Every day seems to bring news of another biopic film in the works. What can we say; audiences can't get enough of famous dead celebrities — and presidents, for that matter. While J.D Salinger might roll over his in grave over the latest Salinger documentary, the autobiographical film puts the power and story into the hands of the filmmaker with deeply personal results that blend fact with fiction imperceptibly. Here's a sampling of some memoir-cum-movie picks.
Short Term 12
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Screenwriter and director Destin Cretton took his time spent working at a foster care facility and turned it into one of the most moving films of this year. His first-hand experience shapes the film and prevents it from veering into after-school special territory, while making the audience feel like they experienced it with him.
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When faced with a grim diagnosis such as spinal cancer, it helps to have Seth Rogen as your best friend to help you cope through comedy. After being diagnosed at the age of 24, comedy writer Will Reiser wrote a screenplay with Rogen about what happened to their friendship after the diagnosis and all the awkward interactions that illness can bring.
Jonathan Caouette made indie film history when he made his autobiographical documentary for only $218.32. Then again, most of the film is made up of family movies and personal footage from age 11 and up. While it may not be familiar to a large audience, Caouette's story is equally troubling as it is fascinating — thanks to his manic mother and schizophrenic storytelling.
This movie just further proved that none of us would ever be as cool as Cameron Crowe. At the ripe age of 16, he finagled a job reporting for Rolling Stone, toured with the Allman Brothers Band, lost his virginity to three groupies AND made a highly successful movie out of it. Also, rest assured; Penny Lane is real.
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Lena Dunham's commitment to rooting her HBO series Girls in reality is well documented; as anyone who's seen the Q-tip episode can attest. Before she mined her real life experiences of gay ex-boyfriends and British ex-pat artists as best friends, her first feature laid the groundwork for all the creative-nonfiction that was to follow. If it's hard to separate Dunham from her onscreen personas, than that means her job is done.
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Handsome James (Paul Dawson) is a bit depressed. In the opening scene he pees while taking a bath and then sets up his camera as he fellates himself while a stalker across the street (Peter Stickles) watches. Then James cries. He's miserable and his boyfriend Jamie (P.J. DeBoy) doesn't know what to do. They go to a sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee). She in turn has incredible sex--or at least finds incredible positions--with her husband Rob (Raphael Barker) but she can't achieve an orgasm. They all end up at a wild club called Shortbus which looks like a room even Caligula would love and whose guests range from a former mayor of New York to a popular drag queen Justin Bond (playing his/herself). It's at Shortbus where James and Jamie meet young Ceth (Jay Brannan) and to try to add spice to their relationship while Sofia meets an angry dominatrix named Severin (Lindsay Beamish) who thinks she can help with Sofia's quest. The most amazing part of Shortbus comes from the performers who are as real as it gets. Mitchell tries to get the actors to play parts of themselves asking them to reenact their most bizarre sexual experiences and developing the storylines around them. With that Mitchell is quoted in the press notes as saying that every orgasm is genuine--except one and he's not saying which one. For this reason perhaps the cast is filled with virtual unknowns except for a few choice cameos (character actor/publicist Mickey Cottrell with a dead guy in a whirlpool is a particularly good one). But the players are all superb in their own individual ways especially Dawson as the sad-eyed stud and Lee as the desperate therapist. Beamish also shows quite an emotional range and looks like a modern-day Cyndi Lauper. Watch for her star to rise. John Cameron Mitchell best known for his searing little indie gem Hedwig and the Angry Inch apparently auditioned 100 people by throwing a rather sexually open party not unlike the parties shown in the film. But Mitchell has got more than an inch showing up in Shortbus. It's as if he has re-made The Rocky Horror Picture Show into a non-musical live NC-17 version. All the film’s sexual explicitness seems almost voyeuristic but dances around being pornographic or grotesque. In fact the scenes are often devoid of eroticism coming across as funny creepy and sad instead. Mitchell also paints an intriguing canvas mixing animation and art as the camera swoops into different neighborhoods around Manhattan. Ultimately the parade of sexuality and bizarre characters plays like a Federico Fellini film but it makes much more sense. Mitchell's picture is raw but heartfelt and it’s going to make audiences uncomfortable. But obviously that's the point.
Everything appears to be status quo between humans and mutants. There’s a president who is sympathetic towards mutants Prof. Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school is thriving and Magneto (Ian McKellen) is quiet--for the moment. But when a “cure” for mutancy is discovered which would give those with the mutant gene the choice to give up their powers and become human Magneto sees red. Cure mutants? Dem’s fightin’ words. With a few more allies on his side--including the resurrected Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who now calls herself the Phoenix and has unlimited powers--Magneto prepares to trigger the war to end all wars while the X-Men--lead by the stalwart Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and milquetoasty Storm (Halle Berry)--try to stop him. I seriously doubt this is really their Last Stand. All the usual suspects are back. Stewart is once again sufficiently wise as Xavier while McKellen’s Magneto continues to be one of the cooler comic-book villains. It’s amusing to watch him calmly mangle cars or dislodge the Golden Gate bridge with a gleam in his eye. Janssen also seems to relish playing dual roles--the tormented Grey and her evil alter ego Phoenix who is one scary broad. Unfortunately Jackman doesn’t have as much to chew on in Last Stand as he did in X2 and Berry is once again only good for drumming up fog. But the new mutants are kind of fun: Ellen Page (so deadly in Hard Candy) plays sweet this time as Kitty Pryde who can “phase” through solid material; Vinnie Jones (Snatch) is boisterous as the aptly named Juggernaut; Kelsey Grammer is diplomatic as the highly intelligent--and very blue--Dr. Hank McCoy aka Beast; and Dania Ramirez (Fat Albert) as the blink-of-an-eye quick Callisto gets to kick Storm’s ass. Cool cat fight. How dare director Bryan Singer leave his X-Men to go direct another superhero movie even if it is Superman Returns. If Wolverine had anything to say about he might have ripped Singer a new one. You really do feel Singer’s absence in The Last Stand. All of the director’s tormented pathos towards his mutant comrades and their struggles to live in the human world are not as prevalent in this third installment. Instead we’ve got happy-go-lucky director Brett Ratner of Rush Hour fame who turns The Last Stand into one giant id--big explosive and campy. Of course to his credit Ratner is pretty good at delivering a rousing albeit superficial action movie. It’s just not as gripping as X2. But listen the spirit of the comic is already built in from the previous installments so in essence we already know these characters pretty well. Do we really need more angst?
November 04, 2005 11:26am EST
Michael Moore posts election reaction On his first post-election post, filmmaker Michael Moore gives readers 17 reasons not to slit their wrists.
"Ok, it sucks. Really sucks," Moore rants on his official Web site. "But before you go and cash it all in, let's, in the words of Monty Python, 'always look on the bright side of life!' There IS some good news from Tuesday's election." Moore, whose anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 took in more that $120 million at the box office, writes: "Gays, thanks to the ballot measures passed on Tuesday, cannot get married in 11 new states. Thank God. Just think of all those wedding gifts we won't have to buy now." What other silver linings does Moore see? "Admit it: We like the Bush twins and we don't want them to go away," he jokes.
Rape suspect appears on TV's Blind Date
A woman in Ventura, Calif., watching an episode of the TV series Blind Date, in which cameras follows two strangers fixed up by the show on their first date, called police when she recognized the man who had raped her 14 months earlier. According to the Los Angeles Times, the woman recorded the episode and turned the tape over to local authorities, who then contacted Santa Barbara police. Ulrick Kevin White, 31, was arrested on suspicion of raping and kidnapping the woman and is being held at the Ventura County Jail on $500,000 bail. White is also awaiting trial on suspicion of breaking into the Santa Barbara home of a 22-year-old student after allegedly following her home in November 2003. "The chances against seeing someone like that on TV are pretty astronomical," Det. Russ Robinson said.
Judge in Jackson case won't remove prosecutor
A California judge Thursday rejected a bid by Michael Jackson's lawyers to remove District Attorney Tom Sneddon from the pop star's child-molestation case, The Associated Press reports. Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau argued Sneddon had become so determined to convict Jackson that he had lost his sense of justice and bore a grudge against the singer that dated back to 1993. But Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville ruled during a pretrial hearing in Santa Maria there was no proof Sneddon had acted improperly or overzealously. Jackson, who is charged in a 10-count indictment with molesting a young boy and conspiring to cover up the crime, is scheduled to stand trial beginning Jan. 31.
Band Aid to rerecord "Do They Know It's Christmas"
Paul McCartney, Bono, Robbie Williams and Dido are among the performers lined up for the new recording of the Band Aid charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas," Billboard.com reports, again to benefit famine relief in Africa. Bono will reprise his famous line "Well tonight, thank God it's them instead of you," while McCartney will play bass on the recording, credited to Band Aid 20 to commemorate the anniversary of the 1984 release. Travis' Fran Healy, meanwhile, will play guitar on the track. "If it turns out absolutely s---, it does not matter," he told Billboard.com. "What I will say is you've got to buy the record because it's the only record that's going to save lives this side of Christmas, and you can't ask for more than that." The tune will raise money for the Band Aid Trust's famine relief in Africa, specifically in the blighted Darfur region of Sudan.
Steven Soderbergh opposes loud trailers
Ocean's Twelve director Steven Soderbergh has a gripe about trailers being too loud-and he's kicked his fight up a notch. Soderbergh voiced his concerns regarding the sound level at which trailers are played at a meeting held last month by the Trailer Audio Standards Assn., an organization whose goal is to uphold exhibition loudness standards. According to Reuters, the director's complaint was that trailer volume often leads moviegoers to ask theater managers to turn it down. But managers don't always turn it back up, which leads to movie volumes being too low. Soderbergh's criticism didn't fall on deaf ears: As a result, the Cinema Advertising Council (CAC) is putting together its first set of sound standards to govern the loudness of commercials and pre-show entertainment.
Cosmetics company sues Jessica Simpson
Cosmetics maker Cosmojet Inc. filed a lawsuit Oct. 21 in Los Angeles Superior Court against singer Jessica Simpson, claiming the singer owes nearly $200,000 for about $1 million worth of product shipped for her edible cosmetic line, Dessert Beauty Inc., which includes the products "Powdered Sugar Deliciously Kissable Body Shimmer." But in a statement to the syndicated news magazine Celebrity Justice, Simpson's spokesperson said: "Jessica Simpson is a spokesperson for Dessert products and has no involvement in the day-to-day operation of the company's business. Ms. Simpson has no knowledge whether Cosmojet's claim has any basis, nor does she have any responsibility for the company's accounting and billing procedures or payment obligations."
Two U.S. films win at London film fest
Jonathan Caouette's autobiographical documentary Tarnation, about an unsettled childhood scarred by his mother's mental illness, and Nicole Kassell's The Woodsman, which stars Kevin Bacon as a child molester trying to rebuild his life after 12 years in prison, won top awards Thursday at the 48th London Film Festival's final day, the AP reports. Tarnation, compiled from home movies, videos, snapshots and audio tapes and edited on simple computer movie software, took the trophy for best first feature, while The Woodsman won the festival's Satyajit Ray award for a first feature that "reflects the artistry, compassion and humanity" of the late Indian director's work.
Completely stripping Catwoman of her "Batman" connections the geniuses behind this comic-book movie--at least as bad as Spider-Man 2 is good--also stripped it of any pleasure. Neither campy a la Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt of the old TV series nor sexy vamp like Michelle Pfeiffer of Batman Returns Halle Berry's Catwoman is well one lost little kitty in the big city. Actually she's Patience Philips--an annoyingly mousy graphics designer for a top cosmetics firm who despite her job has no fashion sensibility no self-confidence and no boyfriend. (Yeah riiiight!) She is befriended by a mystical Egyptian Mau cat which--courtesy of lousy digital effects--often looks disturbingly like Toonces and sounds like Linda Blair in The Exorcist when it meows; moreover its way of befriending Patience is to lure her into a suicide attempt--one of many plot points lacking a rationale. When Patience discovers that the cosmetics firm's villainous owner (Lambert Wilson) and aging supermodel wife (Sharon Stone) are marketing a toxic disfiguring facial cream she is killed--flushed through a drainage system into the ocean. But here comes that darn cat again to revive her as she's lying in sludge and mud. Next thing she knows she's sleeping on her apartment's bookshelf eating tuna by the caseload looking longingly at Jaguar hood ornaments as if they're long-lost relatives and jumping about walls basketball courts and whatnot faster than a speeding bullet. She also takes to wearing a pointy-eared black-leather dominatrix outfit along with too much makeup but at least no whiskers. She also starts sniffing around that foul cosmetics firm which leads to a martial-arts showdown with Stone. What the Oscar-winning Berry doesn't do regrettably is get a CAT scan to see what kind of ailment convinced her to make this lamebrain movie.
I've seen better acting on 7-Eleven surveillance videos than in Catwoman. Berry is cloying in the film's early stages when she's playing insecure lonely Patience and she's more pathetically childlike than anything else. Once she's Catwoman though she's really terrible tilting her head for endless close-ups and giving lots of wide-eyed stares meant to conjure feline curiosity but that more recall George W. Bush's "deer-in-the-headlights" gaze. The screenplay makes a few lame attempts to observe the duality of women in the way Patience changes to Catwoman but it's not there in the performance. Yet Berry's turn is a career-peak gem compared to Stone who can't decide whether to play the power-mad Laurel Hedare as a broad cartoonish send-up or as someone connected to reality. Looking like a vampiric Susan Powter and barking sarcastic lines without a hint of emotional connection to her character Stone is just awful. On the plot's fringes Benjamin Bratt does his best as a police officer (gee what else) who is both infatuated with Berry and suspects her of murder.
The one-named French director Pitof (short for "pitoful"?) supposedly is a digital-imaging expert who has worked with City of Lost Children's Jean-Pierre Jeunet but you'd never know it here. Either he doesn't know much about directing actors or maybe he only gives directions in French. The effects--especially action scenes involving a digitalized version of Berry--move at such a chaotic breakneck pace that she looks completely phony. Plus there's absolutely no sequential logic whatsoever to where Catwoman moves and when--apparently invisibility is one of her superpowers. These awkward clumsy scenes are usually accompanied by distractingly loud music. Pitof's only other directing credit is some obscure French flick starring Gerard Depardieu…one hopes Catwoman will be his last.