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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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This um…biopic made for the Lifetime Channel, attempts to tell the story of the romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  I have a particular fascination for Burton, which is why I wanted to watch this film, despite all the flak it has received.  And – well….I’m glad I watched it, because it was entertaining on one level, but probably not on the level that it was hoping for.

The first problem is that an hour and a half is simply not enough time to tell the story of Burton and Taylor, and consequently, events seem pretty rushed, with the main focus seeming to be on their arguments.  The main problem however is with the inexplicable casting of Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor.  Now Lohan has had her issues, and I don’t want to pile on to her just for the sake of it.  I was hoping that she would actually be much better than other reviews had led me to believe, but unfortunately those other reviews were right.  She was terribly miscast as Taylor.  It doesn’t bother me that she doesn’t look like Elizabeth Taylor (neither does Helena Bonham-Carter, but she still did a terrific job in the BBC film ‘Burton and Taylor’) – although if a film is going to make constant references to Taylor’s struggle to keep her weight down, it might be worth not having Lohan looking scrawny at the same time.  What annoyed me more was the fact that Lohan didn’t seem to be trying to emulate Taylor in any apparent way.  Her voice was NOTHING like that of Taylor – which was pretty distinctive – and she just seemed to be playing a generic, mainly fictional film star from the era.  In some scenes she was embarrassingly wooden.

Grant Bowler was more of a success as Richard Burton, and did actually do a good job of mastering Burton’s gorgeous voice.  Again, he didn’t really look a lot like Burton, but he did play the part well, and made me feel that with more time to tell the story, and a better leading actress to star opposite, this film could have been more of a success.

For Burton and/or Taylor fans, it’s worth watching for pure curiosity’s sake, but if you are looking for a film about this legendary couple, you would be better off watching the aforementioned BBC production ‘Burton and Taylor’, which focuses on the period in the 1980s when the couple – now divorced – appeared together in the stage play Separate Lives.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Lloyd Kramer

Producers: Larry A. Thompson, Christopher Monger, Kyle A. Clark, Robert G. Endara II, Philip Harrelson, Lina Wong

Writer: Christopher Monger

Main cast: Lindsay Lohan, Grant Bowler, Theresa Russell, David Hunt, Tanya Franks, Andy Hirsch

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This film tells the story of the life of Johnny Cash, covering the years from 1944, when he was a young boy working on his father’s farm, until his groundbreaking concert at Folsom State Prison in 1968.  The film concentrates on Cash’s rise to fame, and addiction to drugs, and his relationships with his first wife Viv, and his second wife, country singer June Carter (later June Carter Cash).

Johnny Cash personally approved Joaquin Phoenix to portray him (having apparently enjoyed Phoenix’s role in Gladiator) and June Carter Cash approved Reese Witherspoon to portray her.  (Sadly both Johnny and June died before the film was released.)  I thought that both Phoenix and Witherspoon were terrific.  Both were nominated for an Oscar for their performances in this film, and Witherspoon actually won.  (Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor award, beating both Phoenix, and Heath Ledger for his role in Brokeback Mountain.  Personally, I would have loved either Phoenix or Ledger to have won.)

What is quite amazing is that both the leads learned how to play the instruments which Johnny and June Cash played, and they also performed all the singing themselves.  And frankly, I thought they nailed it.  Phoenix may be a reluctant star, but he certainly has bags of talent and charisma.  He gives a note-perfect turn, and I really believed in his performance.

Ginnifer Goodwin was also great as Vivian Cash, Johnny’s long-suffering first wife.  It has been strongly suggested that the character portrayed in this film was unfair to Vivian, and that she was actually far nicer than shown in the film (Johnny and June’s son John Carter Cash, was an executive producer on this film, and he has acknowledged the criticism and said that he wanted to show the love story of his parents.  Roseanne Cash, Johnny and Vivian’s daughter, has been critical of the film also.)

The story was fascinating, showing how Cash always blamed himself for a family tragedy which occurred when he was a young boy, and which contributed to the very strained relationship with his father (Robert Patrick).  It chronicles his early struggles to make it in the music business, and his subsequent success.  Naturally, there is some excellent music throughout!  It is a gripping and sometimes very sad tale, but it is ultimately uplifting.  The chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is almost palpable, and the play off one another very well.

I would have liked to have seen the story continue past 1968, and perhaps show more of Cash’s social and political views; it perhaps concentrated too heavily on the love between Johnny and June, but maybe this film is better viewed as a love story, rather than a complete biography.  Either way, the superb music and atmosphere, and the two incredible performances at the heart of the film make this well worth watching, even for those not familiar with Johnny Cash’s music.

(For more information about Johnny Cash, please click here.)

Year of release: 2005

Director: James Mangold

Producers: John Carter Cash, Alan C. Blomquist, James Keach, Cathy Konrad, Lou Robin

Writers: Johnny Cash (book ‘Man in Black’ – based on) (book ‘Cash: The Autobiography’ – based on), Patrick Carr (book ‘Cash: The Autobiography’ based on), Gill Dennis, James Mangold

Main cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Waylon Payne

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