Posts Tagged ‘biopic

10
Aug
17

The Founder

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In The Founder, Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, who propelled McDonald’s to worldwide expansion. The film shows how a mediocre milk shake machine salesman discovered the McDonald brothers in California and coaxed them into teaming up with him after he saw their unique hamburger shop.

In the days of drive-ins, you’d have to wait and wait to to get your order. But the scientific McDonald brothers figured out how to choreograph flipping burgers so that you could get yours in minutes.

When Ray Kroc received an incredibly big order for his milkshake machines from the McDonald’s, he had to drive out to see what they were doing. Impressed, he cajoles them to let him sell franchises.

As he goes from one his first franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, to selling billions of burgers, Kroc seems insecure propelled by canned optimism he’s memorized from Dale Carnegie’s books. From the start of the partnership, Kroc follows his own ideas even if it means going behind the McDonald’s backs. His prior failures made him pathetic but his disrespect for the McDonald’s brothers’ views made him unlikeable.

Since McDonald’s is synonymous with America, it’s a film worth seeing.

13
Jun
17

The Last Emperor

I know I saw Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor when it first came out, but now that I’m in China and know more of its history, I couldn’t pass up a friend’s offer to lend it to me.

The story is told in flashbacks as Puyi, China’s last emperor, reflects on his life now that he’s imprisoned by the Communists. He symbolizes all they hate about old China, but Puyi can’t really help that.

I vividly remembered Puyi, the tot who became emperor when his father was killed, getting taken from his home to the palace. I wonder why his mother didn’t live at the palace since her husband was the emperor. I’ll have to look that up. The film than continues by showing the folly of having a young boy assume the emperor’s throne. Now I’m sure someone else, like the Lord Chancellor was actually calling the shots, but that wasn’t in the film.

Since no one can correct the emperor, even when he’s 3 or 4, Puyi soon becomes a brat. He’s never able to leave the vast grounds. It isn’t until he’s seven that he’s able to see his brother, one of the few people who will talk straight with him. It’s quite bizarre to see this boy treated with such deference by hundreds of grown eunuchs, who indulge his every whim.

In 1912, China became the Republic of China led by Sun Yet Sen, yet we stay with Puyi, who’s shocked to learn that he’s no longer the emperor of China, he’s just the emperor of the Forbidden City and he can’t leave. I don’t fault the film with sticking with Puyi’s biography, but the events in his life made me curious about the wider history of China, which I know in outlines.

Throughout his life, Puyi seemed to be a puppet. Though he was allowed to have his way in trivial matters around the palace, he never governed. He talked of wanting to choose a wife who spoke English and French, but the dowager chose for him. In the film he seemed to get on well with is wife and his concubine, but according to an article in The Guardian, Puyi was pretty asexual and certainly not a big family man.

I found the parts with Mr. Johnston, the emperor’s tutor, played by Peter O’Toole, who can perform such a role with the needed aplomb, most interesting as Mr. Johnston was the only character with any force, the only one to question or challenge the emperor. He did so tactfully, but most kowtowed as they wanted the emperor to have his way, while they feathered their nests with goodies from the imperial storehouses and coffers. How that money and the opulence of the majestic lifestyle continued after the Republic took over mystifies me.

When the Communists arrest and interrogate Puyi, he had my sympathy, but I still yearned for a hero who would take action. .I wondered why he never left China. He seemed to have been conditioned early on to never go beyond the familiar.

He did flee the Forbidden City and lived in the Japanese legation and later Manchuria, where he thought he’d actually rule, but he was just a puppet for the Japanese. To me it was clear that once Japan surrendered he needed to leave. he was inert, either unwise or paralyzed to take action. The film with its majestic setting and costumes cries out for an epic hero. There’s a tension in this film that Puyi never was that sort of hero. And he suffered for that.

27
May
17

Tatsumi

Tatsimi is the autobiography of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a famous manga artist in Japan. Manga are Japanese comic books, a literary genre differs significantly from American comic books. Tatsumi is interspersed with short stories by Tatsumi which gave me a sense of how this graphic genre handles mature themes and experiences with insight, irony and

Tatusmi grew up during the war and took to drawing professionally to help his mother make ends meet. His father was good-for-nothing and once Tatsumi started selling his work, his father destroyed his drawings.

The film follows Satsuma’s career from his teenage to middle age years. We see is popularity grow, his career stall when he outgrows the genre of teen manga and finally goes on to develop a new genre, called gekiga, which targets middle aged readers. It’s the story of the career of an artist and doesn’t go into much detail into Satsuma’s personal life once he’s grown. I found it a terrific introduction to an art form. In addition, since Tatusmi’s life spanned WWII and the ensuing years so full of change for Japan, it was an excellent way to learn about modern Japanese history.

03
Jun
16

Moulin Rouge

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I didn’t know John Huston directed Moulin Rouge in 1952. A friend, who also likes old movies,  shared a couple DVDs with me and this is one of them. I never saw the 2001 Moulin RougeI (and probably won’t because it sounds like a very different story).

Huston’s Moulin Rouge is a biopic, the story of the famous painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec, played convincingly by José Ferrer, frequents this cabaret where all the colorful characters of 19th century Paris convene to dance, drink and often fight (not only the men, but most likely, the ladies). Lautrec was born into a noble family. At and early age he is injured falling down the stairs and the doctors fail to repair his bones as they should. Thus Lautrec’s growth is stunted making him a social misfit.

Yes, he’s witty, smart and talented, but when his first love rejects him running from the room when he declares his love, Lautrec decides he’ll never fit in the country, in his father’s world so he heads to Paris and paints the dancers and clowns at the Moulin Rouge and shares drinks and barbs with the best artists of his day: Cezanne, Monet, etc.

Twice in his life he meets a pivotal woman. The first is a low class manipulator and I pitied Henri as he pined for this deceptive sponge. Later he meets a woman worthy of love, but he’s too jaded to expect that a woman would really love him.

I didn’t expect much of this film, mainly because I’d never heard of it. I found it an absorbing biography of a witty, fascinating artist.

04
Mar
16

Steve Jobs

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I knew Steve Jobs of Apple Computer fame wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but the film Steve Jobs refined my image of him. If Aaron Sorkin’s script got it right, Steve was one cold, driven man. With a superb cast including Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Kate Winslet at his “work wife,” Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak and Jeff Daniels as John Scully, Steve Jobs shows it’s main character minutes before three big product launches as all his personal chickens inevitably come to roost.

The first part of the film shows Steve barking at an engineer who can’t guarantee that the new Mac will be able to say “Hello” on cue, fighting over money with the mother of his first child, whose paternity he questions despite a judge ruling to the contrary, arguing with Wozniak, his friend from way back when, by refusing to acknowledge the Apple II team, whom Woz feels needs some credit, and listening to Scully impart fatherly wisdom. In Sorkin’s hands the bickering and arguing are dramatic rather than annoying. The film does convey a group of talented people coping with an egotistical talented man, who may be a genius, while asking the whether a “great” man can’t also be a good one? With Wozniak, I think the audience hopes the answer’s yes.

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The next launches we see are for the NeXT computer, which wasn’t even designed to really be sold but more as a tactic for getting back at the helm of Apple, and for iMac.

While all the performances were strong, I found both Steve Jobs’ and his illegitimate daughter Lisa, the most compelling characters. Sorkin’s story focuses on Jobs’ own feelings of rejection as an adopted child and his rejection of his first daughter as a means of explaining his personality and life. We never see his wife or other children, who apparently weren’t as interested in his launches as Lisa and her money-grubbing mother. (A bit hard to believe, but okay, it’s fictionalized, I get that.) The film ends with Steve and Lisa negotiating some stormy waters in their relationship, leaving me with the question of what role did this girl have with his other children.

All in all, it’s a compelling film, that left me with some questions. I don’t doubt that Steve Jobs was a misanthrope, but realize that this film is fictionalized to so the hero change, in a way that the real man may or may not have. It also brought home the point that Jobs wasn’t a designer, an engineer or programmer. He was a conductor, who can’t play an instrument.

 

09
Aug
15

The Jewish Cardinal

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What an absorbing — and true story!

I happened upon The Jewish Cardinal (a.k.a. Le métis de Dieu) at my library and am so glad I did. It’s the story of Jean-Marie Aaron Lustiger, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism as a boy during WWII. His mother was killed at Auschwitz and though his father isn’t religious, he’s hurt by his son’s conversion and later decision to become a priest.

As the movie starts, Pope John Paul II soon makes Lustiger a bishop and soon a cardinal. Lustiger is real, someone whom people can relate to. He shakes things up and causes turbulence but eventually people see he’s right. For example, early on he sees that the church needs to reach people via mass communication and he starts an archdiocese radio station which he himself broadcasts from.

He also doesn’t like when his Jewish origins are written about as a gimmick or when he’s asked by a high ranking rabbi to deny his Jewish identity.

He often meets with John Paul II in the ’80s when the pope is fairly new. They understand each other and he earns the pope’s respect.

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When it’s learned that Carmelite nuns have made a convent in Auschwitz, Lustiger becomes something of a mediator and possible pawn in a conflict that’s both political and religious. He’s savvy enough to broker a fair resolution, but gets betrayed.

The acting is stellar with Lustiger (played by Laurent Lucas) and the actother cast members turning in bold, believable performances. The actor who played JPII carried off the role with great credibility. The film’s never hokey or preachy, just real and compelling. I’m so glad the intriguing name called to me.

08
Aug
15

Chaplin

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Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Chaplin offers a fine biography of the creative genius cum movie pioneer who created the Tramp. Starting with Chaplin’s debut at the age of about 4 when he wowed a London music hall audience and continuing till he was an 80 year old married to a child bride, Chaplin acquaints viewers with a view behind the Little Tramp.

Some highlights were Chaplin meeting and wooing Hetty Kelly, “the one who got away,” and a slapstick inspired sequence when Charlie, his brother, sister-in-law and editor hide film that the government wants to confiscate. It was a delightful way to show Chaplin’s style while showing his real life. Robert Downey Jr. does a fine job capturing Chaplin’s sensitivity, though the scenes when he plays 80-something Chaplin, I felt his make up was overdone.

There were some actors whose fame overshadowed their character. Dan Ackroyd did a fine job, but while watching I kept thinking “that’s Dan Ackroyd as Mack Sennet or “is that Anthony Hopkins as the editor”? (It was.) I’m not sure why their character didn’t shine through more.

Roger Ebert criticized the film because the focus was more on Chaplin’s sex life than on his creative life. That was true and it would be interesting to see a genius struggle more with his creations. Since Chaplin would redo scenes and scripts hundreds of times till they were perfect, we know he struggled. While his penchant for young, very young women, is unusual and should be covered in a biopic, I’d have liked to see a more sophisticated look at his personal life, while keeping it in the background and moving his achievements to the front.




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