Category Archives: Biopic

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Drama Part 2

Sorry for the delay in getting the last part of this Fall Movie Preview finished and published. I live in Florida and things are a little bit crazy with Hurricane Irma preparations. There were just too many dramatic films coming out over the next few months to capture them all in one post.

You can read the first part here. Or read the other sections of the preview : Action/Adventure, Horror/Thriller, or Family/Comedy. I hope you’ll let me know which of these sound interesting to you and which you’ll wait to stream on Netflix.

November

LBJ – 11/10

The story of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson from his young days in West Texas to the White House.

This was originally scheduled to come out in 2016. I don’t know the actual reason it was delayed, but I can only think that it had something to do with something else going on in the world of politics that was slightly more entertaining than history. There was also another film focusing on this period of time, Jackie. I for one would have never imagined Woody Harrelson as LBJ, and it’s directed by Rob Reiner (Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and When Harry Met Sally).

Murder on the Orient Express – 11/10

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The second film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous story of legendary detective Hercule Poirot. The 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet is already legendary for its stunning cast and claustrophobic feel. This version looks like it is trying to capture that essence. I’m really excited to see what they do with it, and with a cast featuring the likes of Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Josh Gad it’s going to have to try really hard not to be at least good.

Lady Bird – 11/10

The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.

Well, that’s not much of a description to go off. It should say something like, “Jackie from Roseanne (Laurie Metcalf) is raising a teenage daughter of her own played by Saoirse (it’s pronounced “seer-sha”) Ronan. She doesn’t feel like she belongs in the little Northern California town. She feels as though the walls are closing in. She longs to be on the east coast in a city where writers live out in the woods.” That’s a movie I want to watch. It looks funny and sad and warm and rich. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress and is going to bring so much heart to the titular character of Lady Bird. The whole thing is written and directed by Greta Gerwig as something of an autobiography. Man, I love this time of year!

The Darkest Hour – 11/22

Within days of becoming Prime Minister, Winston Churchill must face his most turbulent and defining trial: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation.

A Winston Churchill biopic starring Gary Oldman. Need I say anything else? I mean, just look at that picture. He’s is a master of sinking into a role whether it is Dracula, Sid Vicious, Pontius Pilate, Sirius Black, or Commissioner James Gordon. Watch the trailer and see if you don’t get chills.

Molly’s Game – 11/22

The true story of an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. Her players included movie stars, business titans and unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob.

Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain are great, but I’m excited about this one because Aaron Sorkin is attached to direct. He adapted the book by the real Molly Bloom. Normally he is happy to write and have someone else direct, but this marks his directorial debut. What a cool story. It should be lots of fun and full of amazing lightning fast dialogue.

Call Me by Your Name – 11/22

It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

I’ve got this here because it is sure to get a lot of love from the LGBT community. It will be called groundbreaking and monumental. However, when it is boiled down it sounds like the story of a man taking advantage of a kid who is still figuring out who he is for his own pleasure. I just can’t get behind that. I’ll probably see it at some point because it will most likely be nominated for an Oscar but I’m not expecting much.

December

The Current War – 12/8

The Current War is the epic story of the cutthroat competition between the greatest inventors of the industrial age over whose electrical system would power the new century. Backed by J.P. Morgan, Edison dazzles the world by lighting Manhattan. But Westinghouse, aided by Nikola Tesla, has seen fatal flaws in Edison’s direct current design. Igniting a war of currents, Westinghouse and Tesla bet everything on risky and dangerous alternating current.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla. The battle between alternating current and direct current. The trailer looks great with amazing cinematography playing with the light. If there isn’t at least one song by AC/DC in the film, it will be a missed opportunity.

The Shape of Water – 12/8

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

This looks like it could be the best most innovative thing that Guillermo del Toro has done since Pan’s Labyrinth. I’m afraid that the creature (played by Doug Jones, look him up his work is amazing) is going to be too grotesque for mainstream audiences to get behind the love story aspect. It is kinda far out there and I just don’t now if we’re ready for it. Either way, I’m looking forward to it because it’s an original story that we’ve never seen coming from a visionary director with a star-studded cast. What do you think?

The Greatest Showman – 12/25

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Apparently this musical based on the life of P.T. Barnum was supposed to come out last year around November or December, but they decided to wait to unleash Hugh Jackman’s vocal stylings on the world in part because of competition with a little movie called La La Land. I don’t think this will do quite as well, but it should be a feel good story with singing and dancing to end our 2017 on a positive note.

Phantom Thread – 12/25

Set in the couture world of 1950s London, the story illuminates the life behind the curtain of an uncompromising dressmaker commissioned by royalty and high society.

This is shrouded in mystery. We don’t have much to go off, but it is believed that Daniel Day Lewis will be playing Charles James. He will be teaming up with Director P.T. Anderson. The last time these two joined forces they created one of the best movies of all time in my opinion, There Will Be Blood. To add anticipation, Daniel Day Lewis has stated that this will be his last film. If that is the case, I sincerely hope he goes out with a bang and wins his 4th Best Actor Oscar.

Others to Watch:

My Friend Dahmer coming on November 3rd. Before Jeffrey Dahmer became a notorious serial killer, he was a shy, alcoholic teen who never quite fit in. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Derf Backderf, this is the true, haunting story of Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. This could be the start of a whole cinematic universe of teenage serial killers. Seriously, Ross Lynch looks disturbed as the young Dahmer. It could be a surprise success.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. coming on November 3rd. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. Written and directed by the mind behind Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy. This will be another heavily character driven role, like Fences, that Denzel can sink his teeth into.

Last Flag Flying coming on November 3rd. Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne in a road trip movie directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Boyhood). It’s hard not to get a little excited for this.

The Man Who Invented Christmas coming on November 22nd. The journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and other classic characters from “A Christmas Carol.” The film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) conjured up a timeless tale. Looks like it could be a good family film retelling the often told Christmas story through the eyes of the man who created it.

There will be other films that come onto the radar in the final months of the year and some of these will inevitably be pushed to 2018 but I think this is a very good list to work off as you prepare for the season and decide which films are the most enticing. Please let me know which ones sound great and which you will pass on. Now that I’m done with this, I may decide to make a calendar will all of the films I’ve featured listed by their release date. The obvious problem with that is many of these films will be limited releases and so they will likely not be playing outside of major markets for a week or two after their actual premier unless they are tracking very will and the studios believe they can risk a wider opening.

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Drama Part 1

This is going to be a great season. The awards are going to be very crowded. We’ve already seen several powerful films that could be in awards consideration. I’m specifically thinking of Detroit, Dunkirk, Baby Driver, and even Logan and Wonder Woman. However, they are going to have to compete with a slew of biopics and powerful narrative dramas and character studies. These movies are like candy for me so excuse me if I tend to go on and on, but part of the joy of cinema is its ability to move us, and that is exactly what these aim to do.

Please let me know which of these you would see if you could only choose one or two. This is only half of the Dramatic movies coming out this season. I’ll be following up to this post with the dramatic movies from November and December soon. Also, make sure you take a look at the others to watch section because there are far too many to talk about all of them at length.

September

Rebel in the Rye – 9/15

The life of celebrated but reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame with the publication of his novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

How many of you have actually read Catcher in the Rye? I think it is one of those books that people buy to look smart but never actually read. If you want to watch an interesting retelling of the Holden Caulfield story, you can watch Perks of Being a Wallflower. Honestly, It is a great work of literature and it will be interesting to see the story behind what inspired the author. It will be starring Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger and will feature Kevin Spacey as a teacher and source of inspiration. Also, I hope you like biopics because this is the first of about a dozen by my count.

Battle of the Sexes – 9/22

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

I love both of these actors. I heard that after La La Land, now Emma Stone is the hottest thing since sliced bread and is making oodles of money. That’s good for her. She has a fantastic comedic sense and is able to sink her teeth into more meaty dramatic roles so this biopic should be great for her. Steve Carell has been one of my favorite comedic actors since his turn as Brick in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It will be fantastic to watch these two play off of each other in a story of liberation, misogyny, and tennis.

Loving Vincent – 9/22

A feature film about the life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh.

Just watching the trailer for this I am surprised that so much time and care has gone into the preparation of the film. If you haven’t heard anything about it, watch the trailer and be floored by the visuals as you realize that every single frame in this film about the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh was hand painted in oils meant to mimic his style. It looks stunning and innovative. I love to see films that do something that no one else has ever done and this will certainly do just that. Not only have I never heard the story of Van Gogh’s tortured creative process but I have certainly never seen a movie that is put together in this way. It should be very rewarding to watch.

Lucky – 9/29

The spiritual journey of a ninety-year-old atheist.

I really hope that Harry Dean Stanton gets an Oscar nomination for this. The film looks quirky and funny and contemplative and it is all centered around the tremendous skill of an actor that generally stays out of the limelight. You might probably best know Harry Dean Stanton as the janitor in The Green Mile that the guards use to practice for the execution. That is one of hundreds of roles he has had in his storied career. This also serves as the Directorial debut for that guy that everyone thinks is the Zodiac killer in Zodiac (John Carroll Lynch). I can imagine that I will probably be quoting lines from this for months after watching.

October

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 10/13

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

I’ve been ready for this one since I saw the trailer in front of something back in June or July. It is a combination of a number of things that I love. Frances McDormond is an amazing actress that doesn’t get nearly the number of roles she deserves. Much of that is probably because she only takes roles that are good. Sam Rockwell takes everything he is in up a couple of notches. And Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) is one of my favorite screenwriter/directors in the business today.

Marshall – 10/13

About a young Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he battles through one of his career-defining cases.

I’m a bit embarrassed that I know next to nothing about Thurgood Marshall except for the fact that he served on the Supreme court from 1967-1991 (I even had to look those dates up). Chadwick Boseman has been Mr. Biopic as of late. Before landing his role as Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including his own stand-alone movie coming in 2018) he starred in 42 as Jackie Robinson and most recently in Get on Up as James Brown. So, he is no stranger to taking on another’s mannerisms and portraying their lives. This is clearly a story of Thurgood Marshall’s young life before he became part of the US Supreme court. Is this a film that interests you?

Same Kind of Different as Me – 10/20

International art dealer Ron Hall must befriend a dangerous homeless man in order to save his struggling marriage to his wife, a woman whose dreams will lead all three of them on the journey of their lives.

It looks like Hollywood might finally be figuring out that Christians want to see movies with Christian themes of love and mercy and generosity and equality portrayed in a artful manner by talented actors. I for one will be one of the first people lined up to see this film and I will be encouraging our Church to buy out showings to encourage more film like it to be made. With a cast of actors as eclectic and talented as this group there is no reason it shouldn’t be good. I just hope it’s not too schmaltzy or preachy. If they can walk that fine line and maintain realism while telling the story then it should be good.

Suburbicon – 10/27

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns…the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is Suburbicon.

I was torn whether to put this one in the Horror or Comedy category or here. It definitely will not be your average thriller. But I can’t just discount it as a comedy like Hot Fuzz. Instead, it seems to be blending Drama, Comedy, and Thriller tropes together to create something. It should be very interesting because The Coen Brothers usually direct the stories that they write, but this one they have handed off to their good friend, George Clooney, who has great abilities as a Director, but we haven’t seen his best work as of late.

Others to Watch:

Stronger coming on September 22nd. Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. This is getting some praise from actual Boston natives about it realism and authenticity. Jake Gyllenhaal is super talented so it should be great to see him get lost in this role.

Breathe coming on October 13th. The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Their heartwarming celebration of human possibility marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis. Yes, Gollum is directing a film with Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield. That’s intriguing if nothing else.

Only the Brave coming on October 20th. A drama based on the elite crew of firemen from Prescott, Arizona who battled a wildfire in Yarnell, AZ in June 2013 that claimed the lives of 19 of their members. Firemen are good people and they risk their lives to protect people. This might not be the greatest movie, but it should be a powerful reminder of their service with a great cast featuring: Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch, Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, and Andie MacDowell.

Wonderstruck coming on October 20th. The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection. Directed by Todd Haynes (Carol, I’m Not There) and based on the Novel by Brian Selznick (Hugo).

The Mountain Between Us coming on October 20th. Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet) must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness. This sounds stressful and I won’t be taking my wife to see it or I will never get her on a plane.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women coming on October 27th. The true story of William Moulton Marston, the polyamorous relationship between his wife and mistress, the creation of his beloved comic book character “Wonder Woman”, and the controversy the comic generated in its earlier years. Playing off the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman earlier this year, we get a biopic about the guy who created the Amazonian princess. Could be interesting.

Wow. That’s already quite a list and we still have two more months of the year to look at. Which are you most enthused about? Are there any that you aren’t sure about or that you think might not live up to their expectations? Let me know in the comments below or on Social media. Also, don’t forget to check out the other installments of this Fall Movie Guide: Action/Adventure, Horror/Thriller, and Comedy/Family.

2010 Best Movie Bracket

There were a tremendous number of innovative and well crafted movies in 2010. This made it very hard for me to decide on my top movie for this year. A lot of the the critics that I really respect pick a ton of independent films that only 20% of film-goers have even really had the opportunity to see. I tend to watch more populist films or independent films that get a fair amount of press. As I have already expressed, I am only picking from movies that I have seen, so I had to pass over films like Never Let Me Go, or A Prophet.

Even without those films, and not counting the three that I finally chose, we still had Inception, Black SwanExit Through The Gift Shop, DogtoothTrue Grit, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Meek’s Cutoff, and Winter’s Bone. Yes, you heard that correctly, I am not including Inception in my top three. It is certainly a good film and I would consider it part of my top 10 of the year, but it had some big problems that I couldn’t get past. Christopher Nolan wants us to see this as his greatest achievement, and while it is gorgeous and very intricately crafted I wish he didn’t feel the need to explain everything so explicitly and the fact that we don’t get much character development.

As far as the box office for the year, it looks like this year is lining up to be very similar to 2010. Five of the top ten highest grossing films of the year were animated, six if you include Alice in Wonderland, and many of them were very good, but I think that as we march backwards through time we will see the chasm between a film’s financial success and visionary prowess shrink. So let’s see the three films that I put on the top of the heap.

3rd – The King’s Speech

Tom Hooper’s historical feature The King’s Speech was the big winner at the Oscars celebrating the films of 2010. It won 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Colin Firth who gave a fantastic central performance as a man with a crippling handicap who just happened to be Britain’s King George VI. The central relationship between Firth and Geoffrey Rush who plays his unorthodox speech therapist is filled with a wry and self-effacing sense of humor.

It’s a pleasure to watch Firth bring a heavy tension and frustration to his role as a man who cannot find his voice who has been thrust into the role of the voice of all of England. Firth begins the film by stepping up to a microphone as if he is stepping into a hangman’s noose. After a series of failed attempts with vocal coaches, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) pairs him with the unconventional Rush who insists on calling the budding monarch “Bertie” and treating him as an equal. Eventually, Firth unbends under Rush’s calm, unforgiving style and unwavering good humor. Firth’s agony and this rich relationship makes this one a good candidate for the best of the year.

2nd – Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 was the top grossing film of the year coming in almost $100 million above Alice in Wonderland. I often think about the reason why these animated films do so well at the box office. I think a huge part of it is because kids can’t go to the movies by themselves. So with every group of happy children there is at least one adult along for the ride. It is like a buy one get one deal in reverse where the theaters sell one ticket and get one more at full price for good measure. However, I think that with Toy Story 3, there may have been times when the kids were being dragged in by the parents who were hoping to catch a glimpse of the magic they saw years before.

In this third and what we thought would be final Toy Story movie, we see a bunch of toys desperately trying to force an 18-year-old to play with them the way he did a decade ago. Coming to the realization that he has moved on, they mourn and debate about their place as Andy’s toys. The Toy Story movies have always been about the joy of play, but never before has it seemed like such a drag to be a toy. The fate of most toys is probably a horror story if we think about it. Essentially, they are immortal beings whose only pleasure comes from entertaining fickle children who will quickly grow up to forget them, leaving them to be broken and discarded.

There were few grimmer movie moments in 2010 than the point where the toys face their deaths, and few more uplifting sequences than the film’s ending. It’s strange to speak of a kids’ film as challenging, moving, and heartfelt, but Pixar’s movies continue to be some of the most sophisticated and entertaining films that we see all year, bar none. They did it again this year with Finding Dory though maybe not to the extent of Toy Story 3.

1st – The Social Network

Writer Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men) and director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) make a movie about the contentious beginnings of Facebook, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from metal band Nine Inch Nails. While that certainly sounds interesting and potentially exciting, it also sounds like it could be a bit of a mess. I remember thinking when I heard about the plans for this film that it had everything it needed to be great it just had to find a way to put all those things into one box.

That is what makes this movie is so audaciously impressive. Sorkin is famous for his extremely verbal dialogue. How could that exist alongside the visual stylings of a guy like Fincher? And what business do these guys have working on a Facebook biopic since their specialties seemed to be government corruption and cover-ups, murder, scandal, and social unrest? They made it work to amazing effect. Using the deposition recordings of two separate lawsuits against Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg  as an ingenious framing device,The Social Network traces the site’s origin in all its agonizing complexity.

Speaking of Zuckerberg, if you have seen this movie, the picture that you get in your head probably looks a good bit more like actor Jesse Eisenberg than the actual founder. Eisenberg was able to capture the innovation and youthful energy of Zuckerberg while also detailing his all too human flaws. We completely forget that this is a movie about recent events in the unfolding of the technological world and we are enthralled in this compelling story of a genius who is often petty and puerile but is also driven pathologically by the same thing that drives the 500 billion users of Facebook… the need to belong.

What do you think? Did I get it right? I’m actually going to put an asterisk on this one because I would like to potentially come back and add Toy Story 3 if I don’t use my four ties before the end.

Zac Ephron Considers Joining the Circus

Tracking Board reports that The High School Musical alum is in talks to join Hugh Jackman in the  P.T. Barnum musical biopic The Greatest Showman on Earth.

In the Fox feature, Jackman will play Barnum, the famous conman-turned-showman, who founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City) will pen the musical, which Jackman is producing alongside Laurence Mark.

Efron is having a busy, if not particularly successful, summer at the multiplex, having just released the studio sequel Neighbors 2 and stars in another sophomoric comedy, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, opening July 8.

The in-demand actor also just finished filming Dwayne Johnson’s Baywatch and will appear alongside Neighbors co-star Seth Rogen in James Franco’s The Masterpiece. Production for The Greatest Showman on Earth is expected to begin later this year with a release date currently slated for Christmas day 2017.

 

Details on Jennifer Lawrence’s New Oscar Vehicle

Deadline reported that Jennifer Lawrence and Adam McKay have their names attached to a new project, which delves into the history of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the startup company Theranos. With a product that was supposed to revolutionize the field of blood testing, Holmes rode the wave to a $9 billion evaluation, and a personal wealth of half that amount.

Jennifer Lawrence is a pretty good at finding Oscar-worthy projects. With three nominations and one win at the Academy Awards, she might have found her fourth nomination, and possible second win. Even better, she’s teaming up with Adam McKay for this riches-to-rags story.

adam_mckay

 

After winning an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Big Short this past year, Adam McKay must have the golden bug himself. With his directorial hand guiding the Elizabeth Holmes story in production, he could at the very least land another nomination for Best Director with this picture. Though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he decided to do some punch-up work on the script, gaining him another Best Adapted Screenplay nomination.

The team-up between McKay and Jennifer Lawrence seems to sound like a match made in Oscar heaven, and I can’t wait to hear where further developments take the project. As of now, I don’t have any further details on when the project is aiming for production or release, but as soon as I hear something of interest, you’ll be the first to know.

Political Movies

Like many Americans, I am watching the primary races with a keen eye. Unfortunately, that has taken much of my time that I would normally watch movies. I want to share some of my favorite political movies.

Immediately, I think of movies like V for Vendetta as well as The Last King of Scotland but if I am going to look at American politics, there are two movies that stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

pres31All the President’s Men – I referenced this movie just a few weeks ago when I looked at Spotlight because of the parallels that I saw in the two movies in terms of journalism. But All the President’s Men shows not only the journalistic side but also the political side of the Nixon Watergate scandal. It is seriously compelling and is well worth the time to watch it.

james-stewart-mr-smith-goes-to-washington-2Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – I’m surprised that Marco Rubio doesn’t use this film on his Campaign trail. If you are unfamiliar, it tells the story of a man who is set to be a senator by the spineless governor of his state. He is a naive and idealistic and he wants to change everything starting from the building of a camp for children but his plans promptly collide with political corruption and there the true fight starts.

I enjoyed this movie because it addresses what we all know but never want to believe or talk about. How political corruption influences all of us and our lives as politicians and leaders just want to earn more and more wealth and power. But, this movie also shows us the other side of the story: a decent man who believes in something, and fights for his beliefs until the end. I might just write Jefferson Smith on my ballot.

Tell me what you think. What is your favorite political movie and why?

Spotlight (2015)

With about 4 weeks until the Academy Awards, I’m still watching these highly lauded films to be as knowledgeable as I can. I still have a bit of a list to watch, but I have made some good progress and I think I will make it. I just wish the Academy would make it a little easier on me by sending me screeners of all the movies. But one of the most recent that I was able to catch was Spotlight. It tells the story of how the Boston Globe shined their Spotlight, also the name of their long-running investigative unit, onto the cover up of abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. You can read a great article on the Boston Globe’s website about how the real story unfolded and how it was transformed into a movie.

In a nutshell, the Spotlight team was lead by its editor Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), who was born in raised in Boston. His team of reporters: Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sasha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) who were all known for their reporting skills followed the leads and uncovered the ugly truth. The investigation took five months, and countless hours, but the finished product was a story that would change so much.

Over time, there have been many jobs that have been held in high esteem. I’m thinking of pilots, astronauts, police officers, and firefighters. While some of those jobs have lost their luster in the public eye, we have not seen a fall from grace quite so drastic as that of the Priest. Going back to the middle ages, the Priests were among the most highly educated people in a given city or town, and as a Christian, it disgusts me to even think about the scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church.

spotlight2A few isolated incidents of priests (or pastors) falling into sin is unavoidable. However, the story that Spotlight tells goes deeper to reveal the ugly truth that the Catholic Church as an institution collaborated to cover-up these incidents, protect the offenders from justice, and create an environment where further atrocities could take place. This pains me as a believer knowing that we are all fallen and corrupt people in need of grace, but I can only imagine the collective effect that these scandals have had on the church (Catholic and Protestant alike) as non-believers and marginal attenders have left in droves in the past decade. An article at Salon.com reveals that, “Catholic defection is the single greatest factor driving the much-heralded rise of the nones, who now account for just under 23 percent of the population. Almost one-third (28 percent) of nones are former Catholics, the single largest share of any religion.” I hope Churches, organizations, and businesses will learn from this story and know that when something like this happens it affects a lot of people, and they must understand that some bad press is not as important as a person’s life and emotional well-being.

spotlight3Oddly enough, reporters have perhaps lost just as much respect as priests but for a completely different reason. I mean, how much more respect can you get than being the job that Superman choose to do as his alter ego. But I miss the day when news was actually news. Why does anyone care that Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose are having a feud over a couple of selfies and social media posts? Why was Tom Brady sentencing and appeal over “Deflategate” headline news while Greece’s economy was tanking and Turkey was stepping up to fight Daesh. This film reminded me that journalists used to investigate and break real stories. I hope that the pendulum swings back to the American people valuing the reporters that tell real stories that impact the community and not which celebrities just broke up.

spotlight4Channeling great films like All The President’s Men and Network, Spotlight, written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, honors the account of events with their writing but never loses sight of the story they are telling. The writing is outstanding. They don’t have any agenda in this film except telling the story. I was afraid that as this subject was handled in film we would see a vilifying of the Catholic Church. On the flip side, it was also good that they didn’t try to make heroes out of the Boston Globe. It felt like they tried to be completely unbiased while writing the story. It could have been very easy for this film turn into a Lifetime or ABC Family movie and be a manipulative mess, but instead it became a polished and well-wrought film.

spotlight5McCarthy, also the director, lets his actors and the shocking truth take center stage. Mark Ruffalo gives a fantastic performance as a highly driven investigative journalist and has really been knocking them out of the park lately. Michael Keaton also gives another awards season-worthy performance as the leader of the Spotlight team. Stanley Tucci was amazing, though I don’t think Tucci is capable of giving a bad performance. Also, Liev Schreiber gives one of the best performances of his career. His turn as Marty Baron was calm and understated, but he takes charge in every scene he’s in, which is saying something considering the caliber of the other actors and actresses with whom Schreiber shares the screen.

Spotlight is one of those movies that will stand the test of time and is deserving of the awards credit that it is receiving. I really enjoyed this film as it takes the time to deal with a heartbreaking story that needs to be told. Everything from the writing to the acting is amazing. I doubt that Spotlight will make it to the top of the Oscars heap, but it definitely deserves to be widely seen and given all of the praise that we can give.

The Big Short (2015)

When I think of the collapse of the housing market and the beginning of the Great Recession, I don’t immediately think of a comedy. Millions of hard working Americans losing their homes and pensions and having to bear the burden of a government sponsored bailout makes me think of a hard-hitting and moving drama. Well, The Big Short is both of those. It is more than a comedy, but it is also tremendously entertaining even while it made me really mad and sad.

Adam McKay took the directorial chair in this adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book. McKay has previously been known for a number of Will Ferrell comedies like Anchorman, The Other Guys and Step Brothers which kind of explains the tone of the film. Lewis has been responsible for writing a number of books that have made it to the big screen despite their traditionally dry subject matter, think Moneyball (another Brad Pitt Project) and to a lesser extent The Blind Side.  
The Big Short 2The Big Short
 is set in the years leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008 and tells the story of a handful of investors who saw it coming. Bitter humor (primarily delivered by an excellent narrator in Ryan Gosling) guides us through an educational journey that ultimately ends in tragedy (for everyone but our protagonists). The housing market is usually a rock-solid investment. But these guys read the signs and started suspecting that it was a skyscraper built on sand and it was getting ready to collapse. The “experts” of the day told them that it was impossible, That it couldn’t happen.

What was their argument? Because it never has. But they had no clue how blinded they had become by their own greed and self-interest. They continued giving loans to people, no matter if they’re qualified. And not just any loans but sub-prime adjustable rate mortgage loans. In some ways, it’s a horror story: We were all affected by the illegal and fraudulent activity that led to this downfall, and most of the culprits received no punishment (in fact many used the bailout money to give themselves substantial bonuses).

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him. – Leo Tolstoy, 1897

Despite its ominous and (let’s be honest) boring subject matter. The film is so entertaining, I had to go back and see it a second time. It sports a star-studded cast (Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale) effortlessly operating at the top of their game. McKay uses a multitude of techniques to tell the story. There are plenty of fourth-wall breaking moments and monologues, my favorite being Anthony Bourdain using a cooking metaphor to explain the disgusting product that is a Collateralized Debt Obligation. The Big Short 1There are jump cuts, slow motion, foreshadowing and flash backs. The filmmakers use any and all tricks to explain a complicated mess of financial underhandedness in order to help the audience understand, because as our narrator tells us, “Mortgage backed securities, subprime loans, tranches… Pretty confusing right? Does it make you feel bored? Or stupid? Well, it’s supposed to. Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do. Or even better, for you to leave them the f*** alone.” The banks, mortgage brokers, the credit ratings agencies and the government manipulated people in the nation and world into investing in worthless packages of bonds, and it behooves the director and writer, Adam McKay, to use all cinematic tricks to explain and untangle the financial corruption. The miracle is that the film deciphers the economic melt-down well while entertaining its audience.

The Big Short 3It would probably be a good time to compare this film to two other recent films which addressed similar issues but in very different ways. First you have the over the top Martin Scorsese film, Wolf of Wall Street. That film became known for the number of F-bombs it dropped while attempting to make the world of investing look cool. Then there was the Oscar winning documentary by Charles Ferguson, Inside Job. It had a cool narrator in Matt Damon, but you almost needed a degree in Finance to follow along as they explained the crisis and spoke to experts. I feel like Adam McKay sought to walk a like between these too films, it is not over the top in an attempt to be cool, nor is it preachy and heavy handed. It reminds me of a heist movie in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, the casino gets taken for all it’s worth, but in the end the house still wins.

The Big Short 4I’ll let you watch the movie for yourself to get to know the awesome characters that McKay develops for us. As a middle-class worker, I could not have less in common with these guys, but dang it if I didn’t feel myself rooting for and empathizing with them. We’ve got a socially backward fund manager who blasts death metal in his office. The two young guys who started on their own fund while they were still in college. Knowing that they are out of their league, they call in the investing giant turned reclusive doomsday-prepper. Then there’s the hedge-fund manager (and his team) with a bad attitude toward banks.

I already mentioned that our tour guide is played by Ryan Gosling, he is a subprime specialist at Deutsche Bank who is certain things will crash. He’s slicker than a used car salesman, but convincing and hilarious. It’s difficult to root for them when that means rooting against the economy and your own wallet. But McKay uses their formidable talents and personalities in such a way that makes it nearly impossible not to.

 

Joy (2015)

I must disclose at the outset that I am a tremendous Jennifer Lawrence fan, and she was a shining star in this movie. However, I am faced with judging a movie as a whole and not simply the performances therein. I think that Jennifer Lawrence is deserving of her Oscar nomination for Best Actress for this role, because she was the only salvageable part of a rare misstep by David O. Russell. This is Lawrence’s third collaboration with the director, and it has the ambition of Silver Linings Playbook but is undone by script and tone problems.

For fans of David O. Russell films (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, and American Hustle) what makes them so thrilling is the bravery of the writer-director’s storytelling ability. As the plots make bold shifts in tone and the characters spout highly scripted but thoroughly quotable dialogue, audiences seemingly hold their breath to see if he can get to the finish line without having these beautifully crafted world collapse.

joy3Russell hopes for a Jennifer Lawrence hat trick with Joy, but unfortunately, this time his delicate balloon pops. It’s a movie about a lower middle class single mother rediscovering her creativity, her fight not to be exploited by the world of commerce or her dysfunctional family, and about the birth of QVC and the show-business of retail sales. However, Russell (who shares story credit with Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo) doesn’t quite figure out how to tell these stories at the same time, or even back-to-back, resulting in a pile-up of characters and incidents and emotions that just never works. Continue reading Joy (2015)