36 posts categorized "Biopic"

August 03, 2018

NICO 1988

Nico 1988Writer-director Susanna Nicchiarelli crafts a brief biopic about Velvet Underground legend Nico that is at turns inspired, frustrating, thrilling, and inchoate. Trine Dryholm’s unvarnished performance holds the film together with a weathered beauty teetering on the edge of an abyss that only her drug-addled character can see. One element missing from the film is any regard for the stunning beauty of Nico’s youth — she worked as a model — who captured the hearts, minds, and libidos of Jackson Browne, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Brian Jones, Jimmy Page, and notably Alain Delon with whom she had a son named Ari. Never mind that Delon never claimed the child who Nico abandoned when he was four-years-old.

Dryholm embodies the tone-deaf chanteuse with the same nihilistic charisma that Lou Reed freely exhibited for most of his career. Nico clearly copped Reed’s heroin habit and refused to ever let it go. Her fascination with death comes through in the songs of her later career as featured in the film.

Trine_dyrholm

Audiences unfamiliar with Nico’s ‘60s era collaborations with Reed and The Velvet Underground, under the guidance of Andy Warhol, receive no hand-holding in this film. If you don’t already know the haunting sound of Nico’s baritone European accented voice on the songs “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “Femme Fatal,” or “Sunday Morning,” then you’ve got some homework to do.

Living a junkie existence with a band of amateur musicians, save a classically trained violinist, Nico (real name Christa Päffgen) performs for small audiences around Eastern Europe. Border crossings pose imminent danger. She hates the communist youths that risk jail to host her performance. She also loathes her fans, especially if they appear in the guise of naïve young women.  

Nico-1988

We get that Nico was a child of war; she carries around a portable recorder to capture source sounds from the environments she visits, in the hope of rediscovering the sound of Berlin being bombed when she was a tyke. Nico longs for annihilation.

Ultimately, “Nico 1988” fails because it never convinces the audience as to why we should empathize with this brutal person. That Nicchiarelli omits the moment of Nico’s lonely death on a bicycle in Ibiza, comes across as laziness on the part of the filmmaker. “Nico 1988” is a solid showcase for Trine Dryholm but it doesn’t make a case for Nico’s music.  

Rated R. 99 mins. (C+) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)

January 02, 2018

DARKEST HOUR

Darkest_hour_ver3Joe Wright is a director who specializes in period kitsch. His 2005 version of “Pride & Prejudice” is a well-defined dollop of cinematic tough love as experienced through Jane Austen’s emotional turbulence of class struggles.

“Atonement” (2007) found Wright following his muse Keira Knightly through the war-torn romantic terrain of Ian McEwan’s novel with emotional grace notes played in ringing succession. The keen-eyed filmmaker maxed out with his visually embellished adaptation of Anna Karenina, once again featuring Keira Knightley, this time as the title character of Tolstoy’s epic love story.

However deft Joe Wright clearly is with clearing his theatrical space for actors to deliver finely crafted performances in “Darkest Hour,” the filmmaker is hamstrung to liberate the film from screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s staid text and dull plotting. There is no question that Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill is a portrayal for the ages. As well, Kristin Scott Thomas is purely grounded as Churchill’s wife Clemmie. Ben Mendelsohn’s King George VI casts a long shadow that few living politicians could pretend to fill.

Churchill

The problems with this dull, drawn-out film announce themselves early on through Dario Marianelli’s bombastic musical score that attempts to mask narrative shifts that clash rather than mesh with the aural hamburger-helper. The story takes place over a one-month period during May of 1940, when Winston Churchill took over as Britain’s Prime Minister at a time when Germany was winning World War II. For as unpopular as Churchill was at the time, he put his head down and got to work, or so the story goes.

Darkest-hour

"Darkest Hour" gets overwrought and fussy regarding Churchill’s mistreatment of his youthful secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), who has to develop much thicker skin if she is to endure the demands of taking dictation from the head of the British Empire. We accept the sub-plot ruse in the beginning, but it runs threadbare by the time Churchill is pressured toward engaging in peace talks with Hitler.

References to Dunkirk come across as gratuitous considering that awful film’s recent engagement to a plethora of fawning critics who seem to have never seen a competent war film in their lives. There should be a moratorium on World War II films considering that era's disconnected irrelevance to our drone-dominated modern warfare, and the fact of Cinema's already mile-high coverage of World War II.

When Oldman’s Churchill boards a London subway to get a feel for the will of the people, it’s clear that the filmmakers have sunk to a new basement level of pandering to their audience. The scene works in spite of itself, but it nonetheless represents an unforgivable sin of sewing up a mess of a movie with a flurry of hand-stitching. “Darkest Hour” is a brief, and presumably misleading, biopic aimed more at winning awards for acting than in connecting our modern political problems with those of the past. Here is a film to sip tea over, rather than watch with any sense of urgency or relevance beyond the endearing performances of its cast.    

Ben Mendelsohn

Rated PG-13. 125 mins. (C-) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)


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November 24, 2017

I, TONYA

I_tonyaCraig Gillespie, the Australian director behind the great magical realist film “Lars and the Real Girl” (from 2007) is destined to become a household name based on his work for this unforgettable film. “I, Tonya” is a beautifully crafted and executed brief biopic of Tonya Harding, an American figure skater made notorious by the same American media landscape that that gave rise to the presidential ascendancy of Donald Trump.

The film is as much a snapshot of American hypocrisies, and its ingrained ideology of cruelty, as it is a diligent portrayal of a gifted figure skater trapped by her impoverished social circumstances and abusive relations with the people closest to her — namely her mother and her husband.

With its convincing depictions of Margo Robbie [apparently] executing Harding’s signature triple axel in mind- blowing competition figure skating sequences, “I, Tonya” (written by screenwriter Steven Rogers) adopts a narrative style that flips between direct-to-camera confessionals and straight-ahead drama.

The subject matter is pitch dark but the film's tone frequently borders on slapstick. Robbie’s performance is an exercise in acting-chops virtuosity; she holds nothing back. Even when Robbie’s audacious portrayal turns her natural beauty into a monstrous visage, you can’t help but accept and respect Tonya Harding as a human being doing her best against impossible odds. An Oscar nomination most certainly looms for Robbie. 

I tonya

Intimidated, bullied, and ruthlessly punished by her self-promoting mother LaVona (brilliantly played by the ever-dependable Allison Janney), Tonya Harding is shown to have grown up indoctrinated by a white trash mentality synonymous with Donald Trump’s reckless approach to the world. Romantically following the first boy who pays her any attention brings a streak of bad luck when Tonya takes up with, and marries, Sebastian Stan’s Jeff Gillooly. Every bit as physically abusive as Tonya’s mother, Jeff Gillooly delivers love with his fists, and even with a gun, when he’s sufficiently frustrated. He doesn’t keep good company either, as evidenced by his best friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), a man clearly suffering from intellectual developmental disorder.

I  Tonya

This is not by any means a feel-good movie. Every beat of mental and physical anguish that Margot Robbie nails with her pitch-perfect portrayal of Tonya Harding, brings the audience to an intimate understanding of story misstated and mishandled by the media and by the judge who oversaw Harding’s case related to a brutal attack against fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan by Shane Stint (Ricky Russert).

Itonya

Even this film’s supporting roles are perfectly cast. Julianne Nicholson is wonderful as Harding’s skating coach Diane Rawlinson. For his part Bobby Cannavale does a lot with a little as a “Hard Copy” tabloid producer whose bent for exploitation runs as deep as TMZ’s Harvey Levin.     

Rated  R. 119 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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