Tag Archive: historical drama


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

We’re fans of classic film here at borg (remember when we stumbled into the oldest movie theater in the world?) and the history of motion pictures (like George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, his lost film, and several vintage films).  Now one of our favorite authors celebrates the heyday of these early movies with Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen.  Anne Nesbet’s new historical fiction adventure for young readers, Daring Darleen follows the exploits of twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the cliffhanger serials, “The Dangers of Darleen.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At one level The Aeronauts is a welcome reminder of how much humans take the science and technological achievements of their forbearers for granted.  It is a harrowing adventure, heart-pounding like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (the story of a climb to the top of Mount Everest), and will leave you feeling like you, too, have spent a few hours dangling from the top of a temporarily frozen gas balloon on a record-breaking flight in 1862.  And the Mount Everest comparison is no joke, as the balloonists soon realized what happens to the body on a climb that high was happening to them, including the addled brain from hypoxia.  Of course this flight was 91 years before Edmund Hillary made his record-breaking ascent at 29,029 feet, about 6,000 feet lower than the real-life flight documented in The Aeronauts, so everything they learned on their balloon flight was new.

The real-life scientist James Glaisher is played by Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and the balloon pilot–a fictional composite named Amelia Rennes–is played by Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)–reuniting both Oscar-nominated stars of the historical, scientist biopic The Theory of Everything (which earned Redmayne his first Oscar).  Glaisher seeks to prove that the study of weather can result in the possible prediction of weather and seeks the expert aeronaut Rennes to partner with him so he can prove his theories to the doubting aristocrats of London.  To do that he needed to get higher into the sky than ever before.  Rennes’s role was based on actual aeronaut balloonists Henry Coxwell and Margaret Graham, with even more elements based on Sophie Blanchard, who was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist, and, like Jones’s character, became famous as aeronaut following her husband’s death.

The Aeronauts is based on the death-defying feats of aeronauts in Richard Holmes’ 2013 book Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air.  Since the real flight itself lasted less than two hours aloft, the film is a great character study and closed room story, with an undeniable friendly, non-romantic chemistry between the two leads.  But it’s Jones’s circus-esque, Flying Wallendas-like showmanship and stunts that will make you want to come right back and watch it again.  Inspiring, soaring, and adventurous, it’s the kind of film you’ll want to show kids to get them excited about being all they can be.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As dramas about the current problems in the world are concerned, it doesn’t get much better than The Laundromat, one of the many direct-to-Netflix dramas premiering this year.  It’s full of genre favorite actors and the subject is that “ripped from the headlines” variety.  The film begins with a couple celebrating their 40th anniversary with a trip to Niagara Falls.  Unfortunately they do like many do on any vacation, they take local transportation.  Here that is a small commuter boat.  When a minor wave hits the side, the boat rocks and sinks.  The man, played by James Cromwell, dies, and his wife, played by Meryl Streep, lives.  We then meet the crooks of the story, two law partners in Panama played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, breaking the fourth wall to explain the rules of modern finance, and ultimately a step-by-step guide to international money laundering via the U.S. tax code.  The duo is perfect, dressed to the nines to reflect their wealth, courtesy of costume designer Ellen Mirojnick (Starship Troopers, The Chronicles of Riddick).  Like every villain in any story, these villains see themselves as the victims.  Director Steven Soderburgh then spins a story requiring some bizarre worldbuilding–in our own world–that recounts only a few of the many strange aspects of the real-life Panama Papers scandal, which ultimately took down all sorts of politicians and multi-millionaires.

Unlike any other good film about an actual historical event that follows the basic sequential framework, like, as an example, The Post, which also starred Meryl Streep, the value of this film is in its style and design and the way it tells the story.  It’s also an educational tool that explains the realities of “wealth management,” but it doesn’t do it in a bland way, incorporating the law partners like the stage manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but because of the actors’ charm, it’s handled much better than previous similar efforts, like, say, The Wolf of Wall Street or Goodfellas.  As good as Soderburgh’s The Informant!, the style of his Ocean’s 11 series, and the gravity of his Erin Brockovich, this should be counted as a big film for 2019.  It’s funny when it needs to be, but its scope is real and grave, highlighting the fragility of life with not only the story it tells, but the precariousness of every player as they go to and fro in the film, all one slip from becoming Streep or Cromwell’s character at any point.

The Laundromat has an all-star cast of genre favorites, featuring great work from the likes of Jeffrey Wright, Robert Patrick, Nonso Anozie, Will Forte, Chris Parnell, Rosalind Cho, David Schwimmer, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Sharon Stone.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

I am happy to have watched my first screening of Academy Award winning director Alfonso Cuarón‘s Roma following a mini-marathon of Francis Ford Coppola’s seemingly incomparable The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2.  Otherwise I might buy into the rather pervasive critical sentiment that the film suffers from “lack of story.”  Although Coppola’s films have an exciting action-heavy plot, they, like Roma, are about family, and not every family is part of the Mob.  If audiences look harder at Roma they may find a lot more.  Cuarón, this year with five Oscar nominations for his own puppetmastery: director, writer, producer (best film/foreign film), and cinematographer (the film leads all nominees with ten nominations in all), has created that rare piece of artistry that is a historical snapshot like Oscar nominees of decades past.  And it’s an incredible piece of black and white cinematography, artfully filmed as admirably as the Godfather movies.

The film follows Cleo, played by newcomer Oaxacan actress Yalitza Aparicio, a live-in housekeeper for a well-to-do, “middle class” family in the Colonia Roma area of Mexico City of the early 1970s.  She’s an employee of the family, yet both in the home and in town she encounters reactions from her community that tell us she has second class status–she may live in the neighborhood, but she’s not a member of the family.  The synopsis of the film is brief: Cleo is single, gets a boyfriend, gets pregnant, he rejects her, and the result is tragic.  This is all presented as realistically as possible, and viewers can’t help but empathize with her at every turn.  At the same time the family has its own crisis–the father/husband leaves the wife and kids to fend for themselves, and they need to move on.  Her plight constantly is upstaged by the family matters.

The drama comes from the subtlety, the gestures, the care she gives for the family’s children, the dismissal she gets from professionals even when they are attempting to treat her with respect (as with doctors in a number of hospital visits).  How many people have encountered Cleos in their lives?  How do you treat them and see them treated?  Cuarón based Cleo on his own housekeeper from his youth, recreating his home, his neighborhood, and the Mexico City of his youth.  It’s no doubt that the pacing of the film could hardly be slower, thanks to Cuarón’s trademark long, single takes, and this will be a turn-off for some, especially in an era of sound bytes and action movies.  Yet Cuarón is forcing the audience to slow down and give the film their full attention.  The truth, the soul of the film, can be found in the nuance.  Even the slow pass at giant barrister shelves takes on its own meaning, the jet planes overhead, the father’s too-large-for-the-garage Ford Galaxie.  Statements are everywhere from production designer Eugenio Caballero, using furniture from Cuarón’s home to replicate the director’s memories of the era.

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