HOW CLOSELY DO MOVIES ABOUT REAL-LIFE PEOPLE STICK TO REAL-LIFE FACTS?
Some times they're like carbon copies, but just as often they're like total fiction, bearing as little resemblance to reality as does your typical TV reality show. Cross your fingers and hope that some true truths will emerge in the batch of biopics shown below.--Guy Flatley
THE IRON LADY
Meryl Streep was delicious as mega-chef Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia.” Ditto for Streep as a cheated-upon wife in “Heartburn,” Mike Nichols’ comedy-drama mirroring Nora Ephron’s betrayal by philandering husband Carl Bernstein. The actress who is unfailingly persuasive in any role—in any language—was also laudable as real-life heroines Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen in Sydney Pollack’s “Out of Africa,” murdered whistleblower Karen Silkwood in Mike Nichols’ “Silkwood,” and flashily conflicted Suzanne Vale in Nichols’ “Postcards From the Edge,” based on flashily conflicted Carrie Fisher’s arguably autobiographical tale. And, of course, we all loved Meryl as the triumphantly autocratic queen of fashion who bore more than a passing resemblance to Anna Wintour in David Frankel’s “The Devil Wears Prada.”
So why shouldn’t the family of Margaret Thatcher, the one and—thus far--only female British prime minister, be tickled to see the 86-year-old Prime Minister Thatcher—now Baroness Thatcher--played by the magical, 62-year-old Meryl in “The Iron Lady,” the warts-and-all biopic lensed under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd, who previously escorted Streep through the song-and-dance minefield known as “Mamma Mia!”? Well, according to press reports, the clan finds the film’s script, by Abi Morgan, appalling because they feel it depicts the legendarily forceful, uncompromising Thatcher chatting with the ghost of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, about some of the most controversial decisions she made during her lengthy career. (Dead and alive, the P.M.’s loyal mate is being played by the they-don’t-come-any-better Jim Broadbent.) In London, an incensed family friend confided to the Telegraph that the Thatchers feel strongly about this potential blockbuster, “but will not speak publicly for fear of giving it more publicity.”
In which case, New Jersey’s own Meryl Streep will have the last British-accented word on the subject. Opens 12/30/11
J. Edgar Hoover, the much loved, much loathed co-founder and boss of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is played by Leonardo DiCaprio in this bulging-with-possibilities biopic. Under the direction of the preternaturally prolific Clint Eastwood, the film, which was written by Dustin Lance Black, the author of "Milk," spans many decades--from 1895 to 1972, the year Hoover died at the age of 77.
As a result, we will have the pleasure of seeing Dame Judi Dench play the youthful Hoover’s American-as-apple-pie mom, as well as Naomi Watts in the role of the aging Hoover's fiercely loyal secretary and Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh. The most daring casting is perhaps that of Armie Hammer (the 24-year-old wonder who played both of the snooty, filthy-rich Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network”) in the part of Clyde Tolson, the FBI Associate Director who became Hoover's constant companion and sole heir. And, according to various sources, he was the true love of bachelor Hoover’s life. There have indeed been rumors that Eastwood shot at least one close-up showing Hammer and DiCaprio enjoying a tender kiss. As it turns out, the rumors were at least half true (there's a juicy kiss, but it's not what you could describe as tender).Click here for Maureen Dowd's excellent New York Times interview with Clint Eastwood, including details about the big kiss. Now Playing
A DANGEROUS METHOD
Keira Knightley, a visual knockout blessed with genuine talent, has yet to be hailed as a cinematic heavyweight. Maybe her failure to get the respect she deserves can be blamed on her frivolous participation in the slapstick drivel whipped up by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” mercenaries.
But reports from various festivals suggest Keira may finally make the leap to celluloid aristocracy in director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of John Kerr’s “A Most Dangerous Method,” the solemn but provocative 1993 non-fiction book about Sabina Spielrein, a mentally disturbed 18-year-old Russian beauty who journeyed to Vienna in search of healing from Carl Jung, a popular disciple of trailblazing shrink Sigmund Freud.
Chief among Sabina’s problems in need of tending by Jung was her seemingly unbreakable habit of mentally coupling her food—be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or merely a snack—with repulsive images of her own feces and her own inappropriately horny father. Jung, played by swiftly rising star Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Fish Tank,” "Jane Eyre" and the upcoming "Shame"), works some manly psychological miracles on Sabina and before long her sexual hang-ups have (mostly) flown away, as evidenced by the fact that she responds favorably to the notion of a full-throttle relationship with the romantic rogue—an arrangement that doesn’t sit too well with Carl’s wife and three kids.
But perhaps the biggest roadblock to a full-fleshed breakthrough is erected by Dr. Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen, who triumphed as a walking, talking, slashing, shooting lethal weapon in helmer Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”). Spoilsport Sigmund, having soured on his former protégé for a variety of reasons, engaged in an obsessive campaign to destroy Jung's reputation as an honorable man of science. And, yes, Freud even enlisted the support of poor jilted Sabina—a woman he himself fancied—in his crazed scheming.
So, was Sig a prig or was Sig a pig? See “A Dangerous Method” and decide for yourself. Opens 11/23/11
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
Michelle Williams has been justly acclaimed for her solid, realistic performances in such serious dramas as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Wendy and Lucy” and “Blue Valentine.” So it’s a surprise to see her popping up in the strictly-no-pain “My Week With Marilyn” as the bubbly sex goddess who reached her cinematic peak in Billy Wilder’s 1959 comic masterpiece, “Some Like It Hot.”
This new faux biopic is set two years earlier, the year of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” a frothy but strained screen adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play that paired Monroe with Laurence Olivier. Sir Laurence played a suave but predatory Balkan royal determined to seduce American lady-of-the-chorus Monroe at the time of the 1911 coronation in London. To make sure that this spectacularly odd couple would come across as credible, executive producer (!) Monroe snared Olivier as director.
The focus of “My Week With Marilyn,” directed by Simon Curtis, is on the behind-the-scenes chemistry—or lack thereof—between these two exceedingly major players. Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier to Williams’ Monroe. Dougray Scott is cast as playwright Arthur Miller, the husband of Monroe; Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh, is acted by Julia Ormond. If the movie's a hit, perhaps the sexier-than-ever Michelle will treat us to an updated version of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," or better still, "Some Like It Hot." Opens 11/23/11
Daniel Day-Lewis, arguably the most forceful, commanding film actor of his generation, seldom takes a false step. But that's exactly what he did when he signed on for "Nine," the calamitous song-and-dance desecration of Fellini's "8 1/2." So he's got some catching up to do, which is surely what he will do with abundant eloquence in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," which trails the tormented, doomed president through the end of the Civil War up to his assassination. Day-Lewis will be supported by an impressive cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader and—in the Oscar-tailored role of the fragile yet influential Mary Todd Lincoln—Sally Field. Opens in 12/11
Dating back to 1991’s “Thelma & Louise,” in which he played a sticky-fingered charmer who steals Geena Davis’s heart and her cash, Brad Pitt has been a major cineplex heartthrob. But it didn’t take the critics and fans long to realize that he was also a mercurial, risk-taking performer capable of digging deep into complicated, occasionally sicko characters. His unexpected versatility has been impressively on view in films ranging from “A River Runs Through It” to “Seven,” “Sleepers,” “Fight Club,” “Snatch,” “The Mexican,” the “Ocean’s” trilogy, “Babel,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Tree of Life.” You wouldn’t be far off the mark to think of Pitt as a not-so-distant descendant of James Dean, without the built-in self-destruct.
And now comes “Moneyball,” in which Pitt is cast as Billy Beane, the maverick general manager of the Oakland A’s who made champs of a losing team by wedding the art of playing baseball to a miraculous computerized system called Sabermetrics. With this sports flick that you don’t have to be a sports fiend to love, Brad trots to the top of the lineup of surefire Oscar nominees. Now Playing
Did it ever occur to you that the Bard on Avon was nothing more than a booze-guzzling whoremonger and common thief? Well, like it or not, we are now being informed that all those magnificent plays and poems we believed were written by William Shakespeare, the poorly educated son of a financially strapped tradesman, were in fact penned by Edward de Vere, a swinish aristocrat who spent his leisure time tending to the bedtime whims of the not so virginal Queen Elizabeth.
This giddy assault on what we thought were indisputable facts has been stitched together by Roland Emmerich, the director who struggled stenuously, if ineffectually, to separate fact from fiction in "Independence Day" and "2012". My question is: what—and who’s—next on his hit list? Now Playing
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
If you weren’t around in the fifties and sixties, it may be impossible for you to imagine the shrieking, swooning adulation heaped upon bigger (and gaudier)-than-life pianist and showman Liberace by his millions of frenzied fans. He could not have received a warmer reception had he been a cross between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. In the photo above, he is wearing one of his more conservative outfits. The dude dressed like a chauffeur was in fact his chauffeur, bodyguard and long-time lover. His name is Scott Thorson, and after Liberace’s death from AIDS in 1987, he published a book about their relationship, including an account of the palimony suit Thorson brought against Liberace when their romance turned sour.
And now that book, “Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace,” is scheduled for filming by HBO. Under the direction of Steven Soderbergh, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon will portray Liberace and Thorson. That’s right, I said Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.