Biopic

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...

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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...
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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 ...
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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. 
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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 can...talk 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...
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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...
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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...
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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...

Mandela Trailer photo
Mandela Trailer

Second trailer for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom


Sep 12
// Nick Valdez
I'm not a guy who's instantly drawn to biopics or films with Idris Elba in them, so I'm a little weary of the upcoming Nelson Mandela biopic, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. It may be one of the Flixist staff's most anti...

Review: The Grandmaster

Aug 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216244:40600:0[/embed] The Grandmaster (Yut Doi Jung Si | 一代宗师)Director: Wong Kar WaiRating: PG-13Country: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: August 23, 2013 I write "seems" because I haven't watched the 130-minute Hong Kong cut of The Grandmaster, the official director's cut of the film. (I haven't seen the 115-minute international cut either.) There's a lot that can happen in 22 minutes. I skimmed a recent piece by David Ehrlich on film.com that details all of the differences between the longer cut and the US release. It's spoiler heavy, but just looking at the bolded text, there are plenty of shuffled scenes, nixed story elements, and truncated sequences that break the architecture of the original movie. Before checking out the Ehrlich piece, I could still tell where some of the changes were. The Grandmaster is guided by Ip Man's overt narration, and every now and then some English text appears for transitions and explanations. Certain moments feel choppy, others feel like the proportions are off, some feel misplaced, and the coda is just strange; the tape is visible, the movie is sticky with glue. What I want from a Wong Kar Wai film is sumptuousness, emotion, and observation, as found in his previous movies like In the Mood for Love, Happy Together, or Chungking Express. It's still there in this version of The Grandmaster, but it's been heavily compromised. It says something about Wong's gifts as a filmmaker that this compromised material still shines and still has moments that are undeniably breathtaking, and yet these glowing bits are like neon arrows pointing out that 22 minutes worth of lacunae. If you look at the marketing that Weinstein did for The Grandmaster, it made the film seem like a chop socky movie. It's a fundamental misunderstanding about the material and how to sell it. This is not a standard martial arts movie. The Grandmaster, as it ought to be, is an art house martial arts movie. There's incredible action in the film, but it's more daring and much headier than its arty wuxia forebears like Ang Lee's Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Zhang Yimou's Hero. Yuen Woo-Ping's fight choreography is still remarkable, but it's the way that Wong Kar Wai stages, shoots, and edits the action that makes it transcendent. The fighting goes beyond visceral spectacle and becomes something spiritual, metaphysical. When Ip Man twists to throw a punch, Wong cuts to a close-up of his hat brim soaked with rain, the water arcing away in slow motion. We don't see his body, but we know the motion his body makes simply from the motion of the water. Ip Man twists again and his shirt sleeve will send water off in a spearing jet. The speed and strength of that strike are there in the motion of rain and cloth, and it's never distracting. These disturbances are extensions of action. Before a punch nearly connects, Wong focuses on the little push of air on fabric that precedes the blow. More disturbance, more extension of movement; the punch is more than just a punch. This poetic way of presenting the fight scenes gets at the heart of The Grandmaster. For a martial artist, the martial arts is more than just self-defense. It's a way of life. To commit yourself wholly to a craft or an art means mental discipline, the formation of a personal philosophy, a means of comporting yourself to the world that aligns with the craft or art. The physical motions are repeated until they're internalized; any movement is the expression of that person's whole being. That may be the subtext in other martial arts films, but it is expressed with such remarkable sweep in The Grandmaster. It's the idea of what Ip Man represents as a martial artist that's most important to the movie rather than Ip Man himself as a historical figure. The same goes for Zhang Ziyi's character Gong Er. Though previous Ip Man films were only about Ip Man, The Grandmaster is as much about him as it is Gong Er. (This explains why the movie was at one time going to be called The Grandmasters.) The first half involves duels between Northern-style martial artists and Southern-style martial artists, exploring ideas about differences in style and what these mean to those who care about such distinctions. When Gong Er and Ip Man eventually duel, the scene is as much about pride in mastery as it is about the seduction of mastery--you can be great and be admired for it, and you can be great to win a person's admiration. There's a kind of love that blossoms while they're battling each other and it continues after Gong Er returns to the north. The second half of The Grandmaster shifts from Ip Man's home in Foshan to post-WWII Hong Kong. The streets are filled with martial artists, many of whom are teachers or have mundane day jobs that are still somehow expressions of their inner skill. Many of the movie's side characters, however briefly they appear, could carry their own feature films. While in Hong Kong, Ip Man tries to find out whatever happened to Gong Er. This is one of those breaks in the narrative I wasn't expecting, and it will probably throw off a lot of audiences given how much it subverts the conventions and expectations built into many action films and martial arts films. Gong Er becomes the driving force that reveals a lot of the philosophical machinery that probably inspired Wong to make a martial arts movie in this way. I imagine the transition is smoother in the longer cut of the film. With Gong Er, there's an exploration of gender roles, veneration of parents, obligations to future generations, and the importance of maintaining a legacy or tradition. Again, it's the idea of extension, where the fights means more than just beating someone physically. These high stakes for the martial artists are heightened by the way that Wong treats his locations, emphasizing verticals and horizontals. The enclosed spaces of Foshan are lush in color, the dark streets of Hong Kong have a sense of mystery. I mentioned that this feels like a mythic iteration of Ip Man. More than Leung's performance, it's the writing and the locations that are key in establishing this mythological feel. These spaces and their moods are inhabited by characters who seem like the figures of legend. They embody ideas and ideals, they fight over primal and yet fundamental human concerns, they are known by certain deeds or identified by the objects that they carry which are extensions of their personalities. The mythic feel reaches its peak during the final fight, which is the stuff of classical myth and legend, but charged with potent concerns that are at once unique to the characters and universal. The stakes are high, the emotions raw, and the characters are fighting for more than just honor. Behind them rushes a potent metaphor for time, both the past and the future, because what they're fighting about has everything to do with matters of extension through time. It's hard to score The Grandmaster because it's so compromised a work. Every great scene hints at the brilliance of a scene that's not in the film, and knowing that Wong changed the sequence of certain scenes makes me feel like I've been reading a novel with chapters in the wrong order. The fighting in martial arts movies is so much about rhythm and motion, and both are disrupted in this cut of the film. What The Grandmaster offers is a flawed vision of something greater. This is a beautiful punch, but mostly just that; I know there's supposed to be more to it.
The Grandmaster Review photo
The flawed US cut hints at a masterpiece on the meaning of the martial arts
While Donnie Yen kicked off the Ip Man craze back in 2008, you could argue that Wong Kar Wai was partially responsible. Wong had announced his own Ip Man film prior to the Yen picture even being conceived, but it took ages to...

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Paul Schrader & Spike Lee may do Clarence Thomas film


The biopic would be crowdfunded
Jul 30
// Hubert Vigilla
I unfortunately couldn't get to the world premiere of Paul Schrader's new (and quite possibly schlocky) film The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan and written by Bret Easton Ellis. The Dissolve reports that during the discussio...

NYAFF Review: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man

Jun 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215910:40314:0[/embed] The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (Young Ip Man | Ye Wen Qian Zhuan | 葉問前傳)Director: Herman YauRating: TBDCountry: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: June 24, 2010 (China) One of the things that immediately struck me about The Legend is Born is the number of actors in it who appeared in the Yen/Yip Ip Man movies. Sammo Hung (who was in Ip Man 2) plays the master of the Wing Chun martial arts school, with Yuen Biao as his disciple/protege. Dennis To was in both Ip Man and Ip Man 2. The same goes for Louis Fan (star of the cult masterpiece Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky); in The Legend is Born, Fan is Ip Tin-chi, Yip Man's brother in arms, though he played the Northern bandit in the Yen movies. Even Yip Man's dad, actor Chen Zhihui, had a part in that first Donnie Yen film. (I also noticed a brief role for Jiao Xu, the young star of Starry Starry Night, one of my favorite movies at last year's New York Asian Film Festival.) Part of me wonders if some of this casting was a wink to the audience, though it may have been based more on klout and ability. I think the film does a bit of martial arts fan service since its opening fight involves Hung and Biao duking it out with blindfolds on. The two actors can still move well, which makes me wish they'd do a reunion film with Jackie Chan. Yau also offers some fan service with a cameo appearance by Ip Chun, the real-life son of Yip Man, who gets to shine in a fight scene against the much younger To. The Legend Is Born zips through Yip Man's teenage years and young adulthood in the early 1900s. He and Ip Tin-chi are brought up learning Wing Chun, and they make fast friends with a young girl at the school named Li Mei Wai (portrayed as an adult by Rose Chan).  Mei loves Yip Man, who doesn't love her back; Ip Tin-chi loves Mei but she just sort of tolerates him. The love triangle becomes a kind of love quadrangle once Yip Man leaves for Hong Kong and meets Cheung Wing-shing (Huang Yi). She's the aristocratic daughter of the Lieutenant Governor, and of course her dad doesn't want his own flesh and blood dating that kung-fu riffraff. I mentioned that the film plays like an old-fashioned biopic, and it became most apparent to me in the scene where Yip Man and Cheung Wing-shing first meet. They're both in an outdoor market and happen upon a gramophone. They lock eyes and the film makes it seem like they're destined to be together. As we hop from event to event and from year to year, bits of Yip Man's life fall into place neatly and purposefully, without the loose ends of real life. I picture the screenplay written with bullet points instead of paragraph breaks. Each scene is about shoving the plot ahead or a life lesson learned, whether it's a new way to do Wing Chun or a declaration of personal philosophy, which in this film veers equally at nationalism (impossible to avoid when it comes to Chinese/Japanese relations in this period) and proto-globalization. The Legend is Born features a fight every 8-10 minutes, which is why it's reminiscent of an old-fashioned martial arts film. Yip Man stops a con man and they fight. Yip Man plays field hockey and it leads to a fight. Yip Man returns to Wing Chun school and there's a fight as a demonstration of what he learned. Yip Man has dinner and kapow. There's also a masochistic training sequence/montage that feels like it's straight out of a classic late 70s/early 80s period martial arts film. Instead of Wong Fei-Hung, Butcher Wing, or Beggar So, it's Yip Man, who seems like he's joining those other historical figures as a new cinematic folk hero. Like the martial arts films of old, there's also rigid concern for the purity of a martial arts school's ways, though the hero must combine skills and adapt rather than remain conservative in order to win in the end. The fights aren't as mind-blowing as the ones in the Donnie Yen films. It's impossible not to compare them since the bar is so high -- The Legend Is Born deals in volume since it can't top Ip Man with innovation or intensity.  I think this may simply be because Yen brings a physicality and a knowledge of action direction that isn't on display here. Even though veteran director Sammo Hung appears in the film, he wasn't in charge of fight choreography. That role fell to another veteran, Tony Leung Siu-Hung (another Ip Man alum), who does a more than serviceable job. Dennis To is similarly good as a fighter. He moves well, and I want to see a few more of his movies to peg the personality of his body language. Yuen Biao has a way of doing things that's all his own in the same way that there's a unique fighting style for Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Bruce Lee, and Donnie Yen; a few more movies and I may figure out what To's up to. I'll give The Legend is Born credit on this point: one of the flaws of Ip Man was that Donnie Yen was invincible and no one really posed a threat to him; and one of the biggest flaws of Ip Man 2 was that the boxer he faces in the end is an artificial threat who is merely stronger and not a better or more skillful fighter. (The inevitable solution for the Ip Man 2 fight is something that the character would have thought of immediately in the first Ip Man.) The Legend Is Born does at least force Yip Man to be better than his opponents. Combining fighting styles and surpassing your teachers is a hallmark of the classic martial arts film, and it's something that seems to be missing a lot in the martial arts movies of today. Blending the old-fashioned biopic and the old-school martial arts movie is quaint. Think Drunken Master mixed with The Life of Emile Zola in that respect. And yet The Legend Is Born ultimately feels thin and hokey. It's not a particularly deep or realistic portrayal of the young Yip Man, and it's garnished with lots of artificial dramatic hubbub. Not only is there a bland love story, but it's a film with double crosses, political intrigues, sibling rivalries, and betrayals. By the end, it's like a Douglas Sirk kung-fu movie without the Sirk irony. We get an incredibly dark resolution followed by a chipper closing scene, which is such a peculiar note to end on. This weekend I'll be reviewing Ip Man: The Final Fight, Yau's follow-up to this film which focuses on the older Yip Man as played by the venerable Anthony Wong. We'll see how this film functions as a precursor/companion piece. But taken on its own, The Legend is Born is so brisk and light, almost to a fault, and feels more like reading the CliffsNotes than the novel. As a portrait of the cinematic idea of Yip Man, it works and entertains from quick scene to quick scene. It's a nice chopsocky throwback, but it's also shaky as a coherent biopic. Maybe to enjoy it fully, it shouldn't be considered the latter. [The Legend Is Born: Ip Man will screen on Saturday, June 29th. Director Herman Yau will be in attendance. For tickets and more information, click here.]
Ip Man Legend Born Review photo
Is Yip Man becoming the new Wong Fei-Hung?
Ip Man starring Donnie Yen and directed by Wilson Yip is one of the best martial arts films of the last 10 years. It cemented Yen's reputation as a major star, and it began a craze for Yip Man films. Wong Kar-Wai has bee...

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Teaser Trailer: The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)


A brief first look at the new Hayao Miyazaki film
Jun 25
// Hubert Vigilla
Here is your first very brief look at Hayao Miyazaki's new film, The Wind Rises. The footage aired on Japanese television and reveals a kind of pastoral whimsy and a bird plane. It's not much (about 30 seconds), but it's ver...
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Trailer: The Grandmaster


It's in English this time!
Apr 23
// Liz Rugg
Wong Kar-Wai's The Grandmaster has been stuck in production and post-production h-e-double-hockey-sticks for about three years now. While we can hardly say at this point whether or not the movie will be worth the wait, we ca...
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Rumor: Tom Hooper may direct Freddie Mercury biopic


Mar 15
// Logan Otremba
So we already know that Sacha Baron Cohen was signed on to play as Freddie Mercury in a biopic being written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon). So far no one has been confirmed for who will be the director of the project. Apparen...
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Coen Brothers to rewrite Angelina Jolie's Unbroken


The Coens will rework the WWII drama that Jolie will direct
Feb 26
// Hubert Vigilla
Angelina Jolie has enlisted Joel and Ethan Coen to rewrite her WWII drama Unbroken. The film is adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 book of the same name that chronicles the life of WWII POW Lou Zamperini. According to The ...
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It promises to be very different from 1993's Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
A new film about Bruce Lee is in the works called Birth of the Dragon. To my knowledge this is the first big screen narrative film exploration of Bruce Lee's life since 1993's Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. The film will be wri...

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John Leguizamo is Fugly in new autobiographical comedy


Feb 07
// Nick Valdez
I'm a huge fan of John Leguizamo's comedy. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to think the same way. He's always typecast as the "zany Mexican guy who makes faces" and has to keep the same accent in each film. Thankfully, he's...

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