona Laurence) peaceful walk in the woods goes on just a bit too long, we realize in scary anticipation that something is about to happen. It does.

She stumbles across a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) and helps him back to her school where headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), rebellious student Alicia (Elle Fanning) and the younger girls discuss what to do about this enemy in their midst. Miss Martha washes and stitches his serious leg wound and all agree they will shelter him until he recovers.

Still afraid of him, they lock the soldier alone in the room and decide to send him on his way as soon as he can walk. By then, the movie is wrapped in stiff formality. With the sounds of war in the distance, and a wounded soldier in their midst, it is almost laughable that teachers and students are dressed immaculately throughout in perfectly ironed long white dresses while they move about with slow formality. As time passes much too slowly forward, sexual attraction surfaces, then erupts. We welcome this last half hour because it punctures the stilted propriety that has enveloped us for an hour.

Sofia Coppola did interesting work here by observing the reactions to the emergency of three women of different ages. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning react according to age but during the first hour they are too much alike, too contained for the audience to get to know them as individuals. We try but can’t succeed in piercing the prohibitive formality. Colin Farrell, on the other hand, is credible during the first half only to undergo a character change that, while understandable on one level, is beastly and prolonged on the other.

Director Coppola’s filming is grand as she creates the atmosphere of seven women isolated in the woods during the Civil War. The singing of the young girl who opens and closes the movie is extremely moving. For the first hour, the actors seem trapped in their silence while the whole goes from mild mannered propriety in one crisis to hysteria in the next. Feeling somewhat sad to be going against positive advance word, I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to talk about this movie lover’s dilemma. Am I crazy?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Beguiled
Word Count : 491
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : July 2, 2017