Tag Archives: bio-pic

Judy

27 Sep

‘Judy’: She knows there’s no place like home, but can’t get any closer than stage in London

 

Image result for judy garland movie

“Judy,” the biopic about stage icon Judy Garland, is just right focusing on her “hot mess” last chapter as an in-residence performer at a London theater club, her better days interspersed through deft editing and seamless narrative framing. It is a tad oversentimental at times, but overall a bittersweet pill that finds its mark effectively, and three-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner Renée Zellweger knocks it out of the park as the it girl whose star has faded; she’s about as sure a bet to be in Oscar talks as Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

The script, written with purpose and verve by Tom Edge (“The Crown”), sets us up with Judy and her two youngest, Lorna and Joey (played by Bella Ramsey from “Game of Thrones” and Lewin Lloyd) circa 1969, being evicted from their hotel digs. She’s broke and broken and just wants to be a mother to her children, but there are bills to be paid, no one in the states who will give the unreliable pill-popper a role or a gig and a custody battle brewing with ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell). Before London calls there’s a brief L.A. house party with older daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux – stunning) and an uplifting but ultimately unfortunate encounter with a mod hipster Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), who would become her last husband.

The whole saga is sad, with fleeting moments of uplift: Judy is always “on” when on stage or talking to an adoring public, but her own worst enemy sodden with booze and pills after the curtain drops. In flashbacks to her younger days (Darci Shaw crushes it as the young Judy), she’s simultaneously given an avuncular embrace and manipulated malevolently by MGM head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) on the set of “The Wizard of Oz,” where studio handlers forbid her food and feed her uppers and downers instead; and men in general attach themselves and milk her throughout her life. About the most love and respect the star gets beyond her progeny comes from her stiff-upper-lip handler in London, Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) and her young bandleader, Burt (Royce Pierreson). One of the film’s more whimsical and fun moments comes when Mickey comments in a bar about a new, experimental Beatles album – and floats the idea of Judy performing with The Rolling Stones. The crowd is nonplussed, but Judy drinks up hungrily the shot of possibility and confidence.

Director Rupert Goold, who’s mostly orchestrated stage theater, and cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland stage and frame the performances stunningly, especially in the use of light and closeups, and with engrossing intimacy. Of course, it all hangs on the star who’s on in every take. One telling scene comes during a TV interview, when a journalist tries to dig in on the former starlet about her “unreliability” and messy custody proceedings and gets blowback: “I’m Judy Garland for one hour on stage and then I’m a member of family just like anybody else.” Sadly, that never really became the case, and you can feel that palpably in Zellweger’s performance. 

Fictional films such as “A Star is Born” (Garland starred in the 1954 version with James Mason) and “All that Jazz” tackle the toll of stardom and its perils, but “Judy” lives it, and through it, you live it too. It breaks your heart, not from the usual distance, but deep down inside with the painful desire of someone who just wants to be loved unconditionally.

Snowden

18 Sep

‘Snowden’: Political Oliver Stone returns with whistle-blower’s uncloaking of spies

Oliver Stone’s become something of a softie, wrapping “World Trade Center” (2006), his 9/11 tale of heroism, in red, white and blue sentimentality, and making “W” (2008) a strange, off-the-mark lob with the surreal puffiness of “Being There” without the biting social undertones. His most recent effort, “Savages” (2012) showed signs of the lean, mean Stone who tapped out “U Turn” and “Natural Born Killers,” but it buckled under to contrivance and a weak storyline. So for the Stoned faithful, there’s good news: “Snowden” marks something of a comeback, a return to the realm of political and historical dramatization that powered “JFK” (1991) and “Nixon” (1995), in which controversial subjects provide a foundation for the filmmaker’s strong political leanings to seep in. It’s also a bit schmaltzy at turns, but so was Clint Eastwood’s “Sully,” which was a rock-solid piece of filmmaking. (If there’s one thing I learned this summer, it’s to let the old cutting-edge guys engage their inner sentimentality; they’ve earned it, and they inject it into films without torpedoing them.)

091516i-snowdenIt’s been only a few years since the disclosures by former intelligence worker Edward Snowden and subsequent firestorm ripped opened a debate on privacy and security. During it all, documentarian Laura Poitras captured the real-life Snowden holed up in a Hong Kong hotel as he readied exposure of the CIA and NSA for spying on U.S. citizens without cause, hacking and mining private Facebook posts – even accessing computer cameras to look in on citizens of interest, should they care. Her film, “Citizenfour,” went on to win an Academy Award. Poitras makes her way into Stone’s “Snowden” as a character, played by the ever-graceful Melissa Leo, sitting in a room shooting Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and “Guardian” journalist Glenn Greenwald (Spock player Zachary Quinto). Stone wisely doesn’t retrace much of Poitras’ steps, but makes the story about Snowden the man, his roots in the military, his nerdy proclivities, his cut-above skill set and capabilities and his on-again, off-again relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (a vivacious Shailene Woodley) – for the two, it’s love at first IP trace. Continue reading

Cesar Chavez

28 Mar

‘Cesar Chavez’: This biopic doesn’t quite do justice to a paragon of social justice

whitespace

Longtime actor Diego Luna (“Elysium” and “Y Tu Mamá También”) steps behind the lens for this biopic about the titular labor legend of the ’60s and ’70s who helped organize Californian farm workers being exploited by their employers, working long hours and living in poverty and fear of retaliation for resistance.

032814i Cesar ChavezNo, it’s not the first time Luna has been in the director seat, but it somewhat feels so. Biopics in general are stilted; there is little element of surprise. That’s not to say they can’t be lit up with the right director or actor – take “Norma Rae” or “Erin Brockovich,” but those films were directed by master filmmakers (Martin Ritt and Stephen Soderbergh) and actresses who took home Oscars (Sally Field and Julia Roberts), but the key to such a film is conflict and how the hero or heroine navigates adversity and perseveres.  Continue reading

The Fifth Estate

19 Oct

‘The Fifth Estate’: WikiLeaks film redacts likability, any understanding of Assange

By Tom Meek
October 18, 2013

whitespace

WikiLeaks, a renegade news outlet, takes hacked secrets from government agencies and publishes them to the world sans redaction, protecting the identity of the whistleblower through an elaborate “submission platform” that’s so secure even the publisher doesn’t know the identity of the leaker. The site’s notoriety reached its apex when it published reports exposing U.S. intelligence assets abroad and snippy interoffice memos from State Department officials trashing world leaders. But that’s just the background and part of the denouement of “The Fifth Estate,” which is really more a character study of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his rise to international infamy.

101813i The Fifth Estate

Assange is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan in the last “Star Trek” chapter) who in long white locks and with piercing blue eyes looks somewhat ethereal or otherworldly, like the fair-haired elves in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy or the calmly maniacal Julian Sands in the “Warlock” films. Cumberbatch’s Assange is a hard beast to wrap your hands around. He’s gruff, arrogant, but at the same time an idealist who spends time in Africa trying to expose corrupt governments stealing money from the people and killing anyone who questions their brutish entitlements. The film’s window of insight into Assange’s mystifying persona is his early collaborator Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl, who played Niki Lauda in “Rush”), who at first idolizes Assange and his mission but later has ideological differences over what to do with the military papers the then-Bradley Manning leaked to them (it was Manning who exposed himself in a chatroom).  Continue reading

Captain Phillips

11 Oct

‘Captain Phillips’: True-life pirate drama never hits dramatic depths you’d expect

By Tom Meek
October 11, 2013

whitespace

Back in 2009 the world watched rapt as a U.S. cargo ship was seized by pirates off the coast of Africa. To save his crew, the captain offered himself up as hostage and was subsequently cordoned off in a lifeboat pod with a posse of armed and anxious pirates looking for a multimillion-dollar ransom. Eventually the Navy and SEAL Team 6 got involved and brought about a quick resolution. It made for great drama then and would seem a natural fit for film, but as harrowing as “Captain Philips” is, it never quite gets below the surface of the whole ordeal.

101113 Captain Phillips

All of this might come as a bit of a surprise, because “Phillips” is directed by Paul Greengrass, who so adroitly chronicled the intrepid doings of doomed 9/11 passengers in “United 93.” His insight and meticulous care for every passenger and their story and plight rang through cleanly and with genuine earnestness. Here that acumen feels lost or, at best, severely muted.  Continue reading