The Weinstein Company
Before The Butler, few people knew anything about Eugene Allen, the fascinating inspiration behind the film's Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker. Though we've seen plenty of Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and MLK, there are tons of similar lesser-known historical figures out there who have lived exciting, influential lives. It might just take a well-scored, sumptuously costumed biopic to bring one of these historical unknowns into the spotlight.
Elisha KaneKane was a U.S. naval officer who journeyed into the Arctic twice, trekking across the ice for 83 days and saving many lives through his bravery and medical skill.
Adele AstaireThis story has serious romantic and musical potential; Adele Astaire was considered a far more talented performer than her famous brother Fred, but chose to give up show biz when she fell in love with a British lord.
Empress MyeongseongKnown as Queen Min, which is also what I would call the biopic, this 19th century Korean feminist used her position as the emperor's wife to wield diplomatic power, form alliances, and encourage the modernization of Korea.
Edward BernaysThough there has already been an excellent documentary made about Bernays, the advertiser who shaped modern consumerism deserves a lavish dramatization, perhaps starring Martin Freeman.
Amos Bronson AlcottThe father of better-known Louisa May, Amos was far ahead of his time; he was a vegan, a women's rights activist, an abolitionist, and a teaching reformer who attempted to create an Eden-like utopia for himself and was revered by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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It's safe to say that many adults watch Christmas movies for nostalgia's sake. Since the holiday season is typically never as magical as it was when we were children, we gravitate toward the movies that used to make us feel warm, safe, and happy in our youth. (A Christmas Story, It's A Wonderful Life, etc.) We watch the same ones year after year — due to some eggnog-fueled tradition, the desire to pass down our own special childhood memories to our children, or as a legitimate quest to experience those feelings again. But for many Christmas enthusiasts, the same old repeats aren't good enough — and that's where, for roughly 40 years, Lifetime has come in. And with 10 star-studded original films on the roster for 2012, they're showing no signs of stopping.
"Holidays are a big deal for our viewers," says the SVP of Original Lifetime Movies, Tanya Lopez. "[Because] the themes are sort of this wish fulfillment... the movies that seem to do really well for us are movies that end in a couple's love story. [Movies] that have romance in them, really seem to rate."
That's why Lifetime produces material like Finding Mrs. Claus and The Merry In-Laws — two stories that combine the mythology of Christmas with a classic Lifetime romance. "People put aside other issues in their lives during this time — they just want to feel good," says Bruce Johnson, an executive producer on Finding Mrs. Claus. "They want to feel like these fantasies of romance could happen to them — that something magical could be happening during the holidays. These types of movies play year after year for a reason."
Indeed, they do — the holiday season is one of the biggest highlights of the year for the folks at Lifetime. With a core female demographic and countless dedicated viewers, the network knows it has to deliver the goods, while somehow avoiding total repetition. It's a process. "Actually, it is [a team of elves]," Lopez says with a laugh, when asked how so many movies get made each year. "They look at the movies and themes that are out there — we have a huge library of Christmas movies, so we look at which titles seem to be perennial. Then what we do is we look at how we supplement — what is it that we don't seem to have in our library? We do some strategic thinking about these movies. Last year, this all happened in, say, February or March."
Lopez acknowledges that the material in these films can often be less-than-fresh, and that avoiding duplication is also a huge part of the process. "We try not to duplicate," she says. "It's hard. This year we were so strategic about [planning] — we really took some time. I think if you look closer you'll see some that some [movies] sort of fall into the grey area."
Like, for example, The March Sisters at Christmas — a modern retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, that finds all four March sisters searching for love. According to Lopez, the film wasn't even supposed to be a Christmas tale. "There are some movies that we can turn into Christmas movies," she says. "[The March Sisters at Christmas] was just about the sisters, and in a rewrite, we turned it towards Christmas."
But this infamous repetition (and, come on, cheesiness) doesn't keep the talent away — this year alone, Lifetime snagged Mira Sorvino, Will Sasso (The Three Stooges), Ralph Macchio, Shelley Long, Harry Hamlin, David Hasselhoff, and more — basically, all actors who definitely have other things to do (err, except for maybe Hasselhoff). "Mira really created this character, Mrs. Claus," says Johnson, who produced Sorvino in Finding Mrs. Claus. "She had a real clear vision when we began the conversation with her of who the character would be. She pitched some revisions to the script, and an expansion of that character in terms of who she was and how she would be perceived. Mira has young children, and I think she even said that she just wanted to do a movie that she could show her kids, and that they would have fun and watch it year after year, because that's their mom — Mrs. Claus." Lopez agrees. "I think that [for] Ralph Macchio, or Lea Thompson — [doing a Lifetime movie] is not necessarily stretching their acting chops," she says. "It's just [about] having that nice film they've done in their library."
George Wendt (Cheers) — who plays Santa alongside Long in The Merry In-Laws — confirmed that the decision to star in the film wasn't exactly a brain-buster, even though he has played Santa Claus before. "It's usually a lot of fun, and usually very sweet," Wendt says of the filming experience. "They usually shoot [the films] in a nice, cold climate so there's lots of snow in the background, so it gets you out of town. That's about it. It's a nice, beloved character."
And that's enough to lure in the stars (not to mention the viewers) — Lifetime's holiday fare is good for the kids, fun for the grown-ups, and it makes viewers happy. But to make the rare, special film that shows up on the Lifetime calendar year after year (like 2003's Comfort and Joy, and 2005's Recipe For a Perfect Christmas) Johnson swears that there is actually a formula. "The movies that work the best have heart," Johnson says. "Rule number one, if you're dealing with the mythology that is around Christmas, you have to take the mythology seriously. When that happens, then the rest of the magic can happen. The second thing, because we are in that mythological realm, is you truly have to suspend disbelief. [Enjoying the movie] has to do with the relationships — everyone wants to have that perfect relationship with somebody else, somebody special. This kind of movie reinforces that you can have that. These types of movies, if they reinforce [that you can find love] — people will enjoy viewing it."
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find my own perfect "Mr. Claus!"
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: Ed Araquel/Lifetime]
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In other words The Holiday probably falls under the “guilty pleasure” category. Its not a classic romantic comedy by any standards but darn it it still makes you smile more often than you want to admit. The story centers on two women: Iris (Kate Winslet) a British newspaper columnist hopelessly in love with a man about to marry someone else and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) a highly successful L.A. career woman who just broke up with her latest cheating boyfriend. Being at the right place at the right time these two gals meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Shortly after arriving at their destinations both women find the last thing either wants or expects: A new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris' handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) and Iris with inspiration provided by legendary screenwriter Arthur (Eli Wallach) mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles (Jack Black). Oh just go ahead and take a big gooey bite. It’s good for the soul. The biggest problem in The Holiday is unfortunately the casting—which is real shame because you really want the chemistry to zing. They get it right with Winslet and Law who are both trying something a little different as romantic leads. Winslet in fact admitted to Reuters this was one of the more nerve-wracking parts she’s ever played because she couldn’t hide behind an American accent or a costume playing someone closer to well herself. But you would think these two Oscar-nominees had been making these type movies all along especially the insanely gorgeous Law who should have every woman swooning with his sensitivity. Where they get it wrong is with the Americans as the Brits just act giant circles around them. Black is clearly out of place. Although being very charming and funny looking like he made Winslet laugh a LOT (and who wouldn’t with that guy around?) their connection on screen is somewhat amiss. Diaz comes off looking even worse. Even though she’s the veteran of the romantic comedy (There's Something About Mary My Best Friend's Wedding) her screechy neurotic klutzy Amanda is in no way appealing. You have to scratch your head wondering why Law’s Graham would fall so hard for her. What does make The Holiday work however is writer/director Nancy Meyers. She’s proven herself quite adept at the genre with films such as What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give under her belt. With The Holiday Meyers skillfully crafts individual moments of refreshing comedy as well as heartening scenes of blossoming romance. The initial seduction scene between Amanda and Graham is particularly sweet and quirky with the crisp dialogue flying at a nice clip. And isn’t it comforting to see a holiday movie minus feuding neighbors commerciality or any sort of mean-spiritedness? But Meyers has the tendency to go more for the superficial rather than dig deep with her characters. The Holiday has a one of those glossy rosy glows whose only aim is to make you feel good. True the film will mostly speak volumes to the women in the audience (that’s a polite way of saying its a “chick flick”) but oh well. It’s fluff may be a nice reprieve during the hustle and bustle of the season.