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Entries in biopics (126)


Remember Jesse L Martin's "I'll Cover You"

Ten years ago today the quickly forgotten film version of Rent (2005) premiered in movie theaters. At the time Rent had been a visceral sensation on stage for nearly a decade and was just a few years short of closing its nearly $300 million grossing Broadway run. Let's just say the movie didn't have a prayer of measuring up, even financially, grossing only $31 million worldwide in theaters. Rent (the movie!) was a dubiously near-perfect example of all the things that can go wrong with movie musicals and despite many other films teaching Hollywood the same exact not-all-that-complicated lessons, Hollywood is still having trouble learning.

You nearly always need these three things: visually stylish directors who also understand storytelling within the musical idiom (it's not an easy thing to move from the abstract friendly medium of the stage to the usually literal medium of the cinema); sly confident casting and gifted performers (transferring entire Broadway casts absolutely won't do. And neither will its opposite, replacing them all with "names" whether or not they can sing and dance. Why? Both strategies just reek of insecurity); and, finally, the right blend of zealous passion and merciless intelligence from the filmmaker since musicals are complicated and needy and fragile and they tend to come with a tricky but essential mix of artifice and sincerity. 

Of course Rent had it's own problems apart from failing to meet those three essentials. It is also a story wherein New York City is as much a leading character as Roger, Mark or Mimi. In the abstract friendly environments of the theater, a simple flourish like a fire escape can represent and entire teeming city with millions of stories in it with ease. If you try to fake New York City in the movies without a stylized visual approach, it just going to look cheap and weak.

But for all of its problems Rent (2005) did give us Jesse L Martin singing onscreen and for that we'll always be grateful. I mean, just listen to his superbly emotive instrument.

A couple of years ago Martin was supposed to headline a biopic about Marvin Gaye and though his casting was inspired financing fell through somewhere along the production phase so the movie seems like one of those phantom features now, caught somewhere between development hell and actual existence. Other roles for Martin just haven't satisfied his musical fans. The much missed Smash (RIP) did a lot of things wrong in its two seasons as a network musical but one of its true unforgiveable sins was actually giving Jesse L Martin a job IN A MUSICAL and then denying the audience that voice. (We keep waiting for The Flash to have a meta-human musical episode since a hefty percentage of its principle cast comes with gorgeous pipes and real musical theater cred.)

Did you ever see Rent on stage? If not do you have any strong memories of the movie?


After Room Comes The Ring

Jason from MNPP here with a bit of exciting news today - Lenny Abrahamson, the director of this year's Oscar hopeful Room, is lining up his next project and it sounds fascinating. Based on the non-fiction book A Man’s World: The Double Life Of Emile Griffith, which was just published this past September (anybody read it?), it'll tell the story of the titular boxer, described by all with words like "gentle" & "innocent," who nonetheless beat his opponent Benny “The Kid” Paret into a coma (and death 10 days later) in a televised match after Paret called him "maricón" (Spanish for approximately "faggot") during a live weigh-in.

Thing is Griffith was in fact bisexual, and Abrahamson says that "he never seemed conflicted about his sexuality; indeed he found joy in it." Until he was called out in public, apparently. (Then again, it being 1962 when all this went down I suppose he had his some good reasons for his hesitation.) Anyway this sounds like a top-notch leading role for an actor of color, as well as a stellar entryway into discussions of race and sexuality and masculinity, all mixed up, that don't usually get foregrounded like this. This quote's choice:

"You look at how closely his two worlds intersected,” Abrahamson said. “Just how different are they, when the sport is such a celebration of the male body and the beauty of its athleticism. Go one step further, and inject the tiniest sense of sexuality, and people are up in arms. Griffith himself once said a quote that just floored me. ‘They forgave me for killing a man, but they couldn’t forgive me for loving a man.’ That to me was so powerful and such a crazy contradiction. And it is still relevant today."

Sounds to me like Abrahamson already has a pretty strong grasp on the material; let's all cross our fingers that he can use his current heat to get the film together properly. Who would you cast in the lead? Any suggestions?


Here Comes A Tennessee Williams Biopic

Recent indie upstart Broad Green has announced they are developing John Lahr's biography Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh for a biopic on the titular playwright. No talent is attached yet, but the potential is enticing.

Williams, legendary for work such as A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, has a life ready for any number of interpretations. Struggling with mental illness at an early age and battling rampant addiction, attracting and creating stars with consistently controversial and revolutionary writing, not to mention temptestous family and love lives - if nothing else, we have a catnip coctail for any actor who could fit the bill.

Could this be heading toward a fluffy, star-filled treatment a la Hitchcock or something more character-focused like Capote? Lahr's book, a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award winner, dives deeply into all aspects of Williams's life, so the adaptation could as easily become a "greatest hits" biopic as is it could focus intensely on a specific aspect of his career.

We rarely get to see the stories of our gay icons and early pioneers told on the big screen. The opportunity is especially exciting here considering how his sexuality impacted his work and pushed the boundaries about what could be talked about on stage and screen. Hopefully true to Williams' place in history, this will be an intriguing one to watch as it develops.

Tennessee Williams and his "Stanley Kowalski" Brando

Related: Much more on Tennessee Williams here


AFI: Will Smith & Gugu Mbatha-Raw in "Concussion"

There was a weird and wonderful symmetry last night watching Will Smith talk about his starring role as Dr Bennet Omalu in Concussion in front of the real man and thinking of the character we'd just seen onscreen. It was not the easy symmetry of mimicry, but of spirit. Both men are legends of their respective fields, if you will, and that's the last time we'll compare forensic pathology and movie stardom! More curiously neither man seemed willing to admit that the night's festivities were about him. Will Smith was especially humble about his performance and starstruck by the real man, admitting after Dr Omalu burst out laughing during the Q&A that followed the premiere, that he loved that laugh but couldn't manage to perfect it for the movie. Dr Omalu, in the movie and on stage kept saying that the story wasn't about him but about the science. The writer/director Peter Landisman called the movie version of Omalu a "triangulation" of the two men which is the best description possible of what we were watching on stage, the movie still fresh in the mind.

Concussion centers on Omalu's discovery of CTE, a brain disease brought on by repeated concussive head trauma, and the attempts of the NFL to cover up the physical damage on their players. A string of high profile suicides finally broke down the NFL's attempts at denial and debunking of Omalu's claims. [More...]

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8 Best Things About "Steve Jobs" (First Impressions)

True confession: When I read Jason's breathless rave for Steve Jobs from my sick bed last week I was like "calm down, man,  it can't be that good" Cut to one week later me sitting in the theater, as the end credits rolled: "I gotta read that rave again and nod my head vigorously this time!" While I suspect I don't love it quite as much as Jason, it is inarguably one of 2015's must-see picture and we shan't be annoyed at all when it racks up Oscar nominations in January.

The film goes wide on Friday and trust that you'll want to be there. Here are my 8 favorite things about it at first glance... 

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Don Cheadle x 4 in "Miles Ahead" 

Nathaniel reporting on the closing night film of the New York Film Festival

Don Cheadle has been an esteemed actor for a full twenty years now. His big reputation began with his breakout turn in The Devil with the Blue Dress (1995) and kept building. Somewhere along the way, despite a Best Actor nomination for Hotel Rwanda (2004) the leading man career didn't materialize (apart from his 4 time Emmy nominated gig on Showtime's House of Lies). The sturdy ensemble player attempts to right that wrong by producing, writing, directing and starring (whew) in a Miles Davis biopic.

Cue the trumpets!

And here we are. Miles Ahead was given the honor of closing this year's New York Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film.

It's tough to argue that Cheadle hasn't earned a spotlight as bright as this. [More...

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Forever "Chasing Rainbows"

While there may have been no news for years on that proposed (new) Anne Hathaway as Judy Garland biopic, that hasn't stopped other creatives from continuing to rob her grave. Will Judy ever rest in peace?

Not that we mind entertainment projects periodically winning The World's Greatest Entertainer new generations of fans whose parents weren't even born until after she died. But it does occassionally strike even this diehard Judy G fan as creepy, this perpetual exhuming of her corpse... If any of these projects came with a guarantee of pristine restorations and theatrically released revivals of her films outside of The Wizard of Oz, we'd grab a shovel ourselves!

Playbill reports that a new biographical Judy Garland musical will be heading (eventually... 2018?) to the Broadway stage. The twist is this: less tragic. The jukebox musical, which already has backing and which will be dubbed "Chasing Rainbows," apparently ends with The Wizard of Oz... the beloved classic that was released when Judy was all of 17 years old. The seeds of her tragedy were already planted by then of course but they had yet to bloom. 

The Judy Garland story with a vaguely happy ending? Curious.