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Backbeat-Movie Review 07/07/2013

Posted by dbinder in Based on true events, Beatles, Biographical, British, Movies.
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BACKBEAT (British) 1994

Directed by Iain Softley
Starring Ian Hart, Stephen Dorff, and Sheryl Lee

A look at the Beatles tour of Hamburg, just as they are about to burst into stardom. While following the teenage musicians as they get their first tastes of success, this movie focuses on the relationship-almost-love-triangle between John Lennon (Hart), his very close friend from Liverpool, Stu Sutcliffe (Dorff), and German photographer Astrid Kircherr (Lee). Stu must choose between his place in the band and his love for painting and for Astrid, but he comes to a tragic end.

I have watched several Beatles-related movies lately, and while this is not one of the best, and is criticized as not totally historically accurate, Backbeat does shed some light on the band’s early days. Astrid’s black and white photographs of those times have become iconic. She was interviewed for the movie as was Klaus Voormann, her musician-artist friend, who remained tangentially connected with the Beatles.

Not a big award winner, either; check the few here.

100 min. Rated R.


The Last Station-Movie Review*** 07/29/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Based on a novel, Biographical, British, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Hessian Film Award, Highly recommended, Independent Spirit Awards, Michael Hoffman, Movies, Romance, Satellite Awards.
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The Last Station (British) 2009 ***
Based on Jay Parini’s 1990 novel, The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy’s Last Year

Directed by Michael Hoffman
Starring Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, and Paul Giamatti

Among other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Mirren); Best Supporting Actor (Plummer), Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Mirren); Best Supporting Actor (Plummer), Golden Globes
WINNER, Best International Literature Adaptation (Hoffman), Hessian Film Award
NOMINATED, Best Director (Hoffman); Best Feature; Best Female Lead (Mirren); Best Screenplay (Hoffman); Best Supporting Male (Plummer), Independent Spirit Awards
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (McAvoy), Satellite Awards

As renowned and beloved author Leo Tolstoy’s (Plummer) life approaches its end, unwanted drama surrounds him in the form of his family and associates. His associates aim to convince Tolstoy that, in his final will, his works should become the property of the Russian people; his passionate wife, Countess Sofya (Mirren), fears that she and her children will be left with nothing.

Plummer’s Tolstoy tries (but doesn’t always manage) to retain a sense of peaceful dignity as he contends with his distraught wife. Mirren’s Sofya pulls no punches with increasingly erratic behavior as she once again puts in an outstanding performance that makes this a film worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

112 min. Rated R.


Milk-Movie Review 02/14/2011

Posted by Films to consider in American, Based on true story, Biographical, Movies.
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Milk (American) 2008

Among many awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Penn); Best Writing-Screenplay Written for the Screen (Black), Academy Awards
Nominated in 6 other categories, including Best Director; Music; Screenplay; Supporting Actor (Brolin); Motion Picture, Academy Awards

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black
Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Alison Pill, and Diego Luna

Based on the true story of Harvey Milk, the charismatic man who was the first openly gay to hold public office in a big city when he was elected City Supervisor in San Francisco in the turbulent 1970s. The film starts with a recording made by Milk and meant to be listened to in the event of his assassination. It then backtracks several years to show how he moved to San Francisco, and how he got involved in issues in his local community, and then in broader issues having to do with gay rights and human rights.

Once again Sean Penn impresses me with his acting ability. He transforms himself physically, not just through his facial expression and personality, but even in the way he carries himself. I recently watched I Am Sam (2001) and although I found fault with other performances in that film, his portrayal of a mentally retarded man was exceptional.

Gus Van Sant also directed Paranoid Park (see my review of that) and Good Will Hunting.

I also watched the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk afterward (see below for info). This film, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1985, contains actual footage of Harvey Milk but doesn’t cover as much about his personal relationships. It also follows up on the trial, verdict, sentencing, and eventual suicide of Dan White, the former city supervisor who shot and killed Milk and San Francisco Mayor Moscone, and the violence that erupted after his sentencing.

129 min. Rated R. Some sexual content and violence.

For the documentary:
The Times of Harvey Milk (20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition)

The Farewell-Movie Review 01/24/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Biographical, German language film, Light Drama, Movies.
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The Farewell (German) 2000
Abschied – Brechts letzter Sommer

Directed by Jan Schütte
Written by Klaus Pohl
Starring Josef Bierbichler

The peculiar, emotional, and sometimes amusing dynamics of the “extended family” of famous playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht (Bierbichler) during what turns out to be one of the last days of his life in 1956.

Included in the menagerie that surround him at his vacation cottage are his wife and daughter, his assistants, his current and former mistresses, and a philosopher/political activist about to be arrested for treason along with his wife (who is also a lover of Brecht). Plans to return to Berlin that day are underway so that Brecht can rehearse one of his plays. Although his health isn’t good, he continues to write through all the activity and tensions around him. And, most especially, he wants his missing hat.

More psychological portrait of an artist than action-oriented plot.

91 min. Not rated. Some nudity.



La Vie en Rose-Movie Review 08/04/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Biographical, Drama, French language film, Movies, Musical.
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La Vie en Rose (French) 2007

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Actress (Cotillard), Academy Awards
Winner, Best Actress (Cotillard), Musical, Golden Globes

Directed by Olivier Dahan
Starring Marion Cotillard, who also stars in the 2010 film Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Based on the troubled life of Edith Piaf, a French singer popular during the 1940s and 50s. Piaf’s voice and style of singing is full of emotion and immediately recognizable.

Most of the accolades about this film center around the performance by Marion Cotillard, specifically her immersion into the role of Piaf, as Cotillard transformed herself into the singer’s emotional and, it almost seems, physical presence. Those accolades are well deserved, but I found myself reacting to her portrayal of Piaf with mixed (ultimately positive) feelings.

There are apparently many versions of Piaf’s life story. The diminutive (4′ 8″) singer, who was known as the “little sparrow,” had a terrible young life, growing up mostly on the streets of Paris in dismal circumstances. She certainly made the best out of the gift of her powerful voice, overcoming various physical ailments as well. As her fame grew, however, Piaf was shown displaying the mercurial temperament of “une artiste,” and she lost my sympathy for a time. But as soon as another of her moving songs was included, I forgot about her outbursts and simply enjoyed.

140 min. Rated PG-13.


The Motorcycle Diaries-Movie Review 07/22/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Biographical, Light Drama, Movies, South American/Spanish language film, Spanish language film.
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The Motorcycle Diaries (South American/Spanish) 2004

Directed by Walter Salles
Starring Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna

In the early 1950s, an unlikely pair of friends leave Buenos Aires for a trip across the South American continent on a rickety old bike, “two lives running parallel for a while.” One is easygoing Alberto Granado, a biochemist whose only goal is to finish the journey on his 30th birthday. The second is the studious Ernesto (“Che”) Guevera, an asthmatic med student with a special interest in leprosy research. Their itinerary will take them from Buenos Aires to the Guajira Peninsula in Venezuela, with a stop at the San Pablo leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon.

With a backdrop of spectacular scenery, the film follows the pair’s many mishaps and adventures, some serious and some amusing, and portrays Guevara’s growing awareness of the plight of the poor on the South American continent, which contributed to his later political choices. Based on the true story, and including entries from Guevara’s diaries. Be sure to watch the Special Features, which includes photos and an interview with Granado.

126 min. Rated R.

Sophie Scholl-The Final Days-Movie Review *** 07/11/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Biographical, Drama, German language film, Movies.

Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (German) 2005

Among other awards:
Nominee, Best Foreign Language Film, Academy Awards
Winner, Best Actress, European Film Awards
Winner, Best Actress; Audience Award, German Film Awards (LOLAS)

Starring Julia Jentsch, Fabian Hinrichs, Alexander Held

The true story of 21-year-old Sophie Scholl, a member of the White Rose student resistance group in Munich in 1943. Sophie volunteers to accompany her brother Hans to campus, carrying with her a suitcase filled with anti-Nazi flyers that they distribute. The pair (along with five others) are arrested, tried, and executed without the delay usually accorded to those accused of such crimes. Other members of the group receive harsh sentences. Later, White Rose leaflets were taken to England via Scandinavia and dropped over Germany in honor of the Munich students.

Jentsch’s striking (and award-winning) performance shows Sophie’s steadfastness to her beliefs in the face of interrogator Robert Mohr. Sophie’s last words to her brother: “The sun’s still shining.”

Highly recommended. The DVD also contains chilling footage of actual courtroom proceedings. There are also several books written about Sophie and Hans Scholl and about the White Rose student resistance.

120 min. Unrated.

A book written by Sophie’s sister, Inge:

The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943