Biopic

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KinisonBiopic

Seeing as Sam Kinison was one of the most influential and legendary standup comedians of all time, and also a man who engaged in a crazy, tumultuous lifestyle outside of his professional accomplishments, it seems like he would make a great subject for one of those melodramatic Hollywood biopics where some hopeful actor sports a ridiculous hairdo and apes said subject’s iconic affectations in order to make a play at golden statues and the accolades of their peers. At least that seems to be the hopes of director Larry Charles (Borat) and actor Josh Gad (1600 Penn), as Deadline is reporting they’re about to team up to bring a Kinison biopic to the big screen.

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review behind the candelabra

There seems to have been a decisive change in the mainstream biopic recently. Instead of attempting to chronicle a public figure’s emergence into renown from childhood to death, several biopics find their subject in a way that assumes the achievement of fame to be a given from the get-go. Movies like Capote, Invictus, Hitchcock, and Lincoln (not to mention the upcoming Saving Mr. Banks) choose to examine a particular episode in the life of a well-known person instead of justify its subject’s achievement of fame by depicting a summary trajectory of youth to adult achievement. Sure, J. Edgar and The Iron Lady stand out as conspicuous exceptions, as signs that the conventions of the biopic are still alive and well. But this newer approach to the biopic (Invictus excepted) seems to allow a great deal of opportunities that conventional biopics don’t (to the point where they’re arguably no longer biopics): the ability to understand the exceptional individual not through a portrait of their entire life, but through a detailed examination of a more narrative-friendly set of select events and circumstances drawn from a particular point in their life. Such is the same with Steven Soderbergh’s latest (and purportedly last) film, HBO’s Behind the Candelabra. By taking a more modest and focused route to the biopic, Candelabra is a close and fascinating examination of the bizarre phenomenon of fame itself.

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IntroBioPic

Biopics are always praised for their lead actor or actress’ realistic or unique portrayal of the subject, but what of the supporting cast? Sure, we do recognize their efforts, they might even receive an Academy Award, but rarely are they honored with something as prestigious as an online comedy list. It’s time to rectify that. Here are some of the more talented, memorable, or uncanny portrayals of people who were important enough to be featured in a movie, but not important enough for that movie to be about them.

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Hitchcock Review

Biopics take on a new personality when the subject is an admired figure or, worse still, a personal hero. Alfred Hitchcock’s well-deserved moniker, “The Master of Suspense,” does little to fully capture the elevated place of regard he holds with cinephiles who count themselves devoted fans, which is to say cinephiles. Sacha Gervasi‘s Hitchcock narrows the scope of the director’s life to the production of arguably his greatest film: Psycho. The film covers the lifespan of Psycho from inspirational inception to the labor pains of production, and finally its glorious delivery. Some may balk at the idea of a Hitchcock biopic covering such a short period of the man’s life and indeed only one movie from the intensely prolific director’s canon. However, this seemingly reductive approach is actually quite fitting considering the turning point that this one film represented and the inherent metaphors that can then be extrapolated from the production experience. Psycho was one of the riskiest endeavors of Hitch’s career. He was nearing the end of his professional life and wasn’t commanding as much studio confidence as he once was. It was at this precarious era that he decided to make, and self-fund, a film that not only challenged the conception of Hitchcock as an artist, but indeed changed the landscape of film itself. The studio refusing to fund the movie fed his lifelong insecurity and the tricks employed to sell Psycho to audiences were a function of his overarching commitment to publicity. So yes, the choice to […]

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Johnny Carson

Seven years ago, Chuck Klosterman got it right when he said that there would never be another thing like “Johnny Carson.” The host of The Tonight Show was the last “universally shared icon,” and we’re now seeing even more compartmentalization as the sheer amount of culture we have access to grows. We’re moving further and further from the moment when Carson was universally known, let alone talked about regularly in the cultural conversation. For a bit of context, Selena Gomez was born the year he went off the air. So even if everyone in the 1970s knew about Johnny Carson, are there enough movie-goers left to demand that a movie about him get made? That’s the question that John McLaughlin and Tom Thayer (Hitchcock) are betting they know the answer to. According to Deadline Hollywood, the pair is working with the Carson Estate and will be shopping a biopic script to studios soon. Based on the forthcoming book, “Carson the Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait” from Bill Zehme, the project will showcase the life of the notoriously private entertainer. Obviously, the big question is who (if they get off the ground) the production should cast as Carson. Judging solely from the photo above, Josh Brolin might be an inspired choice. Kevin Spacey too. But even when they figure out Carson, they’ll have to cast Ed MacMahon. Now there’s a real challenge.

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James Brown

According to Deadline Hollywood, Tate Taylor (The Help) is in talks to take on the James Brown biopic that Brian Grazer has long wanted to make. If he signs on the dotted line, he’ll be joining an interesting production partner: Mick Jagger. The Hardest Working Man will be celebrated from his early beginnings in abject poverty to his rise on the global scene as a musical icon with a script comes from Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game) who are no strangers to telling real-world stories. Hundreds of Brown’s songs have appeared in movies – making his impact cross media – and he also acted, most notably in The Blues Brothers and (as himself) in Rocky IV. Beyond that, his legacy is unarguably titanic, a performer who spanned decades and audiences while making a heavy impact on popular culture. His story is one worth telling, so hopefully this group does it true justice. And now the usual question that comes with any biopic of someone this famous – who do you get to play him?

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Amy Adams

Though it might have seemed like the Amy Adams-starring Janis Joplin biopic, Get It While You Can, was permanently stalled out after years of back and forth, THR now reports that its gotten fresh life thanks to the addition of a new director. The outlet reports that recently-revitalized Precious helmer Lee Daniels is currently in talks to direct the tragic rock n’ roll film, with Adams still set to star in the project (whole years after her first attachment). The script has been penned by producer Ron Terry and his wife Theresa Kounin-Terry. Adams has been attached to star in the film since back in July of 2010, when Fernando Meirelles was set to direct the project. At one point, Catherine Hardwicke was also once rumored for the directing gig. The film will be independently financed, but THR also reports rumors that “there have been preliminary talks with Focus Features about coming on board, though no deal has been made.” With such a named cast and crew, Get It probably won’t stay indie for too long. Get It While You Can is, however, not the only Joplin film in the works. A Joplin biopic has long been a passion project for producer Peter Newman, and after cycling through its own differing incarnations, Newman’s film recently started to come together this summer, with the addition of Martha Marcy May Marlene director Sean Durkin and star Nina Arianda. Much like those “dueling” Jeff Buckley biopics, it will be interesting to see which […]

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Rupert Murdoch

Just last week, Landon and I discussed the risk Orson Welles and RKO took in making Citizen Kane, likening it to a major studio making a fictional movie based on Rupert Murdoch at the height of his power. According to Twitch, it won’t be made by a major studio, but an indie outlet is pushing forward with a direct biopic of the media mogul. Screen Australia is investing funds into developing a script called The News of the World, which will focus on Murdoch’s purchase of that same-titled newspaper in the 1960s as a way to tell his life story. Judging by his recent legal problems, it may not come with a Hollywood ending. The screenplay will come from Bob Ellis (Newsfront, Man of Flowers) – who hasn’t been active in filmmaking since the mid-1990s – alongside Stephen Ramsay. The acute danger of a project like this is that it will be far too blunt to matter. Not only is it directly taking on Murdoch’s story (as opposed to the roman á clef nature of Kane), but since it deals with a polarizing figure, it could end up being more attack job than earnest portrait. The movie won’t work narratively if every scene is in service of displaying Murdoch as a giant asshole. With any luck, Ellis and Ramsay will manage some grace and restraint in service of a human story. If it gets made, we’ll get to see if Fox News bans all mention of it or if Murdoch uses back channels to […]

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Two more projects based on real-life icons are emerging from the fold. According to The Grid, Zoe Saldana is set to play Nina Simone in Nina – a biopic about the famed singer and civil rights activist. The biggest challenge, of course, will be trying to recreate such a rich singing voice, but it’s unclear as to whether the plan is to have the actress perform the music herself or to lip-sync. Saldana will next be seen in The Words, the forthcoming Star Trek sequel, and a handful of dramatic projects like Out of the Furnace. On the same front, Robert Pattinson will be portraying T.E. Lawrence for Werner Herzog according to Variety. As we’ve reported before, the certifiably (and wonderfully) insane director has been prepping Queen of the Desert – a biopic of traveler Gertrude Bell. Pattinson will be portraying Lawrence, who was a close friend of Bell’s – further solidifying his goal of picking left-field projects after gaining popularity in the Twilight series. Without a doubt, his casting represents a tacit challenge to Herzog to out-weird the birth of a half-human/half-vampire baby on screen. If anyone can do it, he probably already has.

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In October of last year, Sony picked up the rights to Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. This was shortly after the Apple CEO’s death and shortly before announcing that their shortlist of screenwriters included Aaron Sorkin – a writer who was once offered a Pixar gig by Jobs and who had previously helped adapt Isaacson’s “Moneyball.” Now, according to a Sony press release, Sorkin is officially on board for what’s being creatively called Steve Jobs. This is stellar news, placing incredible talent next to incredible talent to write about an incredible mind. Isaacson’s biography was thorough (and authorized), and the relative familiarity that Sorkin and Isaacson have (alongside the screenwriter’s past dealings with Jobs) make this team uniquely qualified to deliver a compelling telling worthy of the modern icon. One thing they don’t have? Ashton Kutcher. Which raises the question: with all the talent in the room, what actor deserves a shot at bringing Jobs back to life on the big screen?

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Does that look like Steve Jobs to you? Five Star Institute is hoping it will, but that’s not the most important question. The most important, is whether Ashton Kutcher will actually make a believable Steve Jobs beyond the cosmetic layers. Isn’t that the real worry for Jobs: Get Inspired? That this movie about a recent monumental figure will be plagued by the third of two and a half men? That there will be an inescapable television quality to the whole thing? With Kutcher in the lead and Swing Vote director Joshua Michael Stern at the helm, it seems like an icon like Apple’s former CEO deserves a lot better. Check out the pictures alongside the source and judge for yourself:

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Perhaps the first real movie star, Mary Pickford got her start in the moving pictures back in 1909. She was 17 at the time, and the rest of her life would be dedicated to the crafts of acting, writing and producing. She’s probably best remembered for her starring role in Coquette, for which she won the Oscar in 1929. Of course, it helps that she was a founder of the Academy. According to Collider, Poverty Row Entertainment is going to give this titan her due. The production house acquired rights to “Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood” by Eileen Whitfield, and they’ve put together a team of director Jennifer DeLia (Billy Bates, I Am an Island) and writer Josh Fagin. It’s fantastic to see something like this being made, and it fits perfectly into a new mode where filmmakers are highly interested in other filmmakers. Now, who do you get to play her?

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Just look at Meryl Streep, looking austere and keeping her upper lip incredibly stiff. Unimaginably stiff. The stiffness alone is enough to make The Iron Lady a formidable movie, and now you can own it on DVD for free. We’re giving away 2 copies, and all you have to do is hop down into the comments section and tell us how you’d fix the government. It’s a contest only open to US residents (sorry about that world), but feel free to fix any country’s government you want. Two (2) winners chosen at random will each win a copy of The Iron Lady on DVD. Now, fix the world:

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Vincent Albert “Buddy” Cianci, Jr. has an awesome name and a fascinating history. The two-time mayor of Providence, Rhode Island was convicted of felonies twice while in office – which pushed him out twice – and his absurd career was chronicled in “Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Advised a President, Dined With Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community and Lived to Tell the Tale.” They may have to squeeze that title into something more slimming because a movie is in development. David O. Russell (The Fighter) wants to stick with the biopic world and live to tell this tale. According to the LA Times, he’s officially signing up with the project being produced by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. A colorful character from the northeast? Sounds like a Russell repeat with political ambitions. It also looks like a soap opera covered in marinara. Does anyone know if Burt Young is available? And if they can get that title under control?

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According to The Hollywood Reporter, Oscar winner Barry Levinson – who directed The Natural, Wag the Dog, Rain Man and about a dozen other notable flicks – is on board to helm a Hank Aaron biopic which focuses on the baseball icon’s quest to beat Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Writer Adam Mazer (You Don’t Know Jack) is also on deck. The project is born from the Howard Bryant book “The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron,” and Aaron will reportedly be on hand to aid in the production. The Hall-of-Famer is one of the greatest ball players of all time. He got his start in the Negro American League and ended up playing 23 seasons in the major leagues, but the movie will most directly focus on 1972 – 1974 when Aaron was chasing the Sultan of Swat amidst death threats and an overwhelming amount of people who didn’t want to see a black man beat a white man’s baseball record. As a project, it sounds stirring – something that could use a steady hand. Yes, it’s been a while since 1984 and The Natural, but Levinson is an obvious choice given his background both with baseball and with a style that celebrates uplifting tales of triumph.

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Not to be hyperbolic, but this is the kind of role that earns Oscar nominations. Iconic public figure? Check. Oscar nominated screenwriter? Check. An actor capable of pulling off a rounded, difficult role? Triple check. Variety is reporting that Diego Luna has hired Michael Peña to star as Cesar Chavez for Chavez – the story of the celebrated labor rights advocate and the guy that 489 streets in the southwest are named after. The man is an idol, and Peña may be the perfect choice to play him. The actor has been all over the map, proving to be versatile and powerful no matter the genre or the role. Plus, the Academy apparently loves it when people play real people – regardless of whether they’re minority figures or old white leaders. But the awards talk is way too early, and it’s secondary because this project sounds like a fantastic movie no matter the gold potential. Keir Pearson (Hotel Rwanda) has written the script, Luna is a strong creative force, Gael Garcia Bernal is producing, as is John Malkovich (unless it’s John Cusack simply pretending to be John Malkovich), and Rosario Dawson and American Ferrara are co-starring in prominent roles. The puzzle pieces are all there to create something phenomenal. Not to mention, award worthy.

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“This is the kind of movie the business 10 years ago may have leapt at. But now, you don’t really see movies like this. We have a studio offer and we’re trying to back into a budget number, like we always have to do, without gutting the piece.” That’s Don Cheadle telling The Wall Street Journal that the Miles Davis movie he wants to star in and direct is on the edge of coming close to nearing the zone of being a possible studio project. The actor, who also plays trumpet, explained that the film itself wasn’t a pure biopic, but “a gangster pic. It’s a movie that Miles Davis would have wanted to star in. Without throwing history away, we’re trying to shuffle it and make it more cubist. The bulk of it takes place in ’79, in a period where he actually wasn’t playing. But we traverse a lot of it his life, but it’s not a cradle to grave story.” Cubist? Picasso would be proud. So would later-life Miles Davis. This is the kind of comment that leaves heads being scratched, and that may be the best kind of real start for a picture about the man who gave birth to The Cool and whipped up a mean Bitches Brew. Cheadle also responded to the announcement of another Miles Davis biopic being directed by George Tillman, Jr. (Notorious, Faster) saying, essentially, the more the merrier. He remarked that he had rights to all the music he’d need […]

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Eric Roth is an outstanding talent, and script work for Benjamin Button, Munich and Forrest Gump have more than proved that over the years. We’ll get another look at his work when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close comes out this Winter. Now, according to Variety, the screenwriter has entered into talks to write the adaptation of Stacy Schiff’s “Cleopatra: A Life,” whose rights were purchased by Scott Rudin. As previously reported, Angelina Jolie is set up to play the most famous of all Pharaohs. The David Fincher portion of the project isn’t set in stone, but it would be great to see him go all Mankiewicz on everyone, and Roth’s inclusion might be a key to locking him down. Since the pen is about to be put to paper, the only thing left for us is to imagine a world where Fincher forces Jolie to do scenes in the hot desert with thousands of extras 99 times before using the first take. There’s no telling how bombastic this movie might be, or whether Fincher may ultimately choose to do it, but it’s an amazing opportunity to return to spectacle-style filmmaking. How cool would that be?

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We lost the King of Pop in the summer of 2009, and now Showblitz is reporting that Michael Jackson‘s estate is hitting up the studios to sell them on a biopic, specifically Montecito Picture Company (the production group owned by Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock). The timing clearly indicates that the estate was held up by Dr. Conrad Murray’s trial. It was somber and celebratory to get This Is It so soon after the singer’s death because it showed a different side of the entertainer during the last major creative endeavor of his life. A biopic, on the other hand, is tough to grasp. Financially, it makes all the sense in the world to capitalize on Jackson’s fame (or to share another story about him with his fans, if you’re not cynical). However, it’ll be a serious challenge to bring Jackson back to life on the big screen, even though the film won’t focus on all the parts of his life. The biggest question is what actor can possibly suit up to play the part. Jason Weaver did a great job playing the singer in his youth for The Jacksons: An American Dream, but he’s not exactly in the public eye anymore. Can Justin Timberlake in blackface, and not in blackface, really do the trick?

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