Tag Archives: based on true story

Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher

Director: Bennett Miller; Main Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo;

The Academy really likes film based on a true story and, this year in particular, the theme of fame and pushing beyond one’s limits. This movie has both, so it’s not a surprise that it was nominated, however it feels distant and detached notwithstanding the quality of the performance of the three leads. Steve Carell (with a fake nose, hideous teeth and dark eyes) is John DuPont: billionaire with a passion for wrestling and severe mommy issues. Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz: Olympic wrestling champion with low self-confidence, always in the shadow of his older brother. Last but not least, Mark Ruffalo is David Schultz: charismatic, well-adjusted and legendary wrestler. All three are impressive and they admirably carry the story and the film on their shoulders but they somewhat fail to engage the viewer.  The story of how DuPont created and sponsored the Foxcatcher wrestling team to prepare for the 1988 Olympic games feels like the tantrum of a petty child: bullied in school because he wasn’t good at any sport? Probably. Needing to prove to his overbearing mother that he can be a wrestler? Certainly. The film has an ominous, slow pace that goes well with the unravelling of DuPont’s psyche and, after the first half, the viewer has the feeling that something will go terribly awry. However it is not enough to achieve (cinematic) greatness, isn’t that ironic! Chilly —6.5/10

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Mr Selfridge (season 1)

mr-selfridge-s1

Main Cast: Jeremy PivenFrances O’ConnorAisling LoftusGrégory FitoussiTrystan GravelleAmanda AbbingtonTom Goodman-HillKatherine KellySamuel WestZoë Tapper;

Harry Selfridge (Piven),  visionary American tycoon, moves with his family to London in 1908, to open a high-end department store. Based on the book Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead and written by Andrew Davis (Pride and Prejudice, Wives and Daughters among his works), it follows not only the struggles and successes of  the titular character but it gives us insights on his employees, friends and family. Using a well-tested formula of upstair/downstair, we navigate through both high society and working class worlds, with a little dose of what goes on in between. As an outsider in the upper crust of London, Selfridge needs a sort of sponsor or patron to be accepted and, thanks to friend and journalist Frank Edwards (West), he finds just that in Lady Mae (Kelly). Her shrewd and calculated moves help Harry greatly and set him and his store on the path of success. What I found particularly interesting are his publicity stunts using the celebrities of the time (a pilot, an explorer, Arthur Conan Doyle, a renown ballerina) and his idea to enlist a famous showgirl, Ellen Love (Tapper) as “the spirit of Selfridge” (an ante litteram celebrity endorsement). As it can be foreseen from the beginning, matters will end up quite entangled between Ms Love and Mr Selfridge. Among Harry’s family, the focus is mostly on his wife Rose (O’Connor) who is reserved, sensible and with an independent streak that will lead to a surprise. On the employee front, the attention is on: the ingénue Agnes Towler (Loftus), shop girl with big dreams and a lot of determination; Henri Leclair (Fitoussi), French genius designer, who creates artful tableaux for the windows of the store; Victor Colleano (Gravelle), waiter with a talent for cooking; Mr Groove (Goodman-Hill), chief of staff and capable right hand of the boss, and Miss Mardle (Abbington), head of the accessory department who seems a little too controlled for her own good. At the beginning I found Piven’s performance a bit grating, even over the top, but then I realised it was just his take on the character when he finally started to show more nuances. I must say: kudos! Occasionally, however, I wished for a witty one-liner of the Dowager Countess of Grantham or a caustic comment from Lady Mary to jazz up a scene. Other times I ended up thinking: “Carson would find this rather unseemly”.  Still, the story has a good pace and the cast works well. The costumes, the sets and the production design are splendid, they add indeed charm to each episode but at times they feel like one of Henri’s store windows: beautiful but distant. My overall impression is that Mr Selfridge is to Downton Abbey as Elizabeth Gaskell is to Jane Austen. Nonetheless a good fix for period drama withdrawal. Pleasant —6.5/10

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The Monuments Men

Director: George Clooney, Main Cast: George ClooneyMatt DamonCate BlanchettBill MurrayJohn GoodmanJean DujardinHugh BonnevilleBob Balaban;

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George Clooney as a director has an uneven record, it’s kind of one hit and one miss. This film is, unfortunately, a miss, stellar cast notwithstanding. It is a story set during the last true “good” war: between the ever righteous Americans (with some help from those nice English chaps) and the evil Nazis! It is about a group of men who are not soldiers but art experts (being museum curators, art historians, architects or artists) and whose mission is to rescue artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis from museums and churches around Europe and return them to their rightful owners. Strong of a mandate from FDR himself, Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together a band of unlikely heros to rob three casinos in Las Vegas…oops no, sorry, that was another movie! They arrive in France, not long after D-Day and, with barely any training as soldiers, venture to the front and split in groups trying to reach precious artifacts before the Germans have time to smuggle them away. Naturally, they are too late! Nazis are not only evil but real devils when it comes to organisation and logistics. From this point on, it is a giant treasure hunt through Europe and a race against time, since the prime directive from the Fuhrer is to destroy everything if the Reich falls (and the Germans aren’t doing so well by the end of 1944). Instrumental in helping the Monument Men is Claire Simone (Blanchett), curator of the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris, who kept a detailed record of all the works of art that came to the museum and that were later moved to secret locations by the Germans. She is the most interesting character of the film because she is the only one the audience has the chance to know a little better, the others are just one-dimensional cardboard silhouettes, devoid of any character development, which is a great flaw in a movie that is supposed to be about these happy few men who chose to risk their lives for what they believed in. Yes, yes, the message is very uplifting (prevent the destruction of centuries of culture and history and save what really makes us human) but the delivery is rather clumsy. There are a few funny one-liners, some banter and witticism in a “brotherhood of men” kind of way, but it all feels flat and without pathos. It is not enough to cast Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Matt Damon, if the script is uneven, lacking a clear direction and credibility (none of these men of culture is fluent in a foreign language or two, really?!? Damon’s character pitiful attempt at speaking French doesn’t count!). It is a pity because this movie could have been quite something considering the cast. Unsatisfying and ineffective —5/10

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Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée, Main Cast: Matthew McConaugheyJennifer GarnerJared LetoDenis O’HareSteve Zahn;

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Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is a “booze, sex, drugs and rodeo” kind of guy, he is full of swagger and not really what you would call a nice person. One day he ends up in a hospital, after collapsing, and the doctors (O’Hare and Garner) inform him that he has AIDS and only 30 days left to live. It is 1986 and that type of diagnose doesn’t imply only a fatal prognosis but also social stigma. Ron’s co-workers and friends ostracize him and he’s forced to leave his job and his house. We follow his struggle for survival by any means, legal or illegal (mostly the latter though) and his desperate attempts at finding an effective treatment among the different experimental medicines. Along the way Ron will meet a lot of people: most of them struggling with his very same problem (survive an incurable disease), some who genuinely want to help and others who are from blatantly callous to just be blind cogs of the establishment-machine (health system and FDA). The most important and life changing meeting for Ron happens early on at the hospital with Rayon (Leto, a well deserved oscar!), a transgender who has AIDS as well. The duo starts the titular club recruiting members among AIDS  patients, who pay a monthly fee to get medicines that Ron imports illegally (being not FDA approved). We witness Ron’s struggle between his more greedy nature and a growing, genuine sentiment of empathy and kindness, mostly due to the positive influence of Rayon. The film is well-written and has a good pace although the whole storyline with Garner’s character is a little cliched and juxtapose to give a caring face to the health system, opposite to O’Hare’s doctor who is unsympathetic and slave to the system. The best for me wasn’t the much celebrated transformation and acting of McConaughey but Leto’s Rayon. His character was apparently meant to bring some lightness and comic relief moments in a dramatic story however, with his subtle acting, Leto gives the most heart-wrenching interpretation of the film and delivers the most powerful scenes. Captivating —8/10

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Fruitvale Station

Director: Ryan Coogler, Main Cast: Michael B. JordanMelonie DiazOctavia Spencer;

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New Year’s Eve 2008, the last twenty four hours of Oscar Grant’s life. Ryan Coogler writes and directs an engaging and harrowing film, starting at the end of the story with the original video taken by a witness of a senseless act. Oscar is a young man, 22-years-old, with a daughter and a girlfriend. He is not what you would call a law abiding citizen, he did a stint in prison and he sells pot. We also learn that he cheats on his girlfriend, he lost his job because he is chronically late and, well of course, he lies about it. On the flip side the director wants to show that Oscar tries his best to turn around things, he takes care of his family and he is kind to strangers. We watch Oscar going through the ups and downs of what feels like an ordinary day, although we know it has a tragic conclusion. Oscar takes his daughter Tatiana to kindergarden and his girlfriend Sophina to work, shops for his mother’s birthday party, worries about rent and bills to pay and makes an effort to walk the line (like giving up dealing pot and hoping to find a regular job!). Oscar spends his evening first at his mother’s party then he goes to San Francisco with Sophina and some friends to celebrate the New Year. The fateful decision of taking the train instead of his car will have unforeseen consequences (for him) while the viewer has been experiencing a lingering sensation of dread that slowly builds up from the beginning of the film. It is the strong point of the movie along with Michael B. Jordan’s impressive performance as Oscar. Octavia Spencer and Melodie Diaz as Oscar’s mother and Sophina are also very convincing and touching. A very interesting approach for an emotionally charged topic and a first time director. Powerful and gut wrenching. —7.5/10

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12 Years A Slave

Director:  Steve McQueen, Main Cast: Chiwetel EjioforMichael FassbenderLupita Nyong’oBenedict CumberbatchBrad PittPaul Giamatti;

Francois Duhamel/AP

Steve McQueen likes to deal with complex material. After Shame, he decided to “lighten up” by telling the story of Solomon Northup, a free-born african-american from Saratoga NY, who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold as a slave. As you can guess from the title, after years of tribulation and pain, he manages to get back to his family. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon is intense and carries the film on his shoulder, aided by a very strong supporting cast: Paul Giamatti as slave dealer, Paul Dano as creepy, vengeful carpenter (is it my impression or does he seem to play more and more creepy characters lately?), Benedict Cumberbatch as the sympathetic and kind master, Michael Fassbander as the harsh and unforgiving master and Lupita Nyong’o as prized slave. Good acting notwithstanding, the pace of the film is uneven, it tells the beginning of the story as a flashback but the director can’t wait to get to the cotton fields and the lashing. There are also the long scenes to drive home the brutality and the hopelessness of Solomon’s situation, which are quite effective but still feel a bit disjointed from the narrative. On top of all this we have the villain, master Ebbs (Fassbender) who is cruel, unrelenting, possessive and utterly controlling… basically there is not a speck of decent human qualities in him, and this is what really makes me lose interest in the story: it’s too black and white (pun intended!), too linear and uncomplicated, it seems such an easy solution to paint all the slavers black, even the supposedly “good” master (well… except the carpenter who helps Solomon but he doesn’t count being Canadian).  I understand, the film is based on Solomon’s view so we do see the world through his eyes but it left me a little detached and I’m sure that’s not what McQueen was going for, especially considering how emotionally taxing and absorbing was Shame. I was expecting much more —7/10

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Philomena

Director: Stephen Frears, Main Cast: Judi DenchSteve CooganAnna Maxwell MartinSophie Kennedy Clark

Judi Dence and Steve Coogan in Philomena

Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), former journalist and  “spin-doctor” for the Labour government, doesn’t know what to do with himself after he got the sack. While in this limbo, he stumbles on a good subject for a “human interest” story: Philomena Lee (Dench). Her tale of woes begins in Ireland in the early fifties when she became pregnant. Being a teenager she was shamed and abandoned by her family and forced to live in a convent, you know the go-to-a-nunnery type of thing. She lived there with her son, in rather appalling conditions, for a few years until one faithful day her son is given away to a well-to-do family by the nuns. Philomena keeps the secret for fifty years but, after telling her daughter, she sets out to find her lost son with Martin’s help. The film follows this odd couple of characters in a quest for truth that is also a journey of self-discovery for both. Judi Dench gives an extraordinary portrayal of Philomena: subdue and subtle, never forced or exaggerated; which is the real strong point of the movie and what makes it involving. I guess it is never easy to make a quality film which is based on a book based on a true story… this one feels a bit re-hashed and more focused on the journalist and his achievement, telling a riveting tale and doing something good in the bargain, than on the actual, far more interesting, story of Philomena. Somewhat disappointing, watch Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters instead! —6.5/10

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Captain Phillips

Director: Paul Greengrass, Main Cast: Tom HanksBarkhad AbdiBarkhad AbdirahmanMichael Chernus

Based on the true story of the first hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates in 2009, this film is compelling and engrossing. We see both sides going about their seemingly ordinary everyday life up until they are set on a colliding route. Tom Hanks is very convincing, as always, as the titular captain  and Barkhad Abdi, the Somali ringleader, delivers also a strong performance. The film keeps you on the edge of your seat with a very effective script and editing. A different tale for the Christmas holidays. —8/10

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