62 posts categorized "Biopic"

September 25, 2018

COLETTE

Colette (1)Try though it does to tell the tale of French fin de siècle novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s troubled marital journey, Wash Westmoreland’s brief biopic suffers from a clunky narrative form that never allows its characters to exist beyond two-dimensional qualities. In life, Colette was a novelist, actress, journalist and bi-sexual woman; in this film she is reduced to playing martyr/victim of a greedy man.

A by-committee screenplay (by three writers) is to blame. Two screenwriters can work exquisitely together because they each have to stand up for their beliefs, but must also be able to compromise responsibly. With three writers, two are always going to gang up on one; it’s not a healthy environment for creativity.

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It is frustrating to watch Kiera Knightley struggle with a role to which she seems so well-suited. More irritating is Dominic West’s weakly overbearing portrayal of Colette’s roustabout author husband Willy. West gets caught “acting” on more than one occasion, perhaps because his character’s motivations are so muddy. It would be a tall order for any actor to elevate such dramatically flat source material.

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“Colette” fails even as a generic period drama because it doesn’t dare show what truly drives its characters’ carnal passions. Willy is a selfish horndog, Colette is a gifted author with lesbian leanings. Colette’s would-be girlfriend has the charisma of a piece of wood. There you have it, a movie that was doomed before the first day of filming began. Tragic.

Rated R. 111 minutes. (C) Two Stars

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September 23, 2017

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

Colesmithey.comIt’s a given that Emma Stone would seamlessly slip inside Billy Jean King’s skin. It’s equally predictable that Steve Carell would embody aging tennis star and gambling addict Bobby Riggs with a portrayal that walks a fine line between a comic and tragic figure. But what impresses most about co-directors’ Jonathan Dayton’s and Valerie Faris’s equality-focused time capsule is how Andrea Riseborough’s lesbian hairdresser Marilyn Barnett encompasses emotional, political, and social issues being put through a cartoon media blender regarding a tennis match in 1973.

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“Battle of the Sexes” is a rebellious movie set during the confusion of the Watergate conspiracy that witnessed President Richard Nixon's resignation from office a year after Billy Jean King played Bobby Riggs. Upset by the much higher pay awarded to male tennis players over their female counterparts by the USLTA (under Jack Kramer – Bill Pullman), Billy Jean King and her business partner Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) break with the USLTA to start their own women’s tennis tournament. Ironically, it’s a tobacco company that takes on sponsoring the Virginia Slims Womens’ Tennis Tournament.

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Andrea Riseborough is this film’s secret weapon. The romantic chemistry between Stone and Riseborough give the audience something to root for other than an exploitation tennis match promoted by three-time Wimbledon champion who could teach boxing promoter Don King a thing or two.

The tennis match scenes are well-crafted even if the movie doesn’t end on the strongest note. Pamela Martin’s editing is this film’s biggest stumbling block. The movie could lose 15 minutes and achieve a greater effect. Goofy secondary plot elements, such as Fred Armisen as a vitamin guru, go nowhere. There is a better movie hiding inside the one you see.

Rated PG-13. 121 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

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April 01, 2017

NERUDA — CANNES 2016

Neruda posterDirector Pablo Larraín’s filmic love letter to Pablo Neruda (Chilean poet and politician) works better than it should considering the nature of Guillermo Calderón’s objectively baroque screenplay. The screenwriter manages to paint a wildly exotic (partially fictionalized) brief biopic that fleshes out colorful aspects of Pablo Neruda’s life in exile.

Neruda’s complex relationship with his wifeDelia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) reveals layers of emotional, intellectual, and ideological determination on both their parts. Here is a great example of literary license being taken with graceful precision.

Potentially damning voice-over narration from Gael Garcia Bernal’s uncultured but determined detective Óscar Peluchonneau creates a sleek stream of consciousness subplot from the viewpoint of the man (or kind of man) tasked with tracking down and capturing the Communist Senator and beloved poet after Neruda goes on the lam with his wife rather than let himself be arrested by Chile’s fascist element after Communism is outlawed. Neruda plays a game of cat-and-mouse with the detective for whom he leaves behind copies of a book.

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Significant credit goes to Luis Gnecco’s wonderfully underplayed portrayal of Neruda as a man of earthy desires and ethical responsibility. If Gnecco’s performance comes across as a breakthrough, it is a premiere act more than three decades in the making. Nothing is wasted, and nothing is held back in a performance that is Oscar-worthy regardless of your global perspective. Mercedes Morán empowers Gnecco’s efforts with a caring femininity that balances the couple’s power dynamic of unconditional love.

“Neruda” is a fascinating movie for any number of reasons. Although it doesn’t articulate as much of Pablo Neruda’s heartbreakingly sublime poetry as the film could have, it provides valuable insight into a man whose gift for words was equal to his lust for life.

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Rated R. 107 mins. (B+) (Four Stars — out of five / no halves)


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