Admin
Monday, 27 June 2022 14:52

Hail to the King – ‘Elvis’

There are few mainstream filmmakers who offer the degree of stylistic audacity that you get from Baz Luhrmann. The Australian director has made a career our of crafting visually arresting films that luxuriate in their own aesthetic extremity.

So I suppose it only makes sense that he would tackle the King.

“Elvis” is the latest project from the Aussie auteur. Working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner, Luhrmann has imprinted his own vision on the story of one Elvis Presley. Powered by the standard over-the-top visuals – particularly at the onset – and driven by an electrifying performance from Austin Butler as the man himself, the movie offers a look at the man who would become a myth. All of it through the lens of the man who helped him get there even as he helped himself, the promoter Colonel Tom Parker (brought to life by Tom Hanks).

Call it “The King and the Kingmaker.”

It is a dazzling spectacle, to be sure – fitting the larger-than-life subject at its center – but it is also a look at the complicated and often toxic dynamic between the rock and roll icon and the carny-turned-music promoter who ostensibly assisted him on his rise to the top.

Published in Movies

Telling stories about real people is a complicated business. Transitioning reality to the silver screen involves all manner of delicacy (assuming the filmmakers are interested in maintaining a clear and truthful relationship to that reality). And as the people portrayed become more complicated, the overall levels of complexity grow exponentially.

Harry Haft was a light heavyweight boxer who had a brief run as a pro in the late 1940s; his overall record was 13-8 and his most notable bout was his last, a fight with none other than Rocky Marciano himself. Looking at that snippet of a life, one might wonder why anyone would give this guy the biopic treatment.

But Harry Haft was a survivor of Auschwitz. A Polish Jew, Harry survived because he was willing to fight. Specifically, he fought against his fellow prisoners for the amusement of the Nazi officers … and for the right to live another day. It was that experience that landed him in the boxing ring after the war.

“The Survivor” – currently available on HBO Max – is Harry Haft’s story. Or rather, stories. Indeed, the film offers us a glimpse at Haft’s journey from all sides. We’re given an up-close look at the brutal calculus of self-preservation in the face of a relentlessly cruel and callous adversary. We’re also allowed to get a sense of the aftermath of those horrible calculations, of what it means to live after others have died. And we’re presented with the aftermath’s aftermath, a look at how difficult and even impossible it may be to move forward when bearing the weight of those choices.

Directed by Barry Levinson from a script by Justine Juell Gillmer (based on the work of Alan Scott Haft, Harry’s son), “The Survivor” is a powerful and surprisingly dense film, one that manages to pack a lot of punches (literal and figurative) into its 129 minutes. It is a well-crafted and powerful film, one anchored by an utterly transformative lead performance by Ben Foster; its large budget and high production values in many ways belie its challenging nature. It is an incredibly compelling viewing experience, even as many parts of it prove rather difficult to watch.

Published in Movies
Monday, 13 December 2021 13:54

‘Being the Ricardos’ loves Lucy

There are two kinds of biopics – you’ve got your cradle-to-grave and you’ve got your slice of life. Both have their merits, though if pressed, I’d probably cop to preferring the latter. Rather than trying to lay out a whole life story, we get a chance to get to know the person or persons in question more specifically during a moment in time.

“Being the Ricardos” – the latest from writer/director Aaron Sorkin – is an example of that latter type of biopic, revolving primarily around a single tumultuous week in the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and the people around them. We see other moments as well, all of it framed (rather ingeniously, honestly) through a documentary-style device, but for the most part, it’s this one week that is the focus.

Starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucy and Desi, respectively, the film gives us a look inside their lives, both personally and professionally. We see them at home and on set, in the past and in the present (along with some looks back from the future). It is clever and touching, a well-made film that offers a degree of insight into what it meant to be these people at this time in their lives.

And it’s pretty great.

Now, if you’re here in the deluded hope that the madcap physical energy of Lucille Ball is going to be recreated here, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. But that’s not the point of the movie, nor would it be fair to ask any performer to try and replicate Lucy’s unique gifts. Instead, we get to see her as the power player and perfectionist that she was behind the scenes, someone who used her obvious talents to get to a place where she could take advantage of her subtler ones.

Published in Style

Biopics are actually pretty easy to make. Take your standard music biopic, for example. You’ve got a prominent figure who has lived a life in the spotlight, one with already extant stakes and needle drops just waiting to happen. Telling the story of someone when there’s a built-in audience ready to hear it? Yeah – easy.

Making a GOOD biopic, well … that’s another story.

Now, the line can be a bit blurry. There’s a lot of mediocrity out there in the music biopic sphere, but sometimes that mediocrity can be elevated into something more – more engaging, more impactful – if both the central figure and the person playing them are compelling enough.

Take “Respect,” the new Aretha Franklin biopic directed by Liesl Tommy from a screenplay by Tracey Scott Wilson. In many ways, it epitomizes the formulaic nature of the genre – beat by beat, it seems to evoke all of the cliches that come with making this sort of film. There’s a paint-by-numbers quality to the proceedings; even the aspects of the story with which we are not familiar are rendered in an extremely familiar way.

And then there’s Jennifer Hudson.

Hudson offers up a legitimately incredible performance as Franklin. She embodies and evokes the Queen of Soul with a fiery, flawed majesty that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. We all know that Hudson can sing, of course (though the justice she does to some Aretha classics impresses and surprises nevertheless), but it’s her work as the woman rather than the singer that makes this a transcendent turn. Her efforts explode outward from the so-so framework by which she has been surrounded – she’s unforgettable in an otherwise forgettable film.

Published in Movies

What does it mean to take on the role of an icon?

It’s one of the fundamental challenges of a biopic – how to invoke the spirit and sensibility of a famous figure in a manner that avoids caricature. The best of these performances aren’t impressions or impersonations, but rather honest appraisals of the person being portrayed, built on actual character rather than a few plucked characteristics.

It’s worth noting that sometimes in biopics, the skill and subtlety of the central performance far outshines the rest of the film. The movie becomes less about the story and more about the person to whom the story is happening. That doesn’t mean the film is bad, necessarily – just that it doesn’t fully live up to the actor at its core.

Such is the case with “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” directed by Lee Daniels from a screenplay adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks from part of Johann Hari’s 2015 book “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.” It’s a film with issues – tonal inconsistency, uneven direction, a somewhat meandering narrative and odd aesthetic choices.

And yet, many of the film’s sins are forgiven due to the sheer incandescence of Andra Day’s performance as the titular Billie Holiday. Even during stretches when the movie isn’t entirely working, Day NEVER stops working. She is absolutely magnetic onscreen, thrilling to watch. And when she starts to sing? Forget about it. Day papers over a lot of the film’s issues through sheer power of performance.

Published in Movies
Monday, 14 September 2020 17:04

Wisdom born of pain – ‘I Am Woman’

Biopics – particularly music biopics – can be difficult to pull off. Telling the stories of iconic figures is always tricky, but when you introduce a level of performance into the mix, well … it doesn’t always go the way you’d want. I tend to be more into “slice of life” biopics than “cradle to grave” – the truth is that most of the time, the beginning and the end don’t necessarily contribute significantly to the tale being told.

“I Am Woman,” the new biopic of singer Helen Reddy, falls into the former category (though the slice is pretty hefty, traversing the mid-1960s and moving well into the ‘80s). Directed by Unjoo Moon from a screenplay by Emma Jensen, it focuses on the heyday of the iconic singer, from her early struggles through her meteoric rise and on to the inevitable tumble.

It’s a charming, albeit formulaic film, hitting all the standard beats that we’ve come to expect from the genre. That’s not meant to be dismissive, though – it’s a formula because it works if it’s executed properly. And this one is, dipping in and out of the timeline as the story of a woman who was more than the song that came to define her.

Published in Movies

There are a handful of scientific figures whose names are common knowledge. These are the scientists who have so transcended their disciplines as to become part of the cultural fabric. It’s a short list. And if you want to talk about women on that list, well … there’s really only one, for better or worse.

Marie Curie is the first female scientist that many people ever learn about. For many, she might be the only female scientist they ever learn about. She is an iconic figure, one of just four people to win multiple Nobel Prizes, having won for both physics and chemistry.

It’s no surprise that such an icon would have her story represented on film. The latest attempt to cinematically share the legacy of Marie Curie is “Radioactive,” currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s an attempt to reckon with the legacy of Curie’s work, looking back on her life as a scientist while also trying to come to terms with how her discoveries have impacted the world.

It’s a noble effort, but unfortunately, it never quite coalesces. Directed by Marjane Satrapi from a screenplay by Jack Thorne (adapted from Lauren Redniss’s 2010 book of the same name), the film tries a little too hard to be “important.” All the awards season checkboxes are ticked, but the pieces simply don’t fit together in the way that they should. That’s not to imply there’s nothing here – there are some interesting filmmaking choices and Rosamund Pike is exceptional as Curie. It just doesn’t quite achieve the heights to which it transparently aspires, ultimately falling a bit short.

Published in Tekk
Monday, 08 June 2020 14:54

Sorry Ms. Jackson – ‘Shirley’

The biopic has been a crucial part of the cinematic landscape since the very beginning. So many of our most acclaimed films have been built around the lives and narratives of real people. Whether they are cradle-to-grave or period snapshot, they share the stories of figures that have in some way shaped the world around them.

But when is a biopic not a biopic? When it’s “Shirley.”

The new film – directed by Josephine Decker from a script adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel of the same name by Sarah Scarf Merrell – takes a look inside the life of the notable and notorious writer Shirley Jackson, whose genre-adjacent fiction was among the most chilling of the mid-20th century.

With a dynamite performance by Elisabeth Moss in the title role, “Shirley” is not only a deconstruction of its subject, but of the very notion of biographical film. It is a sharp, biting film – one unafraid to lay bare the basic unpleasantness of its characters. By refusing to be bound by traditional tropes, this film offers up a striking and impactful interpretation of the creative process and the emotional and physical struggles that can accompany that process.

Published in Movies

Telling true stories via movies has always been complicated. On the one hand, when one hears those words – “true story” – one has certain expectations that the events portrayed actually happened. On the other hand, the telling of stories should allow for some creative flexibility for the storyteller – these are dramatizations, not documentaries.

A movie like Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” is an apt representation of the myriad gray areas that come with representing real people and their stories on screen. The story of the titular Jewell – the security guard who discovered a pipe bomb during the Atlanta Olympics and saved hundreds, only to become a very public person of interest regarding the planting of that same bomb – is a complicated one; he was a very flawed man who was treated very badly largely because of those same flaws.

Jewell is the sort of man to whom Eastwood gravitates and the sort of uniquely American story that he greatly enjoys telling. It’s also problematic in its way, with some challenging the veracity of certain portrayals. It’s an incomplete portrait of an imperfect man.

Published in Movies

There are a certain few people in this world for whom a nigh-universal affection is held. These people are beloved for reasons that essentially transcend our individual biases, people who are by all appearances genuinely decent.

People like Mr. Rogers.

I don’t care who you are – you probably have a fondness in your heart for Mr. Rogers. He is an icon, a man not just nice but Nice, a living embodiment of humanity’s innate love for our children. To so many of us, Fred Rogers is the Socratic ideal of a good human being.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” attempts to show us just how monumental an impact an encounter with such a person can have on our lives. Inspired by a 1998 Esquire profile written by Tom Junod, the film opens a window onto the one singular truth about Mr. Rogers that is both unbelievable and utterly expected – that he is precisely the man he appears to be.

Published in Movies
<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 Next > End >>
Page 1 of 3

Advertisements

The Maine Edge. All rights reserved. Privacy policy. Terms & Conditions.

Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine