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The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R


 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Entries in biopics (101)

Thursday
Nov202014

Interview: Patti Smith Doesn't Want Her Own Biopic!

What becomes a legend most? Not the biopics we see each year at the movies, Patti Smith suggests to me. We were meeting to talk about her first Original Song for a film, "Mercy Is" from this spring's $100 million hit Noah when the conversation veered into her own status as a showbiz legend, the godmother of punk. She shudders when I wonder aloud if anyone will make ever make a movie of her best-selling memoir "Just Kids" which recounts her storied relationship with fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Though she's undoubtedly been interviewed thousands of times by now in her forty years of stardom, and she questions (indirectly) the whole point of the star profile and the interviewing process  -- 'if you really want to know me, it's all there in the work' -- she is a patient and warm interview. She instantly recalls the old massive paraphenalia that journalists used to bring into the room to record with when she sees my tiny electronic device and she's eager to talk Noah, a project she felt immediately taken with when Darren Aronofsky first told her about his plans for it at the Venice Film Festival years ago. 

Patti Smith at a recent concert in Iceland

NATHANIEL: Movies aren’t something you've spent a lot of time with in your legendary career. Did you know Aronofsky’s work well before writing the song for Noah?

PATTI SMITH: Yes. I love the one with Rachel Weisz, The Fountain. And Pi. I saw Black Swan a couple of times and we talked about Black Swan as a metaphor for the artist process and things like that. But it was not so much Darren as the subject.

Nathaniel: But you’ve been asked about religion before in your career and you’ve called it ‘man-made dogma’ so why do a Biblical film?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I love the Bible. Just because I’ve extricated myself from religion doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the scriptures. I look at the Bible as itself. It’s a holy book, it has incredible literature in it and beautiful poetry - the Songs of Solomon and the Psalms. I studied the Bible seriously until I was young teenager. It was always part of our home education: talking about the Bible, arguing about the Bible, interpreting it. So I don’t connect prayer or scriptures with any particular religion so it’s not a contradiction in my life. [more...]

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Wednesday
Nov192014

Steve McQueen to Helm a Paul Robeson Biopic (& other news)

Manuel here bringing you news about Steve McQueen's next film project.

Surely one of the joys of this past Oscar season was McQueen's ebullience, no?

While we know McQueen has been busy casting his lead for his HBO pilot, Codes of Conduct, it was less clear what his follow-up to his Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave would be. Well, now we have an answer: a Paul Robeson biopic. He’s quoted by The Guardian, noting that,

“His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after Hunger. But I didn’t have the power, I didn’t have the juice.”

Robeson’s life will surely offer McQueen quite a bit to play with, though I’d love for him to focus on Robeson’s impact and role in the Harlem Renaissance; might I be selfish in wanting him to craft an entire movie out of Robeson’s (in)famous Emperor Jones production? I feel we’ve yet to get a big-screen treatment of that colorful era, with so much necessary cultural history embedded within. After 12 Years’ historic win, it seems fitting that McQueen (who’s teaming up with Harry Belafonte for the pic) would use his leverage to get his passion project off the ground and particularly timely as 2014 continues to see films for, about, and by black artists taking center stage in mainstream conversations.

And for those of you who want to champion and support work by African American women (also beautifully being spotlit recently with Ava Duvernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, as well as Brit Amma Asante’s films all receiving warm critical and box office notices), the African-American Women in Cinema festival kicks off today in New York City. It looks like a wonderfully diverse slate; the opening night film Seasons of Love features Taraji P. Henson, (also soon to be seen in the upcoming Lee Daniels’ produced television show Empire which will hopefully give her the juice role she deserves) as well as the fittingly and timely titled Afraid of the Dark documentary which attempts to answer the question, in director Mya B.’s words, “Why is everyone afraid of black men?” Let us know if you make it to any of the films! 

Taraji & Gladys Knight in Seasons of Love 

Who do you think McQueen should cast as Robeson? And while we’re on the subject, share with us your favorite film directed by a woman of color (mine’s The Watermelon Woman); I’m always on the lookout for new titles from voices that veer away from the stronghold of the straight white male director.

Sunday
Oct052014

NYFF: Beloved Sisters

"...and that is why you should nominate us for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars."Our NYFF coverage continues with Nathaniel learning a 'don't procrastinate lesson'

This will be brief though the movie is not. IMDb lists the running time of Beloved Sisters, a fine new costume drama, as 138 minutes. The version that screened this past week at NYFF was 170 minutes long or nearly three hours. I do not know which version AMPAS  foreign language film committee will be screening but as soon as I find out I'll share. I do know this: a 170 minute long movie in which you can't read any of your notes (due to scribbling on the same line repeatedly in the dark) should be written up immediately and not left to swiss cheese memory. 

Beloved Sisters is a true(ish) story about sisters Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) and Caroline (Hannah Herzprung) and the talented man they fall for (Florian Stetter as Friedrich Schiller). The sisters are the best of friends but for financial reasons they have to part; Their mother widowed, Caroline marries for money to help support her family. As the movie begins, Charlotte is now old enough to be shopped around town... excuse me "introduced into high society" as well. Though Charlotte is lovely and (mostly) obedient, she doesn't have the right temperament to acclimate to stuffy society events, aristocratic mores, and arranged marriages. Instead she wants to marry the penniless poet Schiller who will eventually become famous, hence the interest in making a movie about this at all over 225 years later. Her mother, in need of money, doesn't approve.

Soon married Caroline is also in love with Friedrich but, in stark contract to most love triangles, the sisters are happy to share him. One near-drowning which ends with Friedrich scandalously naked and warmed by the sisters sets this odd triangle on its two-decade course. Since history is not at all explicit about what went down between Schiller and the sisters he became so close to, there are many theories and Dominik Graf's film fills in the blanks with a kind of lush romanticism that wouldn't be out of place in a swoony romance novel albeit one without the bodice ripping salaciousness. The film is interested, though not heavily invested in the life of the mind and rather timid about sex actually. This doesn't feel like a misstep exactly since Charlotte's ideas of romance is naive and youthful and the character arcs largely involve the three of them accepting the compromises and difficulties of marriages and friendship.

Though many of the details of the film have slipped by me two weeks later (blame a month of constant film festivalling, not the movie itself) I still remember evocative production design from rich wallpaper to a the delapidated ruins of a family house,  and the wonderfully complicit reading of letters directly to camera. Most of all I remember the first half (which flies by) when love is new and all consuming. Beloved Sisters feels more ordinary the longer it plays, unfortunately, but the first half has a charming youthful idealism and a firm grasp on illicit if modest thrills that come from soulmate devotion, and secretive infatuations like a Heavenly Creatures without the blood spattering psychosis.

Previous NYFF Reviews here. Oscar submission charts here
16 Foreign Oscar Submissions Reviewed:  ArgentinaAustraliaBelgiumBrazilCanadaCuba,FranceGermanyIcelandLatviaMauritaniaNorwayPolandPortugalSweden and Venezuela

Thursday
Oct022014

NYFF: Pasolini, or One Day of Sodom

Our coverage of the New York Film Festival continues - here is Jason tackling Abel Ferrara's biopic Pasolini with Willem Dafoe.

This is a review of Abel Ferrara's Pasolini, but let me just start by saying that I loved Bertrand Bonello's Saint LaurentNathaniel reviewed Saint Laurent and he was more measured in his appreciation of it than I would be - I was bowled over by its style and its sex appeal. I loved it. I went into it with next to no expectations - I'm usually indifferent to fashion bio-pics, I haven't seen Bonello's other films, and Gaspard Ulliel's left me cold up to now - but near to three hours later I was a disciple. Saint Laurent tells the story of a gay man, a creative force to be reckoned with, whose flirtations with reckless sex in the 1970s led him to a muddy field, beaten bloody...

the real Pier Paolo Pasolini... which brings us to Pasolini, the story of a gay man, a creative force to be reckoned with, whose flirtations with reckless sex in the 1970s led him to a muddy field, beaten bloody. I took the long way around but I got there, bridging the two, and I bring up the way the two films shadow each other for more than superficial purposes - it's in the part about "a creative force to be reckoned with" where I see Bonello's film sparking to life while Ferrara's remains curiously distant.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Aug222014

Viola Davis. 'Holy s***, that woman can act!'

Here's Matthew Eng on where we are in the career of one of the great screen actresses... 

“Holy shit, I love watching this woman act!” is what I immediately thought during Viola Davis’s doozy of a “big scene” in Get on Up, which nearly every review of Tate Taylor’s surprisingly strong James Brown biopic has been well-inclined to praise. As Brown’s aged, long-estranged mama, Davis—with the aid of terrific star Chadwick Boseman and some pretty expert makeup artists whose numbers Clint Eastwood should find immediately—manages to reinvigorate a set-up familiar from any number of tortured artist-biopics (i.e. absentee parent comes groveling years later to abandoned child-turned-superstar at the peak of his fame) with the same smart, electrifying clarity of character and tender yet tough-minded emotionalism that should be long-recognizable by now to anyone who has seen Doubt or Antwone Fisher or Solaris or Won’t Back Down, or else FencesKing Hedley II, or Seven Guitars on Broadway, or, more likely, witnessed Davis’ extraordinary, one-woman rescue job on Taylor’s The Help.

Holy shit, I love watching this woman act. It’s not the first time the thought’s run through my head.

Davis is, as usual, great in Get on Up, a superior musical drama that’s prone at times, like all entries in this genre, to some patchy plotting and tacky set-pieces, but which sports the affecting ensemble, sobering insights, and stellar, sweat-stained concert sequences that Eastwood and his animatronic Jersey Boys could only dream about. Davis’ role is also, as usual, brief but crucial to the movie at-hand. [More...]

 

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Friday
Aug082014

Review: Get On Up

Michael has joined Nathaniel on weekend review duties so you get two. Here he is on Get On Up...

The opening scenes of Get On Up are so loose and dynamic they give the viewer reason to hope that Tate Taylor’s take on James Brown’s life story sidestepped the pitfalls that trap so many musical biopics. The film shuffles back and forth through Brown’s life with such breathless energy it’s as if the screenplay itself is possessed by the spirit of Soul Brother No. 1. It’s exhilarating, but the thrill dissipates quickly when it becomes clear that underneath the exploded chronology and the surface razzmatazz, Taylor’s film is operating from the same old biopic playbook. It turns out Get On Up is as square as the squarest prestige Oscar grab, right down to the dumb trope of pinning all of the star’s self-destructive behavior to a childhood trauma.

With the hyper-kinetic structure, not to mention the wall-to-wall James Brown music (which remains irresistible) it’s easy to miss the fact that the Get On Up never musters much insight into its subject. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business was the next logical choice to get the Walk the Line treatment, so here we all are. The script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth opts for an all-of-the-above approach that skips from topic to topic without ever really coming to a point. Here’s James Brown performing in Vietnam. Here’s an unknown Brown stealing an open mic night from Little Richard. Here’s a past-his-prime Brown stoned out of his gourd, waving a shotgun around while wearing a hideous green sweat suit. No one will miss the boring old three-act arc, but the portrait of the man never emerges from the mosaic.

More...

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Monday
Aug042014

New Photos from "Theory of Everything" & "Big Eyes"

Three new stills for movies about complicated marriages among brilliant people. Expect trailers very shortly. First up is Theory of Everything coming November 7th and based on Jane Hawking's autobiography "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen"

A few thoughts I had... uncensored as they come to me. 

• Felicity Jones always makes me think of Like Crazy & The Tempest. I did not fall. Unless you mean like crazy annoyed with her. Can she suddenly be fascinating in this?
• This might easily fall into the stock "supportive wife" role syndrome (not that Oscar will mind. But we might) even if it is from her perspective?
• Is Eddie Redmayne the best-looking gawky nerdstar ever? There's something about him that shouldn't really work as a leading man onscreen and yet he sure does... work it. You know?
Marius 
• I'm glad this isn't named after the book... people might be expecting a sci-fi time travel flick
• Golden light is shorthand for romantic aura / nostalgia

The other new stills are from Tim Burton's Big Eyes, coming Christmas Day starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as the Keanes. The wife did the big eye paintings and the husband got credit for them. 

 • Whenever they show actors painting or drawing onscreen I am INSTANTLY looking to see if they're actually doing anything... kind of the way when an actor plays piano I stare intensely at the hands and dread the cut to closeup of their hands when the actor is replaced by a person who can do that thing. It annoys me that I do this, trust, but I can't help it.
• Closeups of actors hands...it's never them! Remember when Robin Bartlett told me she didn't scribble that note to Leo in Shutter Island.
• There's almost nothing I dislike more aesthetically (from disappointment rather than unattractiveness) than when redheads go blonde for movies. I want them ALWAYS ginger.

• Love the red light in this picture. The cinematography is by 4 time Oscar nominee Bruno Delbonnel in case you were wondering.
• I want this to be good so badly. But the odds... I'm just going to whisper Ed Wood over and over to myself and hope for the best
• Big Eyes would also be a good name for a documentary exploring the physiogonomy of actors since so many of them have unnaturally ginormous orbs. All the better to expose the inner humanity of their characters.
• I got a new computer! *

 

 

What does this have to do with Big Eyes, you ask? Well, I'm slightly traumatized because even though it's gorgeously super-sized most of my old programs don't work anymore because it's so new, so I'm trying to come up with solutions so i can manipulate images and the Oscar charts again. IF photoshop was working I would be manipulating this image right now so that it showed them fighting over Christoph Waltz's two Oscars instead of a painting. He only deserved one of them, so surely he should give ONE to Amy who has way more range.

It's only right! 

 

* I know I already said this this morning but the excitement overfloweth. It's been like seven years since I got a new desktop!