Joan Ellis


Marisa Tomei and Isabelle Huppert in “Frankie” (2019).
10/14/2019
Frankie — Running Time: 1:46 — Rating: PG-13 Please don’t skip “Frankie,” and be sure to go when you feel peaceful enough to see a quiet and lovely movie. If you let it in, it’s likely to stay with you for a long while. Don’t look for a plot that unfolds in detail, and don’t think it’s dull because it unfolds gradually without driving you toward specific characters. So why is it so good? The story was filmed in Sintra, Portugal where movie star Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) has gathered three generations of her family for a reunion. She has reasons of her own for doing it and keeps those closely...

RENEE ZELLWEGER AS Judy Garland in "Judy."
10/06/2019
Judy — Running Time: 1:38 — Rating:  PG-13 “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...

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY STARS in “Official Secrets” (2019).
09/30/2019
Official Secrets — Running Time: 1:42 — Rating: R What is the role of an unimportant person who knows the truth of lies told by important people?  “Official Secrets” is the story of Katharine Gun [Keira Knightley], a young woman who discovers the shameful truth of the American invasion of Iraq 15 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...

JILLIAN BELL STARS in “Brittany Runs a Marathon” (2019).
09/16/2019
Brittany Runs a Marathon — Running Time: 1:44 — Rating: R At some moment when you need a touch of cheer, try “Brittany Runs a Marathon.” This comedy is rooted in more than competition. It’s the story of the moment when Brittany begins to recognize that her social/emotional problems are rooted in both her weight and her personality. The cure, she decides, lies in running the New York Marathon — not in winning it, just running it. Actor Jillian Bell’s creation of the friendless, overweight woman becomes strong as we slowly begin to understand her complex isolation. She rebuffs people, even...
09/09/2019
The Peanut Butter Falcon — Running Time : 1:37 — Rating: PG-13 The Peanut Butter Falcon offers a complex movie experience. Some of you will be thoroughly absorbed while others may well be disappointed. Whichever emotion claims you, just know this movie is beautifully acted and directed. If ordinary moviemakers had set out to tell the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a boy in his 20s wrapped in Down Syndrome, they might have handed us the problems, the heroes and a solution. None of that happens here. One quote captures the whole: “Friends are the family you choose.” The family Zak chooses is...

VIVEIK KALRA PLAYS a young man who’s inspired by Bruce Springsteen music to pursue his passion in the movie “Blinded By the Light.”
09/02/2019
Blinded By the Light — Running Time: 1:58 — Rating: PG-13 “Blinded By the Light” opens in the 1980s and introduces us to Jared (Viveik Kalra), a young man who tells us, “I’ve spent 35 years trying to let go of the destructive parts of my character.” Watching him show us those decades is pure pleasure. There are no weak parts of this boy’s character, but he is born to a kindly mother and a tough, uncompromising father (Kulvinder Ghir) who tries to determine every detail of his son’s life. As an immigrant from Pakistan, the father settled his family in Luton, England, a small town with a poor,...

MICHELLE WILLIAMS AND Julianne Moore star in “After the Wedding” (2019).
08/26/2019
After the Wedding — Running Time: 1:50 — Rating: PG-13 “After the Wedding” unfurls gradually as it introduces us to locations and characters. A salute to writer Susan Bier and director Bart Freundlich for letting us get to know the principals before they begin to interact with each other. The whole story would feel shallow if we didn’t already know these people when circumstance brings them all together. It opens in India where Isabel (Michelle Williams) has designed a system for delivering food to children who have no money to buy even the basics. They love her; she loves them. Just as we...

CHRIS M. MOSIER in Changing the Game (2019) was one of Joan Ellis’ top-picks from this year’s Monmouth Film Festival.
08/19/2019
This year’s Monmouth Film Festival — an international film festival in Red Bank, N.J. — opened with two complex films that kicked off the annual weekend celebration created by founder and president Nick Marchese.  The festival unfurled nearly constant screenings in the Two River Theater while other parts of the theater offered celebrity talks, industry film panels, and editing workshops along with a stream of film professionals from New York. One thing you can count on is the Marchese family’s determination to bring films that both rattle and expand our pre-existing understanding of...

Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, Diana Lin, and Awkwafina star in Lulu Wang’s film “The Farewell” (2019).
08/12/2019
“The Farewell” is a grand mixture of cultures, a deeply caring family, and a group of fine actors who are introduced quickly and with clarity. Writer/Director Lulu Wang first sketches the characters who will merge as the family gathers in China for the approaching death of their family’s grandmother. Thirty-one year old Billi (Awkwafina) is a young Chinese woman living in New York with a stalled writing career. In China, her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) has undergone tests for a nagging cough that won’t go away under prescribed medicine. When the family gathers in support in China,...

BRAD PITT AND Leonardo DiCaprio star in Quentin Tarantino’s new film “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood” (2019).
08/05/2019
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood — Running Time: 2:41 — Rating: R 1969 was a key year in the slippage of power from old Hollywood to the new. Quentin Tarantino has made “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” as his goodbye wave to the old movie world. While it seems certain that people with any connection to the industry will love it, ordinary movie lovers may find its 2.75 hours, too long and often confusing. Those not familiar with that movie era may miss the significance of the move away from Hollywood’s preoccupation with Westerns made by the industry’s enormously powerful male bosses. Tarantino...

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