Tag: based on true story

Movie Review: Badlands (1973)

Whenever anything, but particularly a film or filmmaker, is hyped at me for an extended period of time, I grow weary of it before I’ve even experienced it. I assume that whatever it is won’t live up to everyone else’s constant praise, because everyone else is stupid. I know. I’m a pretentious dick.

This is essentially what happened to me with Terrence Malick, who seems to be on every movielover’s mind these days with the release of his new film (which I haven’t seen yet, but will soonish). So I figured I might as well watch one of his movies and Badlands seemed as good a place as any to start. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows young lovers Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) on an impromptu killing spree through the northern midwest. Narrating with a dreamy aloofness, Holly recounts their romance and lengthy attempt to hide from the law.

“Dreamy aloofness” is probably how I could describe everything about this movie. Holly is almost clinical in her discussion of Kit’s crimes, which she coolly observes and rarely comments on, content to simply pal around and attempt to act beyond her years. Kit rambles on with an easygoing frankness, sometimes defending his personal philosophy and sometimes just spewing aw-shucks nonsense. The murders themselves usually happen without warning, and there’s little lingering. Malick allows endless prairie landscape and nervous conversations to fill in the gap between deaths, never explicitly dealing with the horrors the audience has witnessed. While it’s clear that Kit is an unhinged killer, he’s not really painted in a bad light, with understandable (sort of) intentions motivating his actions. Holly’s biggest crime is her passivity, never inveighing against Kit for what he’s doing and seemingly never making up her own mind as to whether or not she’s ok with it.

I liked Badlands a lot- it’s got a strong cast (including Warren Oates for like 5 minutes!), lovely cinematography, and naturally fascinating source material. I can see the appeal of a slightly dreamlike, removed look at a real-life killing spree, though it definitely romanticizes the couple. The distance Malick puts between the characters onscreen and his audience is at times too large a space to breach, and the mood didn’t quite work for me. I know it’s his first feature, and I’m looking forward to seeing Tree of Life this week and checking out one or two of his other films, but I guess I still don’t get the obsessive adoration for Malick yet. Badlands is a really good movie, but it doesn’t stand out to me in any special way.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course, there are several other films inspired by the same story, including Natural Born Killers and True Romance, but I would pair this with Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, which features Jake Busey as a homicidal ghost driven to beat Charles Starkweather’s victim count with the help of his girlfriend.

Movie Review: Talk to Me (2007)

Big thanks to DC Girl at the Movies for calling my attention to this excellent film, which I hadn’t even heard of. Talk to Me tells the true story of Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), an ex-con who becomes an extremely successful radio dj in the late 1960’s and 70’s. His rise in the industry is aided by Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a producer for the WOL station in Washington, DC, who becomes his good friend and later manager. Over the course of several years, Petey contends with alcoholism and rabid fans while becoming a spokesperson for civil rights following Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination.

For a good chunk of this movie I just kept thinking, “Damn, that Chiwetel Ejiofor is cute, and also a good actor. Why isn’t he the star of more movies?” He doesn’t exactly steal the show from Don Cheadle, who is lively and raucous as the multi-faceted Greene, but he does fascinate as the more low-key Hughes. He slips between over-serious pretension and unaffected street jive with offputting ease, and I really loved his intelligent and excitable character. Cheadle and Ejiofor are so strong as the leads that it’s easy to forget the excellent supporting work from Taraji P Henson and Martin Sheen, but they are totally great as well. I especially enjoyed Henson’s many rad hairstyles.

With a script that aptly blends heart-wrenching drama, unexpected comedy, and familiar historical events, Talk to Me is an extremely watchable, accessible, and entertaining partial-biopic. The filmmakers smartly reel the central focus away from Greene’s notorious antics on and off-air, choosing instead to highlight the friendship between Greene and Hughes and their effect on one another. All of the historical stuff and music and alcohol problems and activism is still there, but often worked in around their relationship. I didn’t know anything about the real Petey Greene before seeing the film, so I’m not sure how accurate it is, but either way it’s a great film that captures the spirit of a certain place, time, and people while showcasing a complex and interesting friendship. I hope to see more from director Kasi Lemmons soon!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I think it’d make a cool double feature with The Runaways, which gives an insider perspective on another music scene in the 70’s. Plus they’re both directed by ladies! What a coincidence.

Movie Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

Period piece? British monarchy? Colin Firth? Must be a movie I’ll see with my mom at the resident north Jersey indie/foreign release theater that only senior citizens patronize. The King’s Speech tells the true story of King George VI’s (Colin Firth) struggle with a speech impediment as he is forced to make frequent public appearances and broadcasts. The film tracks his later years as prince, both under his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and older brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) as he closely trains with and befriends unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). As World War II approaches George VI (“Bertie” to his friends) must accept his role as king and all the oration that comes with it.

I’m finding myself with little of interest to say about this movie, despite enjoying it a lot. The script is well-paced and features a good mix of realistically humorous and dramatic dialogue. The story is appropriately uplifting while not being over the top. The sets and costumes are lovely and detailed, with a good amount of fog and muted palettes. Of course the performances are the highlight, with excellent supporting turns from Gambon and Helena Bonham-Carter (whose role was far too limited) and impressive leads. Rush and Firth have a palpably close relationship as Lionel and Bertie, and the strength of their interactions is the main pull of the film. I also adored Timothy Spall popping up for a few minutes as Winston Churchill- it was oddly adorable.

It’s predictable, stuffy, sort of glazes over David’s Nazi sympathies, and jumps around in time a bit too much with the requisite montages, but The King’s Speech is a well-made, well-acted drama that still manages to inspire with its interesting true story. There’s not much else to be said. I don’t think it’s Best Picture material but I wouldn’t mind seeing Firth getting a Best Actor win.

4/5
Pair This Movie With: Oh, My Fair Lady, The Princess Diaries, Marie Antoinette… Anything wherein a British person/member of royalty gets a makeover, really.

Movie Review: Made in Dagenham (2010)

So, you know how that dang old Equal Right Amendment is constantly not being ratified, and women can still be paid less than men for doing the same job? Well that was totally also a problem in the 1960’s, in England. The new film Made in Dagenham tracks how the protest of a small group of female factory workers at Ford Britain escalates into a nation-wide strike and forced work stoppage that finally gets the government talking about a gender-equal workers’ wages bill. The strike is led by Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), a dedicated wife and mother who to her own surprise finds herself speaking out and successfully rallying for the cause of her fellow female factor workers. She is met with opposition from Ford executives, self-serving union leaders, and factory employees put out of work due to the strike, but pushes on with the help of her stalwart coworkers, supportive husband (Daniel Mays) and supervisor (Bob Hoskins), and the new Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson).

I was unaware of the actual historical event before this film, so am unsure of how accurate it is, but either way Made in Dagenham is an interesting, well-made, and very well-acted movie. The colorful prints, big hair, and identical neighborhoods effortlessly settled me into 1968 small-town Britain, in a community that makes most of its living off the local Ford factory. Rita is a product of this somewhat narrow-minded, self-sustaining working-class lifestyle, expected to be both a traditional domestic wife and mother as well as a money-earner. Her gradual evolution into a groundbreaking feminist labor rights leader is natural and realistic, with Hawkins giving a fantastically down-to-earth performance. She is fascinating and real, creating a strong, sympathetic, flawed woman who is as believable as she is larger-than-life, working for what to her is the very simple, necessary cause of gender equality.

The supporting cast is excellent as well, with Bob Hoskins completely adorable as the craftily supportive boss and Rupert Graves decidedly American as pragmatic Ford president Peter Hopkins. I loved Rosamund Pike in her too-small role as a passionate historian relegated to being a pretty housewife. Her few scenes are insightful and moving, depicting the struggle many upper-class women went through (and may still experience) as a contrast to Rita’s situation. The real supporting standout is Miranda Richardson, who is just fucking badass as First Secretary of State Barbara Castle, a self-styled “fiery redhead” who gets what she wants and won’t stand for the incompetence and sexism flooding her office.

Made in Dagenham has a fantastic cast and a good story, but takes a while to really get going script- and pacing-wise. I appreciated the light-hearted atmosphere to break up the serious speech-making moments and provide these women with distinct and relatable personalities, but at other points the dialogue is a little too stagey or bombastic. It’s an inspiring and uplifting film- and I won’t say I didn’t get a little teary at the end- but it knows it is and goes overboard once or twice. Nevertheless, it’s a great look at this important moment in history and a superb showcase of Hawkins’ considerable talents, and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s in limited release now, hopefully more people will take notice!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Maybe it’s just the idea of seeing Rosamund Pike in more gorgeous 60s-era outfits, but I think An Education would go well with this.

Further Reading:
Women and Hollywood review

Movie Review: The Social Network (2010)

Remember everybody, Harvard people are kind of jerks. Not to make a sweeping generalization, or anything. Anyway, the much-buzzed-about Fincher/Sorking team-up The Social Network exposes the narcissistic, misogynistic, nerd-istic truth behind the creation of social networking giant Facebook and the multiple lawsuits that followed. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, a talented programmer with a huge ego whose level-headed girlfriend (Rooney Mara) picks up on his pretentious self-obsession and dumps him. In a fit of drunken blogging rage, he invents “Facemash”, a site that allows Harvard students to rank female students’ photos in terms of hotness.

He becomes a school legend overnight and is pegged by wealthy crew-obsessed twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Arnie Hammer) to make a special social networking site for their final club, like a personalized, exclusive Myspace. Zuckerberg instead makes his own site with capital from his only friend Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield), improving upon their ideas and opening it up to Harvard at large. “The Facebook” is an instant success, and as he opens it up to other schools across the country he is sought after by Napster founder Sean Walker (Justin Timberlake) and relocates to California, losing friends and credibility in the process.

Sorkin and Fincher really have done something impressive- they’ve taken the story of an unlikable asshole and made a captivating, complex film that acts as a commentary on the up-and-coming generation. The script is punchy and sleek, filled with those funny, fast-paced Sorkingesque conversations I’d expect, while the direction is stylish and polished. It’s just a really interesting story, and I really didn’t know much about the background of one of the most revolutionary websites of the past few years (loathe as I am to admit its significance).

The performances are excellent. I’m so glad Jesse Eisenberg is starting to come into his own, tackling more interesting and varied roles. Here he somehow makes me feel a tiny bit sorry for a character who is shown many times over to be a complete jerk. Garfield is adorable as Eduardo though his Brazilian accent is questionable. And yeah Justin Timberlake is fine, whatever. The real star of this movie is Arnie Hammer, who is soooo good as the Winklevoss twins.They are the best characters and I sort of wished the whole movie was about them.

As many others have already discussed, this movie is sadly without any good lady character who gets more than 5 minutes of screen time, but let’s face it: this is a movie about a bunch of self-absorbed guys who did things with computers. It’s based on a true story, and while of course I know that various events and participants were adjusted or left out to make for a more interesting movie, I wouldn’t expect the filmmakers to add more women just to make it more even. While I find the lack of good female characters in popular films frustrating (hello, Pixar), it didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the film. Especially since the most sympathetic and likable character is indeed Rooney Mara’s Erica.

The Social Network is a gripping story that roots itself firmly in this particular time, dropping tech references and website management lingo left and right but keeping the focus on the one young man who had a good idea and an unlikable personality, and what he suffered for both. It’ll show old people once and for all that this generation is too smart for its own good and remarkably self-important because of it. I liked it- not necessarily best of the year material but there’s not too much I can fault it for.

4.5/5

Further Reading:
Not Just Movies in-depth analysis
The Flick Chick review
Women and Hollywood review

Pair This Movie With: Ummm I’m drawing a blank on this one… Sports Night?