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true story

Hidden Figures (2016)

hiddenDIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell

REVIEW:

Hidden Figures could be summed up as The Help in space; while it differs from the 2011 drama in telling the true story of three unsung minds behind the 1960s NASA space program, the two films are close cousins in telling a civil rights story through a PG, “feel good” tone that sometimes makes it feel watered down and lightweight (in fact, the two films share an actress, Octavia Spencer, in a main role).  Hidden Figures is enjoyable and occasionally moving and uplifting, but also sometimes feels like an “inspirational” Lifetime original movie bumped up with a bigger budget and a pedigreed cast. Continue reading

Loving (2016)

lovingDIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols

CAST: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Christopher Mann, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp

REVIEW:

Loving, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ low-key, stately chronicle of actual events spanning 1957-1967 that led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning state laws against interracial relationships, serves a similar purpose to films covering the same time period and similar subject matter such as 2011’s The Help in serving as a history lesson to those too young to remember a time when racism was still officially written into law.  Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

hacksawDIRECTOR: Mel Gibson

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving

REVIEW:

The true story of Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving seventy-five men without firing a shot during the bloody Battle of Okinawa in WWII, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (called the troubled actor-director’s “comeback project” in some circles) is a curious but overall effective blend of sappy cliches and graphic war violence, a film which initially threatens to come across like a generic “uplifting” story but—mostly when our pacifist protagonist finally goes to war around the halfway point—ultimately takes a turn to something far less sanitized but ultimately powerful and inspirational.   Continue reading

Denial (2016)

denialDIRECTOR: Mick Jackson

CAST: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott

REVIEW:

Denial is a courtroom drama that relies less on ostentatious Oscar clip wannabe closing speeches and theatrics than meticulous cross-examination, and a true story that doesn’t embellish the material to up the ante.  The result is a stately, dignified film that will bore those without an interest in the subject matter but plenty of appeal for fans of courtroom dramas or for those with an interest in the true story. Continue reading

Snowden (2016)

snowdenDIRECTOR: Oliver Stone

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo, Nicolas Cage

REVIEW:

Given his attraction to controversial, politically-charged fare, it’s no surprise that Oliver Stone would end up being the one to make a film about Edward Snowden, the NSA/CIA analyst-turned-whistleblower who became an internationally wanted fugitive (currently living under temporary residence in Moscow) after leaking thousands of classified files exposing unconstitutional government wiretapping and mass surveillance programs.  Whether Snowden deserves the label “hero” or “traitor” (or to some extent maybe even both) varies widely depending on who you ask, but the content of his leaks, whatever one may feel about his methods or the man himself, should give anyone a moment’s pause.  Perhaps Snowden‘s biggest drawback as a film is that it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table that can’t already be gleaned from a documentary on the same subject, Citizenfour (ironically the same complaint that can be made of another Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle, last year’s The Walk), but it’s still a compelling biopic/docudrama that doesn’t require one to be particularly familiar with the real Edward Snowden to find the film interesting viewing. Continue reading

Anthropoid (2016)

anthroDIRECTOR: Sean Ellis

CAST: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Toby Jones

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

Anthropoid is a spare, gritty historical thriller chronicling in unvarnished fashion the true story of the operation (code-named “Anthropoid”) to assassinate high-ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich.  To that end, it’s not necessarily the definitive film adaptation of the event (1975’s Operation Daybreak provides a more comprehensive overview), but it’s a tense and unromanticized docudrama illuminating one of the less famous stories from WWII.   Continue reading

The Danish Girl (2015)

danishDIRECTOR: Tom Hooper

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch

REVIEW:

The Danish Girl arrives in theaters at a time when it’s virtually guaranteed to be rewarded with Academy Awards attention.  Transgender issues are prominent in the news, and it’s easy to be cynical about feeling there’s something a little opportunistic in the timing and subject matter of director Tom Hooper and star Eddie Redmayne clearly aiming for what would be each man’s second Oscar, but more visible representation for the transgendered community in high-profile Oscar contender motion pictures isn’t a bad thing.  Based on the same-named 2000 novel by David Ebershoff, itself a somewhat fictionalized account of the true story of transgender pioneer Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, The Danish Girl, like Hooper’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, is a somber, stately, and sedate period film, and while its subdued tone sometimes mutes its emotional impact, it’s still a poignant and handsomely-filmed semi-biographical drama. Continue reading

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

in-the-heart-of-the-sea-teaser-trailer-1280DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson

REVIEW:

In the Heart of the Sea got a lot of promotional mileage out of its loose connections to Herman Melville’s literary classic “Moby Dick” (it’s based on the true incident of the 1820 sinking of the Essex that in turn inspired Melville’s magnum opus), but at least as brought to the screen here, the true story is less compelling than its fictional counterpart.  The studio pushing its release date back from the original March to December, presumably to put it in awards contention, seems ill-judged and pointless.  The movie might have fared better in March, and risks getting lost in the shuffle in November-December’s crowded and highly-anticipated field of movies.  There are things to appreciate for fans of seafaring adventure, but the movie isn’t Oscar material, and there’s a generic, by-the-numbers feel that holds it back from ever becoming as powerful or compelling as it could have been. Continue reading

Legend (2015)

Legend (2015)DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland

CAST: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Taron Egerton, Paul Anderson, Paul Bettany, Kevin McNally, Sam Spruell

REVIEW:

My opinion of Legend is much the same as that of another true crime docudrama, Black Massa few months earlier; a tour de force lead performance(s) and some memorable individual scenes doing too little to enliven an otherwise dull and generic gangster flick.  If you’re a big enough fan of the gangster movie genre, or of Tom Hardy, Legend may be worth a look, but “legendary” it is not.  Those hoping for a gangster epic conveying the true story of 1960s London’s notorious Kray twins will be left wanting.  For writer/director Brian Helgeland, who made a name for himself with 1997’s LA Confidential (and also wrote and directed 1999’s deliciously hard-boiled crime caper Payback), this is a disappointingly uninspired and generic effort that like Black Mass comes across as “Scorsese-lite” and fails to make the true story of the Krays as riveting as one senses it should have been.  LA Confidential won Helgeland an Oscar, but while a case could easily be made for a nomination for Tom Hardy, the rest of Legend is far from Oscar material.   Continue reading

Steve Jobs (2015)

jobsDIRECTOR: Danny Boyle

CAST: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, Perla Haney-Jardine, John Ortiz

REVIEW:

Steve Jobs is a bit to the late Apple Inc. founder and CEO as The Social Network (directed by David Fincher and like this written by Aaron Sorkin) was to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and while the laurels heaped on Danny Boyle’s character study hasn’t quite equaled that showered upon Fincher’s, one trait they share is that, just as The Social Network was able to shape such a seemingly dry and mundane topic as the founding of Facebook into a compelling character-driven drama, Steve Jobs does not require one to be an Apple aficionado or a particular fan of the real Steve Jobs to find this interesting viewing.  As brought to the screen by Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, and Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs is not a dry docudrama, but a near Shakespearean morality play that leads us to reflect on the gift/curse of genius, the costs of limitless ambition, and the ways in which being a great mind does not necessarily equate being a great person. Continue reading

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