Posts Tagged ‘drama movie’

A publisher finds her mettle during a fight over government secrets in Spielberg’s new historical drama, ‘The Post’

February 1, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 1, 2018

Steven Spielberg’s dozens of features are too numerous and diverse to categorize neatly. But if some hypothetical archivist were forced to sort the prolific director’s output into two boxes, she or he could do worse than to choose the labels “commercial movies” and “prestige movies.” Jaws (1975), the prototypical blockbuster, would belong in the first box; so would Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the other Indiana Jones movies (the 1984 prequel and 1989 and 2008 sequels), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993) and its 1997 follow-up, Minority Report and Catch Me if You Can (both 2002), War of the Worlds (2005) and other works, including the imminent Ready Player One and an upcoming Indiana Jones adventure.

Spielberg’s 2017 feature, The Post, belongs squarely with his prestige movies. It’s in good company, rubbing elbows with Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler’s List (1993)Amistad (1997), Munich (2005 again), Lincoln (2011) and Bridge of Spies (2015). Other than the director’s very first prestige picture, The Color Purple (1985), which was adapted from Alice Walker’s phenomenal 1982 novel, all of these highbrow movies are based on true stories.

The Post reunites the director with Tom Hanks. The star of Bridge of Spies plays against Meryl Streep as the editor and publisher, respectively, of The Washington Post. Today, the newspaper is an iconic American journalism institution, and Ben Bradlee and Katharine “Kay” Graham are legendary figures. But when we meet the lead characters, in 1971, they have yet to secure their legacies.

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Adam McKay explains how the end of the world got monetized in ‘The Big Short,’ his surprisingly entertaining tale of real-life financial shenanigans

January 2, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 2, 2015

The Big Short is a strangely entertaining and extremely timely movie about a wholly unlikely subject: A handful of investors who anticipated, and got rich because of, the collapse of the American housing market.

Director Adam McKay’s feature is based on Michael Lewis’s 2010 nonfiction book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. Lewis also wrote Liar’s PokerMoneyball and The Blind Side, among other books; the first of these drew on Lewis’s experiences on Wall Street, while the latter two became enormously successful sports movies. The latest Lewis-inspired outing was translated to screen by thriller screenwriter Charles Randolph and McKay, the director of such excellent comedies as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

The Big Short tracks three sets of characters in their quest to make a bundle of money while betting against conventional wisdom. One of the men at the heart of the story is Michael Burry, a one-eyed possibly autistic medical doctor who runs a Silicon Valley investment firm. As played by Christian Bale, Burry is an oddball who loves to play heavy metal rock music at eardrum-piercing volumes and who regularly shows up at the office dressed as if he were about to spend a day cleaning his garage. Burry wears the shirt throughout the film, which takes place over the course of about three years.

Burry, who’s capable of prolonged bouts of concentration, finds that an alarming percentage of housing mortgage bonds are based on poorly secured subprime loans. A single bond consists of thousands of individual mortgages, each of which represents the debt owed by a home buyer to a lender; investors buy the bonds in order to receive a share of the monthly mortgage payments.

For decades, such bonds were a rock-solid investment. What Burry discovers — contrary to the assertions of virtually every economist in the known universe — is that many of home loans being made were incredibly risky. As a result, the mortgage bond market is highly overvalued and therefore due for a correction, otherwise be known as a crash.

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The invisible man as prism: ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ helps convey the story of 20th century American civil rights

September 20, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 20, 2013

Near the very beginning of the cumbersomely titled Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the camera flies quickly over a vast field in such a fashion that budding cotton plants are, at least at first, indistinguishable from the sun-dappled waves of the ocean.

We are seeing a Macon, Ga., plantation in 1926, a place and time where young Cecil Gaines and his family and friends are little better than slaves. After Thomas Westfall — a white man and a land owner, or at least the son of one — rapes Gaines’ mother, Earl Gaines confronts Westfall verbally. Westfall pulls a gun and shoots the other man in the head as the horrified 8-year-old watches.

That event forever changes the world for Cecil. Matron Annabeth Westfall takes young Gaines under her wing with a mixture of kindness and cruelty; mere seconds after Earl has been shot to death, she curtly tells the child to stop crying and informs him that he’ll become a “house nigger” now.

Young Gaines takes to his new life as a serving boy. But at age 15, believing that Thomas Westfall was bound to take his own life, Gaines runs away and becomes the protégé of a butler at a hotel in North Carolina. A few scenes later, a middle-aged Gaines (Forest Whitaker) is working as a butler at a fancy Washington, D.C., hotel in the 1950s; a few scenes after that, the husband and father joins the domestic staff of the White House under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Butler, as I shall refer to it, is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who literally served every American president from Harry Truman through Ronald Reagan. Allen’s life, as originally chronicled by Washington Post reporter Wil Haygood, has been adapted for the screen by Danny Strong. The feature is directed by Lee Daniels, whose last two outings were The Paperboy (2012) and Precious (2009).

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Oskar Schindler, a slick and self-indulging saint, spares lives amidst Nazi atrocities

April 9, 2013

In 1980, the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally went shopping for a briefcase in a Beverly Hills, Calif., luggage store. The store’s owner, Leopold Pfefferberg, was one of about 1,300 mainly Polish Jews whose lives had been spared during World War II by the heroic efforts of Nazi industrialist Oskar Schindler.

It was a fateful meeting: After years of attempting to interest a writer in doing a full-length treatment of Schindler’s story, Pfefferberg finally found a receptive ear.

Keneally went on to interview 50 Schindlerjuden in America, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Israel and West Germany. With Pfefferberg, he visited European locations frequented by Schindler and the people protected during the war. Keneally’s researches and other efforts went on to inform the 1982 book Schindler’s Ark, which was published in American under a title well known to moviegoers: Schindler’s List.

The book is categorized by its author as a novel, and Keneally admits to having made “reasonable constructs of conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record.“ However, it reads as a work as journalism, with speculation and extrapolation on certain matters clearly labeled as such by Keneally.

I recently read an American volume of Schindler’s List and found it to be an incredibly moving tale. (This was no surprise; Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film adaptation of Keneally, which I watched last summer, had a similar effect upon me.)

A paradox lies at the heart of this book. In his inimitable fashion, Schindler merrily wined, dined and bribed Nazis as part of a determined effort to spare the lives of about 1,300 workers and their families at his kitchenware and munitions plants in the ancient Polish city of Cracow and, later, the rural Czechoslovakian outpost of Brinnlitz. To find this story inspiring, as I do, is simultaneously to embrace and to deny the backdrop to this feat: The six million European Jews cruelly murdered by Hitler and his armies.
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Eastwood grapples with culture and violence in his moving ‘Gran Torino’

January 18, 2013

Two deaths bracket the 2008 movie Gran Torino, which stars and was directed by Clint Eastwood. Of the second, I shall say little to nothing other than that, like the first, it personally affects Eastwood’s character.

But the man at the beginning of the movie and the one at the end are, if you’ll forgive my pun, very different characters. As the film opens, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) stands in a Catholic church by the casket of his dead wife. The stone-faced retired automobile factory worker strains to hold back a contemptuous growl as his grandchildren — one clad in a Detroit Lions football jersey, another in a midriff-baring top — casually approach their pew and cross themselves with varying degrees of sincerity and mockery. When Father Janovich, a rosy-cheeked young priest, begins his homily, Kowalski scarcely chokes back a derisive snort.

A wake follows at Kowalski’s home. But while the house is packed with people, Kowalski hardly seems to notice the company. He callously dismisses Janovich’s attempt at conversation, his granddaughter’s offer to help him with a minor chore, and a neighbor’s request for jump cable.

The young neighbor Kowalski barks at is a gentle teenager of Hmong ethnicity named Thao. He lives with his older sister, Sue, and their mother and grandmother. (And perhaps one or two others — I may have missed something.)

This character, who barely speaks in most of his early scenes, is beloved by his immediate family but considered a non-entity. As extended family and neighbors gather for a ceremony to bless a newborn baby, an older male relative cuts in front of Thao without acknowledgment as the teenager scrubs a stack of dishes at the sink.

Kowalski seems inclined to avoid human contact with anyone other than his old war and work buddies. Thao isn’t quite as isolated, but there are people he’s eager to avoid. Specifically, he’d prefer not to be drawn into the gun-toting gang that his older cousin Spider has joined. He tries to resist but eventually agrees to an initiation that ends up going horribly wrong in a wonderfully right way.  Read the rest of this entry »

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