biopic

REVIEW: The Tale (2018)

After her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story she wrote when she was thirteen, Jennifer (Laura Dern) tries to re-examine her first sexual relationship, the people involved and what truly happened that summer.

The Tale is based on writer and director Jennifer Fox’s own experiences and based on the story she wrote as the teenager. This makes this story all the more compelling and heartbreaking as it’s a sexual abuse survivor, telling her story in her own words as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her.

This is not just a story about abuse, but a story about memory. Jennifer can remember her riding teacher Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki) and her coach Bill (Jason Ritter) so vividly but has difficulty picturing herself in those memories and remembering how she felt and what she knew. As she reconnects with people who spent the summer with her at the riding school, Jennifer begins to realise that some of her memories don’t match up with other people’s recollections.

The Tale is told with two narratives running parallel to one another; Jennifer as an adult, suddenly having to confront her past, and Jenny as a child (Isabelle Nélisse) living the experiences Jennifer is now recalling. Both Nélisse and Dern give powerful performances. Nélisse is brilliant as she slowly becomes less naïve about the world but still believing that what she’s experiencing is a relationship and that Mrs. G and Bill really love her. Dern is phenomenal as she perfectly captures the anguish as she revisits her past and now she’s older she can start to put into context what she experienced. The scenes where young and present-day Jennifer are in the same space helps show the haziness of memory as between the two of these points of view they try to find the truth of what happened.

The Tale handles the sensitive subject matter with grace and care. It’s a tough film to watch as it doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and sexual content. However, it’s powerful to see an independent and strong-willed woman reassess the trauma she experienced and decide what to do with that information. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Denial (2016)

Acclaimed historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) must battle to prove the historical truth of the Holocaust when renowned denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) sues her for libel.

Denial is an engaging courtroom drama that respects the history it is debating. While it gives Irving the space to put across his views, it never says those views are right or fair. The film frames Lipstadt and her team of lawyers as the speakers of truth and rightly so.

The scenes set at Auschwitz concentration camp are very respectable. The actors’ reactions to the environment they’re in is visceral and nothing is over-played in these scenes. The shorts of the hundreds and thousands of suitcases and other belongings of the Jews who were there is haunting, and the film doesn’t flinch away from the cold, harsh truth of the place and its history.

The courtroom scenes are tense as Irving and Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), Lipstadt’s lawyer, verbally spar over points of racism, anti-Semitism and what is fact and fiction. It’s touching how this case becomes so much to all of the defence team, Rampton can be blunt in his questions when investigation Auschwitz but it’s only so he can be best prepared.

There’s a few scenes between Lipstadt and a holocaust survivor (Harriet Walter) that are touching but almost feel like they are there to hammer home the point of getting some form of justice or closure for the victims and survivors, when it’s not really needed thanks to Weisz’s performance. Lipstadt is a Jew and that emotional connection can be found through her, and she acts as a voice for those who suffered.

Denial is a gripping true story. It’s a tough watch at times but great performances by all involved makes you root for those fighting for the truth in a very clever and complicated way, while Spall plays a man who you can’t quite believe is a real person, who apparently truly believed what he did. 4/5.

REVIEW: Molly’s Game (2017)

The true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a self-made woman who ran the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in America, attended by film stars, musicians, businessmen, and unbeknownst to her, the mob, and the subsequent court case when she becomes an FBI target.

Molly’s Game is a fast-paced film, with rapid quick-cut editing and a voiceover from Bloom throughout. This voiceover adds details such as she was thinking and, when it comes to the poker games, explains some of the slang terms for hands and cards. While the film does offer these moments of explanation, there’s a lot to take in and it might have been easier to follow, and perhaps that bit more enjoyable, if you have more of an understanding of poker. It’s still an engaging film though, there’s just a lot of information being giving to you almost constantly through the voiceover.

The script is razor sharp, which is unsurprising really as it’s penned by Aaron Sorkin (writer of The West Wing, The Social Network and many other shows and films). The dialogue is funny and lively, and the scenes jump between the present and Bloom’s court room battle, and her rise and fall in the world of poker.

Jessica Chastain gives another stellar performance here. She’s commands every scene she’s in and outshines just about any other actor she’s on screen with. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Bloom’s lawyer, and their verbal sparring matches as they slowly begin to understand one another are electric.

Molly’s Game is an entertaining film, albeit perhaps a bit overlong, with great performances, some laughs and high-drama. 4/5.

REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World Number One Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

What’s really interesting about Battle of the Sexes is that it’s main focus isn’t just the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs but how society was in the 1970’s in relation to the women’s movement and how King and Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) set up their own women’s tennis tournament. This allows you to really see where King was coming from, what obstacles she and other female tennis players were facing, and how hard she fought for respect from her male peers. This helps you realise how difficult a decision it was for King to take up Riggs on his offer, as the weight of people’s expectations were on her shoulders. This build up to the big match also gives time to Riggs side of the story, showing his more human-side and how he may not believe all the chauvinist stuff he says but rather says it for a reaction.

Everyone gives compelling performances in Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone does a great job in portraying the inner conflict in King as she finds herself attracted to hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) while still caring for her husband Larry (Austin Stowell). Carell is hilarious as Riggs, but you also get to see his vulnerabilities that comes with being a gambling addict.

Battle of the Sexes has snappy dialogue, compelling characters and is a lot of fun. It balances the drama with the comedy and when you finally see the match between King and Riggs, it’s a thrilling showdown between two larger than life people.

Battle of the Sexes is a great film with an important message and themes and it’s so unfortunate that those themes of equal rights and opportunities between the sexes is still so prevalent over 40 years later. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Death of Stalin (2017)

After Stalin dies, the regime is thrown into chaos as members of the Committee struggle to take power.

The Death of Stalin is completely bonkers and stupidly funny. The situations these men find themselves in are hard to believe, and even more so when you remember the film is somewhat based on real life events.

The main conflict is between spymaster Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and politician Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), both of them trying to be one step ahead and to get as many other allies as possible. The conversations between the two of them are full of double-meanings and it’s clear to see how clever both men are, especially compared to men like Stalin’s Deputy, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor).

The whole cast is brilliant to be honest but got to have a couple of honourable mentions. Firstly, Jason Isaacs, who as soon as he appears on screen as General Georgy Zhukov, steals just about every scene he’s in, and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s son Vasily – he doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on but has some of the best lines.

The Death of Stalin is farcical and funny but then it does have this weird unsettling edge to it, where you think, “Should I be laughing at this?” It’s based on true events where people were sent to the gulags or shot or put on lists, and once you’re on that list who knows what could happen to you. People lived this fear and tyranny and while the officials were squabbling amongst themselves people were dying. Perhaps it’s because the cast all use their native American or British accents (or a more exaggerated versions of them) that it helps make it all seem a bit surreal and adds a bit of distance to the reality of the real life situation.

It’s thanks to a witty script and story that roars along at a pace that while watching it you tend to forget about the historical context. The Death of Stalin is absurd and if you like the humour and incompetence of the characters in The Thick of It and In The Loop, you’ll probably enjoy The Death of Stalin a lot. 4/5.

REVIEW: My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) struggles with a difficult family life with a manic mother (Anne Heche) and a father (Dallas Roberts) who doesn’t understand him. As he tries to navigate high school and his teenage years, it solely becomes clear he doesn’t fit in with his peers.

My Friend Dahmer is a study of the teenage Jeffrey Dahmer, before he became one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Lynch gives a great performance as the shy yet unnerving young Dahmer. From his mannerisms to how he moves, everything about him seems not quite right. Add his fascination with disintegrating roadkill with acid and poor social skills it’s a captivating yet unsettling performance.

Dahmer is a loner and doesn’t have any friends until Derf (Alex Wolff), Mike (Harrison Holzer) and Neil (Tommy Nelson) start to include him and make a Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club. Though can they really be called friends when they seem to manipulate him and like the infamy of being associated with him brings rather than who he is? With his so called friends and his parents who don’t take a real interest in him, the film offers a kind of nature vs nurture debate.

My Friend Dahmer blends the weird, creepy and darkly comedic incredibly well. It’s unsettling as you see Dahmer become more and more distant and angry as he tries to deal with his life, but then there’s sudden moments of humour, with situations that you probably really shouldn’t be laughing at.

My Friend Dahmer is a chilling insight into the life of a young killer. Lynch gives a captivating performance and with its blend of dark humour and suspense, it is definitely worth watching. 4/5.

REVIEW: Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden-figures-posterThe true story of a team of African-American women mathematicians including Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who played a vital part in NASA during the early years of the American space programme.

Each of the three leads are brilliant in their roles. They feel like friends who laugh together and support each other but they are also so incredibly smart. Their chemistry is palpable. Katherine is a human computer and can figure out maths that hasn’t even been invented yet, Dorothy is wise enough to get ahead of the game, learn things like IBM computing and make her and her colleagues invaluable to NASA, and Mary wants to be an engineer and while her boss, a Polish Jew, can see her potential, she fights when every door seems to be shut in her face.

The supporting cast is great too. Jim Parsons’ Paul Stafford is one of the mathematicians who doesn’t like Katherine is smarter than him and just about every other man in the room, Kirsten Dunst’s Vivian Mitchell is Dorothy’s boss and Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is in charge of the division that works out how to put a man in space and bring him down again.

Hidden Figures isn’t a particularly surprising film as it has the same standard formula just about any true story film has – but that doesn’t diminish how brilliant it is. Hidden Figures knows exactly what it is and it doesn’t need huge twists because the history and these women’s lives are interesting enough.

On a purely aesthetic level Hidden Figures is a beautiful-looking movie. The costumes, hair and makeup are brilliant and the soundtrack is full of catchy songs from Pharrell Williams and Mary J. Blige. The score reunites Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer and they produce music that’s exciting and heartfelt and fits the time period and the film itself wonderfully.

Hidden Figures celebrates those who history, and society, tends to overlook and shows the power of perseverance and friendship. It is amazing to see a film with three African-American leads who are masters in their field. It’s an inspiring yet also frustrating when you see what these women had to put up with, yet they still wanted to be a part of something amazing and contributed to NASA’s success. Hidden Figures will leave you with a huge smile on your face but along the way you may shed some tears, both happy and sad, and it’s really a great, crowd-pleasing movie. 5/5.