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biopic

Vice (2018)

DIRECTOR: Adam McKay

CAST: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons

REVIEW:

Vice might be billed as a dark comedy, but the occasional absurdist flair only slightly softens the blow of what is essentially a political horror movie. As he did with 2015’s The Big Short—also starring Christian Bale and Steve Carell—Adam McKay uses a comedy-drama approach to bring flair and panache to what on paper sounds like a dry, dull subject for a movie (in The Big Short, the 2007-2008 financial crisis, here the distinctly uncharismatic former Vice President Dick Cheney). In this regard, there’s a little resemblance to what David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin and later Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin did with The Social Network—about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg—and Steve Jobs—about the late Apple CEO—but suffice to say McKay again puts his own offbeat fingerprints on the proceedings.

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Aidan Gillen, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker

REVIEW:

Bohemian Rhapsody, obviously taking its title from possibly the most iconic song of the band it chronicles, doesn’t transcend the genre of a standard-issue band biopic, but it’s a breezy and rousing love letter to Queen that rises above some narrative cliches and historical fudging with a committed lead performance by Rami Malek and electric concert sequences.  Queen neophytes might not be engaged, but Queen fans should enjoy themselves. Continue reading

The Theory of Everything (2014)

DIRECTOR: James Marsh

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, David Thewlis

REVIEW:

The Theory of Everything is an undistinguished biopic about a very distinguished individual.  An adaptation of the memoirs of Jane Hawking, it chronicles her marriage to her former husband Stephen Hawking and the journey of their complicated relationship amid his physical degeneration while giving the shallow basics of his theorizing about the origins of the universe.  It serves its basic purpose of showing the more personal side of a famed theoretical physicist, but there’s a feeling of skimming the surface. Continue reading

J. Edgar (2011)

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

CAST:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts

REVIEW:

During his forty-eight-year reign as director of the FBI, John Edgar Hoover was regarded by many as the most powerful man in America.  Continue reading

Bronson (2008)

 bronson1DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn

CAST: Tom Hardy

REVIEW:

Bronson is a prime example of a film that’s longer on style than substance.  As envisioned by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, Bronson is not a straightforward biopic of Michael Peterson, who in his alter ego of “Charlie Bronson” (not to be confused with the actor) became Britain’s most infamous prisoner and has spent all but 69 days from 1974 until the present day behind bars and often in solitary confinement.  Rather, Refn has crafted a stylized and semi-fictionalized “greatest hits” montage of Bronson’s escapades.  Essentially a string of loosely-connected vignettes, Bronson‘s kinetic, visceral approach leaves little chance of boredom but also little depth, and is less a straight narrative than a fragmented, rambling trip through a deranged mind.  Bronson works best as a vehicle to showcase its star Tom Hardy; take away Hardy, and there’s not much left over, and ultimately, a forceful lead performance in and of itself is not enough to make a strong film. Continue reading

Alexander (2004)

 

DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone

CAST:

Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, John Kavanagh, Brian Blessed

REVIEW:

Best-known for controversial, politically-charged fare like Natural Born Killers, JFK, and Nixon, Oliver Stone’s latest venture, the epically-mounted but narratively disjointed historical drama Alexander, is more cinematically straightforward than his previous efforts but unfortunately lacks the focus and drive to maintain consistent interest throughout its three-hour running time. Continue reading

Inside The Third Reich (1982)

DIRECTOR: Marvin J. Chomsky

CAST:

Rutger Hauer, Blythe Danner, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ian Holm, Maria Schell, Trevor Howard, Elke Sommer, Stephen Collins, Renée Soutendijk, Randy Quaid, Robert Vaughn, Michael Gough, Maurice Roëves, Derek Newark, David Shawyer, George Murcell, Viveca Lindfors, Zoë Wanamaker

REVIEW:

Inside The Third Reich, a lengthy, critically acclaimed TV miniseries from two-time Emmy winner Marvin J. Chomsky, is a film adaptation of the same-named memoirs by Albert Speer, a bright, cultured German architect who became Adolf Hitler’s personal designer and later Minister of Armaments and War Production, ultimately spending twenty years in Spandau Prison for his use of slave labor to keep the German war effort going, during which time he ostensibly reflected on his errors in judgment and began to write his memoirs. Although forbidden to do so in prison, Speer smuggled them out through a sympathetic guard and formed them into an autobiography upon his release. As one of the few surviving individuals to have had such intimate contact with Hitler, Speer lived well off of book sales until his death shortly before its film adaptation. While many believe Speer to have downplayed his own role in the Third Reich, and criticize the miniseries for not questioning his account, its historical value is undeniable. Inside The Third Reich was filmed on a low budget over a few months of winter in Munich, which is made apparent by the presence of snow in nearly every outdoors scene throughout the miniseries. While the vast scope and detail of Speer’s writings require numerous events to be skipped over, it serves to give the viewer the basics of the workings of the Third Reich. Continue reading

Patton (1970)

DIRECTOR: Franklin J. Schaffner

CAST:

George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Ed Binns, Michael Bates, Karl Michael Vogler, Siegfried Rauch, Richard Münch, Paul Stevens, Tim Considine, Clint Ritchie

REVIEW:

Equally effective as a war film or a character study, Patton still holds up today chiefly due to the brilliant lead performance by George C. Scott.  Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Burt Lancaster were all offered the title role, but after watching the film it is impossible to imagine anyone else but Scott. Patton can be enjoyed simply as one of the great film performances of all time. Scott does not simply play Patton; he has become so synonymous with the character that the real George Patton of WWII archive footage seems like an imposter. Credit is also due the capable direction by Franklin J. Schaffner, producer Frank McCarthy (a retired brigadier general who had worked for twenty years to make a movie about Patton), the intelligent, even-handed screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, and the cinematography by Fred Kroenkamp, who enhances the film with his sweeping shots of Tunisia, France, and Germany. John Huston, Henry Hathaway, and Fred Zinneman had declined to direct. William Wyler agreed but later left over script disagreements with Scott. Whatever difficulties they may have had during filming, the efforts of the cast and crew paid off, as Patton went on to win eight Oscars, including Best Actor for Scott (which he famously refused, calling the Oscars a ‘self-serving meat parade’), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Production Design.

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The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951)

DIRECTOR: Henry Hathaway

CAST:

James Mason, Jessica Tandy, Cedric Hardwicke, Leo G. Carroll, Luther Adler, Everett Sloane, William Reynolds, Richard Boone, Desmond Young

REVIEW:

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was undoubtedly Germany’s most famous General of WWII and continues to be regarded as one of history’s great military commanders. Continue reading

The Hitler Gang (1944)

DIRECTOR: John Farrow

CAST:

Robert Watson, Martin Kosleck, Roman Bohnen, Victor Varconi, Luis van Rooten, Alex Pope, Sig Ruman, Fritz Kortner, Tonio Stalwart, Alexander Granach, Poldi Dur, Helene Thimig, Reinhold Schünzel, Ludwig Donath

REVIEW:

The Hitler Gang is a curious (albeit highly dated) little time capsule—a docudrama about the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany made in 1944, when both still existed. Considering its production during WWII and Hitler’s lifetime, it’s propagandistic slant is unsurprising, but what’s a little more intriguing is that The Hitler Gang actually makes an effort to portray its subject matter with a level of seriousness and historical accuracy (to a point). The result is heavily dated by today’s standards, but retains a certain level of interest both as essentially a biopic made about Hitler while the real Hitler was still alive, and as a slice of Allied propaganda that doesn’t completely abandon the facts. Continue reading

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