Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

walk_ver2_xlgFor years, Philippe Petit dreamed of finding the right place to put his wire. From a young age, he had a fascination with performance art. He greatest focus was tight-rope walking. While he had a challenging relationship with his mentor, he developed the skills and the persona to catch the attention of a crowd. Individual performances were one thing, but he still was searching for that great stage. When he came across the construction of the Twin Towers, he knew that he would travel to America and make his dream a reality. He arrived in New York and worked to find the right team to set his wire before the official opening of the towers. Not everything was set to run smoothly, but determination would help lead Philippe and the team to success.

Arrogance of an Artist: Philippe Petit was a man who required a strong will to maintain his passion to chase his dream. Having little support from his family, he found himself without much of a father figure until he developed his relationship with Papa Rudy. Even that relationship had its rocky moments, but Rudy gave Philippe that strong male presence he was missing. Inside, he never let go of his passion and only let his doubt release for a brief moment the night before the big day. With months of planning and intricate instructions and expectations of his team, he pushed everyone to the limit in order to not let his moment disappear. What was even more impressive was the dance he did when finally out on the wire with officers awaiting him on both buildings.

Show of Support: While Philippe focused his attention on himself in the midst of the project, he would not have made it without his team. In particular, Annie provided the most significant support of the group. She encouraged his dream and provided him a space to train while still in France. Once in the US, one of the most significant sacrifices she made was to put her dream on-hold for his. She tended to his needs and supported him in the most stressful of situations. Without any awareness on Philippe’s part, she stood outside the towers the night prior to his famous walk alone. While she clearly loved him, she also realized that it was her turn to make her mark once his dream had been realized. Though difficult to do, she left him in the US and returned home to embrace her talents.

Quirky but Enjoyable Performances: While Philippe was certainly the memorable character, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was able to provide that fun presence to bring his personality out on the big screen. A big personality needed a big partner, which Charlotte Le Bon was able to provide. The two had a great chemistry, which served as a foundation for the rest of the random cast of characters to work well together.

Final Verdict: The buildup to the actual walk might feel a little long, but the moment he steps onto the wire is amazing. The cinematography to capture the height and intensity was phenomenal, making the adventure up to that point very worth it.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5


215116Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were one of the biggest bands in the US in the 60s. With Beatlemania started to take over, Brian decides that he wants to avoid getting on another plane for a world tour and instead stay at home and continue to write more inventive and creative music. While working with a whole new assortment of musicians and sounds, Brian seems to be flourishing without the restraints of the sound that made the group famous. When the rest of the guys return they start to realize that something is not quite right with their brother. Years after the disbanding of the band, Brian is struggling and being handled by a therapist. Even with his life being regimented, Brian is able to make an impression on an ex-model-turned-car saleswoman and fall in love. Melinda does not realize it at first, but she slowly begins to feel like she needs to save Brian from a seemingly dark existence.

This bio-pic helped bring to life the sad but amazing story of the seemingly star-crossed musician. While Bill Pohland worked to tell two stories interwoven through the length of the film, the true success of the film was in its actors playing Brian Wilson. John Cusack played the older version of Brian, including most of the more listless and helpless scenes between the older and younger versions of himself. Overmedicated and mishandled, Cusack was able to project a quiet light through his performance to help connect to a real care for the musician. Paul Dano was truly inspirational with his performance. He had to put together a character that was complex in his blending of genius, love, sadness, and mental instability. Elizabeth Banks (Melinda Ledbetter) was enjoyable as a hero in Brian’s life. Paul Giamatti (Dr. Eugene Landy) truly made you fearful for whether the film would portray something different from the already tragically beautiful life of Brian Wilson.

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The film helped to connect the audience with some of the real challenges with mental illness. Brian was a musical genius, but no one around him seemed to know what to do with his eccentric and erratic behavior. During his musical prime, his melancholy music failed to catch nearly as much of an audience as their more pop rock-oriented hits. His bandmates were surprised by what he produced and could not come to agreement with whether they could hang in with his more doleful themes. While the film did not show his official fall out of the group and the time during his bedridden state, it fast-forwarded to his struggles under the “care” of Dr. Landy. While his cohort mostly seemed to support Landy’s management of Brian’s life, Melinda started to serve as an avenue to potentially save Brian’s future. Her love for him ended up being stronger than Landy’s selfish management of the former star’s life.

The film has a few small moments of disjointed transitions but even the artistic moments mostly blend well in the storytelling. The true gem was Paul Dano and his name will come back into conversation around award season.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

unbroken__2014__by_myrmorko-d78zol0As a young child, Louis Zamperini found a way to regularly get into trouble, but he also became aware of his opportunity as an athlete. He shifted his focus to running, finding incredible success and attention. Entering in to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, he found himself in last place, but a burst of speed near the end allowed him to still break an American record. Jumping ahead to World War II, Louis is now enlisted in the military and stationed in Hawaii awaiting reassignment. On his next mission, his plane is shot down, leaving him and two other survivors stuck in the open waters of the Pacific. While they are found by a passing ship, they are taken prisoner and await their fate at the hands of an evil Japanese officer nicknamed The Bird.

Review: Although not Angelina Jolie’s first film, there seems to still be a lot of work left to do to establish herself as one the directing stars in Hollywood. She appears to have an interest in telling war stories and tales of strife, but her pacing and imagery still has not met the scale of her storytelling. While the time on the open water and in the POW camps was long, the film seemed to drag out certain experiences while allowing others to be glazed over a bit unexpectedly. In contrast, the cinematography is stunning. Lost on the open seas, the scenes are bold with a vast, unforgiving environment. Once captured, the conditions of the POW camps are bleak and devastating. There was a real sense of horror and hopelessness that was projected throughout the film, following the initial track and military scenes.

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The film was headlined by two very strong acting performances. Jack O’Connell (Louis Zamperini) went through quite the transformation as his character developed into a survivor on the open seas and in the POW camps. While his character’s will was being tested, he was able to project a clear sense of hope and belief that he could survive. More impressive was the performance by Takamasa Ishihara (Watanabe/The Bird). Takamasa brought fear into every scene. It was not because of his size or physical appearance, but rather the way he carried himself with confidence and control.

It was interesting to see this film and expect much more out of the intensity of the torture and harshness of Louis’s trials. There were a number of strong moments and individual performances, but the overall film fell just a bit short of expectations.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Wild (2014): Go Above Your Nerve

Posted: February 21, 2015 in Biography, Drama

wild_ver2_xlgOn a personal journey for enlightenment and recovery, Cheryl Strayed looks to move past her mother’s passing and find strength in herself. Haunted by the memories of her childhood and the mistakes of her early adulthood, she packs up her life and heads out on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Almost finding herself at a wall after only the first five miles, she find enough strength to push forward. As she continues on the trail, she begins to realize that she may have not packed well as she gets the chance to reconnect with people at the stops along the trail. As she gets closer and closer to her final destination, she both realizes the impact that she is having on other hikers and the healing she experiences from completing her journey.

Review: Although appearing to be a similar story to the 2008 film Into the Wild, the storytelling was much stronger in the character development and intrigue of Cheryl’s real story. Reese Witherspoon (Cheryl) brought the story to life with the powerful range of emotions she has come to project through her performances. While a large amount of the travel through the wild was more simply a woman braving the elements, Witherspoon was able to harness her talents through her interactions with Laura Dern (Bobbi) as the two had somewhat divisive and supportive interactions. Dern maintained a consistently positive demeanor to match Bobbi’s optimistic outlook, even in the face of her eventual demise to illness. Witherspoon, on the other hand, projected the conflict of a daughter struggling with her mother’s illness and her brother’s ability to be present for the family.

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As for the journey, it was not necessarily the most dramatic or exciting adventure to hit the big screen, but the encounters Cheryl had throughout her journey made the experience more intriguing. Besides the moments where she considered quitting, there were times when she had to determine whether to remain separated from other people or attempt to apply some trust. When she first encountered Frank, she was worried for her safety when their trip back to his place waited until nightfall. She was surprised to find that he was actually married and a kind man. When she meets the hunters further along the trail, her instincts were right when she remained defensive against the one man’s awkward interaction. Her journey was also shaped by other hikers, rangers, and a fox that reappeared several times to remind her why she was out on the trail.

A trailblazer for some or just another traveler for others. Regardless of how people saw Cheryl’s journey, the film was certainly an entertaining trip up the Pacific Crest Trail.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

foxcatcher__spanAlways in the shadow of his older brother, Dave Schultz, Mark Schultz grows restless and frustrated. When he is approached by the wealthy John du Pont about starting a team and moving out to his estate, Mark seizes the opportunity. Seemingly with more respect and support than he feels he has ever received, Mark starts to build his confidence with his training for the next world games. Unfortunately for du Pont, Mark’s newly-developed friendships with the team and interactions with du Pont have also caused him to lose focus. Du Pont admits that he would prefer Mark to convince Dave to join the team, but Mark only makes one attempt before feigning effort toward getting his brother to join. As challenges develop at the preliminaries for the Olympics, Dave gets involved and is lured to continue working with Team Foxcatcher.

Review: This was a film of excellent acting and a surprisingly eerie storyline, but above all were the performances by Steve Carell (John du Pont) and Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz). Playing the tempered but obsessed du Pont, Carell truly transformed his career with this role. The soft-spoken nature that he brings to the screen initially hides the deep-seeded insanity that reveals itself as the plot develops. Du Pont’s supportive obsession caused him to ignore the affect he had on others, particularly the corrupting affect he had on Mark. This was Carell’s best role of his career, at least when it comes to movies.

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While Mark’s attempt at significance and glory was certainly central to the story, the more interesting conflict was the brotherly feud over their definitions of work and success. While Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz) presented the more naive and impressionable younger brother, Mark Ruffalo’s (Dave Schultz) appeared to be the more measured and emotional performance. Possibly due to his story arc or his position opposite Carell, Ruffalo just appeared to be the most intriguing of the two Schultz brothers. While out for the same goal, Dave had found a way to be a success in the sport and in life, while Mark always felt less than his accomplishments.

The dark tone of the film truly helped to accentuate the individual performances. As du Pont continued to fall deeper into madness, he dragged Mark down with him. When it all got to be too much for Mark, he found a way to quit, but it did not stop du Pont’s obsession with winning or exerting his will. Though slow-moving at times, the cast were able to make the most of the experience.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

american_sniper_ver2As a US Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle is off on his first tour after having enlisted following reports of terrorist attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. While he is mocked for joining the SEAL team late, he proves himself quickly to be a sure shot with a sniper rifle. On his first mission, he is set up in a perch to watch the movements of a convoy, when he spots activity across the street. With a young boy in his crosshairs holding a grenade, Kyle has to make a quick decision to make his first kill the child or risk the safety of the convoy. His career continues from that point with a dangerous sniper on the other side who appears as deadly as Kyle and serves as a reason for Kyle to continue redeploying on additional tours of duty.

Review: This dynamic film by Clint Eastwood serves as a new look into the harsh reality of war and the story of one man’s motivation for continuing the fight. Played by Bradley Cooper, Chris Kyle represented an undying commitment to freedom and service that many aspire to emulate. For Kyle, this film has received some debate over the authenticity of Cooper’s representation of the sniper. While the film has one particular scene with Kyle stonewalling his wife (played by Sienna Miller) and another with him delaying his trip home after returning from another tour, Cooper brought more depth and range to the character than has been sighted by Kyle’s real life companions. While the clarity of the representation may be a bit unclear, Cooper’s performance was still one of note.

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One of the most significant challenges with this film was also what makes it so intriguing. The Iraq War is a divisive subject for the reasons the US entered, the treatment of the Iraqis while in occupation, and a myriad of other issues. This movie tended to focus more on Kyle’s missions and his obsession with being in the fray. While the main antagonists were the Iraq soldiers, there were moments they tried to separate militants from general citizens.

The part of the film that truly stood out was the psychological element of Kyle’s engagement with war and his transition afterwards. His commitment was drawn from the events in 1998 at the US embassies. While he had the natural eye and patience for his sniper role, it was his high level of dedication that had him locked in to his position. The added motivation of the Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) and the loss of his fellow soldiers push him into obsession, causing him to be unable to let other soldiers take on his mission. When he finally completed it, he had trouble separating himself from the action. He eventually found solace in working with other veterans and had a new sense of purpose following his active service.

Some would mark Chris Kyle as a contracted killer, but his story is one of service to his country, commitment to his comrades, and belief that he was doing the right thing. Whatever your personal opinion, the film was still a strong tribute to the former SEAL.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

selma_ver2Among the challenges that still existed for racial politics in the mid 1960s was the lack of equality surrounding voting. Martin Luther King Jr was looking to take up the cause along with some of his closest friends and supporters, prompted following the violent deaths of several young black children. Trying to take a nonviolent path, King first attempted to meet with President Johnson to lobby for federal support for their cause, but was met with excuses against getting involved. The group set up in Selma, AL and started to gather community and national support for a march from Selma to Birmingham, to the state house. King and his supporters were met with active resistance and hate-filled violence, threatening their ability to even make it out of Selma to complete their march.

Reaction: Casting the role of MLK was certainly not an easy task, but the staff truly discovered a gem in David Oyelowo. He felt like the reincarnation of the great civil rights leader, projecting the perfect tone and temperament. There were a few moments throughout the film where he presented speeches to rally the support that were almost bone chilling in their resemblance to the real MLK. Tom Wilkinson (Lyndon B. Johnson) may not have had the right accent, but he maintained the bold resistance the real president was known for. Helping to round out the great cast were Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King), Andre Holland (Andrew Young), Dylan Baker (J. Edgar Hoover), and Tessa Thompson (Diane Nash).

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The story started with the death of the four girls at the church and the clerk denying Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) to ability to register to vote. With the talks between Johnson and King ending up being for naught, the mission to organize and conduct the march begins. From a political stance, Hoover and Johnson question King’s efforts and whether the race issue is worth addressing. Hoover appeared to be against movement toward equality, while Johnson just continued to question whether he needed to get involved. In reality, Johnson was a supporter of King’s efforts, but the film takes a bit of artistic licensing with the amount of drama between the pair.

The storytelling helped to make this a truly engaging film. King may have been the leader of the movement, but even he had his moments of doubt. With events like the death of the supporters, the tie-up in the courts, and the first attempt being thwarted by the police and a mob on the other side of the bridge, it seemed like an impossible task to pull of a peaceful protest against the voting rights violations. Other than the Johnson portrayal, the rest of the film projected high authenticity. It also included excellent cinematography, direction, and original music.

Selma is the type of film that screams Oscar for its excellent direction, acting, and overall presentation. This is yet another great example of storytelling important moments in history.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5