Tag Archives: biopic

CINEMA REVIEW – ELVIS (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW – ELVIS (2022)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Screenplay by: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner

Story by: Baz Luhrmann, Jeremy Doner


Produced by: Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss

Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, David Wenham , Kodi Smit-McPhee etc.

*** MAY CONTAIN HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Since 1992, Baz Luhrmann has directed only six feature films. Each of them, aside from the lower-budgeted, Strictly Ballroom (1992), is a gigantic and epic extravaganza, full of colour, imagination, verve, energy, music, poetry and larger-than-life characters. Even Strictly Ballroom contains many of the stylistic and formal elements which would become part of Luhrmann’s oeuvre. I pretty much feel this auteur’s excessive approach to filmmaking including the fast-cutting, opulent settings, big musical numbers, all-star casts, plus grandiose and melodramatic narrative delivery are always a wonderful spectacle to experience.

Arguably, adapting the American novel, The Great Gatsby (2013), in this periphrastic packaging, took away from the enigma and majesty of Fitzgerald’s classic. However, with Elvis (2022), Luhrmann and his incredible production team, marry such genius excessive style with the perfect subject matter: the King of Rock and Roll! Because in colliding the life, music and films of Elvis Aaron Presley with Luhrmann’s stunning methodology brings to the screen one of the best films of the year Indeed for Luhrmann, Elvis (2022), is evidently a stylistic, subjective and thematic labour of love, marking it as his best film to date.



I wasn’t even going to watch Elvis (2022) at the cinema. I’d recently seen Spencer (2021) on Amazon Prime and was happy to have streamed that. While that eerie adaptation was a valiant attempt to breathe life into the ghost of Diana. An elegiac attempt to explain the oppressive result of her naïve choice to land her Princess dream. With Kristen Stewart’s exceptional impression rescue breathing Diana’s tragic existence, I knew the story. I knew enough to care for someone whose mental health was discarded by the heartless Windsor’s. But the monarchy have been killing the working class for years, so why should I care deeply for one singular spoilt individual? Similarly, I pondered whether I wanted to watch another film about Elvis Presley. A God-given talented singer, heartthrob, actor, musician and legendary performer had a story I was already familiar with. But, I am so happy I overcame my ignorant prejudice because Elvis (2022) is a humdinger of a part-musical-part-biopic-part-drama-part-American tragedy.

Elvis (2022) is structured around the memories of shadowy manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). He is suffering illness in his old age, close to hospital demise. Parker is a grotesque in a billowing gown, drifting around the nightmarish Vegas slot-machines as Elvis’ voice echoes within his mind. Is it the guilt or the morphine? The story flashes back to a younger Parker promoting country singers at a travelling Carny. Until that fateful day when he hears a miracle on the radio, a young singer who everyone thinks is Black. But he isn’t. In the markedly racist times of 1950s America (has it really changed in certain States or Police departments?), a Black singer won’t sell records like this white dude will. Seizing his chance Parker attends Elvis’ first gig and witnesses a phenomenon. An attractive, sexual, gyrating and angelic powerhouse with an incredible voice who sends sex-waved into the audience, especially the teenage girls.



A star is born, and it takes a star to play a star. Take as many bows as you want, Austin Butler. He is a genuine phenomenon in Elvis (2022). Of course, the wardrobe, postiche and make-up artists work wonders to help recreate Elvis’ iconic looks as the narrative flashes through various stages of Presley’s devastatingly successful career, Yet, Butler just lights up the screen, producing acting fireworks in a physically, spiritually, emotionally and musically astounding screen presentation. It is not an impression, but a tour-de-force for a relatively unknown actor who has jettisoned his career to glory.

Butler, lives and breathes the King. This rendition and great direction from Luhrmann make you feel tragic empathy for a career which was manipulated and controlled by grubby gambling addict, Parker. Hank’s portrayal of the Colonel feels unnatural and theatrical compared to Butler’s organic turn. Perhaps that was the intention? Deliver a pantomime villain to boo and hiss at. Although, Hanks’ cigar-chomping and jowly make-up made me think the evil touch of Orson Welles’, Captain Hank Quinlan, had somehow been resurrected.

I cannot praise Elvis (2022) enough as a cinematic biopic and musical spectacle. While the choppy editing style is jarring at the start, once the film settles down into a groove, Butler’s stunning incarnation shines through. Overall, I was enlivened by, not only the constant remixing of Elvis Presley hits, but Luhrmann’s choice to alloy gospel, rhythm and blues, rap, rock, pop, ballad and protest songs throughout the scintillating soundtrack. Much, quite rightly, is made of how much diverse music influenced Elvis’s formative life and how he connected with Black musicians of the era. Luhrmann also ensures we are aware of how much of a threat Presley was seen by the establishment due to the sexual nature of his sang satanic verses. Sent to Germany to prevent him demonising America, his comeback special after seven years in movies is one of the finest movie set-pieces I have seen in many a year. Funny, rocking, poignant, effervescent, beautiful and astounding, just like Elvis, the man and myth, and Elvis (2022) the film.

Mark: 10 out of 11


AMAZON FILM REVIEW: BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)

Directed and written by: Aaron Sorkin

Produced by: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, etc.

Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were entertainment, musical and business pioneers during the classic Hollywood television period. Lucille Ball alone was nominated for 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning five times, and the recipient of many other accolades, before being inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Not only did the married couple produce and star in the seminal U.S. situation comedy, I Love Lucy, but their Desilu Studios production company would be the driving force behind creating famous TV series including Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. The couple broke viewing records and barriers in regard to race, gender and business practices. While they were not of my era, I recognise both Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as consummate professionals, business trailblazers and iconic stars.

Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos (2021), adapts a week-in-the-life of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) as they prepare, audition and perform the episode ‘Fred and Ethel Fight’ of I Love Lucy. At the same time, Lucille faces shocking revelations about her alleged Communist past. Moreover, her marriage to Desi is also tested by suspicions he has slept with other women. Interspersed around these events Sorkin flashes back to reveal how the couple met, and Lucille’s flailing film career as a dramatic actress was re-ignited by a chance switch to radio comedy. As a consummate screenwriter Sorkin hops between these time periods with great aplomb and his customary whip-cracking dialogue fires zingers throughout. The production process of the TV episode is particularly brilliant, with crafty Nina Arianda and the awesome J. K. Simmons providing superb support as Lucille and Desi’s supporting couple, William Frawley and Vivian Vance, respectively.



Being the Ricardos (2021) spins a great many plates within the running time and it is rock solid entertainment. As he did with The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020), Aaron Sorkin arguably takes liberties with the time of events to compress and finesse the truth for the sake of dramatic and comedic effect. But that’s fine as this is not a documentary. What we get instead is an authentic production design which expertly evokes the mood, look, glamour, costumes and sounds of the era. It also explores the business, sexual and ideological politics of age with Desi and Lucille facing and pushing back at sponsor and studio demands. Those who know I Love Lucy will be overjoyed at the recreation of some memorable comedy sketches.

At the heart of the film Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem combine formidably to breathe life into these legendary talents. Kidman is an actor who is extremely brave taking on the role of an icon. Sure, she gets paid millions of dollars, but her performance as Lucille Ball is energetic and intelligent and very funny. It could be easy to criticise her casting but Kidman does sterling work here. She gives Ball’s characterisation an effervescence, intelligence and perfectionist approach to her craft one cannot help but admire. Javier Bardem is a cinematic dream. With effortless panache he lights up the screen and just is so damned charming. Together they create fine on-screen chemistry as Sorkin’s bullet-paced dialogue is delivered superbly by the stars and terrific ensemble cast.

Ultimately, neither dramatic enough to tug the heartstrings or funny enough to be called an all-out comedy classic, Being the Ricardos (2021) remains another intelligent Aaron Sorkin rendition of real people and actual events. It’s a classy affair with a stunning cast and script, overall paying fine tribute to the genius of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by Marielle Heller

Produced by: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer

Written by: Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah HarpsterBased on the article – “Can You Say Hero?” by Tom Junod

Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi-Watson, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti

Cinematography: Jodee Lee Lipes

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**


“Hello Neighbour!” – Fred Rogers


I watch a lot of horror, thriller and drama films that you could say are “feel-bad” in nature. They may eventually have some form of happy or morally satisfying ending, but such cinema seeks to create a sense of danger, anxiety and emotional distress as entertainment. Now I enjoy watching films on the edge of my seat and having my nerves shredded, however, sometimes it’s great to watch something that is quite the opposite. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is one such “feel-good” film, profiling an American icon and arguably one of the nicest people who ever lived: Fred Rogers.

Rogers (Tom Hanks) was the creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood which ran for decades on U.S. cable channel PBS. The programme, while aimed at children, dealt with serious subjects like illness, divorce and death via puppetry, songs and Rogers’ wise and simple homespun philosophies. Over the years he became a household name and a staple of American family life. Yet, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019), is not a standard biopic exploring Fred Rogers life from birth to death. In fact, he’s more of a magical mentor type of character for the lead protagonist, journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys.



Opening with a meticulously presented simulacrum of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood TV show with Tom Hanks in the hosting chair, the film immediately welcomes us into a positive and safe place. The audience are the children and we are about to be told a story about Lloyd. Because Lloyd is lost and troubled and needs help. Cleverly combining the TV show with flashbacks to Lloyd’s difficult family life is just one of the wonderful devices the film presents. Another is the use of models to emulate the locations within the film. Given the job of interviewing Fred Rogers for an Esquire piece, there’s a sense that Lloyd could well be looking to do a hatchet job on Rogers. However, he finds himself drawn to Rogers’ soft, magnetic and calming charm. The relationship between Rogers and Vogel’s character is superbly teased and developed by an excellent script.

While the drama is relatively low-key, the film is not without emotional impact throughout. There are several stand-out scenes where Lloyd’s negative and cynical worldview is airbrushed away by Rogers’ incredible goodness. As Vogel’s attitude to Rogers changes, so does his feelings toward his estranged father, his wife and child and the world in general. At the same time, Tom Hanks exceptional performance completely captured my heart. I’d never seen any of Fred Rogers TV shows before, but Hanks conveyed the inner peace and wisdom of this man perfectly. Moreover, my wife, who is American, was crying her eyes out with joy and nostalgia all the way through. Ultimately, this is another fine character and human drama from director, Marielle Heller. So, if you want a break from all the nasty unpleasantness in the world, you should definitely knock on Mr Rogers’ door. Everyone is welcome.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


COLETTE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

COLETTE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW


Directed by: Wash Washmoreland

Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen, Pamela Koffler, Michel Litvak and Christine Vachon.

Screenplay by: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Wash Washmoreland

Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough etc.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

In a coincidental twist of cultural fate I only recently became aware of turn-of-the-century novelist, libertine, bohemian and society trailblazer that was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. I’d been listening to a brilliant audio-documentary by Adam Roche, which was about Audrey Hepburn’s early life prior to becoming a Hollywood star. Interestingly, it was an elderly Colette who spotted the then unknown Helpburn filming a supporting role in Monte Carlo. Furthermore, it was Colette who insisted Hepburn was, despite her lack of stage experience, the ideal person to portray her famous creation Gigi on Broadway. Thus, even in later life Colette was to the fore of the cultural aesthetic; both a major talent and celebrity ripe for respect and admiration.

From her Claudine (1900) novels, to La Vagabond (1910) to Gigi (1944), Colette was a prolific writer of many books and short stories. She was also an actor, dancer and mime, who seemingly delighted in confronting the stuffy middle and upper classes of French society. Unashamed by on-stage nudity and choice of sexual parters, Colette had love affairs with both men and women. Not only did she break down sexual taboos, she also furthered gender equality and would be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

Denise Gough stars as Missy and Keira Knightley as Colette in COLETTE
Credit: Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street

The cinematic version of her life finds Keira Knightley portraying the titular character with a committed energy, verve and magnetism. Knightley has never been the most nuanced of actors but she is a striking movie star, delivering a fine performance here. Likewise, the ever reliable Dominic West is on excellent form as Henry Gaulthier-Villars – AKA ‘Willy’ – Colette’s first husband. West represents him as a charismatic cad with an insatiable lust for women, gambling and booze. While able to wow publishers with his sales pitches he relies on others to do the writing, while happily wasting the advances and royalties.

Willy sweeps the naive country girl Colette off her feet and introduces her to the artistic and literary circles of Paris. As such it is his connections which enable Colette to gain her first publishing success. However, it is Willy who takes all the plaudits, publishing under his own name. This authorial switch inevitably creates a dramatic schism as Colette fights for her name to be on the books. Willy refuses, highlighting both his own egomania and the sexist prejudice of the day. Like the similarly plotted biopic Big Eyes (2014), this film illustrates the nefarious nature of dominant masculinity; however, it also made me consider whether the artists would have been successful if it HADN’T been for these dastardly blokes. Who can tell? One would hope the talent of said artists would shine through come what may.

Structurally, Colette is very linear representing a “greatest hits” of how Colette progresses creatively, romantically and sexually. As aforementioned Knightly gives a fearless performance and the period setting is beautifully evoked within an excellently directed production. My only criticism is a fair amount of time was spent on Colette’s sexual exploits when I would have preferred more drama relating to her authorship battles with feckless Willy. Nonetheless, as period biopics go the film stands as a stylish and admiral tribute to a trailblazing feminist and literary icon.

Mark: 8 out of 11

Gary Oldman shines in DARKEST HOUR (2017) – Cinema Review

DARKEST HOUR (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Joe Wright

Produced by: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn

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What makes human beings want to go to war?  What is it that determines thoughts and actions which will lead to the death of another human being? Is it: a genetic trait; a tribal desire; a psychological defect; financial gain; jealousy; boredom; passion; political chicanery; religion; greed; anger; revenge; or quite simply madness. Taking a life is something I have never understood. I mean, unless you are forced to defend yourself against a foe hell-bent on your destruction why would you wish to harm anyone else?

So, Adolf Hitler has a lot to answer for because, even accepting the political and social reasons for the rise of the Nazi party and his desire to repair national pride after the first World War, what the hell gives a nation the right to invade and conquer other countries. If you choose to go down that road you are signing the death certificate of a generation men and women and children. It’s not just Germany either. The British Empire, Roman Empire, Vikings, Mongols, United States of America, France and many more have waged war against humanity down the years. Will it ever stop? Sadly, I doubt it.

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In times of war what is needed is obviously bravery, steel, fight, intelligence and more than a little luck. You need hearty human beings to stand and be counted and to die on the battlefields and in the air and in the sea. You also need leaders; figureheads who can rally the troops and galvanise that last ounce of fight in order to repel the enemy. During World War II, with the country on its knees and backs to the walls we had many leaders, but Winston Churchill, above all else, became synonymous with victory.

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As portrayed in Joe Wright’s beautifully shot microcosmic epic, Darkest Hour, Churchill is presented as a flawed-pink-pyjama’d-cigar-chuffing-blustering-iconoclastic-functioning-alcholic prone to fits of rage, melancholy and depression. He also happens to be devilishly intelligent, full of energy, with a wicked tongue and talent for brilliant oration. Much of the plaudits must go to Gary Oldman, and his make-up team, for creating such a wonderfully human portrait. Indeed, Oldman owns the screen with his damned-near perfect impression.

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Anthony McCarten’s fine script centres on a finite number of days during World War II when Churchill became Prime Minister. Aside from one emotionally effective yet historically grating symbolic scene on the London underground, is it well written with fantastic one-liners and Churchill’s greatest verbal ‘hits’. Joe Wright is a talented director (the mis-guided Pan (2015) aside) and he evocatively conveys the shadow of looming defeat. Wright traps Churchill and ensemble in cars, lifts and in underground chambers. Shafts of light also pin the characters to the corners of the screen; pushing them toward the darkness. But through the spirit of Churchill’s never-say-die attitude we fought back against the Nazis and eventually stole victory from the jaws of defeat. War is hell. War is madness. But sometimes it is unfortunately a necessity to prevent the bullies from winning.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11