Category Archives: Biography

Thirteen Lives (2022) Review

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Thirteen Lives

Time: 147 Minutes
Cast:
Viggo Mortensen as Richard Stanton
Colin Farrell as John Volanthen
Joel Edgerton as Richard Harris
Tom Bateman as Chris Jewell
Director: Ron Howard

A rescue mission is assembled in Thailand where a group of young boys and their soccer coach are trapped in a system of underground caves that are flooding.

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I remember hearing the story of the rescue of a youth soccer team in a cave in Thailand back in 2018, and its no surprise that a movie would end up being made based on it. That eventually resulted in one such film directed by Ron Howard. I haven’t seen the documentary about the same event called The Rescue which came out a year earlier, but I liked Thirteen Lives.

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Thirteen Lives is well scripted, the story is simple and is told in a straightforward way. I only knew the very basics of the real story, so some of the reveals and directions the story went in did genuinely surprise me, especially with the methods the divers took to rescue the people from the cave. While it is a dramatization and certain moments might’ve been added in just to raise the tension, it keeps any added melodrama to a minimum. The story didn’t need additional work and speaks for itself. Despite knowing the outcome of the story, the stakes felt high and it was compelling watching everyone come together in an effort to try to save all those lives. There isn’t a lot of character development, as a result I do think that it doesn’t quite have the emotional impact that it is aiming for. This is a long movie at 2 hours and 30 minutes long, and while I was invested in what is going on, it does admittedly overstay its welcome a bit, and is a bit too long.

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One of the strongest aspects was the great acting. Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen are great as the cave divers from the UK who try to rescue the boys. The rest of the cast are strong from (an especially great) Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, and everyone else, down to the actors who play the kids trapped in the cave.

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Ron Howard directs this movie very well and he especially succeeds at making everything feel effectively tense. The cave diving scenes are some of the highlights of the movie, well shot, riveting and claustrophobic. There is some impressive underwater camera work and great sound design that makes you feel like you’re right there with the divers as they navigate the dark and cramped caves. I can’t speak as to how it was in real life, but it certainly felt authentic. Its also helped by the score from a solid score from an ever reliable Benjamin Wallfisch.

THIRTEEN LIVES (2022)

Thirteen Lives is a solid thriller and admirable retelling of the true events. It may be a little too long and the lack of characterisation does take away from the movie somewhat, but on the whole its really good, with the straightforward storytelling, strong performances, and Ron Howard’s direction. Worth checking out.

Elvis (2022) Review

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Elvis

Time: 159 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Drug use
Cast:
Austin Butler as Elvis Presley
Tom Hanks as Col. Tom Parker
Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley
Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley
Richard Roxburgh as Vernon Presley
Director: Baz Luhrmann

Elvis Presley rises to fame in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

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Elvis was a movie that intrigued me leading up to its release. I’ve only seen three of Baz Luhrmann’s movies, I enjoyed his divisive adaptation of The Great Gatsby, but straight up disliked Moulin Rogue and Romeo + Juliet (which are generally liked by people). I just couldn’t get into his style and while I liked some aspects, Baz seemed to be just a filmmaker whose style just wasn’t for me. Then after a very long time since his last released movie, it was announced that he would be making a new movie, that being a biopic of Elvis Presley. I’m not big on music biopics and I’m not big on Baz’s movies but somehow them being combined intrigued me greatly. I was curious to see how Luhrmann would approach it and at the very least, he would provide the movie with a distinct style within a subgenre that’s generally repetitive and dull. So I’m happy to say that I ended up liking Elvis far more than I thought I would.

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I wasn’t familiar with Elvis Presley beyond a few of his songs, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the movie, overall I was satisfied with what we got. During its first act I wasn’t sure about how I would feel about the film, it was just leaving us to come to grips with Baz’s style. That being said, I feel like the movie hit its stride after 30 minutes. At this point we really see Elvis, his upbringing, and his rise to fame. The movie does contain music biopic tropes in the sense that it has familiar rise and fall aspects, but that is just about impossible to avoid when the movie is based on the subject’s true life. Elvis isn’t the most complex of music biopics, there is certainly more emphasis on the spectacle and getting the spirit of Elvis. But for what it is, it works. I much prefer the movie capturing the spirit of Elvis over feeling like a Wikipedia page converted into a movie. The film really doesn’t have much of a structure; it more feels like a bunch of events and sections of Elvis’s life strung together and relying on the audience to be riding the high of the vibe. If I watched it again, I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much, but on my first viewing I liked it. It helps that there is a contagious and consistent energy throughout. I also found myself engaged with what was happening with the story, I even found myself emotionally invested. There are some questionable choices with the way that Baz Luhrmann decided to tell the story. These help to make the movie interesting at least (and distinct compared to the other music biopics out there), but there are still parts which I wasn’t entirely on board with. Probably the weirdest choice is the way the story is presented. From the beginning, it is narrated by Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker as he presents his side of the story, and it’s like this throughout. It is an intriguing narrative decision, but I’m not really sure what the point of it was by the end. If Luhrmann were that insistent on having a narrator, I would’ve preferred it to be a random unknown person instead of making it Hanks. It is a very long movie at 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and in some ways, it pays off as it is trying to tell 42 years of Elvis’s life. But with Baz’s style, it can be an admittedly overwhelming and exhausting experience.

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One of the best parts of the movie, if not the best part is Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, who is absolutely fantastic. He fully embodies the Elvis persona from beginning to end, with the movements, mannerisms and lines. Not only does he talk and sing like Elvis, but he also captures his essence well. He also shows such range; even though the movie could be very theatrical and flashy, the movie slows down at times to provide Butler moments to really shine with dramatic scenes. It was also interesting seeing Austin Butler evolve and grow older as Elvis did. Other actors are good including Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh who provide good supporting work. There is one other key actor alongside Austin Butler which I haven’t talked about yet, and that is Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis may have had raving reactions when it was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival, but the one aspect that not everyone was on board with was Hanks’s performance. Having seen the movie, I can see why. I’m not sure I’d say that it’s a bad performance because Hanks certainly sells the sleaze aspect and its one of the rare times where he plays a villain. That being said, it is a strong contender for Tom Hanks’s most questionable acting work ever. He’s very cartoonish and evil, it’s like he was playing the role like a typical Baz Luhrmann villain (see Richard Roxburgh in Moulin Rouge for reference) than a real-life person. I guess that might work in some respects, but it has its issues. It’s a bit jarring when most of the other characters are fairly grounded especially Butler’s Elvis, the latter is giving a very realistic and believable performance, whereas Hanks is very close to morphing into a cartoon villain at many points. Its worth noting that if you dislike his performance, you might have a hard time with the film considering that he serves at the narrator.

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This is a Baz Luhrmann movie, and his style is very much not for everyone, you love it or you hate it. The frantic camera movements and editing can be a bit in your face. As for me, its hit or miss, but for whatever reason, it worked this time for me. I have heard some people say that it is Baz at his fullest Baz, and I’m not disputing that. It was a real experience watching it in the cinema, from the over the top and dazzling visuals to the loud sounds and music, it actually felt like you were in a concert. The musical  sequences were very entertaining to watch, Baz particularly excels here. Occasionally there will be the odd modern song which feels out of place here, but that’s to be expected given the director. Admittedly the movie can be overwhelming at times, especially toward the end I felt quite worn down and tired from the whole thing. For what its worth though, this might be the director’s most accessible film.

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Elvis was pleasantly surprising. It is another music biopic with some of the typical failings, and it can also be a bit overlong, messy and exhausting at times. However, it is made energetic, chaotic and entertaining with Baz Luhrmann’s stylish and fast paced direction. Not to mention, I was actually engaged with the story. Even if you’re like me and don’t generally vibe with Baz’s style I do think it’s worth checking out, at the very least for Austin Butler’s excellent performance as Elvis Presley. As far as music biopics go, this is likely among the best.

Serpico (1973) Review

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Serpico

Time: 130 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] contains offensive language
Cast:
Al Pacino as Frank Serpico
Director: Sidney Lumet

Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) is an idealistic New York City cop who refuses to take bribes, unlike the rest of the force. His actions get Frank shunned by the other officers, and often placed in dangerous situations by his partners. When his superiors ignore Frank’s accusations of corruption, he decides to go public with the allegations. Although this causes the Knapp Commission to investigate his claims, Frank has also placed a target on himself. The film is based on a true story.

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I heard a lot about Serpico going into it, it’s a highly praised movie about the real-life story of a police officer who is going up against police corruption. The film is directed by Sidney Lumet and stars Al Pacino in the lead role of Frank Serpico. The movie certainly lived up to the acclaim that its being receiving.

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This biopic covers the years of 1960 to 1972 and retraces Frank Serpico’s undercover career as he tries to clear corruption from the police force, while coming up against roadblocks and people who want him out of the way. The script is tight and absorbing, the story is told in a very real way, and it had me engaged throughout. Its actually incredible that its an biopic it doesn’t get bogged down by melodrama, its essentially a character study of a man trying his best to change a system that has no inclination to change. There is a real sense of doom and danger throughout its runtime, even when you know that Serpico is still alive by the end of the movie. His stance against police corruption made him a target for his fellow officers, and you really feel his paranoia and stress along with him. The script remained largely focussed on the real life issues at hand, and a lot of these topics are still relevant all these decades later. Serpico can be a frustrating movie to watch, but definitely in a good way, you get really invested in Serpico’s efforts. The movie can be a little slow at times, but it handles the 130 minute runtime well considering that there are multiple events, storylines and characters it has to cover and follow.

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Al Pacino is brilliant in the lead role of Frank Serpico, a good cop caught in a bad system. Despite it being a biopic about him, Serpico not portrayed as a saint or a martyr. He’s shown to be quite flawed, conflicted, and is very compelling to watch. Pacino gives a charismatic and empathetic performance here, and he really conveyed the stress and strain the character is under. His performance also doesn’t feel overplayed for dramatic effect, it feels very real and authentic. The supporting cast all do a good job in assisting Pacino, but make no mistake, he is the star of the show here.

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The direction from Sidney Lumet is fantastic as expected. It’s very well shot and edited, and it all feels very real and grounded, doing particularly well at setting itself in 1970s New York. The score also adds to the atmosphere, its quiet and mellow and really fits the movie quite well. I even like how the passage of time is conveyed through Serpico’s hair length.

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Serpico is a very well crafted biopic and crime drama. The story of its title character was compelling to watch, Sidney Lumet’s direction is great, and of course Al Pacino gives a phenomenal performance here, some of his very best work. I wouldn’t say it quite measures up to some of Lumet’s other movies like Dog Day Afternoon or 12 Angry Men, but it is still a great movie and one that is worth checking out.

Being the Ricardos (2021) Review

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Being the Ricardos

Time: 131 minutes
Cast:
Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball
Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz
J.K. Simmons as William Frawley
Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance
Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer
Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh
Jake Lacy as Bob Carroll Jr.
Clark Gregg as Howard Wenke
Director: Aaron Sorkin

In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face personal and professional obstacles that threaten their careers, their relationship, and their hit television show.

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Being the Ricardos was a upcoming major awards contender that I had been hearing about for a while. I will admit though that despite not knowing much about it outside of some of the people involved, I was a little sceptical going in. First of all, it was a biopic movie focussing on notable film/tv people, and the movie looked like prime Oscar bait. Also the movie is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, whose work could be a mixed bag at times, especially when it comes to whatever he directs. Still, it received Oscar nominations for the performances from Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem and J.K. Simmons, so I thought I should check it out, and went into it open minded. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that the movie was particularly good.

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I should state first of all that I am not familiar with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz or the show I Love Lucy, and went into this movie quite blind. However, even as someone who didn’t know of the subjects beforehand, I just didn’t find the film all that interesting, and I found it fairly dull. If the story of Lucille and Desi in real life was interesting, it certainly didn’t survive being compressed and repackaged into the biopic formula. The story of the movie follows Lucille and Desi over one stressful week, it seems simple enough but somehow the storytelling is very flawed here. The story as it was told just felt so disjointed, while the series of events play out over this particular week, it jumps across multiple points in time with an overreliance on flashbacks and flashforwards which muddles everything. To give context to all these events messily crammed into this movie, characters spent a lot of time stating facts about each other or clunkily discussing historical and cultural elements. For whatever reason, there is this present-day faux documentary framing device running throughout the movie where older versions of the three lead show writers for I Love Lucy are being interviewed. Every so often, the movie would just cut to these talking head mouthpieces, and every time this happened, it would be so disruptive and annoying. The dialogue was already on the nose and obvious, but the fact that they practically spoonfeed us the story by flat out telling us what is happening, it almost feels patronising. Count the number of times you hear “what you’ve got to understand is…” from one character alone.

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Even as someone who aren’t familiar with the true life events, there’s some handling of the history that felt very off. The prime example is this inconsequential aspect where Lucille Ball is rumoured to be a communist. Even within the plot of the movie, it plays a very small part, but from the very beginning of the film it is fixated and focused on so much, to a quite frankly weird degree. You really get the feeling that this is getting into the writer’s own politics over the actual true events. The way that subplot is resolved towards the end in a scene with Javier Bardem on a phone call in front of an audience is hilariously absurd and ludicrous. I didn’t really learn anything from this storyline, the only thing that I can say coming out of it is that I’m confident that Aaron Sorkin would’ve been a supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. Speaking of Sorkin, you can definitely feel that it’s a movie from him, and I mean that in a bad way. You really do feel like he’s really going for an Oscar here, and it somehow makes the movie even worse. His scripts always seem to have this self-perception of cleverness but it is especially grating here, the faux documentary framing device being an example of one of his decisions that make it harder to watch. Even when you put all of that aside, I just found myself so unengaged by the film as it progresses through the events. I couldn’t be emotionally engaged with the characters, and there was nothing keeping me invested in the story. There was just something dispassionate and underwhelming about the whole experience.

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I would love to say that the acting elevates the movie. While it’s the best part of the movie, its not enough to save the movie. The acting is mostly decent, but much of the cast feel like they are playing caricatures rather than real people. Nicole Kidman is pretty good as Lucille Ball, even if it definitely doesn’t rank amongst her best performances. I will say that annoyingly with the writing she’s given, Lucille does feel like another ‘Sorkin protagonist’, much like how Sorkin wrote Steve Jobs and Abbie Hoffman. To Kidman’s credit though, she comes across as being a fully formed human, especially in contrast to the other actors. It’s just that there weren’t any times throughout the film where I felt that it was anything beyond a decent performance. Javier Bardem is the co-lead in this as Desi Arnaz. He’s fine enough, but like Kidman, its definitely not one of his best performances. Questionable casting choice aside, he is a bit of a caricature and is very hammy. Definitely not bland or boring, but nothing great. The chemistry between Kidman and Bardem just wasn’t there, which is a big mark against it considering that the relationship between the two people was a key part of the movie. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda are serviceable in their supporting roles, but don’t get much to do with the writing that they are given.

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Being the Ricardos is directed by Aaron Sorkin, and this film is further proof that Sorkin is at his best when his scripts are directed by anyone else. While the direction is competent, its done so blandly and lacks any kind of personality, especially on a visual level. Even his last two movies had more to them. The costumes, hair, makeup, presentation is nothing special, everything feels like they’re on autopilot.

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I’m sure that the actual story of these people is quite interesting. However, what is presented here is a functional but uninteresting, bland and occasionally grating to watch biopic that fails to engage, from the writing through to the direction. Even the performances aren’t good enough to elevate the movie beyond an average biopic. I’d only recommend this movie to people who want to catch up on the Oscar nominations from this most recent awards season. For what it’s worth, Being the Ricardos was by far the worst movie of this year’s Oscar season that I’ve seen.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) Review

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The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Drug use & sex scenes
Cast:
Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker
Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker
Cherry Jones as Rachel Grover
Vincent D’Onofrio as Jerry Falwell
Director: Michael Showalter

In the 1970s, Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband, Jim, rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. Tammy Faye becomes legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

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I heard about The Eyes of Tammy Faye for quite a while, it’s a biopic starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield that had some awards hype. When it received Oscar nominations including Chastain for Best Actress, I thought I’d check it out. I wasn’t expecting much from it honestly, I don’t know much (if anything) about Tammy Faye, but it looked like a typical awards bait biopic. In a way it was another standard biopic with the acting being the strongest part of it, however it was considerably better than expected.

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I should mention again that I didn’t know anything about Tammy Faye Bakker before going into this movie, so my knowledge of her only comes from the film. Most people who’ve seen the movie seem to say that the writing is average and the performances are really what make the movie worth watching, which I completely understand. But for what it’s worth, I thought the story was interesting and entertaining enough, even if it’s not good enough to elevate the whole film to being good on the whole. I found the subjects so different and interesting for a biopic, and the ridiculousness of the Bakkers as played by Chastain and Garfield made the comedy jump out. They made it mildly fun to watch and went some way to make me actually pay attention to what was happening. Unfortunately, it still played the drama too straight and serious considering how ridiculous its subjects are. The Eyes of Tammy Faye really could’ve benefitted from leaning into the absurdity and potentially into satire territory, even to at least I, Tonya levels. However, it really jumps between absurdity and being serious, resulting in a disjointed experience. Despite some entertaining aspects, the film is still on the whole a by the numbers and standard biopic. It falls into the many shortcomings that you’d expect from most biopics, with another repackaged rise and fall story with marital strife and drug addiction which we’ve seen many times before. It also has one of the worst (and unfortunately common) biopic failings with it once again feeling like a Wikipedia article skim being processed and generated into a 2 hour long movie, breezing through significant topics and moments with montages and brief scenes, but not capturing everything in a satisfying way. Even as someone who didn’t really know anything about Tammy Faye beforehand, I still felt like the movie didn’t do enough to explore her. That’s a shame because it seemed like there was a lot of interesting material with potential. The film just jumps so fast through Tammy’s life, it might’ve better served as a limited series if the filmmakers were that determined to capture her whole life instead of just a section of it.

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The acting is the strongest part of the movie, especially from the hammy yet great performances from Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield as Tammy Faye Bakker and Jim Bakker respectively. Chastain delivers one of her best works here. She is definitely very over the top but doesn’t let the performance fall into a caricature or make a mockery of Tammy. It is an empathetic, lived in and committed performance that makes Tammy feel like a person. Andrew Garfield is also really good in an integral part of the story, and shares convincing chemistry with Chastain. However Chastain’s Tammy Faye is definitely the focus in this movie. The supporting cast is also good, especially Vincent D’Onofrio and Cherry Jones in their roles.

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The direction from Michael Showalter is pretty good. The cinematography is nice and framed well, the costumes and hair are on point and capture the time period well. Most of the makeup work is great, especially for the work on Jessica Chastain to make her look closer to the real-life Tammy Faye.

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Despite its strengths and entertaining aspects, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is yet another passable but typical biopic with many of the familiar shortcomings. However, it is generally written and directed well enough, and I can’t deny that I was glad to have watched it even putting the acting aside. So while it really could’ve been much better, I think it is well worth checking out, mainly for the performances, especially from Jessica Chastain.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) Review

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tick, tick... Boom

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language
Cast:
Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson
Alexandra Shipp as Susan Wilson
Robin de Jesús as Michael
Joshua Henry as Roger Bart
Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa Johnson
Judith Light as Rosa Stevens
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Based on the autobiographical musical by playwright Jonathan Larson. It’s the story of an aspiring composer in New York City who is worried he made the wrong career choice, whilst navigating the pressures of love and friendship.

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I wasn’t sure about how to feel about Tick, Tick… Boom! going into it because musical theatre isn’t really my thing. I’m also not familiar with the musical its based on, nor Jonathan Larson, nor Rent. However it starred Andrew Garfield in the lead role and it was receiving awards attention, so I was willing to give it a go. I’m glad to say that I’m one of the people who liked the movie despite its issues.

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Tick, Tick…Boom! Is based off Jonathan Larson’s semi autobiographical musical, which is partially based off his own life. The story from its premise is quite accessible, focussing on someone who is a struggling creator, very familiar premise and setup and one that plenty of people can identify with. It is a lively, fun and emotionally bittersweet ride throughout. Even if his direction is a little rough around the edges, director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s passion for Jonathan Larson and the story shines through clearly, and the heart, passion and admiration is felt throughout. There are issues though. There is certainly some cheesy writing, and the pacing has problems especially in the second act, with some moments that can really drag. There is also one thing that made the movie worse the more I thought about it. I like character studies about what it takes to make it big, but there’s some mixed messaging regarding Jonathan’s actions and who he was. Larson in this musical seems to alienate people around him in his pursuit for greatness, and so it became very difficult to be sympathetic with his plight, not helped by his friends going through comparatively harder struggles. Its not enough to bring down the movie but it is something that you do notice when watching.

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If you need one reason to watch the movie, its Andrew Garfield, delivering one of his best performances, and he is very much the best part of the movie. So much of the movie relies on the lead performance, and he more than delivers. Garfield’s work feels very much alive, he is full of energy, charisma, life, and sadness, and he can really sing too. For all the issues that the writing has particularly with his character, Garfield sort of makes it work. The film belongs to him, but the other actors are good too, including Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, and especially Robin de Jesus.

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This is director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first film as a director, and as a film its quite rough around the edges. There wasn’t anything that special and it’s a little too safe, but as a debut, it was okay. Not all the choices work, but some of them really, such as the sound of ticking throughout. Some of the musical sequences were really well shot, there’s a number of flashy and fun musical moments. I did enjoy the songs and they are presented well for the most part, but I did find them somewhat forgettable, although that might just be me.  The editing can be a little jarring, mostly because it is very inconsistent throughout. With that said, the non-linear storytelling and narration worked quite well for me.

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Tick, Tick, Boom has its fair share of issues, mainly with the writing and directing. However I liked watching it, and the performances are great, particularly Andrew Garfield in the lead role. I do think its worth watching at the very least for Garfield here.

Spencer (2021) Review

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Spencer (2021)

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language & self harm references
Cast:
Kristen Stewart as Diana
Timothy Spall as Alistair Gregory
Jack Farthing as Charles
Sean Harris as Darren McGrady
Sally Hawkins as Maggie
Director: Pablo Larraín

The marriage between Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the queen’s estate. There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game, but this year, things will be profoundly different.

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Spencer was a movie I had been anticipating for a little while. It’s a movie about Princess Diana, starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role, and most of all it has the director of Jackie. So I was intrigued to see how it would turn out, especially with all the acclaim it has been receiving leading up to its release. It didn’t disappoint, I really liked Spencer and think it’s one of the best of the year.

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Much like Jackie, Spencer is not a conventional biopic by any means, and I’m so glad that this is the case. It doesn’t feel tired or cliched like a lot of other biopics, and I was captivated throughout. The movie is set over the Christmas period in 1991, taking place over a few days. As a result, it feels like it wasn’t progressing anywhere necessarily, but I was nonetheless invested in it. I won’t talk about the accuracy to real life because I’m not an expert on Diana, but I can say that it is definitely more a character study than biopic. It does a great job at diving into the personal life of Princess Diana and makes us see her life from her eyes. This character piece focuses on Diana’s sadness, anxiety and struggles as she has to change to fit in with the royals while haunted by her past and future. Much of the movie feels like a horror movie sometimes, and it is effectively unsettling. Spencer does a great job at making the audience just as uneasy as her, especially with the tense and uneasy atmosphere. It definitely leans into being more psychological compared to Jackie, there are even hallucinatory elements, from a direct metaphor between Diana and Anne Boleyn which has the former imagine seeing the latter, to Diana literally imagining herself eating her pearl necklace. It thought it worked for the type of movie that it was going for.

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Whether or not her character in the film is accurate to the real person, Kristen Stewart disappears into the role of Princess Diana and delivers a powerhouse performance. She does incredibly well at portraying a princess forced to live in a family that doesn’t want her and really conveys her pain and anxiety. Stewart definitely places emphasis on the subtlety and leans into the overall feel of Diana rather than pure impersonation, which is definitely for the best (especially when looking at performances of other widely known real people). Nonetheless, she nails the voice, mannerisms and expressions, and gives an eloquent performance. It’s the best acting work I’ve seen from her so far. There are some other really good supporting performances from Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall and Sean Harris, however it’s a film very much focused on Stewart as Diana.

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Pablo Larrain directs Spencer incredibly well, which was to be expected after watching Jackie. There is a lot of incredibly visual storytelling on display in this film. Claire Mathon’s cinematography is gloomy and hazy, and helps convey a feeling of claustrophobia, creating a layers of anxiety, ambiguity and paranoia. It all works to make us feel the pressures of the lead character. The production and costume design are also on point and are perfect for the period. Another thing constantly present throughout the film is Jonny Greenwood’s jazzy and intense score, which perfectly captures the tone of the film.

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Despite being a Princess Diana biopic, Spencer is definitely not for everyone. On top of definitely being a character piece over a conventional straightforward biopic, it is slow moving and definitely not what some might expect going into it. However I loved it, incredibly well crafted, its directed well, and Kristen Stewart gives one of the best performances from the past year. It’s one of the best movies from 2021.

King Richard (2021) Review

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King Richard

Time: 145 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Will Smith as Richard Williams
Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene “Brandy” Price
Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams
Demi Singleton as Serena Williams
Tony Goldwyn as Paul Cohen
Jon Bernthal as Rick Macci
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Armed with a clear vision and a brazen, 78-page plan, Richard Williams is determined to write his two daughters, Venus and Serena, into history. Training on tennis courts in Compton, Calif., Richard shapes the girls’ unyielding commitment and keen intuition. Together, the Williams family defies seemingly insurmountable odds and the prevailing expectations laid before them.

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I’ve been hearing about King Richard for the past months, especially in the lead up to awards season. I knew that essentially it was about Venus and Serena Williams and their father, who would be played by Will Smith (who was particularly getting awards hype). It looked like a typical sports biopic and while that mostly turned out to be the case, I thought it was pretty good.

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It should be noted that this isn’t exactly a movie about Venus and Serena. King Richard is executively produced by both sisters and while the movie is about them to a degree, it is deliberately focused on their father Richard Williams, and how he helped their rise with his support and guidance. It does make it interesting to put it from the perspective of the father instead of the soon to be stars. As someone who knew about the two tennis players but didn’t know much about their stories, I found it interesting, and I was invested in what was happening. It is a sports biopic, but it is essentially a character study for the lead character, who is a complicated person. Despite it being a sports movie of sorts, it isn’t super focussed on the sports, and avoids most of the sports tropes. It is definitely firmly in the crowd pleaser category, and it’s a very effective feel-good movie. With that said its definitely not very special as far as biopics go. Its very by the numbers and cliché in many ways, there are conventional biopic tropes here and here, and there are big inspirational speeches and moments. There’s also dialogue that’s very unsubtle, especially about the sister being destined for greatness. Also it does seem very safe in parts, such as with the inner conflicts with Richard. With that said, it still has strong emotional beats and uplifting moments which really worked for me, so I was more than able to look past the sameness. King Richard is a very long movie at around 2 hours and 30 minutes, and after watching what I just saw, I thought that was a little excessive. With that runtime you would think that it would’ve focussed even more time on the sisters, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Even though I did like the movie and I wouldn’t say that I was that bored, the drawn out nature of the film turned out to be a determinant to it.

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For as solid as the story and writing is, it’s really the great performances which make the film work as well as it does. Will Smith plays Richard Williams, and this very well could be the best performance of his career. Its a flawed and nuanced character he’s playing and fully invests himself into, and gives a commanding performance. It definitely doesn’t stop with him though, Aunjanue Ellis is great as Richard’s wife and the mother of the Williams sisters, and Jon Bernthal is really good as a tennis coach. There’s also Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton who play Venus and Serena Williams respectively, and they do great jobs at playing them. The second half has more of a focus on Venus, and Sidney plays her part very well.

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The direction from Reinaldo Marcus Green wasn’t anything special, but competent enough by sports biopic standard. Its shot and edited quite well (length aside), and the scenes with tennis are well shot and given enough tension.

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King Richard is a very familiar and typical inspirational sports biopic but its nonetheless quite good. I was invested in the story, it’s well made, and the performances from everyone were great and carried the film. I think it is worth watching at the very least.

The Dig (2021) Review

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The Dig

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Sex scenes & nudity
Cast:
Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty
Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown
Lily James as Peggy Piggott
Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax
Ben Chaplin as Stuart Piggott
Ken Stott as Charles Phillips
Archie Barnes as Robert Pretty
Monica Dolan as May Brown
Director: Simon Stone

In the late 1930s, wealthy landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate the mounds on her property in England. He and his team discover a ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground.

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I first heard about The Dig on Netflix as it was one of their movies, it was a movie about digging up something important around World War II, but I wanted to watch because of the cast which includes Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes. Having finally seen it, I can say that it’s nothing that memorable and it’s mostly just okay, but for what it is, a British period drama based on a true story, it’s made fairly well.

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The script for The Dig is rather simple and it was a typical historical film based on a true story. There’s very little surprising or astonishing, and the character beats are predictable. It’s not that nothing of significance happens in this film considering the prospect of finding something important, as well as everything that the characters go through in their own lives. However the stakes feel pretty mild, The Dig is more of an easy, contemplative and laid back experience. It doesn’t try to be anything more than a simple story from the past, and to a degree I respect that. It does cover a real-life story that is interesting mainly for history and archelogy buffs. Even though I’m not an archelogy buff and it didn’t feel like much happened in the story, I thought it was compelling enough, and it had its emotional moments. During the whole first half, I was interested with the characters, and their storylines and how they developed. Where some problems start appearing is in the second half where it loses its focus once it expands beyond the main cast of Mulligan and Fiennes, Fiennes particularly becomes a secondary character. The second half overstays its welcome and introduces some unwelcome subplots, more on that later. Something that most viewers will feel is that the movie moves a little bit slower than it needed to. It certainly felt a little too slow for me to be completely gripped with the story. Some scenes feel unnecessarily long and drag on for quite some time, and despite an hour and 52 minutes not being an extremely long runtime, it does feel a little tedious at times. It certainly isn’t helped by the occasionally dragging pacing. The subplots introduced in the second half were a bit too much, one that comes to mind instantly was a love triangle subplot involving Lily James and Johnny Flynn. It didn’t really add anything to the story, just forced melodrama. After watching the movie I looked up what happened in real life and it turns out the film does take some creative liberties and particularly changes up some key details about the characters. Without getting too into it here, these decisions actually made the movie worse despite the intentions to make things more dramatic and interesting. Unsurprisingly, that aforementioned love triangle was one of the creative liberties taken, in fact much of what happened with Lily James’s character’s story in the movie didn’t happen in real life.

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The cast will be the main draw for most people who watch The Dig, and in fairness there are some really talented actors involved. The main cast are great with Ralph Fiennes as the weathered and capable excavator, and Carey Mulligan as the main landowner whose land is being dug up. Supporting cast was good including Lily James and Johnny Flynn, even the young actor who plays Carey Mulligan’s son.

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The direction from Simon Stone is also pretty good. First of all, it has some fantastic cinematography, really capturing the English countryside’s sights with its glorious wide shots and sweeping camera movements. It even felt like a Terrence Malick movie at times. The production values are strong with the set design and costume design capturing the time period well. Finally the piano score is great, dreamy and relaxing, it really matches the tone of the movie well.

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It does feel like some potential of the Dig was wasted considering the premise and story, and it’s a pretty forgettable movie unfortunately. However for what it’s worth, I think it’s a decent movie. The cast and the directing certainly elevate it quite a lot, and I’m glad I watched it. It is a movie that I would have playing in the background more than actively watching, but it’s an okay movie, and one worth checking out if you like the cast involved or if you’re interested in historical movies.

All the President’s Men (1976) Review

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All the President's Men

Time:  119 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Offensive language
Cast:
Robert Redford as Bob Woodward
Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein
Jack Warden as Harry M. Rosenfeld
Martin Balsam as Howard Simons
Hal Holbrook as “Deep Throat”
Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee
Director: Alan J. Pakula

During the 1972 elections, two reporters’ investigation sheds light on the controversial Watergate scandal that compels President Richard Nixon to resign from his post..

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I’ve always known All the President’s Men as being “the one movie about Watergate”, and I remembered holding off on watching it because it was long, it was from the 70s and I didn’t know if I would be as into it despite the acclaim. However I did watch it, and was surprised at how good it was on pretty much every front.

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All the President’s Men is about the journalistic approach to the story, with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in pursuit of the news story. The layers of the story are peeled back as the film goes on, revealing the truths about the Watergate Scandal. The writing is great and it really was key to the movie working. It is definitely a slow burn, so you do need to know that going in, but thankfully I found the story very compelling to follow. The scope of this story is large, and the script deserves a lot of credit for making this complex and dry tale accessible and easy to follow for audiences. At the same time, it approaches the subject matter without needlessly adding subplots or other aspects to spice up the movie. It almost plays like a detective story at times more so than a journalism story, and manages to mix dry fact with intrigue perfectly, making sure that we are engaged and never lose the plot. It really lets the audience feel like they’re putting together the pieces along with Woodward and Bernstein. The constant stream of information can occasionally be a little much, but the fact that it is quite accurate to true events and you can understand most of it is impressive. It is a procedural for sure, but probably one of the best procedural films ever. It does feel authentic in both the discoveries made as well as the journalistic process, and I like the amount of detail in what is said and what is shown on screen. For example, you get to see the way that Woodward and Bernstein play out how they try to get certain pieces of information, and how they interact with the people they are questioning; very well done and fascinating to watch. Every scene truly means something and has a reason for being there, despite the long runtime. A lot of the movie is dialogue and its great, especially with the deliveries from the cast. It keeps your attention for the entire runtime and each conversation is right to the point. The film is also surprisingly thrilling to watch at times, despite it being a movie about journalism. If there’s a criticism I have with the movie, it’s that the ending is a little too abrupt, that’s it though.

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The acting from everyone is also great, but it’s the two leads who drive the story and stand out the most. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are incredible and invested in their roles of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and share great chemistry together. You get completely wrapped up in their motivations and they feel very natural in their parts, never overselling it. The supporting cast including Jack Warden, Jason Robards and Hal Holbrook also do work well in their parts.

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The movie is directed by Alan J. Pakula, and his work here is great, covering this story as effectively as possible with lots of visual and audio details in every scene. The cinematography conveys the scope and size of the story, with everything from landscape shots to shots of a simple phone call looking really good. The editing is quite efficient and gets you wrapped up in the story even with all the details being thrown at you. Pakula’s direction also does well as helping you feel the paranoia that the main characters feel as the story continues.

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All the President’s Men is an astonishingly well made film, efficiently directed, greatly performed by its cast, and with a fantastic script which makes what could’ve been a boring and dull movie, into an engaging and intriguing experience. Even though most of us already know what happens at the end, it was still compelling to watch this whole story play out. For sure one of the best movies about journalism.