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Entries in biopics (227)


Unsung Heroes: Jim James and Calexico in 'I'm Not There'

Michael C. from Serious Film here, eager to dive back into a film I’ve been meaning to revisit for ages: Todd Haynes’ whirlwind Dylan collage I’m Not There (2007). All this Mildred Pierce talk has given me Haynes on the brain.

I was the ideal audience member for Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. I am a devoted Bob Dylan lover, a big admirer of Hayne’s work, and am literate in pop culture to the point that when Haynes paid simultaneous homage to Fellini’s and Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back I had no trouble keeping up. And while I found lots to admire in this hugely ambitious project – and I was grateful Haynes didn’t attempt a traditional linear biopic – the film mostly left me cold. I was too conscious of the intellectual constructs at every turn. Dylan’s music can be pretty cerebral at times too, but I love it because he combines that obliqueness with the ability to absolutely destroy me emotionally on a consistent basis.

And yet –and yet - right at the heart of the Richard Gere section of the film, the section I found most problematic, there is this amazing scene that I haven’t been able to shake since I first viewed it four years ago.

If I’m Not There is a whole movie constructed of tangents then the scenes involving Gere playing a character named Billy the Kid riding a horse around a bizarre Old West town called Riddle may be a tangent too far. I get that it’s supposed to represent Dylan’s self-imposed exile in Woodstock in the late sixties, and that the sequence is wild grab bag of Dylan references, but these scenes still stop the movie cold with their randomness.


Or at least that's the case until all the townsfolk wander to the center of Riddle to hear Jim James of My Morning Jacket sing a hypnotic cover of Dylan’s "Going to Acapulco" backed by the band Calexico. 

Covering Dylan is almost a genre of music onto itself and this incredibly soulful take of a relatively obscure track deserves a place along side the all time greats. For a little over three minutes I don’t care about Haynes’s thesis statement. Nor do I care about making sense of the riot of costuming and set decoration I’m witnessing (love the random giraffe). For those three minutes I don’t care about anything but the fact that James, Calexico, and Haynes have managed to tap into that thing I love about Dylan. All those levels of meaning can take a back seat to the visceral experience of the music.

We all have are our favorites movies, the ones we know scene for scene, line for line. But equally valuable are the individual moments, those stand alone gems from those films that otherwise didn’t reach us. The “Going to Acapulco” scene from I’m Not There is such a moment for me. I doubt I’ll ever unravel the mystery of why it made such an impression on me, not that I have any interest in doing so.


Related posts:
all episodes of "Unsung Heroes. Also check out the new songs-in-movies series "Mix Tape"


Sally Field is First Lady Mary Todd "Lincoln"

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2013?) is one of those movies that I always forget about due to its long long gestation period. I swear I've been hearing about it as long as Jodie Foster's Flora Plum or Jodie Foster's Leni Reifenstahl or a few of Terrence Malick's movies before they surfaced. Will it ever get made? Probably. This is Spielberg we're talking about and he's familiar with the green light. The biopic is now one small step closer to filming. Deadline reports that Sally Field is in as our seventeenth* First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

Spielberg says that Sally Field was always his first choice. I don't believe or disbelieve this exactly but I find it amusing that virtually every casting announcement for any movie (not specifically this one) comes with "they were our first choice all along" which simply can't be true 90% of the time we hear it else there would be very few auditions or screen tests ever held and precious little for casting directors to do other than fill up the bit roles and very little for management and representation to do other than negotiate.

At first the news felt odd and easily snarkable like "Sally Field co-starring with Daniel Day-Lewis? She's moving up in the world!" but then I quickly remembered that people -- apparently even myself. For shame -- are always underestimating her talent, probably because she's a "cute" actress as it were, and has been for her entire career. But I've seen enough of her work to know I shouldn't underestimate her. She's already proven herself on stage (she was a-ma-zing in a difficult role in The Goat or Who is Sylvia?), small screen (Emmys) and big screen (Oscars). She's one of those talents that "transfers" as it were. Plus: Daniel Day-Lewis isn't the only one with two Oscars in this marriage.

If you read up on Mary Todd Lincoln you'll find she was a pretty interesting woman with a very dramatic life: Her own family was torn up by the Civil War as she came from a border state, she outlived nearly all of her children, she was plagued by headaches and erratic behavior which some historians believe indicates that she was a manic depressive or bipolar). You have to wonder why some First Ladies don't get their own biopics.

The most peculiar thing about the casting is probably their age difference. Sally Field is 11 years older than Daniel Day-Lewis and we don't often see casting flip the gender/age disparity equation; Mary was 10 years younger than Abraham.

Here is the trailer to  Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) which netted Raymond Massey and Oscar nomination for Best Actor (Ruth Gordon was not nominated as Mary Todd). John Ford's Young Lincoln (1939) the year before was only Oscar nominated for the screenplay.

No movie about Lincoln has been an Oscar powerhouse but you never know with that cast and director.

But First...
Spielberg's Lincoln is long enough away that perhaps we should be talking about Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012) instead. Itopens in 14 months and stars Meryl Streep's future son-in-law Benjamin Walker as Honest Abe. He's apparently cornered the market on blood splattered presidents. His breakthrough role was in the play "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" on Broadway (for which he turned down a role in X-Men: First Class) and all I can say about him is you're in for such a treat when you see him on the big screen. Major charisma he has. Big stardom awaits.

Benjamin Walker heads the cast of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"

*Abraham Lincoln was the 16th US President but Mary Todd was actually the 17th First Lady since President #10 John Tyler remarried while in office after the death of his first wife.




News: Dakota's Music, Tom's Hair Metal, Cameron's Hydrophilia, 

It seems that playing Cherie Currie in The Runaways (2010) was just not enough girlgroup action for Dakota Fanning. News is she and little sister Elle are maybe doing a biopic about a failed 1960s family band The Shaggs. [src]

 Dakota, The Shaggs, and Elle

Are there any other Fanning sisters we haven't heard of yet to play the other band member(s)? If Dakota is moving backwards in time through musical biopics will we be seeing her and Elle doing The Andrews Sisters biopic set in the 1940s a decade or so from now?  There are not enough pictures, other than war movies,  set in the 1940s if you ask me.

But I'm actually a bit surprised they're in talks to do something together. Dakota and Elle aren't frequently photographed together. The pics accompanying every article about them seem to be from 2008 so I guess I'd pictured them as one of these wealthy corporate families who only see each other when they've scheduled a meeting.

I haven't been following the journey of Rock of Ages, the Broadway hair metal 80s comedy, to the screen but it seems that Adam Shankman (Hairspray) has cast one of his reality show alums Julianne Hough opposite Tom Cruise. [src] Why do I not recall if Tom Cruise can sing?  I usually know ALL about which stars have vocal ability... on account of my 'why can't they make good musicals?' obsession. I can't even remember is Cruise is in that awesome Magnolia (1999) "Wise Up" sing-along sequence. In Rock of Ages Cruise will play "an arrogant and charming star at the top of his career." Well... it's only half a stretch then. Will spoofing himself be the key to winning back fans? Or was that what he was trying for in Knight and Day?

Have any of you seen the Broadway musical? I almost went when Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was in one of the replacement casts.

I'm going to start a rumor that James Cameron was actually born to a mermaid, he's such a hydrophilic. Maybe he's the illegitimate lovechild of Mr Peabody and the Mermaid? I mean they met in 1948 and he was born in the early 50s. Who is with me? The latest rumor although we've heard variations of it from time to time, is that Avatar 2 is going to be set entirely underwater [THR]. It wouldn't be the first time given the adventures in The Abyss and the the entire trajectory of Titanic. Maybe Cameron should accept his true lineage and direct a live action version of The Little Mermaid. Think of the awesome action spectacle at the end when Prince Eric aims for Ursula. "Get Away From Her You Bitch Sea Witch"

More News?
Cinema Blend says that David Fincher will direct a TV pilot for Kevin Spacey. Did he lose a bet on the set of Se7en or something? In more Fincher-adjacent news, Trent Reznor, hot off his Oscar win for composing The Social Network will both score and act in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter according to BadAss Digest.


Meryl Streep is... Iron Lady

The first picture of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher is out. Courtesy of the BBC.

Meryl Streep and Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady


I worry about this biopic given that the director of Mamma Mia! is helming. Hopefully she learned what a camera was and what editors do and somesuch on that practice run. I'm also curious about what drew Streep to the project. I don't know a lot about British politics but I know enough to know that Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister, was no friend to the liberal artsy set (i.e. Meryl's people) and I've heard Thatcher vilified in films like Hunger (2008) and in various songs from the likes of  Sinéad O'Connor. Anyone remember that kick off to Boy George's "No Clause 28" which was fighting against anti-gay legislation at the time?

[Thatcher impersonator] "The aim of this government is to make everyone as miserable as possible!" ♫

I'm sure there are more examples of famous progressives publicly hating on her or at least the politics she embodied as Conservative Leader.

But back to Streep. What I really want to know is why Meryl so rarely works with the great auteurs? Imagine the potent combo. I mean think of Daniel Day-Lewis paired with P.T. Anderson or Emily Watson with Lars Von Trier. If Meryl ever faced a director on her level the earth might spontaneously combust from the artistic fire.

Remember that awesome speech Nora Ephron gave about Meryl Streep playing you? So so funny. Here it is again just for kicks. The best comedy bit that Nora Ephron ever wrote?



"It's Showtime" Bob Fosse

I have to ask: Wouldn't a Bob Fosse biopic be better suited to ShowTime  than HBO -- just on account of that catchphrase? Think of the cynergy of marketing. Somehow I'd missed (or had forgotten, more likely) the news that HBO was planning a Bob Fosse biopic and now it's been announced that Bryan Singer will direct.

Haven't any of these people seen All That Jazz (1979)?

See, Fosse already made his own (auto)biopic albeit with silly winking name-changes to protect the guilty. All That Jazz was brilliant (still is), one of the best films of a very amazing decade, and there will be no topping it ever. Face facts: he got there first. Fosse was so committed he even planned ahead by staging his own death scene for film while he still had all his chain-smoking, pill popping, eye-dropping visionary musical wits about him. Another thing that makes All That Jazz untoppable is its distinct lack of hagiography. Or sure you come away from it knowing that Bob Fosse is a genius but he doesn't dwell on this, he just is it, and there's no efforts to soften himself for mass consumption. There's lots of singing but there's not heavenly choruses declaring him Worthy of This.

Despite my reservations I would totally watch this. But it may be a long time off. The project has no writer yet and the producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are not exactly unbusy.

What'cha think about that?

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