Biopic

[3.0] Elizabeth Taylor plays the powerful and sexy Egyptian queen who fends off Roman conquest while falling in love with its leaders — first Rex Harrison’s Caesar, and then Richard Burton’s Antony. First I’ll be nice to Cleopatra. The sets are sprawling, opulent, and sometime jaw-dropping. Richard Burton gives a powerful, remorseful monologue near the end, and Roddy McDowall gives one of the best performances …

[6.0] Spencer Tracy and Jean Simmons star in this adaptation of an autobiographical stage play by writer/actress Ruth Gordon (Harold & Maude, Rosemary’s Baby). The story centers around teen-aged Gordon’s final year at home with her parents, when she first set her sights on acting while dodging her father’s efforts for her to pursue a more practical line of work. Director George Cukor sticks to …

[7.0] Tom Hardy stars as Michael Peterson, one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners, in this film from director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives). The film starts in 1974 with Peterson’s attempt to rob a post office with a sawed-off shotgun. That stint begins his life behind bars where violent behavior prolongs his sentence. Thirteen years later, he’s released and gets into the world …

[6.5] Writer/director Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Glee) brings Augusten Burroughs’ memoir to the big screen. Joseph Cross plays young Burroughs, a thirteen-year-old whose emotionally unstable mother hands him off to her therapist. Running with Scissors is primarily about Burroughs trying to fit in at the therapist’s bizarre household while learning to accept that his mother will never be what he needs her to be. Annette Bening …

[6.0] Melissa McCarthy shifts gears with a dramatic turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who after decades of success writing best-selling books about the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Estee Lauder, and Tallulah Bankhead, found herself in a desperate dry spell in the early ’90s. She turned to forgery to make ends meet, selling fake private letters …

[7.0] Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer) brings his off-kilter humor to this dark period-piece comedy about a poor but clever scullery maid (Emma Stone) who ingratiates herself to England’s ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) with intentions of replacing the Queen’s longtime confidante and political proxy (Rachel Weisz). You can think of it as a quirky retelling of All About Eve. The …

[8.0] Christian Bale once again transforms himself completely to become former vice-president Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s (The Big Short) new film, Vice. The film is a pastiche of Cheney’s political career, driven in large part by his relationship with wife Lynne (Amy Adams) and daughters Liz and Mary. McKay is careful to keep Vice a pitch-black comedy at all times, but he also does …

[8.0] Steve Carell stars as millionaire John du Pont in the disturbing true story of du Pont’s attempt to recruit and train wrestlers for Olympic glory. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo star as wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz. Mark falls under du Pont’s spell pretty easily, allowing du Pont to fill the role of father figure that older brother Dave once filled. But when …

[8.5] Joel Edgerton (The Gift) brings Garrard Conley’s true story of dangerous, misguided gay conversion therapy to the big screen with the help of Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) plays Conley in the film, a young teen who is pressured to confess his homosexuality to his baptist preacher father (Crowe) and loving mother (Kidman). With …

[7.0] Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck star in Andrew Dominik’s dramatization of the last months of famous outlaw Jesse James’ life. Pitt plays James and Affleck plays his admirer-turned-assassin, Robert Ford. The young Ford character is smitten from the outset, but ridicule from James and the other gang members slowly hardens his heart. Jealousy eventually turns him against his idol. As James, Pitt is unstable …

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