Category Archives: biopic

Review – The Danish Girl (15) [2016]

The Danish Girl - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

2015 was the year that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement took on global significance. Thanks to Bruce Jenner’s successful transition into Caitlyn, the world took note of the LGBT movement and the problems that many transgender people sadly face. The release of Director Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, therefore, could not have come at a more opportune moment. But does the film grab the moment with both hands?

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), before his transformation, painting a view of his small hometown area.

The Danish Girl is a biopic based on a true story about Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne). Einar is a talented artist living with his artist wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), in Copenhagen in 1926. One day, Gerda asks Einar to put on women’s shoes and a dress so she can paint him as a woman called Lili Elbe. This awakens another side of Einar. Within five years, Einar decides to be the first known man to undergo transgender surgery.

The Danish Girl begins in engaging fashion. Eddie Redmayne’s and Alicia Vikander’s characters have excellent on-screen chemistry. They enjoy witty, provocative conversations that show how much they are in love with one another. Indeed, the dialogue throughout the first thirty minutes of the film is filled with sexually tantalising lines that will enable audiences to warm to the characters.

However, the rest of the film’s two-hour runtime is not half as engaging. Tom Hooper does not have much story to work with and (unbelievably) it is when Redmayne/Einar starts to cross-dress that the problems with the movie begin. Problem one is that the provocative dialogue comes to an abrupt halt. This means that everything one came to love about the characters ends at once. That the dialogue turns soppy makes one want to cry with despair. (Some of what is said in the film is allegedly true, but it is still awfully slushy. Also, Hooper adjusts the story to suit his ends, so couldn’t he have at least kept the provocative dialogue?)

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Einar holding a dress as his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), draws him as a woman. Holding the dress, however, awakens Lili.

Problem two with the movie is that Eddie Redmayne starts over-acting. This makes it look like lunacy is taking hold of him; yet, this same over-acting also makes him look noticeably wooden, especially when he transforms into Lili.

And problem three is that Redmayne’s Lili is not a particularly likeable or sympathetic person. She becomes totally self-absorbed, selfish and utterly uncaring for the hurt she causes Gerda, despite having been married to her for many years. Lili’s behaviour has the effect of pushing viewers away from her and the issues she embodies. (Seriously, if a normal man behaved as Lili does, he would be deemed a selfish prick and rightly so; and if a normal woman behaved like that, she would be called a horrible bitch and rightly so. Just because Lili is a transgender person does not exempt her from behaving in a considerate manner.) At a time when the LGBT movement is trying to gain steam to diminish the discrimination and violence that transgender people unfortunately suffer, Lili’s behaviour could be detrimental to the movement’s cause.

Lili’s behaviour also raises another matter unwittingly: the effect that changing gender can have on those whom the transgender person loves. Whether it be a parent or sibling (as was the case for Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner), or a partner (as it was for Gerda), the effects can be emotionally tough, if not crushing. For Gerda, as portrayed in the movie, it is heart-breaking as she loses the man she loves. Alicia Vikander portrays the hurt that Gerda must have felt with raw force. Surprisingly, it is her and Gerda who come out with the most credit from this movie. Thanks to Vikander, Gerda’s pain is real and understandable; whereas Redmayne cannot convincingly convey Lili’s pain, since her emotional pain seems contrived and unnecessary by comparison, like the stroppiness of an adolescent youth.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne's Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

On the left, Eddie Redmayne’s Lili as seen in the film; and on the right, the real Lili Elbe.

How much one can blame Redmayne for this is debatable. He is, after-all, being directed by Tom Hooper and this is not Hooper’s finest film. Yes, it is shot decently, but the stance the film takes toward Lili is confusing. Is The Danish Girl supposed to be a sympathetic, objective, positive or critical portrayal of Lili (and of transgender people on the whole by extension)? If it is trying to achieve all four, Hooper can claim mediocre success at best and a mediocre mawkish muddle at worst.

Over-all, The Danish Girl is a disappointing film. Alicia Vikander is brilliant and the movie starts off in promising fashion with exceptional dialogue. But before long, the film loses its way and turns into a pitiful sop story; one that is enough to test the patience of even the most tolerant of viewers.

Central to the testing nature of the film is the titular Danish girl, herself: Lili Elbe. She might have been the first man to undergo transgender surgery and she might be a pioneer for the LGBT movement today. But she was neither a nice nor considerate person in real life. It can only be hoped that most transgender people are not like her. Otherwise, the momentum that Caitlyn Jenner and the LGBT movement have gathered over the last year will be undone and smothered for a generation.

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Review – Steve Jobs (15) [2015]

Steve Jobs - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Writer:

  • Aaron Sorkin – The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network, The Newsroom

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Daniel Pemberton – Big Kiss, The Awakening, The Counsellor, The Man From UNCLE

In 2011, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. At the time of his death, he was hailed as a great man, a genius, an innovator, and a man who had stayed loyal to his dreams and fulfilled them. Yet, there was another side to Steve Jobs that was largely ignored in the obituaries. Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs focusses on this side of the man to paint a very different portrait of him.

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve 'Waz' Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Steve Jobs is a dramatised biopic of the titular character (played by Michael Fassbender). It centres round events behind the scenes at the launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984; at the launch of NeXT in 1988; and at the launch of the iMac in 1998. With each launch, we get to see Jobs’ true nature, and the changes in his relationships with his assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet); with his friend and fellow co-founder Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen); with the original CEO of Apple, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels); as well as with his former girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and their daughter, Lisa (played by Mackenzie Moss at five, Ripley Sobo at nine, and Perla Haney-Jardine at nineteen).

Steve Jobs is a neat and engaging film about the man Steve Jobs actually was as opposed to the myth many believe in. The movie is told via three separate acts that are more theatrical in tone than cinematic. Between Danny Boyle’s excellent directing and Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant fast and witty dialogue, the movie is delivered via long expositions with few editing cuts. This gives the film a genuine feel of continuity and realism that is typical of other films Sorkin has worked on e.g. The Social Network.

Through the three acts, we learn about the sort of man that Steve Jobs was in real life. Yes, he was ambitious and a great innovator. But he was also unreasonable; treated his staff appallingly (with the possible exception of Joanna Hoffman); alienated his friends and colleagues without remorse; denied paternity to his daughter, Lisa; and did not give a cent to his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan, for child maintenance for Lisa without a court order forcing him to do so (and even then, Jobs only gave the minimal amount; a pittance of what he was earning).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Why was Jobs like this? God only knows. But Steve Jobs at least attempts to explain the unexplainable. It does this in two different ways: one is by a telling us about an event in Jobs’ early childhood and the effect this had on him; and the other is through Michael Fassbender’s terrific acting. Indeed, the former goes hand-in-hand with the latter. Fassbender’s tight-faced rage, his acerbic belittling of others, and his pathological drive to create better, awe-inspiring products illustrates how hurt (damaged) Jobs was by his childhood.

How true this explanation is (in respect of Jobs’ behaviour) is contentious. Several people who knew him well claim that the film is inaccurate, including Edwin Catmull, the head of Pixar (a company that Jobs was a board member of); Tim Cook, the current Apple CEO; and Waz, himself. Catmull claims that the film’s story is ‘wrong’ (although he does not give a reason for this), and Waz has said that ‘everything in the movie did not happen’ since he never spoke to Jobs before the events that the film portrays. Now, granted, Danny Boyle’s movie does take (considerable) artistic licence. One could never believe that the events happened in real life as they are portrayed in the film because that would have been unrealistic and impossible. But that does not mean that the events did not happen; they just happened at different times and Boyle has put them into his film at certain points to give the movie a solid and satisfying narrative arch.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

Nevertheless, the film’s tight, solid and satisfying arch comes at a cost. In some respects it is too tight. Boyle misses out plenty of moments and events in Jobs’ life that could have altered the perceptions of Jobs. Adding a couple of key moments/events (or even mentioning them) about his family and about the long, protracted manner of his death could have given the film a more complete feeling and enabled viewers to make better informed judgements on Jobs. Yet, even without these moments, one can still form strong conclusions on the man.

Over-all, Steve Jobs is an enjoyable and interesting film about an almost mythical man. In an objective manner, with superb acting, dialogue and directing, we see Steve Jobs for what he was like as a person, how he changed over the years, and the events that shaped him into the man he became, for better and for worse. It is debatable how close to the truth this film is to reality. More than anything, though, Steve Jobs highlights that a person can be a genius and create phenomenal products, but that his/her products can be greater than the person who created them.

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