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Review: Endless Poetry

Jul 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221699:43659:0[/embed] Endless Poetry (Poesia Sin Fin)Director: Alejandro JodorowskyRating: NRRelease Date: July 14, 2017 (limited)Country: Chile/France While Herskovitz plays Jodorowsky at the start of the film, he's soon replaced by Adan Jodorowsky. It marks a jump in time in from Alejandro's early adolescence into his adulthood, and a move toward adult concerns. It was fascinating to see Herskovitz again, however, who's seemed to age so fast in just a few years. Adan, who was a child in Santa Sangre, looks so much like his father; Brontis, who was just a child in El Topo, looks like he could be Adan's father. Throughout the movie, Alejandro Jodorowsky himself appears on screen, offering a kind of wizened and reflective narration for these moments in his past. If The Dance of Reality was essentially a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story), Endless Poetry functions more like a künstlerroman (a story about an artist's development and maturation). Alejandro becomes a poet, though it happens too easily, which is where Jodorowsky's flair for surreal and alchemical indulgence butts up against the mundane realities of the writing process, especially for people just starting out. Alejandro is fully formed as a poet the moment he reads Lorca for the first time, like a single book unlocks a preternatural facility with language. There is no struggle with bad poetry, there is almost no self-doubt, and no need to find his footing as a writer. The closest the film alludes to these conflicts is in one early scene at a typewriter. Alejandro pecks out a minor triumph as the giant spectral face of his father dominates the other half of the screen, calling his son a maricón over and over again, deriding the masculinity/sexuality of being an artist. But the film isn't much concerned about that. Alejandro is already great without the essential work to achieve greatness, and always certain about his greatness without a more troubled relationship with language. He's even gifted his own bohemian pad to have parties with all the rakes, wits, and creatives of Santiago. Art has no limitations, but it's part of the artist's journey to discover that on their own, and that journey isn't embarked upon here. We've already arrived at the outset. It undercuts one of the more powerful moments toward the end of Endless Poetry. On a circus stage, Alejandro transforms from a simple clown into a poet and then into a melancholic mime right out of Children of Paradise. This ought to feel like some transcendent apotheosis, a transformation from a fool into a different figure (at least a much wiser fool), like progressing through the major arcana in a tarot deck. Instead, it feels like a tautology. It's not built into the grand arc of Endless Poetry, but a smaller arc of some adjacent scenes in the movie. This sense of being fully formed as an artist extends into Young Adult Alejandro as a sage. He rarely does wrong around his friends, and if he does there's at least some justification for it. In a moment that nods to El Topo, Alejandro happens by the apartment where a dwarf friend is attempting suicide. He saves her life, teaches her a spiritual lesson about the value of living, and sleeps with her even though she's on her period. It's a little too saintly, and maybe even self-congratulatory, which undercuts the deeper sadness of the scene and what it means. This woman is the girlfriend of his best friend, Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub), who is drunk and violent and asleep on the front porch the morning after the assignation. Alejandro's damaged their relationship, which has been built on their mutual anarchic virtuosity as poets, but Enrique was a jerk and the reason his girlfriend tried to take her own life. This is an autobiographical work, so of course Alejandro's the center of our attention and of this story, yet there's something that feels off to me about making yourself the Mary Sue/Gary Stu of your own life. In a lot of ways, Enrique seems like the classic and perhaps more compelling künstlerroman hero because of how flawed and embarrassing and raw he is as a person. The same guy who clowns with his best friend walking down the street as an aesthetic lark is the same raging drunk who can neglect those he loves. Maybe Alejandro and Enrique could be viewed in tandem as a composite of Alejandro's early life, where the desire to be wise was complicated by an uncontrolled appetite, and where a mastery of language was essential since other aspects of life couldn't be so controlled. But maybe that's my attempt to make this less compelling aspect of Endless Poetry work in context with the multi-film, autobiographical capstone to a career that has changed my life as a lover of film. Like I mentioned in a Cult Club piece on Santa Sangre, I keep finding Jodorowsky's fingerprints on my imagination. There's so much I love about Endless Poetry despite the middling moments and a lot of visual blandness that plagues much of the film. (Like The Dance of Reality, too much of the cinematography seems too flat, too plain, and uncinematic.) There's a strange 80s-deco art-bar like something out of Brazil where Alejandro is drawn to technicolor poet Stella Díaz Varín. She's played by the same actress who plays Alejandro's mother for maximum Freudian impact. There are a few scenes where art seems like the only refuge from the rising Ibáñez dictatorship; I'm missing that cultural and historical context that would enliven the film. There's a moment when Young Adult Alejandro and Old Alejandro must make peace with Alejandro's father. A complicated love emerges when one views a pivotal moment in the past knowing what the future holds. I might have liked more of Old Jodorowsky hopping into the film and commenting about the people and places of his life. He's the center of it all, so why stay outside when there's so much I'd like to know. What did he love about this woman? What did Lorca's poetry say to him as a young man, and what other poets spoke to him? What is machismo in the face of art? What does it mean to him to be a man? What regrets are there and what would he have liked to do differently? I wonder if the next film will be the last one, and what this all might feel like viewed as a single work rather than loose chapters with a looser shape. If this marks the end of Jodorowsky, it's fitting that it also feels like the beginning.
Review: Endless Poetry photo
A portrait of Jodorowsky as a young poet
In what may be the final years of Alejandro Jodorowsky's life, his work has turned inward and become sentimentally personal. He's exploring his own autobiography, but retelling it in his own odd way. Jodorowsky's previous fil...

Review: Chuck

May 05 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221422:43548:0[/embed] ChuckDirector: Philippe FalardeauRating: RRelease Date: May 5, 2017 Chuck has an endearing center in its star Liev Schreiber, whose ease and affability keep the film watchable even when it's sluggish or middling. I was reminded how good and versatile Schreiber can be and how underrated he is as an actor. As Chuck Wepner, he's both pathetic and sympathetic, a legitimate hometown hero and a fame-chasing clown. I'm not sure how true to life these contradictions are to the real-life Wepner, but as a character in a film, there's promise there. One minute he's quoting Anthony Quinn from Requiem for a Heavyweight, the next minute he's trying to hump anything with boobs by mentioning Rocky. Many of Schreiber's co-stars also elevate the material. Jim Gaffigan's solid as Wepner's brother, a guy who loves to be a hanger-on so long as there's coke or women involved (and as long as he doesn't have to pay). Schreiber's former real-life partner Naomi Watts appears mid-film as Linda, who would eventually become Wepner's third wife. Watts isn't given much to do but flirt and support the pathetic palooka, but the genuine fondness she and Schreiber shared comes through on screen. Elizabeth Moss is especially good as Wepner's second wife, Phyllis, even though she mostly just has to put up with his BS. Despite that cast, Chuck falters because of its writing, and by extension its production. Writers often use the term "connective tissue" to describe the moments between the big scenes. In Chuck, the connective tissue feels more like biopic filler. The film is stitched together with on-and-off voiceover narration. It's too hand-holdy and on-the-nose. The movie also rushes itself, breezing along with its flutey, wah-wah kinda-disco stock score, which cheapens the overall feel. Some of the scenes may have been written too big for the budget or without much consideration for lighting and texture. Take the opening scene in which Chuck fights a grizzly bear in the ring. That's a godd set up, but it's lit like a coke-fueled disco party later in the film; it may have been shot in the exact same location. It feels small, but in a "Yeah, we couldn't quite afford all this" way rather than a seedy, "My god, what's become of my life" way. The parts of Chuck that work are the scenes in which the movie slows down, builds out a scene, and allows the awkward moments of these characters lives to unfold. When Wepner tries to hassle Sylvester Stallone about Rocky, there's something there. The same goes for a bad audition or a crummy parent teacher conference. These scenes are when Chuck feel less like a movie from "biopic trope land" and more like a movie about flawed people trying to screw up a little less (or a little more). So much of the movie feels like it's just checking off shaggy story beats rather than letting the moments come like they would but given a deliberate shape. Oddly, Chuck might have taken more cues from the original Rocky to be a better film. Rocky is a quiet, quirky, thoughtful love story about discarded people finding hope in each other. There's also boxing, but the connection between two misfits is so strong that it doesn't matter if Rocky wins or loses in the end, just that he endures. In Chuck, the whole arc of someone's rise, fall, and redemption feels like it's missing that human core. There are scenes that have it, but like fame or pseudo-celebrity, they're fleeting.
Review: Chuck photo
This coulda been a contender
Certain movies have the seeds of a much better movie sown through them. Usually these movies are a little bit of a mess, with a jumble of tones and scenes and characters, some working better than others. The stuff that works ...

Chazelle & Gosling photo
Chazelle & Gosling

Damien Chazelle & Ryan Gosling working on Neil Armstrong biopic First Man

Moon Moon Land
Dec 30
// Hubert Vigilla
La La Land is bound to be a major player during the awards season, but director Damien Chazelle and the film's co-star Ryan Gosling are already eyeing their next project together. The duo will work on First Man in 2017, a bio...
J.R.R. Tolkien biopic photo
J.R.R. Tolkien biopic

J.R.R. Tolkien biopic Middle Earth coming from producers of Lord of the Rings

Hope it's not hours of battle scenes
Nov 07
// Hubert Vigilla
To put it politely, The Hobbit films were underwhelming. Yes, they were extremely successful at the box office, but that trio of movies was bloated filmmaking at its most bloated. They had nothing on The Lord of the Rings Tri...

Birth of the Dragon photo
Birth of the Dragon

Trailer: A fictionalized Bruce Lee fights hard in Birth of the Dragon

Kick, punch, it's all in your mind
Sep 19
// Hubert Vigilla
Martial arts movies have a long history of fictionalizing real-life people. It's happened countless times with Wong Fei-hung, who's been portrayed on film by Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung, among others. There's also Sha...
Chris Benoit biopic photo
Chris Benoit biopic

Lexi Alexander will direct Crossface, a biopic on infamous WWE wrestler Chris Benoit

Wrestling with a painful tragedy
Sep 13
// Hubert Vigilla
Back in late 2011 we mentioned that a Chris Benoit biopic was in the works called Crossface. Benoit, as you may recall, was the professional wrestler for WCW and WWE who murdered his wife and son and took his own life in 2007...

Review: Ip Man 3

Jan 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220266:42751:0[/embed] Ip Man 3 (葉問3)Director: Wilson YipRelease Date: January 22, 2016Rating: NRCountry: China In the three Donnie Yen Ip Man films, the constant concern has been how a person can remain righteous while dividing energies between country, family, and the martial arts. This boils down to the obligations a person has to the future of a culture, to immediate loved ones, and to the self. It's also about punching people in the face repeatedly very fast, sure, but if we're looking at the martial arts as a way of being (i.e., a way), Ip Man's always been about how a person takes a core belief, universalizes these dictums, and then puts this into action. It's explored visually in The Grandmaster with the way every strike disturbs the environment, but watching so many kung-fu movies over the years has made this whole notion of the extension of thought into action into the world more apparent. Maybe what makes Ip Man such a compelling hero is that taking thought into action into the world is what makes all sorts of heroes memorable. There's philosophy behind every punch. Ip Man 3 continues this tradition of duties to country/family/self, and the plot is mostly  hinged to all three. The film opens irreverently with Ip Man meeting a young Bruce Lee, who proceeds to demonstrate his fighting prowess in what can only be described as a martial arts anti-smoking ad. The rest of the plot involves a foreign crime boss trying to shut down a school to claim the land for his own (Mike Tyson), a would-be Wing Chun master in search of fame (Max Zhang aka Jin Zhang), and the health of Ip Man's wife (Lynn Hung). Ip Man, a righteous dude, volunteers to defend the school--Ip Man tropes ensue. The fights in Ip Man 3 may some of the finest in the series in terms of variety and staging. Sammo Hung handled the choreography in the previous two films, but Ip Man 3 instead turns to Yuen Woo-Ping. The fights seem more grounded though just as brutal, and generally a little more old school than bombastic. Yen's talked about how his diet and training changes with each role to better embody the character. Playing Ip Man means cutting carbs and staying as slim as possible, and Yen looks especially thin here. As much as I love Ip Man and kind of liked Ip Man 2, the biggest hurdle to each fight was Ip Man's sense of invincibility. He spends all of the first movie in God Mode, dominating almost every fight he's in, even the final battle. In Ip Man 2, he's still in God Mode for much of the film, which makes that movie's final battle feel out of place; what's more, Ip Man's solution of how to best his overpowered opponent would have been the first thing a skilled martial artist would consider, not the last. There was rarely a sense of danger. Ip Man 3, by contrast, seems to acknowledge that Ip Man is nigh invulnerable despite his age. The danger comes from having to defend other people nearby rather than just defending himself. It's a simple but great idea, and it leads to a harrowing rescue attempt as well as an excellent sequence involving an elevator later in the film. Much has been made of Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson's bout in the film, and it's one of the film's highlights, and it was more exciting than the Wing Chun vs. boxing bout that finished Ip Man 2. And yet the fight reveals Tyson's presence in Ip Man 3 as some hollow stunt casting. There's something great about Tyson cursing people out in snatches of Cantonese, but the entire storyline involving his character is dropped at a certain point. The whole impetus for the action fades away, which makes me wonder if Tyson was only available for a week or so, or if a finger fracture Tyson sustained while filming the fight scene required changes to the script. Even though Tyson's plotline feels unfinished, it's fascinating where the other threads go, and how they reveal the foundation for Ip Man as a character, as if Yen and Yip are tying to make their final definitive statements about who Ip Man was and what he'll represent as a cinematic icon moving forward. Ip Man's a loving husband, for instance, but not always attentive (think about how Peter Parker's love life is ruined by having to be Spider-Man). Here, he tries to focus more on home and what matters to him most, and there are some tender moments between Yen and Hung, as if Yen's trying to channel the acting chops that Anthony Wong and Tony Leung brought to the role, and Hung is trying to find the right note of melancholy glamour that Zhang Ziyi brings to her roles. Some of these scenes between Ip Man and his wife are lensed with a level of attention that might have been inspired by The Grandmaster; more beautiful to look at than anything in the previous Ip Man films, though a few scenes are marred by a semi-chintzy nylon-string Spanish guitar love theme. I began to notice this steady evolution of Ip Man's presence as a political/cultural icon as well in Ip Man 3. The first film was decidedly against the Imperial Japanese forces, which places Ip Man in the home of a character like Chen Zhen from Fist of Fury. The second film skirted this line between anti-colonialism and Chinese nationalism, with the British aristocrats rendered as grotesques of the nobility. Ip Man 3 also has a scoffing, snooty British caricature (he sounds like he should be tying women to railroad tracks while twirling his mustache), but the political stance is decidedly anti-colonial in a universal way. Ip Man even has a monologue in which he rails against oligarchs and plutocrats. If Mike Tyson was cast as a way of garnering attention for Ip Man from western audiences, this populist shift in Ip Man may signal an attempt to position him as a cinematic hero with a strong cultural identity but no borders in terms of an audience's ability to identify with him. If this is Yen's last full-on kung-fu film (there's still that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel to consider), he's ending his career with the movie series that catapulted him into leading man status. I got a sense he was passing the torch to Max Zhang. Zhang's 41 years old, but he makes a strong impression here as a performer and fighter, just as he did in The Grandmaster. (In another strange coincidence, Zhang also starred in SPL 2, the sequel to the 2005 movie (aka Kill Zone) that boosted Donnie Yen's star and signaled a kind of comeback for Hong Kong action films.) Zhang's character is a Wing Chun up-and-comer eyeing Ip Man, sizing him up, wondering if he's better as new blood. This had to be intentional, they had know what they were doing. Ip Man 3 might be my favorite film of the trilogy because of how knowing and assured it is, and because it understands the core of its main character so well. It's also a film that knows where it stands in terms of martial arts film history, and the same goes for Donnie Yen's filmography. Really, there's something rather Ip Man-like about Ip Man 3.
Review: Ip Man 3 photo
An Ip Man movie about Ip Man movies
It's weird to think that the first Ip Man came out in 2008. It seems so much longer than that. Since then, the series has spawned two sequels as well as plenty of other media about the eponymous real-life practitioner of...

Tetris movie photo
Tetris movie

Brett Ratner is producing a Tetris movie

"I'm the I-Block, b**ch!"
Nov 18
// Hubert Vigilla
Brett Ratner and his production company partner James Packer are reportedly developing a movie about the creation of Tetris, focusing on the game's Russian designer Alexey Pajitnov. As noted on Wikipedia, Pajitnov created Tet...

Review: Steve Jobs

Oct 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219839:42637:0[/embed] Steve JobsDirector: Danny BoyleRating: RRelease Date: October 9, 2015 (limited); October 23, 2015 (wide) Even though he was an ideal public persona for Apple products, Steve Jobs was not a good person behind the scenes. There are numerous examples of Steve Jobs being a giant jerk, and the Steve Jobs of the film played by Michael Fassbender is superbly unrepentant. Before the launch of the original Macintosh computer, Steve throws tantrums. He's abusive to his staff, and he continues to avoid his financial and personal responsibilities to his daughter Lisa and her mother. (He's only 94.1% likely to be Lisa's father, he keeps pointing out.) Steve Jobs was a self-centered prick, a long-view Machiavellian entrenched in the tech industry, and there are times in this film that he verges on pure supervillainy. But he was also a savvy businessman. Based on this performance, you know who would make a great Lex Luthor? Michael Fassbender. (Also, Steve Jobs.) With some historical figures, we ponder the link between madness and genius. With Steve Jobs it's maybe more a question of morality and genius. The big conversation that the film wants to provoke is whether Steve Jobs could have been successful if he weren't such a raging douchebag. There's a pivotal argument in the third act with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who calls Jobs out for all of his persistent moral shortcomings. Fassbender plays Steve Jobs as this ethically challenged, emotionally unmoored figure, and the rest of the cast helps make this work by playing moral counterpoint for the wretch. Picture people holding down a hot air balloon with rope. The task is to keep this thing grounded as much as possible. Rogen's Wozniak is one of these people, and he's mainly seeking recognition for his hard work. There's also steady and loyal Andy Hertzfeld played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and a warmly paternal Jeff Daniels as former Pepsi and Apple CEO John Sculley. The most set upon moral figure in the film, though, is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). She's portrayed as a kind of power-personal assistant to Steve Jobs, though her marketing roles at Apple and NeXT were probably far different. Ditto her overall career trajectory. Hoffman apparently retired in 1995, years before the iMac launch, though she's at Jobs' side in the film in each act. This deviation makes sense for the sake of the screenplay, which requires a character as morally resolute as Jobs is morally aloof. In real life, Hoffman was considered the person who was best able to stand up to Jobs, and that kind of figure--the immovable moral object to Steve Job's unstoppable narcissistic force--is necessary in this particular type of story. Winslet disappears into the role. I didn't even realize it was her until the second act of Steve Jobs. Many of the best scenes involve Winslet verbally grappling with Fassbender. There are Sorkin-isms throughout the briskly paced Steve Jobs (e.g., the walk-and-talks, the trivia, the impeccable ripostes), and Boyle does a good job of differentiating the look and feel of each section of the film. The world of 1984 is shot in a grainy 16mm, for instance. The film's acts were shot independently, which allowed the actors to tailor their performances to each year before reconsidering their character for the next. Certain gags or lines or ticks in a performance call back to others. As strong as Steve Jobs is for its first two-thirds, it gets a little soft by 1998. I don't know if it's the Hollywood aspect (or Danny Boyle) shining through at this point, but the movie begins making these overtures of Steve Jobs' redemption, all with a heavy dose of crowd-pleasing schmaltz. I didn't buy any of it. A cringeworthy cutesiness also creeps into the iMac section of the movie. Here and there, Steve critiques the limitations of 1990s technology and hints at 21st century Apple products, as if we're watching a winky retroactive commercial. The lines are clunkers when they come, and one of them is a total eyeroller. It doesn't help that I'd been rolling my eyes at the triumphalism that the movie takes on in the final act even as elements of the script do its best to keep the man and the story on the ground. The argument between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak I mentioned earlier offers a great encapsulation of the film's underlying concerns. And sure, while the story chronicles one man's ability to overcome years of failure, Steve Jobs does this mostly by screwing over other people. During the NeXT section of the film, Jobs calls it "playing the orchestra." In real life, most people call it "being a dick." In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has his three visions, wakes up in the morning, and reforms. In Steve Jobs, there are three products and a hint of a better Steve Jobs in the future. Bah humbug. In real life, Steve Jobs woke up after the iMac was released and was still Steve Jobs.
Review: Steve Jobs photo
A better way to do a biopic about a jerk
I was texting a friend about Steve Jobs over the weekend, the new biopic written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle. Sorkin thankfully avoided the birth-to-death biopic that we've all seen and grown tired of by now. ...

Review: Experimenter

Oct 16 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219963:42636:0[/embed] ExperimenterDirector: Michael AlmereydaRating: PG-13Release Date:  October 16, 2015 In my review of Steve Jobs, I mentioned how Aaron Sorkin avoided the trap of the traditional biopic by creating a three-act structure. With Experimenter, writer/director Michael Almereyda also avoids the traditional biopic, in this case by treating his film like a kind of posthumous memoir. Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) goes about his life, but he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera with some commentary. Milgram also provides narration throughout the film, a kind of guided tour through his own life, or maybe through a fictional journal he kept in the afterlife. Though not identical, Experimenter reminded me at times of the Harvey Pekar movie American Splendor. The Milgram of the movie even gets to see a fictionalized version of himself on a TV shoot. Experimenter has moments of visual whimsy as well. When noting the links between his shock experiments and the rise of Nazism, an elephant stalks behind him in the hall. Backgrounds are sometimes projected onto a screen, which give a few moments the chintzy feel of a made-for-TV movie as well as a theatrical flair. A lot of Experimenter feels as if it could have been done on stage. I'm still note sure if the whimsy is justified--justifying whimsy makes me sound like a killjoy--but it keeps Experimenter visually interesting even if whimsy is just some play with the biopic form. The idea of deception is key in the ethical discussions about Milgram's shock experiments, so that may also be a loose justification for all the meta material and artifice. Since his breakthrough in Boys Don't Cry, Sarsgaard has been one of America's most reliably good and yet underrated actors. Even when the role isn't that great, Sarsgaard has a knack for at least making it work. As Milgram, Sarsgaard provides a sense of scientific remove. The delivery is clinical yet ruminative, as if every few lines should be followed by a curious hum. Winona Ryder plays his wife, Sasha, and though never given a lot to do in the film, she's solid with what she's given. The same could be said of the rest of the cast, which is filled with other recognizable character actors and that-guy/that-gal performers, like comedian Jim Gaffigan, Dennis Haysbert, Taryn Manning, Anthony Edwards, and John Leguizamo. The first third of Experimenter is centered on the shock experiments and meeting Sasha, and the eventual fallout of the experiments in terms of Milgram's career. His methods are questioned since they are dependent on an ethical breech, but the film's concern isn't just the moral issue of the experiment or the ethical conundrums of Milgram's methods. It branches outward, showing Milgram's other work as a social psychologist and contributions to his area of study and pop culture. One of Milgram's other experiments, briefly depicted, involved how we're all roughly six degrees of separation from one another--it's from Milgram that we got that phrase. If Experimenter falters, it's because it loses focus and a sense of momentum after the shock experiments are over, which might mirror the public interest in Milgram's post-shock work. We follow Milgram as he grows facial hair and as fashions change, but there's not necessarily an underlying thesis to latch onto, or a neatly shaped narrative to this take on Milgram's life. At a certain point, I was watching mostly for Sarsgaard, who held my interest like he usually does. Maybe Experimenter is a little too clinical and too removed from the urgent human stuff. There's an overarching sense about moral obligations to help others, and a fundamental interconnectedness about humanity that should make us feel less alone in the world. And yet instead of feeling moved emotionally, I was swayed intellectually. It's the sensation of hearing someone say something intelligent and showing assent with a hum.
Review: Experimenter photo
Stanley Milgram's noble experiment
If you've taken an Intro to Psychology class, you've heard about Stanley Milgram. His most famous experiments involved obedience and how normal people succumb to the effects of authority. The set up: Subject A is asked to tes...

Rob Zombie/Groucho Marx photo
Groucho Sex Head
While Rob Zombie won't be involved in the Halloween franchise "recalibration" Halloween Returns, he does have another project lined up: a movie about Groucho Marx. And I'm not against it. Zombie is a huge Marx Brothers fan; H...


Selma returning to theaters this weekend with BOGO deal

A second chance to get angry at the Academy's snubs
Mar 18
// Matthew Razak
Did you miss Selma when it was in theaters? You shouldn't have because it was probably the best film of the year and because it's important historically. Basically you're a bad person if you did. However, redemption awai...

See Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs in first poster for Steve Jobs

Remember when Ashton Kutcher played jobs? Neither do we
Mar 17
// Matthew Razak
This is some fantastic viral advertising here. The upcoming Danny Boyle directed Steve Jobs biopic has cropped up with a vintage poster showing Michael Fassbender selling Apple's NeXT computers. Clever, marketing people. Clev...
Compton Trailer photo
Compton Trailer

First trailer for N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton

Feb 09
// Nick Valdez
I'm normally not a fan of biopics as they're usually hokey, but this first Red Band trailer for N.W.A.'s biopic Straight Outta Compton looks much better than other other ones out right now. It doesn't seem cheesy like those ...
Steve Jobs photo
Steve Jobs

Universal's Steve Jobs film gets official title and cast

Jan 28
// Nick Valdez
This Steve Jobs biopic has been through the ringer. After years of director changes, big stars (Christian Bale) joining and leaving the film, and Sony dropping the project after budget concerns, Steve Jobs (the film's now off...
American Sniper  photo
American Sniper

Steven Spielberg's version of American Sniper sounds a bit better

Jan 22
// Nick Valdez
When it comes to American Sniper, I've found over the last few days that it's better to tread water when criticizing. It's a shame, but I've been hit by quite a few slurs from folks that are taking the film to heart. But desp...

Review: The Theory of Everything

Nov 10 // Megan Porch
[embed]218569:41960:0[/embed] The Theory of EverythingDirector: James MarshRelease Date: November 7th, 2014Rating: PG-13 In the long list of biographic films, the one thing that seems to be the most important is the casting. Taking on the roll of someone so important to our culture is a daunting task, but it is one that Eddie Redmayne was clearly more than able to perform. There was not a moment where he did not feel genuine, and it was incredible to see him slip so easily into character. It's not hard to imagine that he'll be up for an Oscar in the next few months. Felicity Jones was in every way Redmayne's equal as Jane Hawking. Though she looked delicate, she brought a lot of dignity and a certain level of toughness to the table. If this film is any indicator of what Jane Hawking is like, she is a truly amazing, strong woman, and Jones' portrayal of her is not one to be missed. Love, of course, is the ultimate theme of this film. Stephen and Jane meet almost as soon as the story starts, and have an awkward courtship involving conversations about Tide and religion. They fall hard and fast for each other, and even when Jane learns of Stephen's diagnosis of ALS, she doesn't shy away from him, even though at first he tries to tell her to leave. Their love starts out as an intense, bright feeling, but as time goes on, it grows quiet. Jane becomes overwhelmed by her responsibility of caring for Stephen and their children, and meets a man named Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), who begins helping out with the family. When that happened, I was a little concerned that the film was going to try to make Jane into some sort of villain for having feelings for Jonathan, but it didn't. Instead, it only felt natural. As it did when Elaine, Stephen's nurse who would later become his second wife, entered the picture. While the main theme of The Theory of Everything is love, it's about different kinds of love. Maybe Stephen and Jane are soul mates, but even soul mates aren't necessarily always meant to be together in a romantic sense. Story-wise, the thing that got me the most, was the sense of loneliness in these two people at different points in the film. When Stephen first learns that he's sick, he is by himself in the hospital. Knowing that one day, he would be trapped in his own body with no way to communicate, despite having all these brilliant ideas is terrifying, and it's easy to see how he felt through Redmayne's performance and through the shot choices of the director. The other moment is much shorter. Jane walks alone on a bridge and for the first time in the film, we see her cry. After so much time of putting on a brave face for her husband and her children, the only time she can let herself give in to how she feels is when she's alone. This is a very pretty film, full of sprawling shots of Cambridge and pastel colors. The grainy, home-video type sequences that give glimpses into Stephen and Jane's marriage and the beginning of their family are a nice break from the development of Stephen's illness. When it comes down to it, though, even with the incredible actors and pretty scenery, The Theory of Everything isn't really all that different from other biopics. It seems almost like there's a formula for these movies now, where the audience gets glimpses into these people's lives over a specific period of time. So while I enjoyed the film, it doesn't really do anything special or innovative, which honestly, I wasn't expecting it to. Still, while it might not be that unique of a movie, its message is an optimistic one. Stephen Hawking is a man who was given two years to live, and even now, at 72 years old, he defies those odds. Even though he and Jane did not stay together as husband and wife, they remain close, so while their love changed, it never really seemed to dwindle.
Theory of Everything photo
A Brief History of Stephen Hawking
Every year, there is at least one biographic film about someone who accomplished great things in his or her life, whether it's something artistic, scientific, or otherwise. This year's biopic of note is The Theory of Everythi...

Trailer: Foxcatcher photo
Trailer: Foxcatcher

Trailer: Foxcatcher

Aug 28
// Sean Walsh
Yay, a new Foxcatcher trailer! Is anybody as excited for this film as I am? Between my love of Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and Mark Ruffalo, the dreary atmosphere, and incredibly intense subject matter, I am ecstatic for ...

First look at Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead

It's awesome... in a silent way
Jul 08
// Matthew Razak
Here we have it. After ten years of Don Cheadle trying to make Miles Davis movie happen we get our first look at the actor in character. I know nothing about jazz but I could listen to Miles Davis for all eternity. The image also comes with a confirmed title of Miles Ahead, and features one hell of jheri-curled mullet.  I'm glad that style went out of fashion. 

First trailer for Jimi: All Is By My Side - Jimi Hendrix biopic

Jul 03
// Liz Rugg
Jimi Hendrix is one of the indisputable legends of rock and roll, and now his iconic life will get the movie treatment it deserves. Starring OutKast's Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000), Jimi: All Is By My Side will focus on a sing...

Danny Boyle in talks for Leonardo DiCaprio led Steve Jobs film

We got the quick cash in, now for the good stuff
Apr 22
// Matthew Razak
Well, we had Jobs, which was kind of the quick cash in on the whole Steve Jobs biography thing, but it's time for the big guns to come out. Sony pictures has been whipping up fervor over its adaptation of the popular biograph...

Trailer for Grace Kelly biopic Grace of Monaco shows a beautiful, unhappy princess

Apr 17
// Liz Rugg
"I can be a mother and a wife and hold down two jobs without the people getting too upset, can't I?" The real life 1950s actress Grace Kelly was a pretty interesting lady. She went from a beloved Hollywood princess to real r...

Errol Flynn biopic The Last of Robin Hood's distribution rights acquired, new poster debuts

Apr 10
// Liz Rugg
Errol Flynn is an interesting character, almost the archetypical devil-may-care 1940's Hollywood playboy, whose life fell to tatters once his shinning celebrity star began to wane. The Last of Robin Hood is a biopic about Fly...

Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Gabriel Mann (Cesar Chavez)

Mar 28 // Nick Valdez
There's quite a bit of pressure on this because Latinos don't really get a lot of representation, and the fact that Cesar Chavez finally has a movie is a big deal. How was it taking part in this film knowing everything was going to be heavily critiqued? America Ferrera (AF): I would urge especially someone who has a vested interest in Latino stories being told. I think the other point of view is to say "This is the film about this story being made" which is shocking, and it shouldn't be the first and it shouldn't be the only. The hope is that a story this big with this many perspectives, characters, and events, and issues would need so many stories, movies, TV shows, books to really get the scope of it. Diego is incredibly brave by being the first because as you say, one way to look at it is there is an enormous amount of criticism on the first to be all things to everyone and it's just impossible to expect one film to be all of those things, so what we hope more than anything is our own community, the Latino community, shows up to support this film because it's the only way more films like it are going to be made. It doesn't have to be the last word, it's just the beginning of the conversation. Michael Pena (MP): You're just opening up the book on this one. It's funny, in a perfect world there's got to be someone that steps out and takes a stance. Diego Luna was one of them. In a perfect world this would be a 30 to 40 million dollar movie, and we would have way more days, way more extras, and it would be a three hour movie. Gandhi was a three hour movie. You need to know where the person started from and how he got there. We're taking diagonally the last ten years of what he did. I think it's great to have a movie like this out.  Gabriel Mann (GM): I think also when you approach a project, you can never approach it from a place of fear. I think if you were to approach from the fact that "Oh there's so much pressure on everyone to get the story right" then it would never get made. Honestly those are the things that start to come into play more now, and maybe that was the case for Diego and the people who pulled all of this together.  Speaking of fear, knowing you're going to play the "villain," do you have to get into a certain mindset?  GM: What was great about this movie and Diego's approach as a storyteller was that nothing was black and white. There were a lot of subtleties. When I looked at it, I wasn't looking at him as villain. These people felt justified, the grape growers and business owners, and the behavior they were involved with. That's the way I approached it, and when it all came together, it all became clear who was on the right side and who was on the wrong side of history.  So Michael, I know you've done comedic stuff on the side, but you're able to come back to the drama quite well. What influences your dramatic work?  MP: Everybody has humor, but when I started looking at my own life, when I was living in shit, in the ghetto, that's one of the best times I ever had. We didn't know we lived in the ghetto or that life was hard, that was just our life. And I had great parents. Cesar had the same kind of mentality. He had a great partner in Helen. He tried to make the best of what it was, and this story has a lot to deal with that. Yeah you're doing something that's going to be beneficial and it's going to change America, but you're still trying to enjoy life because if not, why do it? This guy was courageous, a reluctant hero. I'm just glad his story's being told.  Do you have to have a certain mindset in order to rally, to shout "Huelga!" MP: For me it's always good to work in present time. My brother got fired from a bank, I used to work at a bank. I caught some heavy resentment toward these guys who were giving themselves bonuses when they got a bailout. It was really shitty, to be honest with you. You know, you scuk at your job, the country's suffering for it, you go bankrupt, and then you give yourself and your colleagues bonuses? I thought that was straight bullshit. And I think it's kind of what Chavez thought at the time. It's unjust, unfair, unnecessary, and somebody's taking advantage of whatever loopholes they can. I think that's what happened. When you deal with it in front of your face, mistreated in front of you, that's when you have to speak up. Somebody has to, and thank god Cesar did.  How were you [to Michael] first approached for the role of Cesar Chavez? MP: When I was first emailed about Cesar Chavez, I was like "Whoa, wait, is Cesar Chavez the boxer or civil rights activist? Cause if it's the boxer, they should get someone Mexican. And thank god it was the civil rights activist because I had heard about him. But I didn't really know his story until I started doing the research and figured that's a great reason to do the movie. And I like it because it's almost like voting where you say "my voice doesn't matter," but if one person in every town voted that didn't think their voice was important, then it would make a difference in every election.  AF: And that's especially true in the Latino community today. There are a lot of issues that Latinos care about in the same way Americans do: healthcare, access to education. But we don't show up to represent ourselves. If we don't vote or educate our communities then the things we care about are not going to be put on the table. And as we've seen in recent years, just the tiniest notch up of Latinos showing up at the polls created an entire conversation around immigration reform. So in order for the things we care about to be on a political agenda, we have to show up for ourselves politically. Was Cesar was fighting for then was engagement, show up, stand up for yourselves is the same message that we should be sharing with our communities today. 
Cesar Chavez Interview photo
Yes we about Cesar Chavez!
My final interview of SXSW was a three on one with Michael Pena, America Ferrera, and Gabriel Mann. I had just seen the screening for Cesar Chavez the night before, and we were all kind of pumped to talk about the movie. Just...

Review: Cesar Chavez

Mar 28 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217414:41317:0[/embed] Cesar ChavezDirector: Diego LunaRated: PG-13Release Date: March 28, 2014  Cesar Chavez details the life and work of equal rights advocate, Cesar Chavez. As migrant farm workers faced harsh work environments for unfair wages, Chavez (Michael Pena) organizes the workers into a union. And as the film runs through about 12 years of his work (from organizing the union, to facing down several large business, to his hunger strike) all the way until he succeeds at getting his union fair wages. The story focus in the biopic also looks toward the effects of the Union on his family with Chavez's wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his son.  With the synopsis, you should notice a problem right away. As one of the few biographical films under two hours, Chavez has to cram as much information as it can while still maintaining the narrative. It's a difficult balance as you find the major struggles Chavez faced are sped through in order to get to another poignant moment. While it hits all the major beats in a Sparknotes-like fashion, it unfortunately dampens the narrative as there are few scenes given time to breathe. And when left to breathe, some moments feel generic as there are quotes goofily given too much weight. Whether or not the run time is a question of budget or script, it still leaves a lot to be desired.  An unfortunate effect of the film's relative short time is Chavez becomes heartily skewed toward a single demographic. While Latinos definitely deserve our time in the spotlight, it comes at the cost of making everyone else look cartoonishly awful. For example John Malkovich as Bogdanovich, really seems like he's phoning it in. And if he's trying his hardest, there's a noticeable disconnect from what he's saying and how he's presenting himself as he says it. Rather than give off a layered character, or at least present him as a sympathetic business owner caught in his old ways, he becomes a villain in all senses of the word. And that's what happens to the non-ethnic characters. Each one, other than Gabriel Mann as Bogdonaovich's son surprisingly enough, just comes off as needlessly aggressive. It's more black and white than the film intends.  But the cast does the best with what they've got. Michael Pena is an appropriate Cesar Chavez, delivering lines with the right amount of power and confidence (the film would lose a lot of sincerity without him). America Ferrera gets one poignant moment as his wife and leads to one of the best scenes in the film. There is enough of a representation of the different factions of Chavez's labor union that can lead to a nice historical debate after completing the film. If only there were a bit more bite, or darkness to Chavez's overall life. While we get all of the necessary greatness from Chavez's life's work in the film, we don't necessarily get a complete picture of the man himself. While the film teases a failing relationship with his son (and sees to end the film on that note), there's unfortunately not enough time devoted to that relationship (or Chavez isn't given enough darkness to give the son reason for distancing himself from his father other than "Your work is too important!") for it to really make a difference.  I'm in a conflicted space with Cesar Chavez. I liked some of the grander scenes and rallies, but the film's length leaves much to be desired. I'd definitely recommend this film for someone in the same demographic as myself (Latino American), but will have a hard time arguing why it's useful for everyone else. And that's a shame because I want this film to be everywhere. Chavez's story is one that deserves to be told. This is a film we need, but not necessarily the one we deserve.  All I can hope is Cesar Chavez makes enough of a stamp it inspires more films like it. The fact this film even exists should warrant celebration, but what we have here is a look at the surface of history. We need something deeper. 
Cesar Chavez Review photo
A step in the right direction
There is a lot riding on Diego Luna's Cesar Chavez to succeed. Latinos aren't exactly given a lot of representation in fiction, and if there's one man, one figurehead we can rally behind, it's the activist Cesar Chavez. As ot...

Cesar Chavez photo
Cesar Chavez

First trailer for Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Pena

Si se puede.
Jan 22
// Nick Valdez
Latinos don't have a lot of widely accepted historical icons. While we have our own, few have their names reach outside the Latino community. For example, Cesar Chavez was a farm worker in the 60s who organized a strike. Whe...

J.R.R. Tolkien film in the works

A reality pic about a man who created fantasy
Nov 22
// Matthew Razak
With basically anything that has the name J.R.R. Tolkien attached to it printing money and a pretty interesting life story it's easy to see why a J.R.R. Tolkien biopic is in the works. The creator of Middle Earth will be join...

Don Cheadle to star as Miles Davis... finally

Nov 14
// Matthew Razak
Don Cheadle's Miles Davis movie has been bouncing around for a long time now. The not-a-biopic biopic just couldn't land on its feet. However, Kill the Trumpet Player is finally moving forward as BiFrost pictures picks i...

Tom Hardy to play Elton John in Rocketman

Oct 24
// Matthew Razak
I'm not sure Elton John could ever be considered handsome no matter what stage of his career we're talking about so the casting of Tom Hard as the legendary singer is a bit of a head scratcher. Word has come down that Rocket ...

Review: Ip Man: The Final Fight

Sep 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215911:40340:0[/embed] Ip Man: The Final Fight (Jip6 Man6: Zung1-gik6 Jat1 Zin3 | 叶问:终极一战)Director: Herman YauRating: PG-13Country: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: March 22, 2013 (China); September 20, 2013 (US limited) Much like The Legend is Born, The Final Fight operates in the mold of the old-fashioned biopic. The movie chronicles about 20 years in the life of an older Yip Man. It's the post-war period, however, so the oppression of the Imperial Japanese isn't bearing down on the country or on the film. The dread of annihilation is gone and the reactionary nationalism in many films about the Sino-Japanese conflict has been swapped for unbridled nostalgia. The Hong Kong of this time seems idyllic even though there's brimming social unrest. Workers call for rights on the job, and it feels at home with the bustle of rickshaws, the brightness of the cheongsams, the flutter of old love songs. In some ways I found it hard to think of this as a sequel to The Legend Is Born. There's little continuity between Dennis To's portrayal of a young Yip Man and Wong's take on the older Yip Man. To's young Yip Man was noble but lacking in personality. Compare that to Donnie Yen in the Wilson Yip films: a badass chivalric Wing Chun machine with leading man charisma. What Wong brings to Yip Man is gravitas. This is Yip Man by way of Yoda and Morgan Freeman. He's a sage to numerous Wing Chun students in the film, and selfless to a fault like most noble cinematic heroes. "A warrior and a scholar!" a character declares after hearing one of Yip Man's poems in the newspaper. Wong isn't really known as a martial artist. He went on a diet (the real Yip Man was very skinny) and trained in Wing Chun for a year prior to taking this role. The fights in the movie are fewer than The Legend Is Born, and yet they feel more invigorating. The choreography by Xiong Xin-Xin (Once Upon a Time in China 3) stresses a cleanness and groundedness of movement that's free from overt wirework or near-superheroics. It's stylized fighting that feels more real than the young Yip Man film. The fights may also be interesting since it's Wong doing so much of it himself. He looks comfortable as he goes from move to move, dishing out flurries of punches to the chest with the occasional high kick to the jaw. It's as impressive as Daniel Day Lewis doing MMA in a stovepipe hat and a beard. My first exposure to Anthony Wong came in a much different Herman Yau film from 1993 called The Untold Story: Human Meat Pies. I'd seen Wong before in Hard Boiled, but I always noticed him after The Untold Story. Wong played a ruthless psychopath who murders people, chops up their bodies, and puts their flesh in the pork buns he sells at his restaurant. (The film was allegedly based on an actual crime in Macau.) The Wong sections of the film are inhumane, particularly when we see what he did to the previous owners of the restaurant. This bleakness is off-set by the goofy detectives in the film, though it's not as bad as the bumbling cops from Last House on the Left. Every Wong movie I see is measured against this role. What Wong's shown over the years, aside from staggering productivity (he has 174 acting credits on IMDb), is versatility. He can play a sociopath, a suave criminal, a wizened older cop, and a goon, and he'll fully inhabit these parts. With Yip Man, there's something fascinating about what Wong is doing, even in the still moments where he's lost in thought and about to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette. There's a scene where Yip Man and his wife are together. She's come to Hong Kong from Foshan, and there's a dignified giddiness to Wong's performance when he's with her. They've been living apart for a long time, and it's one of the few sequences of The Final Fight where Yip Man isn't in Yoda mode. The couple are in bed and it's cold, and Yip Man's students bring up a comforter for them. It's a kind of Capra moment. Yip Man and his wife turn toward each other with eyes locked. Yip Man hasn't been this happy in a long while. It's so old-timey and might have been schmaltzy if Wong wasn't so good. Wong is the real strength of The Final Fight, and as long as he's on screen there's something worth noticing. Where the film falters is its looseness, which might be a consequence of the post-war setting. Without the Imperial Japanese as an obvious foil and without Yip Man as a symbol of Chinese persistence in the face of an outside force, there's almost no conflict that drives the film. In some ways it works since it's about the winding down of Yip Man's life, and yet it's a little off. Matters of plot and proportion are the ultimate difficulty of biopics -- too much plot molding doesn't feel like real life, too little feels like the narrative is meandering. There's a fight against the head of a rival martial arts school (played by Wong's Infernal Affairs co-star Eric Tsang) which reveals character rather than builds conflict. It's more like a tussle between two righteous men with mutual respect, which has an interesting payoff in a quiet scene following another fight. Eventually a sideplot involving a criminal in Kowloon Walled City drives the last half (really the last third) of the story, but it feels forced. Whereas The Legend Is Born is too rounded with its plot and ties its slew of fight scenes together with a bow of movie intrigues (i.e., sibling rivalries, love triangles, double crosses, betrayals), The Final Fight begins to droop and its last action scene feels perfunctory. The Final Fight is an admirable effort that adds a new take on Yip Man even if it doesn't quite work. I actually can't wait to see what Tony Leung (another Hong Kong great) brings to Yip Man in Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster, or more accurately, what part of himself he'll reveal in the guise of Yip Man. On the note of other Yip Mans, I think the third Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip Ip Man film (whenever it comes) will take place at some point in this post-war period as well. How will they handle this this era without a handy conflict? Will Yip Man become a social crusader, a warrior against water rationing? Will this social unrest become integral to the plot rather than part of the film's historical garnish -- Wong Fei-Hung meets Woodie Guthrie? Whatever happens, it'll be tough to match Wong's grace as a guiding force.
Ip Man Final Fight Review photo
Anthony Wong and the many faces of Yip Man
In the review for The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, I mentioned how the character of Yip Man seems to be turning into the new Wong Fei-Hung. Here's a real-life historical figure who's suddenly become an idealized version of the rea...

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