Biopic

Culture Warrior

Warning: This post contains spoilers about J. Edgar. For the past few years, I haven’t been much of a fan of Clint Eastwood’s work. While he no doubt possesses storytelling skills as a director and certainly maintains an incredible presence as a movie star, I’ve found that critics who constantly praise his work often overlook its general lack of finesse, tired and sometimes visionless formal approach, and habitual ham-fistedness. When watching Eastwood’s work, I get the impression, supported by stories of his uniquely economic method of filmmaking, that he thinks of himself as something of a Woody Allen for the prestige studio drama, able to get difficult stories right in one take. The end product, for me, says otherwise. While I was a fan of the strong but still imperfect Mystic River (2003) and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), the moment that I stopped trusting Eastwood came around the time the song “Colorblind” appeared in Invictus two years ago, throwing any prospect of nuance and panache out the window. Eastwood, despite having helmed several notable cinematic successes, has recently been coasting on a reputation that doesn’t match the work. He is, in short, proof of the auteur problem: that we as critics forgive from him transgressions that would never be deemed acceptable with a “lesser” director. As you can likely tell, my expectations were to the ground in seeking out the critically-divided J. Edgar. I was prepared, in entering the theater to watch Eastwood’s newest, to write an article about […]

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Snoop Dogg is best known as a rapper, but he’s had a couple small roles in films before, and he’s always had a unique sort of charisma that seems like it would lend itself to acting. It was probably only a matter of time before somebody took a chance on him in something other than a cameo where he plays himself or a role in something like Soul Plane. And it looks like that chance will come in the form of an upcoming biopic of blues musician Clarence Sims The Legend of Fillmore Slim. Sims’s story is an interesting one because not only was he a prominent blues musician in the 60s and 70s, but he was also a big time pimp in the San Francisco area during the same time. In addition to his stage name of “Fillmore Slim” Sims was also referred to by monikers such as “The West Coast Godfather of the Game” and “The Pope of Pimping.” If I told you that those were names of Snoop Dogg albums instead, you’d probably believe me, so the rapper’s attachment to this film suddenly starts to make even more sense. Those rap stars these days, they sure do like talking about being pimps, you know? Apparently Sims’s daughter Rebecca is the one who approached Snoop about taking the role, and if you watch any video or look at any pictures of the man in his prime, you can see that her choice wasn’t much of a stretch. Snoop […]

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Normally when you her the phrase “TV movie” images of poorly made, poorly funded schlock dance through your head. But when HBO makes a TV movie, what you get is name talent like John Adams’s Kirk Ellis writing the script and Hollywood veteran Barry Levinson sitting in the director’s chair. That’s exactly the case for the upcoming HBO biopic The Day the Laughter Stopped, which will be a look at the life of film star Fatty Arbuckle as based on a book by David A. Yallop. This one seems like it’s going to follow that classic rise and fall story that many biopics do, as it follows Arbuckle from being one of the most loved screen personalities on the planet, to becoming a pariah after getting accused of the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe. Ellis says of Arbuckle, “He was the biggest and most loved star of the time, bigger than Chaplin, especially with children.” But he then goes on to explain how the accusations against Arbuckle got out of hand and managed to sink his career, even though he was later acquitted of the crimes, “It was the first trial by media of the 20th century … [and] there was a call to clean [Hollywood] up. Arbuckle became the sacrificial lamb. They decided to kiss off his career rather than risk the government coming in.” Certainly Arbuckle’s life story is filled with enough intrigue to anchor a film, but that movie being successful is going to hinge largely […]

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The first official image of Leonardo DiCaprio playing the gangbusting icon in Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar has been released (as you can see above), and it’s just a taste of what the make-up department has in store for the actor as he journeys through the neck-flap, skin-sagging years of J. Edgar Hoover’s life. The film will see DiCaprio wear a ton of aging make-up, because he’ll be playing the adult version of the nation’s former top cop through his rise to power in the 1920 through the man’s death in 1972. Consider it a reverse Benjamin Button. It looks great, but the bigger concern is that Eastwood seems to think he’s a one-take director at this point in his career, and he’s not. His last few efforts have been sorely lacking. However, maybe a biopic about absolute power is just what the doctor ordered. As such, by way of comparison, check out this picture of J. Edgar Hoover to give you an idea of how close DiCaprio is and where he’ll be headed.

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The 1964 film version of Bonnie and Clyde is widely considered a modern classic and one of the jumping off points for the new Hollywood of the 60s and 70s. Do we really need another Bonnie and Clyde movie then, since we already had one that did things so well? Of course we do, we need a new version of everything. And this one might not actually be so bad, because instead of being a similarly romantic take on the story of the lovebird outlaws, this new proposed project is going to be based on a more real life take on the duo.

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Lots of info is swirling around regarding legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’s second dramatic work. Morris is intent on making a biopic of a man named Robert Nelson, who was a television repairman who joined a group of cryogenic enthusiasts in the late 60s, took over their makeshift operation, and took it upon himself to start freezing people post death. Nelson’s story has already been told in his own memoirs “We Froze the First Man,” and in a segment on NPR’s This American Life entitled “You’re Cold as Ice.” Morris will be filming a screenplay by Stranger than Fiction’s Zach Helm that takes material from both. First, The Washington Post has confirmed with Morris that he has cast Paul Rudd in the lead role of Bob Nelson. While there is a lot of dark humor to be had in the prospect of an in over your head TV repair man trying to run a cryogenics operation, this story goes some dramatic places as well, so this will be an interesting role to see Rudd take. He started his career doing more dramatic stuff, but has recently been known for doing mostly straight comedy. This could be a good chance to see what kind of chops Rudd is working with. A second bit of news on the project is that The New York Observer is reporting This American Life creator and host Ira Glass will be collaborating with Morris on the film in some capacity.

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Constantly working. Always interesting. The Coen Brothers are creating at a Woody Allen-esque pace, and their next project is apparently going to focus on the Greenwich Village folk scene with its unwashed masses of poets, creatives, and crazies. Instead of Bob Dylan (who could totally still play himself), the writer/director/producers will tell the tale of Dave van Ronk. According to 24 Frames, the script will come partially with help and inspiration from van Ronk’s memoirs, titled “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.” The New York native stood at the threshhold between old timey music and a new wave of sonic stylings – playing unbelievable blues style guitar, improving in a modern way, but always exuding an air that came from the past. His stoneware jug filled with hooch sitting on stage helped. Telling his story no doubt leaves room for cameos from notables like Joni Mitchell and Dylan, but van Ronk was in the middle of a movement that extended beyond music, past politics, and into the streets. It could be a hell of a project. In an unrelated note, that brings us to Day 459 in the Search For the Missing Coen Adaptation of “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.” Of course, they might just be making it and several other movies all at the same time. They could teach Malick a thing or too about scheduling.

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When it comes to stories about Hollywood, Martin Scorsese is a solid choice as storyteller because of how obsessed he is with the town’s history. Also, you know, because he’s a ridiculously talented director. According to Deadline Wensleydale, Paramount is developing an adaptation of the Sam Kashner book “Furious Love,” alongside known history and the personal records of (hopefully) both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for Scorsese. As most know, the pair met on the set of Cleopatra and developed a heated affair (they were both married at the time) which became a full blown marriage. Unfortunately, the passion was too hot to be stable, and the pair divorced, remarried, and then re-divorced around a decade after. There’s a ton of intimate drama here alongside the glamour of glitzy Hollywood in a time where people first realized that stalking celebrities could be considered a career (by those who don’t consider it solely bile-slathered). It’s obviously fertile ground for a master filmmaker to play around with. The only issue is who could play Taylor and Burton. Taylor famously didn’t want anyone to play her, but it’s unclear if there’s any known talent that could really handle the job with any degree of realism.

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Criterion Files

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of Guest Author month at Criterion Files: a month devoted to important classic and contemporary bloggers. This week, David Ehrlich, whose bimonthly column Criterion Corner was a favorite at Cinematical, takes on Paul Schrader’s incredible biopic Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Tune in next week as Adam Charles returns Criterion Files to its usual rotation, and in the meantime you can take a look at the previous entries from guest contributors here. Infamous Japanese iconoclast Yukio Mishima once said “I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line…,” a sentiment which suggests that his eventual suicide came only once his creative resources had run dry. Yet, as Paul Schrader’s sublime film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters so fluidly illustrates, Mishima ended his life with a self-administered sword thrust to the chest not because he was out of words, but rather because the page had never been a sufficient canvas for his artistic expression, or one to which he had ever intended to confine himself.

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While everybody has heard names like Bernie Madoff and phrases like Ponzi Scheme thrown around in the media cycle over the past several years of financial doom and gloom, I would venture to bet that not a lot of people actually know what a Ponzi Scheme is or where the term comes from. Luckily for us, Mitchell Zuckoff wrote a biography of Charles Ponzi, the man that the scheme was named for. The product description for “Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend” reads as follows: “It was a time when anything seemed possible-instant wealth, glittering fame, fabulous luxury-and for a run of magical weeks in the spring and summer of 1920, Charles Ponzi made it all come true. Promising to double investors’ money in three months, the dapper, charming Ponzi raised the ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ scam to an art form. At the peak of his success, Ponzi was raking in more than $2 million a week at his office in downtown Boston. Then his house of cards came crashing down-thanks in large part to the relentless investigative reporting of Richard Grozier’s Boston Post. A classic American tale of immigrant life and the dream of success, Ponzi’s Scheme is the amazing story of the magnetic scoundrel who launched the most successful scheme of financial alchemy in modern history.” But even luckier for us is the news that Christopher Weekes has adapted the book into a screenplay. So if we wait just a little bit longer, we […]

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This project just keeps sounding better and better. The Legendary Pictures take on the life of Jackie Robinson just cast Robert Redford in a major role – that of Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers and made history by helping to tear that color barrier down. It’ll be great to see Redford back in uniform, even if he’s not busting out stadium lights. According to the LA Times, the original draft of the script is back to square one with writer/director Brian Helgeland in the driver’s seat. How he can type while driving is beyond me, but the guy wrote L.A. Confidential, so I don’t question it. With this, and a Sam Cooke movie, the biopic world looks on healthy ground right now. It’s a shame that Paul Greengrass’s Martin Luther King, Jr movie Memphis got axed, but even without it, the trend seems to be taking on the stories of famous black Americans. There are plenty of stories to mine there, and plenty of other fascinating figures from American history as well. Hopefully these films come out swinging because as it stands, they’re both off to a great start.

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Culture Warrior

A very strange thing happened at this year’s Golden Globes ceremony. Somewhere between Ricky Gervais’ biting monologue/critique and Robert De Niro’s uncomfortable lifetime achievement acceptance speech, an epic international arthouse film won the award for Best Made for Television Movie or Miniseries, beating out the other nominations in the typically HBO-dominated category. Olivier Assayas’ Carlos is, from an American perspective, quite difficult to classify. We first heard about it when it was met with rave reviews at Cannes and other festivals, then it was distributed theatrically through IFC (in its original 5 ½ hour run time) while it had a three-episode “miniseries” run on the Sundance Channel just as it had done in France when originally commissioned for French television. Now, before an explicitly planned DVD release (though there is some certainty that the film will be the latest IFC release to get the Criterion treatment), it’s available streaming in its three-part miniseries form via Netflix (which is how I eventually saw it). All this is to say that it’s quite a task to say with any certainty precisely what Carlos is and in which medium it belongs. The film was financed by French television, yet it’s shot in a widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1) typically reserved for theatrical cinema, and its 3-episode structure doesn’t follow the expectations of brief closure at the end of each segment typical of, say, an American television miniseries (it comes across more like a necessary break for exhibition and an arbitrary break in storytelling). Now […]

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This might be the best news all day. Sam Cooke is such a luminary of the music world, an inspiration for countless artists, and the gravitational pull for all things soul. The roads all lead back to Cooke, and he might be getting a biopic after all. And it’ll be by the screenwriters of The Commitments no less. According to Reuters, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have turned in the script to the company that owns most of his recordings, ABKCO, and the company will be looking for a director with it in hand. The writing pair has done work all across the dramatic spectrum, but they’re no strangers to music. Across the Universe may have ended up being clunky, but there are few movies as sweetly heartfelt (and rockin’) as The Commitments. It’s a good match, and I have my fingers crossed tightly that they can get a talented director on board. The story will span his entire life, but will focus on his time as a musician, civil rights advocate, and a label owner as he became an icon of R&B and soul music. The great news here is that ABKCO will be financing it themselves, and they have clearance through the Cooke estate. Essentially, they can sit on this until they get the right personnel, and they never have to worry about the project being axed. Neither do we. So be on the lookout for more news on this one.

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The Dallas Buyer’s Club was at one time set to star Ryan Gosling. At another point there was word the project was going forward with Brad Pitt in the lead. I know what you’re probably asking yourself right now, “Who are those guys?” Doesn’t matter. Put those nobodies out of your head. The important information is that the upcoming biopic of Dallas electrician Ron Woodroof now has the good fortune of having the greatest living actor, Mathew McConaughey, leading it into the theaters. Back in it’s old incarnations Buyer’s Club was at one time going to be directed by Marc Forster, and another by Craig Gillespie. Now it will be helmed by The Young Victoria director Jean Marc Vallee. It was formerly going to be funded by Universal, but now it is proceeding as an independent. As McConaughey put it, “It’s not exactly the movie that studios are throwing money at these days.” Why is that? Probably because it is a dark, maybe controversial story about a man who contracted the AIDS virus in the late 80s and spent the rest of his life smuggling illegal alternative treatments into the US in an attempt to prolong not only his life, but the lives of other people who suffered from the disease. Due to his efforts Woodroof reportedly lived six years longer than his doctor’s diagnosis said he would, and he also managed to successfully prolong the lives of many others as well. The Dallas Buyer’s Club sounds like the Schindler’s List […]

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Extremely German filmmaker and all around badass Werner Herzog has written a new biopic called Queen of the Desert. The film is about the life of Gertrude Bell, an Englishwoman whose travels and writings put her in a position to be an influential policy maker for the British Empire in Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. She helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in what has become modern day Jordan and Iraq, and was said to be held in high regard not just by British officials, but by the Arab leaders she worked with as well. Herzog is in negotiations with acclaimed actress and beloved hottie Naomi Watts about taking on the role of Bell. I can imagine news of a film about the politics and international policy of the early 1900s being met with a big yawn if it were coming from another source, but when it comes from Herzog I have visions of Lawrence of Arabia dancing through my head. Could any sort of film shoot that gets Herzog out in the desert with a cast and crew end up as being anything less than completely interesting? Will people starve to death out there trying to get this thing shot to his specifications? Will someone go mad from exposure? Adding the good-in-everything-she-does Watts onto the project is just the cherry on top of this sandy sundae; and her attachment to something that sounds so epic and Oscar-baity almost assures that it will get made. Put me down for a […]

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Were you aware that iconic British poet Robert Graves lived in an open love triangle for many, many years? Are you pretending to know who Robert Graves is right now? Me too. Graves was a formidable poet and historian of ancient world leaders like Roman Emperor Claudius, and it’s always interesting to see the personal life that made such minds tick. Newcomer William Nunez must agree because he’s written and will direct The Laureate based on Graves’s life and his romance of Nancy Nicholson and Laura Riding (both recognized artists in their own rights). According to The Playlist, Orlando Bloom will be offering his authentic accent to the role, Imogen Poots will be playing Riding, and Kerry Condon (from The Last Station) will be playing Nicholson. I honestly know little about Graves’s life, but a hot, sexy, poetic love triangle? That, I think, we all know a lot about.

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Psycho was a major change in the way movies are viewed by filmmakers, audiences and studios. Overstating its role in movie history is incredibly difficult because of how influential it was and how it hit at the exact moment to join a tide of evolutionary ideas in the world of movies. Enter the long-gestating project of filming “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho.’ An iconic director at a turning point. It’s a great idea, and it needs a great director. I was fortunate enough to get to speak with director Sacha Gervasi during the press boost for Anvil!: The Story of Anvil. When I did, he was flying his way around twisting canyon roads while balancing a phone and effortlessly explaining his raw passion for the band Anvil and for the story he was telling. That’s exactly the man to take a small part of Hitchcock’s career and turn it into gold. Luckily, according to the LA Times, Gervasi is circling the project (probably while balancing a phone and screaming about his passions). The big question: who do you cast as Hitch?

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If you’re wondering why they don’t just cast Tupac Shakur in the Tupac Shakur biopic, it’s pretty simple. He’s way too old to play himself at this point. Otherwise, he’d be perfect. I know, I know. He’s dead. Remind me of that when his next album drops. Since he can’t play himself, director Antoine Fuqua (who appears to be moving full speed forward with the biopic) is looking for a fresh face to take on the role. In fact, he’s looking for a lot of fresh faces according to Movie Hole, who have released the actor specifications and official synopsis. Check them out for yourself and see if you have what it takes to play Suge Knight.

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Back when Tim Burton was going to direct a biopic of Robert Ripley (the journalist behind Ripley’s Believe It Or Not), I could not wait to see the project get off the ground. With its epic nature and colorful period piece-ness, it seemed like a mixture of Big Fish (a movie he’d just directed) and Ed Wood and Indiana Jones. Burton seemed perfect for the project. Now, that may be a different story. And the script itself will be a different story, because (according to Deadline Dalesville) Paramount has hired Eric Roth to do a completely clean slate script re-write. What does that mean? The screenwriter behind Forrest Gump will most likely make this a sprawling travelogue that focuses on the people more than the oddities. The movie (the script at least) will be huge but feel close to home. Granted, Roth tends to steal from himself a lot, so Robert Ripley (still set to be played by Jim Carrey) might look a bit too much like Gump or Button. It remains to be seen, of course, but Roth is an undeniable talent, and his addition to the project seems like Paramount is making a big move in the right direction.

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In some alternate universe out there, there’s a film by Paul Greengrass starring Anthony Mackie as the talented and troubled Jimi Hendrix. Sadly, we don’t live in that universe because Experience Hendrix has officially denied the rights to the man’s music to be used for the project. The explanation given was that they feared the film would hurt sales of the back catalog. Of course, anyone who’s kept up with the aborted attempts and the successful adaptations of Hendrix’s life knows that’s just a press-friendly excuse. The real reason is a fear of how the guitar master will be portrayed when it comes to his drug abuse.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
A-


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