Tag Archives: biopic

“Megan Leavey”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Animal lovers, get those Kleenex ready: the true life story of a U.S. Marine and her bomb-sniffing hero dog has been given the big screen treatment in the biopic “Megan Leavey.” This is a touching, uplifting story about companionship, devotion, and the lifelong friendship that develops from a mutual respect between a human and her animal.

Megan Leavey (Kate Mara, in a heartfelt and earnest performance) is a young Marine who, after a night of drinking and conduct unbecoming a soldier, is punished by being assigned to kennel cleaning duty in the military’s K9 unit. Eventually she is put in charge of training Rex, an extremely aggressive German Shepard. The two find that they both needed a little discipline and grow to understand each other.

Soon after, Megan is suddenly deployed to Iraq with her combat canine to sniff out bombs. (In real life, the pair completed more than 100 missions). When an IED explosion injures both of them, Megan is sent back home and Rex is assigned to a new trainer — but she won’t give up until she can adopt Rex and bring him home to live out the final years of his life with her.

It’s a fantastic true tale that’ll be a surefire hit with animal lovers (and women too), but it’s also something audiences rarely see: a military drama with great warmth. It’s not political, it’s not religious (as so many military movies are nowadays) — it’s just a good, old fashioned, all-American story.

There are some heavy undertones present, like the brief mention of PTSD that’s suffered by our soldiers of both the two legged and four legged variety, but the movie never gets too serious and instead chooses to go the uplifting route. Criticize that if you want, but the story is well told and stirring, and it manages to avoid the trap of launching into a sappy, overly melodramatic, clichéd mess. Yes, Megan “finds herself” by finding love and a special bond with her dog, but nothing about Gabriela Cowperthwaite‘s direction or Pamela Gray‘s script feels hollow or hokey.

The performances radiate the utmost sincerity. I found myself fully invested in all of the characters, including Bradley Whitford and Edie Falco as Megan’s estranged parents, Common as her military boss, and Tom Felton and Ramon Rodriguez as two fellow soldiers.

Regardless of how you feel about our military, this movie will give you the highest respect for our servicemen and women and it may even make you want to stand up and cheer. And animal lovers: don’t forget those Kleenex.

“Jackie”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Jackie” is a film that is intended to be an intimate portrait of the iconic, fashionable and strong willed Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman), offering a twist on the story by setting it during the days following her husband’s assassination. The idea behind the screenplay is a good one, but the movie is damaged by a vague cloud of selective history and is at times uncomfortably overacted by Portman.

All in all it’s a good turn for the Oscar winner (for 2010’s “Black Swan”), but it feels like she is trying so hard to win as many awards as possible with this role that it sharply turns into something that’s more campy than eloquent. My measuring stick is that it’s not truly great acting if it doesn’t look effortless, and Portman’s performance seems strained and labored, the actress trapped inside the real-life quirks of her character. There’s plenty of crying and grief-yelling and chain smoking, if you catch my drift.

Little about Pablo Larraín‘s direction worked for me, with lots of lingering close-ups and so many slowly zooming shots that it promptly became too noticeable and irritating. The film rambles a bit too much and plays with its own nonlinear timeline, drifting between scenes that offer a truly compelling look at what it must’ve been like to live as the First Lady when your husband is murdered right in your arms and pure overindulgent filler. (Jackie trying on beautiful outfits while listening to the “Camelot” soundtrack tried my patience almost more than any other scene in any other film in recent memory).

Even worse is composer Mika Levi’s original score. It is so god-awful that you have to hear it to believe it. The score changes dramatically, starting with a perplexing “woooomp” of a somber trombone, but then morphing into an inappropriate cheerfulness when Jackie has to break the tragic news to her kids that their dad is dead.

The reenactments of the horrific historical moments will leave a lump in your throat, but for every touching memoir there’s five times the amount of bloated filler in the script. While I enjoyed seeing Jackie interacting with Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), their scenes together are so frequently repeated that the emotional impact is lessened. There’s also bit too much emphasis placed on the gimmicky religious discussion that Jackie has with a priest (John Hurt). It’s unnecessary and slows the film’s momentum, as do the constant flashbacks into the past as well as back to present day.

This bottled up biopic of restrained grief, trauma and faith isn’t an awful movie, but its failures lie in what it could’ve been. I would mildly recommend it to American history buffs.

“Christine”

LOUISA:  3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Christine” dramatizes the tragic true story of Florida television news reporter Christine Chubbuck, a young woman who, in the summer of 1974, pulled out a gun and shot herself in the head live on the air. While the biopic is based on this grisly and horrific event, it never feels too exploitative towards its subject and instead offers a glimpse into the personal life of a seriously damaged and depressed human being.

Rebecca Hall has been almost universally lauded for her lead performance, and rightfully so. She is perfectly cast as Chubbuck, portraying her with an insecure, off-putting and confrontational style. She is completely believable as an overly ambitious yet troubled and insecure young woman living with untreated depression, a condition that’s accurately reflected in her awkward, slouched stance and sudden temper tantrums directed at her child-like mother Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), perfectly coiffed anchorman crush George (Michael C. Hall), and boss Michael (played by the phenomenal Tracy Letts, who also gave another one of the most memorable performances of the year in “Indignation“).

Letts and Hall play perfectly off each other, and the very best scenes in the film are when the two argue over his insistence on more sensational, bloody, and juicy stories in an attempt to bring in higher ratings. There’s only one tearful scene where Hall succumbs to some over-the-top overacting, but she manages to maintain a steady pace throughout most of the film — not an easy feat when the most effective aspects of this nuanced performance are the things that are left unsaid.

Antonio Campos directs with a sharp, focused style that’s packed with retro visuals and an impeccable attention to period detail. The film looks like it was shot in the 1970s, with cinematographer Joe Anderson lending a handsome look through soft, muted lighting and a straightforward color palate of orange, gold and brown. The look of the film accurately reflects the uneasy feeling of the film; you can sense the overwhelming angst, dread, and despair, and this movie is designed to make the viewer feel uncomfortably distressed. Unfortunately, the disappointing script (written by Craig Shilowich) clashes with the direction, and the film suffers from mediocre, uninspired writing. So much more could’ve been done with the story, and the film could’ve been great if only it had a better screenplay.

The brilliantly framed and directed final sequence of “Christine” is a real scene stealer, and one that reminds audiences that they just actively participated as a willing voyeur by watching a version of a true horror movie. There’s so much tension in the final 3 minutes that my pulse was racing, I instantly felt queasy, and I broke out in a sweat. With the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” theme song making a prominent appearance, it’s the perfect commentary on not only the sexist newsroom culture of yesteryear, but the “if it bleeds, it leads” media culture of today.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“I Saw the Light”

LOUISA:    3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

All musical biopics are roughly the same: they attempt to paint a portrait of a tortured genius who either has problems with past demons, alcohol, drugs, women, violence (or a deadly combination of all of the above), which leads to a tragic, untimely demise. Even those unfamiliar with musician Hank Williams will probably know what to expect in “I Saw the Light,” a very simplistic and sparse retelling of the life of the country crooner. The main problem with the film is that main subject’s life was, well, pretty boring.

Unexpectedly strong performances from the stellar cast (including Tom Hiddleston as Williams, Elizabeth Olsen as his first wife Audrey, Bradley Whitford as the legendary Fred Rose, Cherry Jones as his protective yet overbearing mother Lillie, and an all too short cameo from David Krumholtz as a newspaper reporter), keep the film afloat. Who knew Hiddleston could sing and play guitar? He more than simply pulls it off here: he is completely believable in all respects, right down to the cowboy strut and the flawless Southern accent (he even pronounces ‘pecan’ in the correct way)!

Not only is this film well acted, I thought it was incredibly well directed by Marc Abraham. The film looks and feels gorgeous, full of creative shots and staging. Abraham successfully constructs a style that never becomes tiresome or stale (how many other biopics can you say that about)? The scenes are creatively staged in a way to make the audience feel like they are right there in the heart of the action, watching music history being made. It’s one of the best directed biopics I’ve ever seen, which makes it even more of a shame that no big awards are likely in this film’s future.

As someone who loves all genres of music (yes, even classic country), I was hoping for more from this film. It’s good but it could’ve been so much better. Instead of briefly presenting numerous snapshot moments in Hank’s life, I would’ve rather seen a more focused storyline. This overly long movie meanders all over the place, with scene after scene of hard drinkin’, heartache cryin’, hollerin’ and fightin’, and let’s not forget the holy grail in the life of a country music icon: lots and lots of cheatin’.

Thankfully there are musical interludes thrown in for good measure (once Williams gets to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, the movie picks up steam — only to quickly lose all the momentum it gained). The final moments of Williams’ life are beautifully handled, as is the reaction to his tragic death at the age of 29.

The film gets you into the heart of the characters, but the characters are just too dull to make any lasting impact.


Matt was unavailable for review.