Category Archives: Biopic

American Gangster (2007)

 The man I worked for had one of the biggest companies in New York City. He didn’t own his own company. White man owned it, so they owned him. Nobody owns me, though.

— Frank Lucas

I have previously watched American Gangster when an aunt loaned me the DVD of the movie. I watched a third of the movie when I stopped, because it was too long for me to pay any attention to it. I knew that the movie was nominated for two Oscars including a Best Supporting Actress nom for Ruby Dee for her five-minute role and for Best Art Direction. Watching the movie against almost made root for the bad guy… almost.

Harlem 1968. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) mourns the death of Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III) who was a surrogate father to him. Bumpy was Frank’s teacher for dealing with the gangster life, especially for a black man in those times. Frank wants to take over in Bumpy’s place, but do things a little better. He wants to get the best product, which was cocaine to give to the people of Harlem. He wants to show his dominance with the other gangsters of the neighborhood like Tango (Idris Elba) who treats Frank like a servant and Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who is all talk and no bit.

At the same time, an undercover cop, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) tries to be on the straight and narrow in a sea of corruption in the police department. Richie’s partner, Javier Rivera (John Ortiz) discovered a car that had almost a million dollars in it. John wants to keep some of the money, but Richie wants to do the right thing and turn them all in. he Richie is not the most popular cop in the precinct. He is going to night school to get his law degree and having to pay child support to his ex-wife, Laurie (Carla Cugino).

There is a crooked cop, Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) who confiscated drugs from busts, water them down and sell them back to the bad guys for a profit. He wants to get some hush-hush money from Frank, but Frank doesn’t want to be another police lackey.

Opium and heroin are on the rise during this time and about goes to Bangkok to get the purest heroin that he could find. He finds it and sells it on the street as “Blue Magic” for dirt cheap. With the money from selling the 100 kilos of heroin, he buys a home for his Mama (Ruby Dee) and the rest of his family. Frank decides to expand his business and include his brothers in the process.

Meanwhile, Richie is hand selected to lead a special group of DEA agents to help bring down the drug trafficking ring. their first target is Frank Lucas.

The movie came with the theatrical version and the unrated version. I wanted to see the theatrical version, because it was short. The movie is 2:45 at least. That is a lot of movie about a bad guy selling drugs to his own people. The unrated version would make it three hours. No thanks. I was able to take the movie. there were some good moments in the movie that was bogged down by filler scene that I could do without.

Judgment: It’s interesting to see a movie about a black gangster, but I wish that it was a tighter story.

Rating: 7/10

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

 People say that if you don’t love America, then get the hell out. Well, I love America.

— Ron Kovic

Memorial Day was a while ago and I wanted to see the picture that nabbed Tom Cruise his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Born on the Fourth of July. I saw this a while ago, but I haven’t had the chance to write the review until now. The movie did win Oliver Stone the Best Director Oscar.

Based on the true story of Ron Kovic (Cruise), a man who comes from an extremely religious background, was a wrestler in high school and wanted to be part of something greater than himself. When a Marine Corps recruiter shows up at the school, Ron almost jumps at the chance of signing up and going to fight in Vietnam.

The action cut to Ron’s second tour when his platoon shot up a Vietcong village, but they accidentally killed women and children. They realize that it was ruse for the Vietcong to have the opening salvo on the Americans. During the confusion of sand and bullets, Ron ends up shooting one of his fellow soldiers, PFC Wilson (Michael Compotaro). Ron tries to confess what happened, but his superiors brush the incident under the rug.

In another altercation, Ron is shot in the foot and then in the upper chest, paralyzing him from the mid-chest down. He resides in a VA hospital in the Bronx that looks like a slum then a place for veterans. When he returns to his childhood home, he becomes angry that people are indifferent about the war and what it represents to the country.

The main reason for this review is for the next LAMB Acting School 101, Willem Dafoe. Willem has a small part as a confidant of Ron, Charlie, when Ron lives in Villa Dulce, Mexico. A place where disabled veterans stays, get drunk and have sex with hookers. Charlie questions Ron about what really happened to him in the war and questions everything that Ron believed in.

I was expected to be blown away with Tom Cruise’s performance. I saw glimpses of it, but not that much to keep me interested in it. I have seen a lot of Vietnam movies. It’s like all of them are blurring into one. This particular story is not that intriguing to me and I found myself bored with it. It seems shallow and it doesn’t explore what happens to a person when they come back from the war.

Judgment: I wish I had some glowing words to say about this movie, but I don’t.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Today and tomorrow I cast out demons and work cures. On the third day, I will be perfected.

— Jesus

 

After the rapture did not happen last week, I wanted to see the controversial Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The only thing that I have heard is the controversy of having Jesus portrayed as a flawed mortal and not the savior most people know. I didn’t realize that it received the Criterion treatment, but I knew that it was nominated for a single Oscar for Best Director. I think that I would have had a strong reaction back then instead of now.

Based on the 1960 Nikos Kazantzakis novel, the movie is a fictionalized account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth (Willem Dafoe). Jesus is a mortal living his life as a carpenter living with his mother, Mary (Verna Bloom). He is haunted by bouts of fainting spells, widespread pain all over his body and the voices he hears. He doesn’t know if it’s God or the Devil talking to him.

His best friend, Judas (Harvey Keitel) visits him to ask him why is he building crosses for Roman so they could crucify his fellow Jews. Jesus takes pity on the people that he has sent on the cross. The villagers think that he is a traitor and should be killed for his actions. Whenever he walks across the town with the cross, people throw rocks at him. He is spat upon by Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), the local prostitute.

Jesus continues to hear the voices speaking to him. He is conflicted because he doesn’t want to be the messiah. Jesus tries to make God hate him so he could make another person the messiah. He is afraid of every aspect of his life.

He wants to seek forgiveness from Mary Magdalene before Jesus sets off on his journey for absolution. She doesn’t understand why he couldn’t love her and she does for him. While he was purified on his sins, he tries to preach the word of God, but he is not the best speaker to deliver God’s message.

Meanwhile, Judas is sent to kill Jesus, but he doesn’t. He decides to join him on his ultimate mission with the apostles to preach God’s message to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus makes some selfish decisions that could ultimately effected the course of his purpose on Earth.

My first thoughts of this movie are that , why is Harvey Keitel in this movie? He has his regular accent in B.C. Israel. Say what? Ever heard of a dialect coach? I felt like the story was not intriguing enough for me to invest my time with it. Let me tell you, it was a lot of time. The movie is 2 1/2 hours long. I did not feeling anything with the movie. If you have been a regular reader of my blog, then you know that I am not a religious person. Organized religion bothers me that I have to be this person and not myself.

I wish that the movie would have provoked a response, but I think that people are not as easily offended today then they were twenty years ago.

Judgment: This movie should have been dumped into the Dead Sea where it belongs.

Rating: 3/10

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

The four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Of these, I call your attention to two: air and fire. Though it is your privilege to live in the air, you will die by fire.

— Major Sherman Joy

The Tuskegee Airmen was a made for television movie for HBO back in 1995. I never heard of the movie back then, but the film was nominated for many Emmy awards. I wanted to learn more about the historic 332nd fighter squadron when I traveled through Tuskegee, Alabama on the Greyhound.

In 1942, a young pilot trainee, Hannibal “Iowa” Lee Jr. (Laurence Fishburne) has been drafted into a special government program to let Negroes fly Army fighter planes for the US. He meets others on the train to Tuskegee, Alabama like the cocky Billy “Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and a licensed pilot Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne).

Upon arriving at the base, they are greeted by their commanding officer, Colonel Noel Rogers (Daniel Hugh Kelly), Major Sherman Joy (Christopher McDonald) and their liaison officer (Courtney B. Vance).

They are in for a rude awakening when Major Joy thinks that Negroes are not capable enough to fly a fighter jet. He wants to make them fail by any means necessary. It seems to be what is going on as 1/3 of the cadets were gone when they were halfway through the training. One particular cadet’s death rattles the spirits of Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner).

Not to be deterred from the ultimate goal of graduating, the cadets exceed all expectations to be the the very first Negro pilots to serve in World War II. Their time to celebrate may be short-lived as Senator Conyers (John Lithgow) wants tp dismantle the program, because of unfounded evidence to their ability ti fly the planes.

I am glad that I watched this movie. I learned a part of history that is not taught in schools. We hear the name “Tuskegee Airmen”, but we never get the chance to see what they have done, what they accomplish. I thought the performances were stupendous across the board. I have to give a special mention to Laurence Fishburne who was nominated for a Best Actor Emmy and Andre Braugher who was nominated for his convincing role of Benjamin O. Davis in the Supporting Actor Category.

Judgment: It takes you on the journey of these men without boring you with facts and figures.

Rating: 8/10

Talk to Me (2007)

 I’ll tell it to the hot, I’ll tell it to the cold. I’ll tell it to the young, I’ll tell it to the old. I don’t want no laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin’. This is Petey Greene’s Washington.

— Petey Greene

I did not mean for this to be a Kasi Lemmon’s double feature, but I was taken aback when I saw her name as the director of Talk to Me. I vaguely remember the movie when it was in theaters in 2007. It seemed like a nice enough movie, but I never got the nerve to watch until now. I’m glad I did.

An uptight radio program director, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) visits his brother, Milo (Mike Epps) in prison. He comes out of obligation. They overhear an abrasive voice coming over the loudspeaker. It belongs to do Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, Jr. (Don Cheadle) who is broadcasting his show out of Warden Smithers (Peter MacNeill) office. Milo has been writing Dewey about Petey.

The station that Dewey works for, WOL is sagging listenership and is looking for a new deejay to replace Sunny Jim Kelsey (Vondie Curtis-Hall) in the morning shift. Dewey doesn’t like Petey’s delivery and tries to leave the prison. Dewey is cornered by Petey’s main squeeze, Vernell (Taraji P. Henson) to give him a chance when he gets out of the joint.

Dewey blindly agree to it. When Petey is released from prison and come barging through the doors asking for the job, Dewey acts stupid about it. After not getting the position, Petey decides to protest the station doors until he could get the position. Dewey asks the station owner, Mr. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) to give him an opportunity.

After a shaky start, Petey becomes a prominent voice of the black community during the civil rights movement in the late 60s. No other station was talking about black issues at the time. People needed to hear the stories that are happening in their community.

I was laughing my ass off with this movie. Don Cheadle has a delivery that make you believe that he is this character. I enjoyed the way that Petey told it like it is. He didn’t give a damn about who he offended. Some things needed to be said. I loved that. Chiwetel Ejiofor was great as Dewey. He even won the Indie Spirit Award for his performance. It was well-deserved.

Judgment: I love watching a story about a person that I never heard of and I would like to get the chance to know more.

Rating: 8/10

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Will I be with You tonight in Paradise?

— Joan of Arc

Here is another movie that would suggested by Michael Vox from the Cinebanter podcast, the #211 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I am familiar with Dreyer after reviewing one of his previous films, Vampyr for 1001 Film Club. I heard about the story of how the original cut of the movie was banned then burned in a fire and this movie was found in a mental institution. I am so glad that it was found.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film that was restored from footage found the Norwegian mental institution and was released in 1985. The movie dramatized the trail of the young martyr, Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti) where she was charged with heresy.

She is called to a tribunal of judges to discuss her intentions. As you can see when watching the movie, she is not the figure we know from the history books, but a young woman in her late teens doing a mission from God to save France from the English.

During the line of questioning, she reveals that St. Michael appeared to her to give her the mission she must do. Dress like a man to prepare for the incoming battle ahead to save her eternal soul.

The judges want Joan to confess her sins so she could be saved from burning at the stake. They would go to any means to ensure that this young woman who cannot read or write would confess her sins. The judges believe that she is a soldier of the Devil instead of God. As you know from history, you know what happens in the end.

I was shocked about the footage that was recovered. It does not feel like a movie from 1920s. The digital transfer of the print was remarkable to say the least. The score that accompanied the movie was so moving.

I have to say that Falconetti as Joan of Arc was a sight to behold. She had this deranged look in her eyes, but it was effective. She was a crying mess during the movie, but you felt her pain. Those eyes told a lot without hearing what the actors had to say. Wow.

My rule of thumb for watching silent movies is to watch in the daytime. I did with this movie, but when you have no dialogue, reading subtitles and a haunting operatic score, you have the tendency of drifting off. The movie was only 1 1/2 hours long, but it felt like it was five hours long.

Judgment: This movie is a sight to behold to say the least.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Special Relationship (2010)

I had a taped showing of The Special Relationship on the DVR for a couple of months before I had to delete it. I happened upon the flick when I was flipping through the channels. At first, I thought that the movie was about the relationship that landed Bill Clinton in hot water during the latter part of his second term. I forgot that the movie is about the relationship between Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Yeah! (Branden says sarcastically.)

Starting in 1996, the movie is about newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) having a meeting with US President, Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid). They want to join forces to advance a democratic, progressive way a country is run.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan tried to portray these two political factions from opposite sides of the ocean. It should the everyday lives of the Blairs and Clintons. Their relationship is tested when the Monica Lewinsky scandal reared its ugly head. Clinton thinks that the scandal would die down quickly, but it snowballed out of control.

Usually, I’m not keen on political movies. This movie proves that way of thinking. Does this story need to be told? I lived through that time of the country where the scandal was all on the minds of the media and the country. You would imagine that leaders of the country would be friendly with each other. I felt that I didn’t learn anything from the movie. Maybe the next generation could get some enjoyment out of it.

The only saving grace with this movie is Michael Sheen as Blair, because he has played him in The Queen and the British TV movie, The Deal. He knows the character inside and out. He was believable. Quaid on the other hand was a parody of Clinton. I enjoyed John Travolta’s Clinton-isms in Primary Colors than in this movie. Hope Davis as Hilary Clinton was bland. Nuff said.

Judgment: Skip this flick.

Rating: 3/10

Into the Wild (2007)

I’m going to paraphrase Thoreau here… rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.

— Christopher McCandless

I was always wanted to see the #145 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Into the Wild where people in the movie blogger community was saying that this movie got shafted at the Oscars when it was only nominated in two categories for Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor for Hal Holbrook. People were showering this movie with endless amounts of praise. When I saw the movie was on the shelf at my local library, I jumped at the chance to rent it. After watching the movie, I was thinking to myself what is the big deal.

Bad boy actor, Sean Penn wrote the screenplay and directed the true life story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) based on the book by Jon Krakauer. McCandless came from a privileged life in the early 90s. He graduated from Emory University, but he feels that his parents, Billie and Walt (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt) are living in a superficial world of wealth and affluence. Chris wanted to live in a world where money doesn’t matter.

He decides to sell his possessions, cut up his credit cards, cash out his life saving and abandon his car to hitchhike across the country to find his authentic self. He doesn’t tell his parents or his younger sister, Carine (Jena Malone) about his whereabouts.

The audience gets to see Chris having chance encounters with a hippie couple, Rainey and Jan (Brian H. Dierker, Catherine Keener) in Arizona, working for a farmer, Wayne (Vince Vaughn) in Iowa, meeting  a  girly that crushes on him, Tracy (Kristin Stewart) and a broken war vet, Ron Franz (Holbrook).

I understand that this movie was supposed to talk about living an authentic life, finding yourself in the world and all that. The whole spiel about quoting Thoreau, having the holier-than-thou attitude about other people left a bad taste in my mouth. It is a sad story. If I don’t care about the lead character, why should I care about this movie?

Judgment: The movie was gorgeous to look at, but it felt empty to me.

Rating: 6/10

127 Hours (2010)

You know, I’ve been thinking. Everything is… just comes together. It’s me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock… this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It’s entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It’s been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I’ve been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I’ve taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface.

Aron Ralston

After I was puzzled by the massive success of Danny Boyle’s last directorial effort, Slumbog Shit-in-there, I wanted to see if he could redeem himself with the 219th Film of All-Time on IMDb, 127 Hours. It recently received six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. I was happy that the movie expanded this weekend that I could finally watch it. It is a fantastic film.

Best Actor nominee James Franco plays Aron Ralston who penned the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” after his ordeal. The setting takes place  in April 2003 where Aron is hiking in Moab, Utah where he slips trying to climb Blue John Canyon where he gets his right forearm crush beneath a boulder. As the title suggests, Aron is stuck in the canyon for almost a week with little food and water.

Aron tries in vain to remove the rock from sheer brute strength. Survival mode kicks in where Aron tries to chip away at the rock with a cheap pocketknife that eventually dulls it. As the hours drag on, Aron has to deal with the brutal elements of extreme hot and cold, malnutrition, dehydration and having the sense of claustrophobia. Feeling a sense of his impending doom, Aron uses his video recorder to document his harrowing journey to break free.

Slowly, his mind beings to drift away to his parents played by Treat Williams and Kate Burton, not being in his sister, Sonja’s wedding (Lizzy Caplan), recalling his fling with Rana (Clémence Poésy) and having a chance meeting with lost hikers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn). Soon, Aron has to make a choice between killing a part of himself or killing his whole self.

I have never been so physically moved with a movie that would make me weak in the knees. That’s what this film has made me feel afterwards. It’s no surprise that there is an arm-cutting sense in this movie. I thought that it would more gruesome than it actually was. It was a brief bit of horror on-screen. The film actually made me want to throw up. That has never happened with a gory horror movie. That has to say something about Danny Boyle’s way of directing. His fernetic pace actually work here where Aron is slipping into a claustrophobic madness.

Judgment:  My faith is restored for Danny Boyle. Case closed.

Rating:  *****

The King’s Speech (2010)

Because I bloody well stammer!

— King George VI

Colin Firth is coming into his own as an actor with his nuisanced performance in last year’s A Single Man. He is getting more notice for his latest movie, The King’s Speech. Personally, I thought the movie was going to be a boring movie about British people talking for two hours. It’s a lot more than that. Will it win Best Picture of the year? No. That doesn’t mean that the movie was horrible. It’s a solid movie.

Halfway through this movie, I did not realize that the story was about Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI (Firth). It deals with his struggle with a speech impediment that he has dealt with since he was a little boy. The movie starts in 1924 when he had to give a speech to his fellow countrymen. It does not go very well. He is embarrassed about his stuttering.

During the years afterward, Albert, Duke of York, before he was would be king, tried everything under the sun to get rid of his stutter, including smoking and stuffing his mouth with marbles. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) goes out to search for the perfect speech therapist to help out her frustrated husband. She thinks that she has found him in Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an over-the-hill Australian theater actor. She has to go under the pseudonym of Johnson to not distract their royalty status.

The Duke is skeptical about the unorthodox methods of Mr. Logue. Their first session together is a disaster when Lionel tried to be on a level playing field with The Duke. They wanted to be on a first name basis with the Duke calling him, “Lionel” and Lionel calling The Duke his family nickname, “Bertie.” Bertie reluctantly agree to one session with him and is surprised about what he could do. As their sessions go on, Lionel tries to pinpoint the exact cause of his stuttering.

I don’t know what it is, but I think I have a bias of British movies. Is it because it deals with the monarchy that I have no knowledge of? Is is the accents? The stuffy attire? Who knows? There were some bring points with the movie. Colin Firth is brining his A game here. I have never seen a photo of King George VI and I have no idea what he sounded like during his speech, but I felt fine that he exposed a flaw in the perfect monarchy. Geoffrey Rush’s quirky performance was the standout for me. I thought Helena Bonham Carter was nice, but her character didn’t have much gravitas. She was the doting wife and that’s it. Lastly, it was hilarious to me that Guy Pearce would be playing Firth’s older brother, David.

Judgment: It’s a solid movie about a part of history that we never knew. It tells the story of the unsung hero, Lionel Logue.

Rating: ****

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