Continuing on a career renaissance, 90s icon Michael Keaton is set up for glory once more with his performance as Ray Kroc, the man who turned McDonald’s from a humble California eatery, into possibly the world’s most iconic restaurant. It’s a fantastic offering that’s funny, dramatic, moving and a little morbid, and well worth your time if you can track it down. If not, pick it up on Blu-ray when it arrives. You won’t regret it.
So, after getting your fill at the theatre if you could get it, what could you then watch at home that is a little like John Lee Hancock’s film? What has similar ingredients yet offers a distinct meal more than worth your time? Well, I have four possible options for you, and like with The Magnificent Seven list last time, I aim to mix up the well known with the more obscure or unknown, but still worthwhile. So, let’s not dilly-dally and get to the menu:
1. Pollock (2000):
As The Founder shows, the people who make history aren’t always super nice, and this very much applies to iconic painter Jackson Pollock. Ed Harris’ directorial debut from 2000 also stars him as the painting maverick and depicts his artistic struggles, as well as his complex relationship with his wife and fellow painter, Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden) as he climbs up the ladder, achieves fame and then how it changes him.
At its core, this is a film all about the oddity that is art. What drives it, where does it come from and what kind of people make it? Harris and Harden have strong chemistry that gives depth to the relationship, alternately loving, competitive and even a touch abusive. It’s a strong drama about aspiration and the frustrations of the process, highlighting a lot of the lowly downtime between the iconic moments that you see in documentaries, and Harris’ restrained direction fits this project well. Frankly, if you’ve ever known what it is to feel the inadequacies of having something important you wish to do and not get it, you’ll get into Pollock very quickly.
2. Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988):
Since we’re talking about Kroc, why not mention another biopic about a prominent businessman with a powerhouse cast and crew? This time, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola teamed up to bring the story of automobile pioneer Preston Tucker to the big screen in 1988. The film deals with the creation of the groundbreaking 1948 Preston Sedan, the somewhat less-than-positive reception by the prominent car makers of the time and the battles he fought to maintain his vision of a futuristic, as well as safe, vehicle.
Sadly overlooked back on release, this picture is more than worth your time. Between the strong colour palette Coppola provides from a visual standpoint, the Technicolor mindset perfectly fitting that nostalgic 50s quality of the piece; a terrific lead performance by the one and only Jeff Bridges who brings great charm and idealism but also gravity to Tucker and a screenplay that can be, by turns, wonderfully energetic and witty yet also gut-wrenching, it’s just a complete package. Easily Coppola’s most overlooked film, and one you should never pass up if you can find it.
3. Mommie Dearest (1981)
Possibly among the most glamorous of ‘so bad it’s good’ films, the controversial biopic on Hollywood legend Joan Crawford, played by another in Faye Dunaway, offers a none too flattering look at the life of the movie queen and her very rocky relationship with her daughter Christina. The film depicts the demanding, abusive attitude of Crawford on her daughter, frequently bullying and punishing her child for very trivial things, and how much this contrasted with the divine, perfect celebrity image of her mother.
Camp is the order of the day here, and Dunaway goes for broke with a diva performance to end all diva performances. Screaming, pouting and proselytising supposed inferiors with a high-class haughtiness, she hits every note and creates a magnetic character who leaves you just awestruck with how manic she is and what she’ll do next. Indeed, the film itself possesses a strange dreamlike quality to it: between the pastel colours of the sets evoking a doll’s house, the often theatrical melodrama depicting the battles between Crawfords and the ridiculous dialogue (including a famous bit about wire hangers), it’s something you have to see to believe. Seldom has Hollywood produced a film more horrifying, yet also hysterical.
4. Temple Grandin (2010):
While often the butt of many cineasts’ jokes, TV movies can sometimes come up trumps, and nowhere is this truer than in the realm of biopics. Whether because of the medium’s limits, or the greater freedom in time, there are a number of very solid productions that often prove superior to their big screen counterparts. Here’s one such example: Born in a time where autism was grossly misunderstood and treatments shoddy, Temple Grandin overcame much adversity, both social and medical, to not only make it through the education system and graduate, but also help implement humane methods of slaughter for cattle in the US that drew on her means of comfort and self-control.
Danes give a career best performance, completely vanishing into the title role, not only through some subtle prosthetics but also carefully adopting the mannerisms of real people with the disorder. Speaking as someone who has a history tied to the disorder, she was spot on. Yet, in spite of the character’s very matter of fact ways, she still imbues Temple with both a strong passion for her work, as well as a strange optimism. Director Mick Jackson also gives the film plenty of stylistic flourish, mainly in the surreal representation of Temple’s super-literal thoughts, which lead to some of the film’s biggest laughs (like when someone talks to Temple about ‘animal husbandry’), complimented by excellent sound work that greatly emphasises how Temple struggles to cope with even mundane everyday tasks like walking through automatic doors. Frankly, I can’t recommend this one enough, especially if you’ve ever had any kind of history or know people who suffer from autism/mental impairments.
So, there you go. Four very worthwhile biopics about very worthwhile individuals that should whet your appetite after paying a visit to The Founder. Smart, funny, unsettling and even inspirational, we never get tired of all the strange stories and personalities that helped shaped the world we know today, and neither should their films.
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