Archive for the Biopic Category

AMADEUS, Milos Forman (1984)

Posted in Biopic, Drama with tags , , , on July 17, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Unable to  count the times I’ve seen this film nor the places where I’ve seen it, I just can tell you they’ve been many.

Years passing, I’m more aware of the movie genres I prefer, and period ones are not my favorites, to be honest, although got to admit, I really like some on them. Amadeus is the clearest example.

I’m a music lover, and can appreciate classical stuff, and even enjoy some operas, but I seldom listen to any, prefer rock or folk music, I find it more direct and make me feel more alive. Still, I’ve loved Mozart’s The Magic Flute since I was a kid.

The story of Amadeus is seen from Salieri’s (F. Murray Abraham) experience, which gives a more personal, subjective and moody tone to it. Salieri was the other composer working for the king in Vienna, quite established, he was always left aside, eclipsed by the born nature talent of his colleague Mozart (Tom Hulce), something he’s never able to accept nor overcome, turning his frustration into hatred towards God and the musician, and consequently moving him to focus on humiliating and destroy his enemy’s reputation and life.

Thus, through the eyes of Salieri, rise, decline and fall of Mozart are depicted in this film.

Milos Forman really found the perfect combination to tell us a history, which without Salieri’s presence, probably would had failed straight away.

The starting point is simply awesome. Salieri tries to kill himself cutting his throat unsuccessfully and he’s immediately checked-in into an asylum. Once there, as no therapists really existed, the closest option to release all his frustration and justify why he wanted to die so badly, was by means of confession, to a poor young priest.

Following the logic timeline, there are some interruptions by the narrator, so the most remarkable moments in Mozart’s life, witnessed by the envious composer, are detailed, avoiding extra expendable stuff.

Salieri shows a party time young composer, who doesn’t care much about money, and loves women, booze and fun. Trespassing royal etiquette constantly, the king seems to to worry about much, something that a straight and religious person such as Salieri, cannot stand.

The composer eventually puts an end to his Christian worship, unable to understand why God does not punish Mozart for his actions, nor helps him to get the grace of the king. At this point, Salieri will constantly pulling the strings to defeat Mozart and drive him to failure, by means of cheating, spying and a key element for putting his revenge into work, the Achilles’ heel of Wolfie: his father.

Relationship between father and son had never been a tender one. Leopold (Roy Dotrice), was a strong character, who brought up Wolfgang in a very strict and disciplined way. Thus in Vienna, when the young composer was away from his father’s influence started enjoying pleasures of life, self-indulging. Once Leopold settles with his son and his small family, arguments among him and his daughter in law, Constanze, become regular, affecting Wolfie tremendously.

Salieri, observing, calculating and analyzing Mozart’s situation, keeps waiting, until the piece is ready to be hunted.

And eventually this moment arrives with the death of Leopold Mozart. Banned from the Royal court, Wolfie’s financial situation is as bad as his deteriorated physical condition, and needs money badly. His so called friend, Emanuel Shickaneder, requests him  to compose an opera for middle-low class, a singspiel, combining singing and spoken parts, in exchange for few money, he’ll receive payment after the release of the work.

At this point, Salieri starts the machine for his revenge, and dressed in black with a sinister and threatening mask, same outfit he saw Leopold wearing at a mask party, and acquainted with all the familiar situation, thanks to a maid he contracted for spying the Mozarts, knocks at the door entrusting him the task of writing a mass for a death person, a requiem. No need to say, this assignment will become an obsession.

And this is the part I love most, as a consequence of all the envy that moves Salieri to become a worthless human being.

Parents are more influent over their children than we think, and many childhood traumas mark our personalities in such way as to affect personal relationships and our daily living. As depicted in the film, Leopold had a strong personality, characterized by righteousness and discipline, demanding too much from his son. Obviously the father figure became an obsession when Mozart’s physical and mental condition was at stake. Seems that, on one hand, Wolfie feared his father, and on the other, he was constantly seeking for his approval. The Requiem, was a torture and some sort of penitence act to be forgiven by his dead father, a burden he wasn’t able to face and overcome, an eventually meant his own death.

Regarding Salieri, I was discussing on his behavior with a friend just today. He said somehow he understood his behavior as an act of frustration. A straight hard working man, trying his utmost to be talented and recognized publicly in Vienna, whose main obstacle in achieving his goals is a frivolous young Mozart, with amazing skills and such amazing ability to create on the go, as to catch everyone’s eye. Needless to say, the composer was sick of this man and lost his faith in God, not understanding such injustice. Once this accepted, thanks to the lack of discipline of Mozart, Salieri starts a game of discrediting him subtly in the eyes of the king, humiliating and blackmailing Constanze, and eventually driving the genius to such exhaustion  and insanity as to force him to work in his deathbed. Despite all his efforts to get some satisfaction with all this, Salieri will end up his days frustrated for not getting the satisfaction he was looking for so badly. Guess living with such heavy burden on your back for the rest of your days must not be the best for your state of mind.

Amadeus is a story of admiration turned into envy, frustration, vengeance and regret. The way events follow, you start feeling pity for Salieri, and in the end you finish sympathizing with poor Wolfie, so focused on pleasing his dead father as to being unable to realize someone, closer than he could ever imagine, was manipulating his life and fate to fatal consequences.

Plot and its development are simply perfect, performance of F. Murray Abraham is impressive, musical part outstanding…I only got positive words for this film. Two thumbs up for Amadeus.

THE RUNAWAYS, Floria Sigismondi (2010)

Posted in Biopic, Drama, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by Toi Brownstone

First things first. The Runaways were the very first female wild rock band and their influence has prevailed over the years, no matter their story was very short.  Joan Jett is a kind of myth for rock lovers, she’s an icon, and is great she’s still rocking on stage. I had the opportunity to see her in a very brief show supporting Alice Cooper and was fantastic.

Once this said, let’s talk about the biopic based on Cherie Currie’s book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. Considering the source and the fact that Joan Jett was deep involved in the project you can quickly guess two things: first, there’s money behind, good budget enough to count on one of the most promising actresses or let’s say the most active young actresses nowadays, such as Kristen Stewart, and second, it won’t be an objective story for obvious reasons. Still, a biopic of such an explosive band of chicks able to reach rockin’ heaven but with such short story left, definitely is worth watch it, although it takes a risk  too, with Hollywood empire behind.

The story starts nonconformist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart)  trying to learn how to play electric guitar, facing a society on which girls were sort of banned from rock n’ roll environment. She approaches Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), an eccentric man in business, insisting on what to support a female rock band would mean in terms of success. Although he initially rejects the idea, he’ll be keeping in touch with her checking from time to time on the progress of the project. First Joan and drummer Sandy Maest will start jamming in an abandoned caravan until they’re able to call Fowley’s attention. Once he gets involved, he will assist to put up the band together and will monitor everything, but will realize there’s a missing piece to start succeeding.

That missing piece turns out to be Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), a 15-year-old kid devoted to David Bowie, her main influence in all senses. Her charming attitude and appearance make her unique, and both Jett and Fowley won’t have any doubt she’d be the perfect lead singer.

Once the band is settled and ready, they will hit the road in not the most recommendable conditions for jail bait girls, not reaching 18 years old. They soon will be seduced by drugs, booze and sex, especially Cherrie, completely out of control. Touring non- stop, they will get a record deal, and the spiral of success and debauchery will start recklessly with consequences.

I enjoyed the film up to some point. On one hand work on costumes, the way the girls look and rehearsal and stage performances are amazingly recreated. Both Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning play the roles quite decent, and you actually enjoy their performances.

But I find many buts though. What I consider completely unfair is not focusing as much on the band as on Cherrie and Joan. What happens with Lita Ford? She’s also an icon in rock music, everybody knows  who she is, and the only information we got about her is that at some point she quarrels with Cherrie. It’s like the band just formed once Jett had composed a couple of songs with the drummer, and that’s not accurate at all.

Unfortunately the story of the Runaways gets distorted caused mainly for focusing on the love story between Joan Jett and Cherrie Currie and the incredible drug abuse by these still kids.

If you really think about it, teenage girls touring the US and even Japan without adult supervision can only mean trouble and, linked to rock, excess in all senses. And that’s what happened to Cherie Currie, she was completely wasted just with 16 years old, hooked up on drugs, constantly overdosing, and developing an unbearable diva attitude, the others couldn’t stand. This kind of situation would be impossible nowadays.

On the other hand Joan Jett, balancing success and excess with music talent, and working hard to keep in music business, as she’s still nowadays. From the very beginning that morbid curiosity of the audience regarding her sexual condition immediately is made clear. Jett is lesbian, and yes, she and Cherie Currie had sexual contact, a fact which is reflected on the film and apparently has become of major interest the two young actresses appear kissing each other.

The aesthetics in the film is of great importance. We’re in front of a mainly visual product, above any dialogue, which are actually very limited and poor, focusing on musical performances, hallucinating effects of drugs… all accurately placed in order to highlight chaos and debauchery. Sometimes it also reminded me of Velvet Goldmine, and don’t think is a silly impression, as Floria Sigismondi, the film director, has worked with Bowie in some videos and many other artists. No doubt she was the right choice in terms of visual aspects, and why not? Being a woman encouraged the project even more.

Unfortunately I think with this film audience won’t realize the importance of a band such as the Runaways back in their time and what their work would mean not only  in the history of rock n’ roll but also in the emerging participation and proliferation of female bands. At the end of the day, for me, devoted to music, it’s hard to admit that women in rock are difficult to succeed, depending on the direction you take, but be sure you’ll always be judged no matter the role you take. Being in such an honest mood I got to admit I don’t usually like female bands, but those I like, I’m a diehard fan: L7, Heart, The Donnas

Anyway, from time to time a rock biopic is always welcome, but unfortunately I don’t consider they’re well developed and always focus on same topics, sex and drugs, decadence and fall. It’s true most times it happens like that, but certain things cannot be avoided and are necessary to understand many things.

No doubt the best is the soundtrack, highly recommendable, the movie, after my deep thinking, entertaining.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Mel Gibson (2004)

Posted in Biopic, Drama with tags , , on February 23, 2010 by Toi Brownstone

I’m positive Mel Gibson wanted to do something meaningful for the religion he’s declared to have so much faith in. Thus, he delivered The Passion of the Christ, focused on the agony Christ suffered as his ultimate sacrifice for saving the human kind. We’ve seen many adaptations on his life and miracles, why was this one accompanied by so much controversy? Was it because of the explicit scenes or because everybody knows Gibson’s social and political attitudes and was to be punished? 

Guess it’s not necessary to focus on the plot, Gibson portraits the latest hours of Jesus (Jim Caviezel), after the last supper, when he’s betrayed by Juda, to his last breath and resurrection, only interrupted by few flashbacks. Devil has its place, as the temptation surrounding Jesus, waiting for him to fail to God’s will. 

It’s obvious for me that Gibson’s main aim by this film was to recover people’s faith in God and His son, showing a cruel view of Jesus’ huge sacrifice, him as the ultimate martyr. This film is pure Catholic propaganda, however, because of the explicit content, everybody rejected it, labeling it as a gore film. 

The truth it that The Passion of the Christ is tough, but it’s an adaptation of a story accepted worldwide, then why such criticism? I can understand old people can’t stand the view of Jesus beaten almost to death, they are easily affected and have lived these values in a more delicate and innocent way, not really aware about such suffering. But nowadays, feeling scandalized by torture on a movie when you switch on TV and always find terrorist acts, people torture for real, murder, violence enough to get depressed? What’s the difference? The answer is that people suffering for real are anonymous and Jesus is a symbol. 

I don’t question if Jesus really existed, but I understand he’s a figure for many, but it’s shocking how idealized his Death has become. For God’s sake, he was nailed to a cross and hang out to die, that’s not the ideal of death I have in my mind. Did Gibson recreate on torture? Sure, I could feel in my stomach a knot with every lash Jesus received. What was his purpose? Just to show everybody he received capital punishment totally unfair, being Jesus an innocent guy whose only guilt was to spread the message that people were not alone, that God was there, aware of their suffering, and that we had to love each other and stop treating our neighbor like an animal. 

Anyway, portraying Christ is a difficult task, vision of him is very narrow and whenever violence or sex are being linked to him, critics and general public jump over the film fiercely…remember The Last Temptation of Christ before? It happened exactly the same. People are so narrow minded, we can only conceive Jesus as the Good Shepherd, pure, cast and humble. Sorry, but this is the typical attitude and vision I was learnt to live at school that as soon as I started growing up didn’t embrace any longer. Reality is tough, raw and cruel, so is the story of Jesus.

ELVIS (THE EARLY YEARS), James Steven Sadwith 2005

Posted in Biopic, Drama with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2009 by Toi Brownstone

elvisfirstyears

I’m suffering from Elvismania lately and need to feed my curiosity with as much stuff of the King as possible.

I’ve started by reading the first part of a biography by Peter Guralnick called Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, which covers his childhood, teenage years and his rise to stardom until the military service period. I highly recommend this book if you want to learn from his early figure as a shy and humble character willing to learn and to please everyone, especially his parents, Vernon and Gladys.

I’ll keep on reading Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, by same author, which has been described as a masterpiece.

In the meantime I’m enjoying amazing shows such as ’68 Comeback Special, Aloha From Hawaii, The Lost Performances, and any documentary about the King, such as Elvis By the Presley’s, the Last 24 hours…everything I’m able to find.

We discovered this movie by chance, although it counts with famous actors seems that wasn’t advertised nor promoted at all, moreover instead of a proper film, it it more addressed to be one of these crappy telefilms to be broadcasted after lunch for not very critic audience.

Elvis, aka the Early Years, reviews in almost 3 hours the rising of Elvis into stardom, from the humble teenager discovered by Sam Phillips by chance to become the first and most prominent music superstar the history has witnessed, the army period, his years in Hollywood and eventually the point of inflection in his career, the ’68 Comeback Special.

Not only his artistic career was interesting but also his personal life and circumstances to understand who Elvis really was. He’s the most outstanding example of what the expression “from rags to riches” means: he grew up in a very poor family with constant economic problems due to Vernon’s difficulties in keeping a job, constantly moving from one house to another, brought up in a very religious environment, and overprotected by his mother, Gladys. His main aim was taking care of his folks and provide them as many commodities as possible, he lived in constant fear of turning back to where he came from, which probably caused him to depend on a slavery rich way of life, accepting any kind of deals his manager Colonel Tom Parker offered in order to save  huge amounts of money in his bank account which allowed him to carry an extravagant way of life but at the same time contributed to make him more lonesome and miserable.

Elvis in his golden lame suit

Elvis in his golden lame suit

Also relationships with women are reflected in the movie, however only 3 are more outstanding: Dixie, his first love from before he started to become a star; Priscilla, whose relationship started in Germany during his military service when she was 14 and who’d eventually become his wife and mother of his only child Lisa Marie; and Ann-Margret, a famous wild and rebel actress who co-started one of Elvis’ movies and apparently had an affair.

The subjects of loneliness and loyalty which are constant concerns for Elvis are also depicted in the film.

I could tell more and more about the plot, the actual life of Elvis Presley, but I prefer to encourage you not only to watch a film if you can get a bit more acquainted with Elvis both the figure and the person but also to read Guralnick’s books, which I think have inspired this telefilm, for many of the most outstanding moments in the movie are exactly the same as how are told by the writer.

My opinion is divided regarding the movie, which I considered to be not a bad summary of Elvis’ early years connected to Guralnick’s biography, but the telefilm concept kills all the essence of the story. I don’t know how to explain it what you notice it’s been film differently with not as many devices as with a proper film, and even though it counts with actors such as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Elvis), Rose McGowan (Ann-Margret), Randy Quaid (Col. Tom Parker) or Robert Patrick (Vernon Presley) you witness and overacted film with not much quality in performances and not good acting in dramatic scenes. Of course, there are certain sentences which are taken from actual sources but script cannot be considered one of the best.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers seems a bad choice for Elvis’ role to me, especially for two main reasons: he always overacts and is too much effeminate. Period.

Well, this is obviously not the most desired Elvis’ biopic by his die-hard fans but I reckon it would be  a risky enterprise which could fall into Hollywood commercial targets forgetting about who he actually was and focusing on a superficial story  similar to Johnny Cash’s biopic Walk the Line.