Tag Archive for 'Biopic'

The Singing Nun

The Singing Nun (8/24/15) TCM (1966 **) Directed by Henry Koster, starring Debbie Reynolds, Ricardo Montalban, Greer Garson, Katharine Ross and Ed Sullivan. When a nun lands a recording contract, then goes onto fame and glory, it makes it surprisingly hard to do the Lord’s work. Oh, the mid-1960s were a strange time. This is one of those films that everybody was aware of, most people had seen, but was really not a particularly good film. The screenplay (based on a true story — more on that in a minute) seemed to have been written in about a week, and the lighting throughout felt more suitable for a TV show than a feature film. Attempts to add contemporary relevance (“I’m going to have an abortion, sister!”) seemed completely discordant. And I didn’t even find the music to be particularly memorable! Though I’m not interested enough to do a lot of research, I’m understandably curious about whether or not this project was rushed into production based on the success of The Sound of Music, released the year before. Now I mentioned that The Singing Nun was based on a real person, a woman named Jeanne Deckers, who achieved fame in the early 1960s because of a French-language chart-topping song “Dominique.” Her story is actually quite tragic, and in 1985 she was no longer a nun and committed suicide, along with her female lover.

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything (8/23/15) HBO (2014 ***) Directed by James Marsh, based on the book by Jane Hawking, starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones and David Thewlis. When cosmologist doctoral student Stephen Hawking is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and told he has two years to live, he gets married, then sets about describing the brief history of time. Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his lead performance in this film. He was certainly effective and managed to portray the physically-challenged physicist with compassion and nuance. However, I must admit that the film never reached me on an emotional level. And let’s face it, folks, I am not that hard to make cry. So why wasn’t I moved? What was missing? Much of the film centered on the strained marriage between Hawking and his wife, which wasn’t surprising, considering Jane Hawking wrote the book on which the film is based. Unfortunately, the resolution of that conflict may have been true to real-life events, but it still felt false dramatically. On another note, it’s an interesting coincidence that I watched The Theory of Everything the day after watching Contact (1997), given that the latter was based on a novel by another well-known astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, and both contained themes related to the never-ending conflict between science and religion.

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List (8/21/15) TMC (1993 ****) Directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the book by Thomas Keneally, starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz. A German industrialist and profiteer rubs elbows with the director of a concentration camp and manages to save more than a thousand Jews from Hitler’s “final solution.” It’s hard to believe more than twenty years have passed since this film was released, a film that would go on to win Best Picture and Best Director awards. It truly is an amazing film and one that is worthy of the awards it won. At the time, it was seen as somewhat of a departure for Spielberg, one that couldn’t be any more different from the other film he directed that was released in 1993, Jurassic Park. Still, it has many moments that feel absolutely Spielbergian. And yes, even in the most dire circumstances, there were moments of humor. Highly recommended.


Bernie (8/12/15) Netflix (2011 ***1/4) Directed by Richard Linklater, based on an article by Skip Hollandsworth, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Based on a true story, a well-liked assistant funeral director reaches out to and befriends the nastiest widow in Carthage, Texas… with tragic consequences. This is a cute movie with a quirky performance by Jack Black, but I honestly didn’t find it anything beyond that. I’d been meaning to watch it for some time, but my interest was piqued by its segment in the “career retrospective” documentary I watched not long ago, 21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014). Berrnie features an interesting pseudo-documentary technique, and as I watched it I thought: “I’ll bet this film had a very short shooting schedule.” Sure enough, according to its Wikipedia page, it was shot in only 22 days and something tells me McConaughey was able to knock out his scenes in about 3 of them. Adding to the project’s uniqueness was the fact that the interviewed folks were a mix of professional actors and actual townspeople. The film’s real claim to fame is undoubtedly that its theatrical release led to a re-opening of the case (with the surprising support of prosecuting D.A. Danny Buck Davidson), which eventually resulted in the release of Bernie Tiede himself in 2014. And not only that, but the judge ordered him to live under the care of the film’s director! It’s like something out of a movie! Believe it or Not!

Big Eyes

Big Eyes (6/29/15) British Airways: LAX -> LHR (2014 ***) Directed by Tim Burton, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz and Danny Huston. Margaret Keane has a talent for painting images of wobegone waifs with exaggeratedly-large eyes; her husband Walter, on the other hand, has an equally impressive talent for claiming credit for his wife’s creations. On the surface, this seems like a surprising project choice for Tim Burton. After all, it’s the first biography he’s directed since Ed Wood (1994), which is quite possibly my favorite of Burton’s films. The logic for the choice becomes a bit clearer when you learn that Big Eyes‘ screenwriters were also behind that earlier movie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite on the same level, and I think that the reason why boils down to the fact that the story and personalities involved aren’t nearly as interesting. The film’s dramatic climax takes the form of a painting demonstration in a Hawaii courtroom. Just not compelling source material.


Evita (6/21/15) SHO (1996 ***1/2) Directed by Alan Parker, based on the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. When Eva Duarte marries Argentina President Juan Peron, she finds a level of adoration few women ever dream of. It had been years since I’d watched this film, and it remains a distinct pleasure. I think Alan Parker, who had directed Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) and The Commitments (1991) was a perfect choice to helm this film based on the musical by the team behind Jesus Christ Superstar. It could be argued whether Madonna was the best choice as the film’s lead, but I thought she brought a voice and real gravitas to the role. Ultimately, however, I think the real star of Evita is the music, and it has a soundtrack that will continue playing in your head long after you’ve watched the film.


JFK (6/21/15) MAX (1991 ****) Directed by Oliver Stone, based on the books On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison and Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs, starring Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Ed Asner, Jack Lemmon and Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald. New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison decides to expand his purview to include the assassination of the 35th President of the United States. I had not watched JFK for more than a decade. I saw it when it was first released and its visual style blew me away, immediately becoming my favorite of Oliver Stone’s films. It’s still hard for me to believe that JFK is nearly 25 years old. Of course, because of its subject matter, the film was controversial when it was released, but it seems like that aspect of it has softened somewhat over the years. The question of whether there was or was not a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy doesn’t seem to be as poignant in a post-9/11 world. (Favorite)

Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy (6/13/15) Glendale Pacific 18 (2015 ***1/4) Directed by Bill Pohlad, starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti. “Future” Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys falls in love with a Cadillac salesperson while “Past” Brian Wilson creates one of the greatest rock albums of all time. First off, the #1 immediate effect this film had on me was to make me listen to Pet Sounds five or six times over the course of the weekend. If nothing else, it absolutely gave me an appreciation for that album that I didn’t have before. I had actually seen Brian Wilson in concert (back in 2008), but didn’t realize just how tortured a musical genius he was. One scene I really wish the film had shown was Wilson’s reaction to The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album, especially considering that his approach to the then-under-appreciated Pet Sounds was inspired by Rubber Soul.

Private Parts

Private Parts (4/11/15) MAX (1997 ***) Directed by Betty Thomas, starring Howard Stern, Mary McCormack, Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Paul Giamatti. The self-anointed “King of All Media” tells the story of his early days and attempts to explain why lesbians were the key to his success. I often find myself re-watching films from a certain period in my life, ones that I had good memories of but hadn’t watched for a decade or more. Such is the case with Private Parts, the film that gave me (and a lot of people) a much greater understanding of the phenomenon that was (and still is) Howard Stern. This time around I found myself enjoying the film but also far more aware of how self-serving it was throughout. It doesn’t help that the core message of Private Parts was a rationalization of Stern’s on-air persona and behavior as not indicating a lack of love and respect for his real-life wife Allison (played in the film by McCormack). However, according to my own wife (and fact-verified via web search), it was only a couple of years after this film was released that Stern and Allison divorced.


Awakenings (3/8/15) Encore (1990 ***1/2) Directed by Penny Marshall, based on the book by Oliver Sacks M.D., starring Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner and John Heard. Set in the Bronx in 1969, a doctor tries an experimental approach to treating the catatonic patients in his care… with astonishing results. I had seen this film in the theater during its original release. Something about it resonated with me, and I’m happy to report that it managed to do it once again, even though I hadn’t seen it in years. It’s all the more incredible to know that it was based on a true story, though I’m always somewhat skeptical about how many dramatic liberties might have been taken. I suppose if I were more than idly curious I could always read Sacks’ original book, but that’s unlikely. Not giving anything away, the ending was somewhat bittersweet, and contained an undeniable note of defeat. Sadly, this is sometimes the case when basing stories on true events and situations. I also must say that as I watched it, nearly seven months after Robin Williams’ suicide, I was saddened more than once thinking about what a loss of talent that was.