Tag: Biography

1995, Movies

Carrington (1995, Christopher Hampton)

This is an extremely episodic film about the painter Carrington and her highly unconventional personal life. The film is mostly about her personal relationships and not really about her work so if you’re looking for a biography of a painter, look elsewhere. The film won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1995 but with …

2008, Movies

Bronson (2008, Nicholas Winding Refn)

There are probably two types of people: people who think Winding Refn is a genius and people who think he is ponderous, boring and way too interested in style over substance. You can count me among the latter. Despite all the praise over Valhalla Rising and Drive, I found both movies to be flawed. I …

2012, Movies

Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012, Robert B. Weide)

Putting aside the possible moral objection some may have to Woody Allen, this is a decent summary of his career as a filmmaker (and, before that, as a comedian). It’s a little odd in its approach, given that the first “half” (I watched it on Netflix) is fairly chronological, but the second part is less …

2006, Books, Non-Fiction

Thomas Paine (2006) by Craig Nelson

I have only ever read The Rights of Man many years ago. I loved Paine’s wit (there are many classic one-liners, including my favourite anti-monarchist barb of all time: “a hereditary monarch makes as much sense as a hereditary poet laureate”) but found his philosophy superficial, probably because I had just left grad school. This …

2015, Movies

Amy aka Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story (2015, Asif Kapadia)

This is a documentary about Amy Winehouse, her life, short career and struggles with fame and substance abuse. As a society, we always seem to gravitate to those artists we lose early in life, but in this particular case it seems that more of the story is about the problems of fame (and, particularly, the …

2012, Movies

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012, Drew DeNicola, Olivia Mori)

This is a thorough and engaging documentary about the seminal power pop band Big Star. It’s definitely on the fawning side, but it’s idiosyncrasies as a film, and the willingness for the interviewees to discuss the negative aspects of the idols’ personalities, make for a more engaging film than you might suspect. It also works …

2004, Movies

Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt (2004, Margaret Brown)

Like most music obsessives, I know of Townes Van Zandt. But I don’t know his songs too well – I have only ever heard his debut and Steve Earle’s tribute album. This is an impressionistic film: though there is some attempt a chronological portrait of Van Zandt’s life, it is inter-cut with performance and interview …

2012, Movies

Beauty is Embarrassing (2012, Neil Berkeley)

This is an engaging, entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking documentary about the animator, puppeteer and pop artist Wayne White, in part inspired by his one-man show (much like Swimming to Cambodia). I was not familiar with White’s work beyond his contributions to Pee Wee’s Playhouse and some music videos (and, of course, I didn’t know who …

2012, Movies

Bettie Page Reveals All (2012, Mark Mori)

This is an authorized biography, unlike the authorized bio pic that I apparently liked, though I don’t remember it at all. I’m sure it’s very informative if you’re interested in Bettie Page. I don’t really care much, so I found this movie kind of myopic. Though there is some attempt to explain to us all …

2012, Movies

BB King: The life of Riley (2012, Jon Brewer)

This is an in-depth but rather fawning documentary about B.B. King, a man who has a decent claim as the greatest living blues musician, or at least among them. It’s more of a celebration than a documentary or proper biography – though there is lots of information about his upbringing, it does feel like a …

1996, 2011, Movies, Theatre

Barrymore (2011, Erik Canuel)

This is the film version of a 1996 one-man show of Christopher Plummer as John Barrymore rehearsing for a revival of Richard III. Unlike some play adaptations, this one makes little pretense of hiding that it was a one-man show. Though film tricks are used to add or slightly change things that must have been …

2010, Movies

Barney’s Version (2010, Richard J. Lewis)

So, I have not read the novel. I have no idea whether or not it’s good. I have heard good things. Also, I like the concept. But, despite Giamatti’s excellent performance in the title role I could not bring myself to like the main character and that’s a big, big problem for a film that …

2010, Movies

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010, Andrei Ujica)

This film attempts to paint a portrait of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu simply by assembling and editing together excerpts from something like 1,000 hours of official footage. Because of the way it is assembled – just this footage, no talking heads, no narration, no obvious message – what you make of this movie appears …

2007, Movies

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)

This is a fascinating film, one that attempts to take a novel that tells a tale as if it was written at the time and translate that to the screen. The cast is incredible and the movie is well shot. But the pacing is not great even though the film appears to take up well …

1996, Movies

Andrei Rublev (1966, Andrei Tarkovsky)

Writing a brief review of Tarkovsky’s immense, uncompromising, willfully difficult Andrei Rublev seems inherently unfair. This is one of the most ambitious and difficult films I have ever seen, also among the longest. When I say it’s immense, I mean it: 9 chapters over nearly 3 ½ hours, ostensibly about the Russian medieval iconographic painter …

1953, Books, Fiction

The Worldly Philosophers (1953, 1999) by Robert L. Heilbroner

The Worldly Philosophers is an impressive and engaging summary of the lives and ideas of the major economists from Adam Smith through Joseph Schumpeter, covering both the people you would expect (Ricardo, Keynes) and some people you would not. Heilbroner is a refreshing guide because he both has a historical sense of economics and he …

2010, Books, Non-Fiction

Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont (2010) by Joseph Boyden

At first, I found the style fairly jarring. This was not what I was expecting. And I am not sure it’s entirely appropriate, certainly if you are looking for a rigourous historical study. But, as I read it, I found it worked well enough. Well enough that it triggered my own creative ambitions, much like …

1999, Books, Non-Fiction

Millionaire: The Philanderer, Gambler, and Duelist Who Invented Modern Finance (1999) by Janet Gleeson

This is a brief, cursory biography as biographies of major historical figures go. It’s certainly interesting but the predominant feeling I am left with after finishing is “I want to know more.” That’s not a great feeling after reading a biography.

1971, Books, Non-Fiction

Stillwell and the American Experience in China (1971) by Barbara Tuchman

Tuchman appears to be attempting two disparate things with this book: to tell the story of Joseph Stillwell’s career in the military and to tell the story of US intervention in China from the (first) Chinese revolution to the expulsion of the Kuomintang. She succeeds at the former a lot more than the latter, in …

2012, Movies

The Queen of Versailles (2012, Lauren Greenfield)

This is a near-perfect analogy for what happened to the US (and world) economy in 2008: David Siegel had lots of money. However, he wanted more. So he mortgaged what he had to expand his business. Then the housing crisis hit and he lost a lot; not everything, but a lot.

1989, Books, Non-Fiction

The Life of Graham Greene Volume One: 1904-1939 (1989) by Norman Sherry

Sherry’s biography of the first 35 years of Greene’s life is exhaustive, that is probably the thing to start with. If you are not a fan of Graham Greene, I cannot emphasize enough that you should not read this book.

2010, Books, Non-Fiction

Extraordinary Canadians: Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin (2010, Penguin) by John Raulston Saul

I first learned about Robert Baldwin in grade 7, and I can’t say that particular bit of junior high history moved me much. I was far more interested in the war of 1812 at the time – because I was a boy and because I liked military history, not history. So I can’t say I …