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Posts Tagged ‘biography’

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The story of the fall and rise of Dick Cheney, vice President to George W Bush. This film charts the transformation of a young, drunken ne’er-do-well Cheney, into one of the most powerful men in America, and a man who basically played George W. Bush like a violin. It stars Christian Bale (both brilliant and unrecognisable) as Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. Amy Adams stars as Lynne Cheney, Dick’s wife who is just as detestable and ambitious as her husband. The film aims to tell the truth as far as possible, but there are moments of high comedy and satire which are genuinely laugh-out-loud in places (unexpected in a biography of such a hate-filled and unpleasant character), and certain scenes necessarily take a certain dramatic licence.

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Year of release: 2018

Director: Adam McKay

Writer: Adam McKay

Main cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, Tyler Perry

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Genre: Drama, biography, satire

Highlights: The whole cast are superb

Lowlights: The only lowlight is that Dick Cheney is actually a real person

Overall: Excellent – well acted, well scripted, compelling and even funny in parts. Recommended.

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The hugely successful musical Jersey Boys is a jukebox musical which tells the story of The Four Seasons (later Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons). It starts with the band getting together and struggling to settle on a name, takes them through their career, and the disintegration of the band, with Frankie becoming the main name and the Four Seasons becoming his backing band.

I went into it knowing next to nothing about the band, other than a few of their songs. Or so I thought – as it turned out, I knew more of their songs than I realised, I just hadn’t realised that these songs I had known for years were actually by the Four Seasons. I was also surprised by the backgrounds of the band – their music conjures up images of a group of clean cut young men, singing about love. In fact, DeVito was a compulsive gambler and both he and Massi spent time in prison. They also had mob connections, which they had to rely on from time to time.

The band are played by: Michael Watson as Frankie Valli; Simon Bailey as Tommy DeVito; Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio; and Lewis Griffiths as Nick Massi. Each of them narrate a quarter of the show, which allows all the different characters to shine through and which also allows the story to be told from all four points of view. They were all excellent, and although I am trying to pick a favourite, I can’t!

Valli has an extremely distinctive voice, and Michael Watson did a superb job of recreating it, but all four of them contributed to the high energy performances. The supporting cast were also great, and although there were some sad parts of the story, the overall feeling that the audience were left with was one of joy. The audience clearly adored this show, and with good reason – everyone was clapping, singing or dancing along by the end.

Faultless in every way, this is a show I would love to see again and again and again. If you get chance to see it, go and see it. If you’ve already seen it, go see it again!!

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Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterley, which tells the true story of three black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. Katherine Johnson is played by Taraji P Henson, Dorothy Vaughan is played by Octavia Spencer and Mary Jackson is play ed by Janelle Monae. The supporting cast includes Jim Parsons and Kevin Costner.

The film shows a still segregated community where these three inspirational ladies have to withstand sexism and racism in what was very much a white man’s environment. The story of the space race itself is prominent obviously, but more interesting for me at least were the individual stories of these three remarkable women. Lots of moments of humour, and plenty of pathos. I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it.

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Year of release: 2016

Director: Theodore Melfi

Writers: Margot Lee Shetterly (book), Alison Schroeder (screenplay)< Theodore Melfi (screenplay)

Main cast: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst

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Funny Girl is based on the life of Fanny Brice, a singer and entertainer who became famous in the early 1900s. It’s definitely a fictionalised account of Fanny’s life, so if you are after a biography this is not the show to see. But if you are after a couple of hours of great entertainment, delivered by a superb cast, then you should definitely see it.

The story tells how Fanny didn’t fit into the leggy beauty look that people wanted to see on stage, and instead had to rely on her humour and fantastic voice. And the audience loved her! She joined the Ziegfeld Follies and became a main attraction and a huge star. Her private life was less successful – she fell deeply in love with Nick Arnstein, a cad and a gambler, but through it all the show went on, as it always must.

Natasha J Barnes was outstanding as Fanny – she had something of a baptism of fire in the role, being understudy for Sheridan Smith and finding herself thrust into the main role when Smith had to leave the tour for a while under fraught personal circumstances. Barnes has a quick wit, a very expressive face and a cheeky nod and wink, all with perfect comic timing. She is utterly endearing – and that voice! Wow!

Darius Campbell was fetching and charismatic as Nick. Far too smooth a character for my personal taste, but he inhabited the part well and his singing voice was just right too.

Full credit too to Rachel Izen who played Fanny’s mother and almost stole every scene she was in; Myra Sands as family friend Mrs Strakosh and Zoe Ann Brown as another family friend Mrs Meeker. Also to Joshua Lay who played Fanny’s friend, fellow performer and ardent admirer Eddie. His dancing was excellent, and I wished Fanny had ended up with him.

Beautiful songs, with the two most well known probably being People, and the uplifting belter, Don’t Rain On My Parade.

Overall, it’s a feel-good show with some poignant and tender moments. Natasha Barnes fully deserved the standing ovation she got at the end…I highly recommend this production!

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As the subtitle suggests, this musical tells the story of Buddy Holly – or at least the story of his rise to fame, for the show starts while Buddy is looking for a record deal. Naturally it contains all his most famous songs, and given just how well known and loved those songs are, it must be a daunting task to take on the role.

Full disclosure here – I probably would not have gone to see this show if I hadn’t been taking my mother, who really likes Buddy Holly’s music, given that she spent much of her youth listening to it. But along I went, looking forward to an enjoyable afternoon, and I have to say this show delivered enjoyment by the bucketload. Alex Fobbester played Buddy (he alternates performances with Glen Joseph), and he was absolutely fantastic. Like the rest of the cast, Fobbester played his instruments live during the performance  and they did full and complete justice to the songs.

The story charts his career, taking in his marriage to Maria Elena, and his fallout with backing band The Crickets.

The second half of the show is given over to a performance of touring show that Holly was doing with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens when all three were killed in a plane crash in 1959. This gives Thomas Mitchells and Jordan Cunningham playing Big Bopper and Valens respectively the chance to shine, as they perform those singers’ most famous songs – Chantilly Lace (Big Bopper) and La Bamba (Valens) – and they both thrilled the crowd.

The entire audience were up on their feet clapping along by the end of the show, with many of us dancing in the aisles. The standing ovation that the cast received at the end was very well deserved. And me? I am most definitely a Buddy Holly convert, and am in fact sitting typing this with Buddy Holly’s music playing in the background. For a career that last less than two years, this man gave the world of music a precious gift and a lasting influence. Whether you are a Buddy fan or not, I strongly recommend this show.

For anyone who is interested, here is a list of songs that feature in this production:

Rose of Texas

Rip It Up

Changing all those Changes

That’s Be the Day

You’ve Got Love

Brown Eyed Handsome Man

Everyday

Shout

Not Fade Away

Peggy Sue

Words of Love

Oh Boy

Listen to Me

Think it Over

Well Alright

True Love Ways

It’s So Easy

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

Chantilly Lace

Maybe Baby

Peggy Sue Got Married

Heartbeat

La Bamba

Raining In My Heart

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Rave On

Johnny B. Goode

 

 

 

 

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Shakespeare and Me is a collection of essays by a variety of (mainly) writers, actors and directors, on what Shakespeare means to them and how he is still such a big part of modern culture. Throughout the essays, most of Shakespeare’s plays are mentioned, with many of the writers concentrating on just one.

As with all books featuring contributions by different people, some appealed more than others. My personal favourites were the three essays on Othello, and especially James Earl Jones’s ‘The Sun God’ (I was amused by the fact that he mentions actor Hugh Quarshie, and writes that he thinks Quarshie should play Othello – this essay was written prior to Quarshie’s performance as Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last year, which I was lucky enough to see). Eammon Walker – who himself played a fantastic Othello at the Globe Theatre – writes ‘Othello in Love’; and Barry John writes ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ which studied how the staging of a production of Othello started to draw parallels to the play itself.

I also enjoyed Re-revising Shakespeare by Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company; Shakespeare and Four-Colour Magic by Conor McCreery (where he discusses turning Shakespeare and his characters into comic book stars), and Ralph Fiennes’s ‘The Question of Coriolanus’.

If you have any interest in Shakespeare, I recommend this book.

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Sherilyn Fenn has the unenviable task of playing Elizabeth Taylor in this made-for-TV biopic, made while Taylor herself was still alive (she apparently tried to stop it). It gives a somewhat rushed run-through of the actress’s life, starting with a brief opening demonstrating her mother’s determination to make Elizabeth into a movie star – Elizabeth, it should be noted, wanted to be an actress, according to this biopic at least; her mother wants her to be a movie star because they are rich.

Moving quickly through her first four marriages to Nicky Hilton (Eric Gustavson), the abusive, jealous husband; Michael Wilding (Nigel Havers), who is charming but cuckolded; Mike Todd (Ray Wise) with whom she seems to share real passion, but who tragically died in a plane crash; and most controversially Eddie Fisher (Corey Parker) was married to Elizabeth’s best friend Debbie Reynolds whom he left for Elizabeth, but he clearly has no idea how to handle her or keep her interest.

Naturally enough, large focus is then given to her relationship with Richard Burton (Angus McFadyen) although their subsequent divorce, re-marriage and second divorce are flipped through in a matter of seconds, via images of newspaper headlines.

There then follows a marriage to Senator John Warner (Charles Frank), who seems to love her at least partly because of the fame marriage to Elizabeth Taylor brings with it – she gets depressed and puts on weight. Their marriage ends and she goes to rehab where she meets her seventh and final husband (to whom she has her eighth marriage) , Larry Fortensky (Michael McGrady). They were still married when this picture was made.

This film does not cover a great deal of Elizabeth Taylor’s professional career, sticking instead with the love, marriages and scandal. There are a couple of scenes which show her work for raising awareness of AIDS, which I would have liked to have seen more of.

Fenn was actually great as Taylor, nailing the accent in particular. Most of the supporting cast did a good job, although I felt that Ray Wise put in a slightly overblown performance. McFadyen looked very much like Richard Burton – uncannily so at times – but I that he also over-acted somewhat and never really captured the character convincingly.

Occasionally the dialogue was a bit clunky, a bit daytime soap opera-ish, but despite that and despite the fact that certain events were skimmed over with only the briefest detail, I have to admit that I did enjoy this film. In the same way that I don’t buy gossip magazines but I’ll have a read of one when I’m at the hairdressers – it’s entertaining even when you know that it’s entertainment first and information second. Sometimes some of the actual vintage footage which was used jarred with the more modern footage, due to the obvious difference in quality, but that did not detract from my enjoyment.

I would recommend this biopic to fans of Elizabeth Taylor, more for curiosity’s sake than for any real factual content.

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Year of release: 1995

Director: Kevin Connor

Writers: C. David Heymann book ‘Liz: An Intimate Biography’), Burr Douglas

Main cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Angus McFadyen, William McNamara, Corey Parker, Nigel Havers, Ray Wise, Michael McGrady

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