The Dos and Dont’s Of Biographical Films Part II

Words by Benjamin Pinsent

A sub category of this point is Don’t make it about everything. It is easy to just follow the complete life of a person in a film and show the entire thing. An example of this is would be the 2010 Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, the story of Ian Dury’s rise to fame as well as his relationship with his girlfriend, wife and son. Already it seems to be a jam packed film, but throw in Baxter Dury’s coming of age story and loads of real life events you end up with a crowded mess that doesn’t shed much light on the inner workings of a talented cripple.

Do cast on ability to act like an historical figure. Looking like someone else is a bonus but if an actor cannot act like the said person the whole film falls apart. The reason why Walk the LineSex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and The Kings Speech work is down to the lead actor, Joaquin Phoenix, Andy Serkis and Colin Firth, all act and sound like Johnny Cash, Ian Dury and George VI, the fact that they look like them as well is considered secondary. Colin Firth does not even look like the King yet his performance makes him believable.

Don’t think you can make a bio-pic about anyone. Like any film, it must contain interesting things and characters. The made for TV movie, William and Kate (2011) was a film that most can learn from in how not to make a movie. Instead of the fairy tale romance that the media was pushing for upon the announcement o the engagement what actually arrived was a typical romance with the only the name of the lead characters setting it apart from all the others.

A better example of a good bio-pic was the 2002 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. It was an intriguing notion a game show host claiming to work as a CIA hitman. It was well shot and acted but most of all it is interesting and follows all the dos and don’ts of making a bio-pic.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Words by Naomi Jeffreys

This film is utter brilliance. This film was produced by Regency Enterprises along with Indian Paintbrush and released in the autumn of 2009. The film features the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray. For director Wes Anderson, it was his first animated film and first film adaptation.

Wes Anderson’s film adaptation follows an urban that fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways and then must help his community survive the farmers’ retaliation.

The film has many independent qualities, it follows one character and his journey to become a better, more ‘fantastic’ fox. The animation is astounding, similar to Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman’s Peter and the Wolf stop motion animation TV film for Channel 4. For me, this type of animation is uniquely British, it is rough at the edges, puppet-like and is not as smooth and as heavily influenced by the bosses of the production companies, like Disney.

What is more, the film is divided in to sections, much like the book: ‘An Emergency Meeting’, ‘One Fox Hour Later’ often these titles are played to non-diegetic music composed by Alexandre Desplat (who has won awards for his brilliant composition), the music is added to create pace, time and urgency to the action.

The cinematography of this film is excellent with Anderson favouring three shots; the wide shot and then a sudden close up of the piercing blue eyes of Mr.Fox (expertly voiced by the dishy Mr George Clooney). This distance that Anderson has from the animals could perhaps be the human’s view of the wild British animals such as Foxes. Thirdly there are also point of view shots, the animals are often talking to camera. This film is entirely unique.

Throughout the film there are moments which are repeated, ‘hooks’. Such as Mr.Fox’s click and whistle, the repetition of the word ‘cuss’ and the use of varying cinematic shots. In addition, the animals are uniquely human for the entirety of the film, Mr.Fox was a chicken crook but then changed to ‘working in newspapers’, he wants to move up in the world from living in a hole to living in an Oak tree. Then, Anderson surprises the audience by having uniquely animalistic moments, growls, the way Mr.Fox devours his breakfast, the vicious, unforgiving nature of animals is as important as the human element.

Anderson had a £40,000,000 budget and was a box office success of $46,471,023, which isn’t great, but the film was a success with critics. Phillip French from the Observer wrote on 25th October 2009 “he introduces these themes into a more complicated, and sentimentalised version of Fox’s life.”. Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian wrote on 22nd October 2009: “Anderson’s movie takes the original story in wacky new directions…”

If you fancy watching something uniquely British, brilliantly voiced by Hollywood stars, which is filled with wit, laughter and cinematography brilliance. Then I urge you to watch this.

The Descendants

As seen at the Odeon on Head Street Colchester

Islands of paradise, an intriguing title, George Clooney and evolving plot lines. Pair this with the cascading whispers of the approaching Oscars and it appears Alex Payne’s The Descendants contains all the right elements to rouse high expectations.

The story revolves around Matt King (Clooney), a workaholic lawyer whose ordered world is thrown into turmoil after a string of dramatic events. The saga begins when his thrill seeking wife falls into a coma after a power boat accident; meaning he must face the crumbling relationship he now has with her and the fact she may never recover. He becomes thrust into the position of being the father he never was to his two boisterous daughters. King also is blindsided by the fact his wife, Elizabeth, may have been having an affair at the time of the accident.

On top of all of this, King must decide the fate of a vast, beautiful, untouched land that has been in his family for generations. The sale of this land would make King and his cousins massively rich; now he must choose whether to sell to the highest bidder or a local business man. Not only that, but he must consider what it will mean for his fellow islanders and if this area of monumental natural beauty should be transformed into an area of commerce.

Drama and comedy ensue like two wonderfully intertwining ice dancers gracefully gliding to their epic conclusion. This in no normal, by the numbers, tear jerker; it is full of subtly and realism which speaks volumes. This is a picture with sincerity and dignity which delivers a huge array of emotions in the most believable manner. Personally, I have found Clooney in the past rather similar to Will Smith; in that he almost plays the same character whatever film he stars in. In The Descendants, Clooney breaks this tradition and delivers probably his finest performance to date. He traverses and flows through anger, confusion, vulnerability, torment, and strength. You are taken on a journey where you experience everything from King’s perspective: the positive straight through to the negative. Sometimes Clooney achieves this with just the use of his eyes. It is truly a remarkable performance.

Clooney’s accomplishment was made all the better from the incredible supporting performances around him. Primarily by King’s daughters who did not make his life any easier; clearly highlighting the parental inadequacies he suffered with. Amara Miller who plays Scotti, the youngest daughter, delivered a performance beyond her years and portrayed a young girl trying to deal with her mother’s comatose condition who has an inner strength that some adults lacked. Shailene Woodley plays the eldest daughter Alex. She is definitely a talent to watch out for; the scene where the actual condition of her mother is broken to her was a clear demonstration of her talent.

The cinematography was beautifully executed; water being a key feature. It was where the accident happened and shots of the island were rarely seen without the gorgeous surrounding waters. The film itself ebbs and flows between the plots and stories and this combined with the local music in the soundtrack genuinely transported you to the island itself.

Imitating real life there are positive as well as negative emotions and Alex Payne has kept everything perfectly balanced. This film is emotional, provocative, compelling and charming with an air of authenticity. It is very clear to see why The Descendants could do very well at the Oscars. This is a beautiful adaptation of the book and a definite must see.