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Entries in biopics (112)

Tuesday
May262015

A Letter to Todd Haynes

Dearest Todd,

Never ever under any circumstances take another 8 year break from the cinema. The reviews for Carol (2015) read at times like an ecstatic mirage, dehydrated desert critics stumbling upon a Haynes-flavored pool. Its weird ½ an actress prize at Cannes, for the unexpected ½ at that, feels somehow fitting given the prismatic way you like to view identity (Velvet Goldmine, I'm Not There, etc).

I can't tell you the joy I felt this morning waking up to the news that you've added a third project (!!!) to your upcoming slate after so much hibernation. Of the two we already knew about a TV series set in a 1970s commune sounds the most promising; it's an underexplored rich topic in terms of time period and political content -- you're counter culture enough to do it justice. The other project, the Untitled Peggy Lee Biopic is a swell idea, too. You're the one filmmaker who is creatively incapable of making a dully traditional biopic (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story / I'm Not There) and Miss Peggy Lee lived through all your favorite eras. We already know that its star Reese Witherspoon can sing thanks to her Oscar winning role as June Carter Cash and though we can't quite picture her as one of your muses a la Moore (Far From Heaven / [safe]) or recently Blanchett, we can picture her as a Barbie doll and we know you like those. At any rate, the part is a good fit for her. Peggy has so many classic songs, she was indominatable enough to serve as one of the original inspirations for Miss Piggy and that six decade career / four failed marriages surely contain plentiful dramatic fodder.

But the happiest news may well be the newest. You're planning to adapt Brian Selznick's children's book Wonderstruck for Killer Films??? How wonderful. That bifurcated tale featuring a boy in the Seventies pining for his father and a girl in the Twenties dreaming of an actress should provide ample spark for your formidable creativity. 

an image from Wonderstruck

You're 54 now, Todd. There are only so many years in a life. I'm not telling you to rush through these next projects but please never ever under any circumstances whatsoever take an eight year break from the cinema again in which we only get a remake of something that was already more than wonderful enough to begin with (Mildred Pierce). It was a painful drought.

Your forever fan, xoxo

Nathaniel R

Monday
May182015

Review: Bessie 

TFE's newest contributor Angelica Jade Bastién on HBO's latest biopic

For over two decades Queen Latifah has been trying to bring the life of Bessie Smith, the legendary "Empress of the Blues" who found success in the 1920s and 1930s, to the screen. Despite Bessie's life being a perfect mix of glamour and tragedy that seems tailor made for a biopic I'm not surprised it has taken Latifah this long to bring her story to life. Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah) is a rough hewn, country, bisexual, and passionate broad. The film doesn't sand off her edges or shy away from her contradictions instead it embraces them. Bessie tracks the legend from her early days as a singer with her older brother/manager, Clarence (Tory Kittles) always in her corner to the Great Depression when all her personal and professional success falters. 

Anyone familiar with women's pictures knows the emotional terrain Bessie is covering. But what makes this women's picture downright transgressive is its sympathetic,multi-layered portrayal of black queer desire...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
May142015

What's Up With Opera Pictures, Doc?

For the past year or so various Streep related announcements have revealed a curious trend: Meryl Streep is suddenly really into musically-themed pictures with four consecutive pictures of that ilk from 2014-2016 (with the exception of her cameos in other prestige dramas). First came Into the Woods, then Ricki & The Flash and next year it was supposed to be all about the Operas.  Opera? Yup. She signed on for a very promising sounding comic bio about a terrible singer Florence Foster Jenkins to be directed by Stephen Frears. The fate of the fourth picture, a filmed adaptation of the stage play Master Class, a fictionalized drama about Maria Callas's time as a voice teacher, is now up in the air. The HBO project aimed to reunite Streep with her most frequent collaborator Mike Nichols but five months after the project was announced, Nichols passed away.

Whether or not Master Class goes before cameras (with or without Streep) it will surely keep getting stage revivals since "La Divina" continues to fascinate actors and storytellers.  French diva Fanny Ardant already played the opera singer for the screen in Franco Zefirrelli's Callas Forever (2002) and word broke yesterday, complete with this gorgeous promotional poster, that Noomi Rapace is next. 

Noomi Rapace recreates a famous Callas photo

She'll star in the already fully funded Callas for director Niki Caro. Rapace broke out in a big way with the Swedish Dragon Tattoo movies but subsequent efforts as an international leading lady haven't attracted as much attention (sorry but Michael Fassbender stole all Prometheus thunder). Still, the writer/director Niki Caro isn't a slouch when it comes to winning her actresses attention. She's only made five movies including the very recent and very atypical McFarland USA, but two of them resulted in Best Actress nominations: Keisha Castle Hughes in Whale Rider and Charlize Theron in North Country. So chalk Rapace down as a threat for the shortlist in 2016 or 2017, depending on how quick they are about this. 

Wednesday
May132015

HBO’s LGBT History: The Beginning

Manuel here kicking off a mini-series of sorts focusing on HBO's decades-old commitment to telling quality LGBT stories. I spent much of this spring recapping Looking here at The Film Experience and as polarizing as many (both here and elsewhere) found the show, it remained the sole American television show centered on the gay male experience to air last year. As we all know, shortly after the season 2 finale, HBO understandably pulled the plug; the show garnered a mere 0.298 million viewers for that episode, a mere pittance when compared to their Westeros-set hit, but also nearly half of what Lena Dunham’s show metered that same evening. And so, to fill the void and build up to a very gay-friendly upcoming HBO film roster (Queen Latifah’s Bessie, that rumored Matt Bomer/Montgomery Clift biopic, the Looking wrap-up film), we’re diving headfirst into a crafting an oral LGBT history of the network that gave us Patrick, Richie, Kevin, Agustin, and Dom, but which had clearly paved the way for such a show with a long storied list of LGBT stories even before it became the ratings giant it is now.

To say HBO, as a cable provider, as a television network, and as an independent film producer, has changed the media landscape is perhaps a bit of an understatement. Its long-running tagline, “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” spoke to the core of what has made HBO such an institution. Despite various attempts at replicating its successes, HBO remains staunchly and idiosyncratically itself. Netflix and Amazon may be sniping at its heels but with a bucket load of Emmys, a gigantic and zeitgesty fantasy series on hand, and its new streaming service (anyone sign up for HBO Now, yet?), the cable giant is showing no signs of aging.

[Angels in America and Your Requested Participation after the jump...]

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Apr012015

Best Shot Visual Index: Mommie Dearest (1981)

For our April Fools tradition of celebrating 'bad movies we love' (last year it was Can't Stop the Music) we opted for Frank Perry's ill-fated but extremely memorable Mommie Dearest (1981). The film, which was quickly adapted from Christina Crawford's 1978 best-selling memoir (published just a year after her famous mother's death), starred Faye Dunaway as the great movie star and Mara Hobel and Diana Scarwid as Christina, Steve Forrest as Crawford's longtime boyfriend Gregg Savitt and Rutanya Alda as Crawford's loyal assistant Carol Ann. The book was controversial in its day, with many stars defending their former co-star but the stories stuck in the public consciousness and the movie lives on in infamy. It was greeted with much derision, winning multiple Razzies (the entire principle cast just listed was nominated in their individual acting categories) but Dunaway's work, oft-quoted and beloved to this day in certain communites (ahem), has always had its share of valiant defenders.

Paul Lohmannn (Nashville, High Anxiety) was the director of photography and here are the films most memorable or "best" shots, according to participants around the web.

MOMMIE DEAREST BEST SHOTS
13 images chosen by 14 blogs
Click on the images to read the corresponding articles 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb132015

Best Make-Up & Hairstyling: Freaks, Schnozz, or Old Lady?

They use to disqualify movies from this Oscar if they used too much computer enhancement (see The Hours) and always wanted their makeup effects practical (like American Werewolf in London). But nowadays computer enhancements seem to be a non-issue (see several recent winners and one of this year's nominees Guardians of the Galaxy). There are four indisputable truths about this relatively young category and this Oscar branch and they are like so:

• They love old age makeup
• They worship werewolves and love fantastically weird creatures, but hate zombies
• Hairstyling was recently added to the official category name but usually the wig heavy movies lose to films that are more prosthetically-focused
• There should be five nominees like every other category since literally every live-action film employs makeup and hair. Not every film requires visual effects or original songs or even original scores and those categories all have 5 nominees.

The Nominees:

Foxcatcher - Bill Corso & Dennis Liddiard
Grand Budapest Hotel - Frances Hannon & Mark Coulier
Guardians of the Galaxy - Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou & David White

Corso and Coulier previously won Oscars (for Lemony Snicket and The Iron Lady respectively)  but the other four nominated artists are Oscarless. All three nominated films have a lot going for them but Foxcatcher would be a longshot since the recreation of existing people's looks via wig, hair and prosthetic enhancements generally has to settle for a nomination. But will they go with Guardians or Grand Budapest? It's tough to say. Guardians is well-loved -- I even talked to a voter who had it at #1 on his Best Picture ballot during the nomination round -- and very showy what with its rainbow of skin colors (blue, green, red you name it) and sci-fi hairdos and scarring. It wouldn't surprise me to see it win. But Grand Budapest Hotel has just about everything they love in this category: old age prosthetics, elaborate hair, memorable hideousness. And who can forget Tilda Swinton's glaucoma-plagued eyes, silver wigs, and old lady liver spots?

Will Win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Should Win: Grand Budapest Hotel 

My ballot for this category (Hint: I'm thinking of renaming it "The Tilda Swinton Styling" Award)