Weekend Roundup + Casting news I’m excited about

Hello everyone! I’ve been away for most of the weekend and away from my laptop so not much to report here in terms of movie watching. My mother in-law and brother in-law are visiting in town so we’ve been playing tourist around MN since Friday. I was able to finish my Jurassic World review before they arrived though, but I did not see a single thing since Thursday night when I saw Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

I don’t know when I’ll have time to reviewMeEarlDyingGirl_Pic it, but I urge you to check it out if it’s playing in a theater near you. It was a Sundance hit, winning the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, and rightly so. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll definitely appreciate life as you have it and the friendship you have in your life. Plus, if you love foreign movies, you’ll absolutely adore this movie!

Well, even though I didn’t have much time to watch movies nor blog this past few days, I did make a bit of progress on my next novel or more appropriately, my narrative endeavor. I’m not revealing any details just yet as it’s still in its infancy, but I’m happy just to be working on something new as it’s been over three years since I came up with this movie pitch! Let’s just say my crushing on Stanley Weber hasn’t been in vain as it’s mostly inspired by him, as well as my girl crush Gugu Mbatha-Raw 😉

Instagram_logoOh and I also joined the Instagram party just for the heck of it. So if you have an IG account, let’s connect there!

Ok, so here’s the casting news I’m super excited about!

Per TheWrap, Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac will star in The Promise, an epic love story that Oscar-winning filmmaker Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) will direct from a script he co-wrote with Robin Swicord (Memoirs of a Geisha).

Isaac_Bale_ThePromise

Heh, they should do something about that name eh? It’s so darn generic and wasn’t there a period piece with a similar name just released a couple of years ago with Alan Rickman & Rebecca Hall? I blogged about it here but doesn’t look like anyone (including me) saw it.

In any case, I do love the gist of this upcoming project:

Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, “The Promise” follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris — a renowned American journalist based in Paris. Bale will play Chris, an AP reporter in love with both a woman and the danger of being in a combat zone amidst a world that is falling apart. Isaac will play Michael, a medical student in love with the same woman but conflicted by old-world traditions and his heart.

The Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1922 following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which resulted in an estimated death toll of between 800,000 and 1.5 million people. The subject has been near and dear to George, who in March 2013, was a guest of the Armenian State Pedagogical University, where the Irish filmmaker compared the Armenian genocide to the Rwanda genocide that he chronicled in Hotel Rwanda.

Boy, who’s going to be the lucky lady who will be *trapped* in THIS juicy love triangle? Whoever it’ll be, I’m already sold on the two male leads who are both gorgeous AND talented. I’m glad Isaac’s career is on fire right now and he’ll get his own Oscar to go with his name very soon too I hope.

JackHustonOn the flip side, I just learned on TheWrap as well that Jack Huston is no longer attached to play The Crow in the remake. Now, I think Brandon Lee had huge shoes to fill in the role and it’s going to be tough to top that film, but I like Huston and I think he could do a fine job. Plus I’d love to see him on screen with Andrea Riseborough who’s cast to play Sgt. Albrecht.

I’ve only seen him in American Hustle and Night Train to Lisbon, but most of you who watch Boardwalk Empire would notice him as Richard Harrow. I’m not too sad about it though, Jack is a talented young actor whom I hope would go on to star in better things. I’m looking forward to seeing him as Ben-Hur as well as Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies next year!

 


So that’s my weekend & casting roundup. How about you, seen anything good?

Top 10 inspiring Biopics to see this holiday season… or any time of the year

Christmas is always a special time for me. It’s not just another holiday, as there is someone’s birth I am celebrating for His gift to humanity. So as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, it’d be most appropriate to focus on the theme of inspiration. The word itself came from the Latin word inspīrāre which means ‘to breathe upon or breathe life into.

inspire (ɪnˈspaɪə)
— vb
to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate

Certain films have a power to inspire us, especially those that are based on a real person. Of course Hollywood often takes creative license with the films, but so long as the essence of the story is there, it can still very much inspire us. Note that I’m limiting the list to films from 1980s and up just to help narrow things down.

So without further ado, here are 10 biopics I have seen so far that I find the most inspiring (in alphabetical order):

Amazing Grace (2006)

The idealist William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic slave trade.

I saw this a while ago and I wish more people had seen this. This movie’s release coincided with the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first anti-slave trade bill, ending 400 years of slave trading. The main protagonist, William Wilberforce is a faithful British member of Parliament. Ioan Gruffud is excellent in the title role, conveying the emotional and physical struggles battling illness and one setback after another in the two decades he fought to end slave trading in England.

AmazingGrace

Along the way, he’s encouraged by his mentor John Newton (portrayed marvelously by Albert Finney), the author of the beloved hymn of the movie’s title, a repentant former slave trader. He’s also helped by his allies, PM William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), a scholarly former slave Olaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour), as well as his loving and influential wife, Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). Though it’s heavy on the history and political aspect, but the redemptive values aren’t lost in the process. It’s one of those rare Hollywood films with a deep passion for goodness and virtue that’s entertaining as well as inspiring. The performances of mostly-British talents, which also includes Ciaran Hinds and Rufus Sewell, are top notch, but ultimately it’s the profound message and inspiring story that makes this a winning feature.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

It’s one of those sports biopics that is so much more than the sports itself. Both Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell are both gifted Olympic-worthy sprinters, but what set them apart is the motivation behind each athlete. Abrahams has something to prove to himself and those around him, and Liddell runs for the glory of God. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

ChariotsOfFire

The rivalry between the two isn’t so much about who’s better or more righteous, as both stood for what they believed in. Each of them is motivated by their own personal values and convictions, nary of any political agenda nor hostility, that alone is inspiring. The physical and spiritual conflicts presented here made for a rich human drama with plenty of teachable moments. For one, there is a good message about one’s preoccupation of winning at any cost that ultimately lead to empty victories. Hugh Hudson‘s brilliant direction, David Watkin‘s exquisite cinematography and Vangelis’ powerful score made this film a classic, one that can be passed down from one generation to the next as it’s the kind of timeless stories people of all ages can appreciate.

Conviction (2010)

A working mother puts herself through law school in an effort to represent her brother, who has been wrongfully convicted of murder and has exhausted his chances to appeal his conviction through public defenders.

Just like Amazing Grace, this is another overlooked small-budget-with-big-story that I highly recommend. Featuring two excellent performances by Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell as Betty Anne and Kenny Waters, I was inspired by Betty Anne’s undeniable love and loyalty for her brother, which leads to her unrelenting quest to get upturn his conviction, even getting a law degree whilst struggling to support her own family.

Conviction

It’s quite heart-wrenching to see the struggles Betty Anne had to go through, helped only by her sympathetic lawyer friend Abra (Minnie Driver). Coping with one setback after another, yet she kept on hoping and trying even when Kenny himself seemed to have given up. It’s a compelling drama about the power of love that triumphs even in the most difficult circumstances.

Finding Neverland (2004)

The story of J.M. Barrie’s friendship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan.

It’s one of those heart-warming stories of unlikely friendships that is beautifully presented on screen. Johnny Depp at his most charming yet understated role and Kate Winslet is lovely as always as the frail Sylvia, but it’s Freddie Highmore who’s quite the scene-stealer.

FindingNeverland

I was really won over by how life-transforming this friendship was for everyone involved, especially between Mr. Barrie and Sylvia’s youngest son Peter. All the performances are lovely, including supporting turns from Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. This film celebrates the gift of imagination and creativity and its emotional healing power.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.

One of the hardest films to sit through yet has the best lesson to take away from. Paul was an ordinary man who’d never make himself out to be a hero. Yet the indescribable atrocities around him compelled him not to simply stand in the sidelines. This film shows the worst of humanity, how the world failed the people of Rwanda, but out of all that wickedness and evil, there is always a glimmer of light peeking through. It reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” and that’s exactly what Paul did, which proves that even one person could change the world.

HotelRwanda

Don Cheadle delivered a remarkably powerful and moving performance and Sophie Okonedo is quite remarkable as Paul’s wife. In a brief role, Joaquin Phoenix as a photojournalist delivered a line that is perhaps the most convicting of all, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say Oh, my God, that’s horrible. And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.” We definitely are guilty of that, whether we want to admit it or not. Paul Rusesabagina shows us what it means to actually care and not simply shrug things of and say that it’s other people’s problems.

The Insider (1999)

A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco.

Sometimes an ordinary person can be a hero when it’s willing to risk it all for the good of the public. Jeffrey Wigand is a research chemist who makes a good living working for a tobacco company, but yet he risks losing it all, even his own family, when he became a whistle blower exposing the fatal danger of smoking.

TheInsider

It’s a gripping story that’s full of suspense without a single shootout or car chases. The real beauty is in the script and performances, esp. by Russell Crowe as Wigand and Al Pacino as investigative journalist Lowell Bergman. At the core of the story is a riveting David vs. Goliath story that carries the themes about honesty, loyalty, integrity, as well as what it means to selflessly put others first.

The Intouchables (2011)

After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.

Phillipe and Idris couldn’t be more different from each other in terms of background and social status. Yet the two strike an unlikely friendship that spark a journey to self-healing when they least expect it. What I love most about this film is the honest dialog between the two characters and how Idris never see the paraplegic Phillipe as a ‘lesser’ person because of his condition.

Intouchables

It’s a sincere and incredibly poignant depiction of human relationship that celebrates the human spirit. Though their circumstances perhaps don’t change much in the end, their friendship certainly is life-affirming.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

With the South African leader being laid to rest earlier this month, this film’s timing is unbelievably timely. Yet I believe the story of personal courage and benevolence shall stand the test of time. This is not the first film about Mandela I saw, nor would it be the last, but his life story never fails to move and inspire me.

MandelaLongWalkToFreedom

This film shows the personal toll it took on Mandela for the sake of equality and human rights. “It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” he declared, and as the film title says, it sure was a long and difficult walk, having to endure 27 years behind bars in Robben Island. He lost his freedom but also his family, not being able to see his wife and kids which ultimately cost his marriage to Winnie. So many things about Mandela are inspiring, but perhaps most of all, is his ability to forgive those who put him in jail. It’s the ultimate manifestation of love,  the love for his people and his nation, that enables him to put aside his own pride and personal vendetta. Now that folks, makes Mandela better than any Hollywood superhero.

Schindler’s List (1993)

In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

The contrast of how the Nazis value human life and how Schindler sees it towards the end of the film is tremendously striking. “I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…” Schindler weeps in one of the many, many heart-wrenching scenes of the film. He comes to value how precious each human life is, and that monetary success no longer means anything to him when there are human sufferings all around him.

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Few films strikes deep to the core of your soul like this one, and John Williams’ exquisite score has a transcendental quality that haunts you for a long time. The quintessential ‘inspiring movie,’ Schindler’s List is considered a masterpiece for a reason. Perhaps the best and most personal work by Steven Spielberg, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t think he could do the story justice.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

The story of Irish journalist who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons in 1996 and later gunned down by assassins hired by the same criminal drug lords she exposed.

One of the first Cate Blanchett films I saw and I was so deeply moved by it. The Australian actress is absolutely convincing with her Irish accent and truly disappeared into the role of the Irish journalist.

Her single-minded pursuit which endangers her life and her family can be considered reckless, but one can’t help but admire that incredible courage. On top of that, her lack of apathy towards the evil around her is to be commended, as most people would just turn the other way. Guerin’s husband pleaded for her to drop the case yet she refused to succumb to the criminals’ threats that prove to be fatal.

VeronicaGuerin

It’s painful to see that time and time again, it takes a tragedy for lawmakers and the power that be to finally wake up and fight the crime they should’ve been fighting for from the start. There are memorable supporting turns from Irish actors Ciarán Hinds, as well as then-unknown Colin Farrell in a cameo role. Director Joel Schumacher is known mostly for his bad films like Batman & Robin, yet his smaller gems like this one sadly got overlooked.


Wishing you all a blessed Christmas!

BlessedChristmas


Surely there are more inspiring biopics beyond what’s on this list. What are some of your favorites?

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite biopic(s)?

A biographical film, or biopic (/ˈbɵpɪk/; abbreviation for biographical motion picture), is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person or people.

JeannedArcThis week I saw two press screenings (The Butler and Jobs) that are both based on real-life characters. So I thought I’d blog about one of Hollywood’s favorite genre [or is it sub-genre?]. There are a plethora of biopics getting made every single year. I mean, if you look at this list of biopics in Wikipedia, the number is in the thousands, dating all the way to the year 1900 with short, silent film Jeanne d’Arc by Georges Méliès — clearly Joan of Arc is a popular subject that’s been filmed time and time again. Just in 2000s alone, there are nearly 500 biopics in just one decade! I think biopics have become a favorite for actors to portray, perhaps because they tend to be popular come award season. A bunch of actors have won Oscars portraying real-life characters, as Daniel Day Lewis did most recently playing President Lincoln.

Obviously, just like any genre/sub-genre, there are good and bad biopics, and there’ll never be a shortage of them in the years to come. I for one don’t mind them, especially when the subject matter are intriguing and even inspiring. I prefer biopics that focus on a certain period of the person’s life instead of an overarching biography, just because it’s so challenging to do the latter and make it compelling. I’m excluding documentaries for this post, as it’s kind of a whole different genre entirely.

If I were to choose my top 10 favorites from what I’ve seen, it’d probably look something like this (in no particular order):

  1. Schindler’s List (1993)
  2. Veronica Guerin (2003)
  3. Ray (2004)
  4. The Insider (1999)
  5. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  6. Elizabeth (1998)
  7. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  8. Amazing Grace (2006)
  9. The Queen (2006)
  10. Walk The Line (2005)

5 Honorable Mentions: Amadeus, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Nowhere Boy, The Aviator

I say ‘favorite’ because a large part of how well we receive a biopic is how much we care about the subject matter. I mean, I’m fascinated by royal families (esp. British), but I know some people don’t and they probably aren’t going to be keen on films about them. Of course another big thing is how well we think the actors portray the real-life persona on screen, physical resemblance notwithstanding. Keep in mind I haven’t seen some of the essentials like Gandhi, Citizen Kane, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Ragging Bull, etc.


So my question to you two-fold… do you like Biopics and which ones are your favorite?

Small Roles Big Performances: Don Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)


Greetings, all and sundry. Allow me a few moments to entertain and possibly elucidate in an arena that all actors and actresses dream of. To be given a secondary role in a film with a strong lead, a better than decent story and a budget and director worthy of telling a story well.

In this case, a film based on the Walter Mosely’s post WWII, hard boiled private eye novel Devil in a Blue Dress. I’d read the paper back a few years later and started putting together its cast in my head. Denzel Washington was a shoo-in for the recently, possibly unfairly laid off Champion Aviation’s defense plant employee, Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins. Though I couldn’t come up for a suitable actor to play Easy’s polite, possibly psychotic, sadistic back up man, ‘Mouse’ Alexander.

I need have bothered. Carl Franklin and others of higher wisdom made that seamless decision for me. Casting an actor who I’d never seen before, Don Cheadle; to do some of Easy’s heavy lifting. Loyal and prompt when it comes to answering a call from Easy, who is in way over his head. Investigating a missing and elusive Daphne, Jennifer Beals. Who may or may not be involved
with an up and coming powerful politician. Mouse is also dapper, quick and knowledgeable when it comes to saving Easy’s bacon when confronted by a knife wielding henchman. Deftly breaking up the fracas and seating the thug in a chair for a few questions.

Don Cheadle’s Mouse is incredibly polite when asking. And uses slightly more than equal force when his questions are rebuffed. In the form of a formidable, slightly smaller than a Horse Pistol, Webley Mk VI revolver. Which he uses to focus the thug’s waning, erratic attention. By blowing a dime sized hole in his right thigh before asking again.

That, elegantly smooth action and follow up put Denzel in the back seat for much of the remainder of the film. As Easy and Mouse glean information and clues and follow them deeper and deeper down the rabbit’s hole of vagaries, lies, good intentions gone bad and double crosses. As the final pieces come together with the rescue aid of Daphne and the recovery of a large chunk of blackmail money. Aided by slimy, sweaty, bent as barbed wire ‘Joppy’ (Mel Winkler), who is constantly trying to live beyond his means. Easy, Mouse and Joppy drive out to the Hollywood Hills to set up a final ambush with the politician’s uncouth front man, DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) and some crooked protectors. Easy leaves Joppy with Mouse, who loans Easy a .32 Colt Hammerless Automatic. Easy give Mouse a warning not to shoot Joppy as Easy disappeared in shadows. Distance is traveled. Shots are fired and Easy returns to find Joppy dead as Mouse answers, “You said don’t shoot him, right? Well I didn’t; I choked… If you didn’t want me to kill him, why did you leave me alone with him?”.

Creating a fine introduction to a talent to watch. Before adding to his repertoire with the role of recurring D.A. John Littleton opposite Tom Skerritt and Kathy Bates in Picket Fences from CBS between 1993 and 95. Then as a poor black man with his back against the wall in 1923 Jim Crow Florida in John Singleton’s Rosewood in 1997. Before playing second string porn star, Buck Swope in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights the same year.

Then adding his very personal, believable take on Sammy Davis Jr. in HBO’s The Rat Pack with Ray Liotta and Joe Mantegna. Building up credibility while honing his skills in ensemble, genre films through 2000 and 2001. Before latching onto the role of group psychologist, Dr. David Monroe opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Jordan Melamed’s independent, Manic. Where the
harried and pressured doctor tries many ways to get through to and make progress with self loathing, destructive, head banging,cutting teens. And surrender is not an option.

Clockwise: Cheadle in The Rat PackBoogie Nights and Hotel Rwanda

Creating a better than decent body of work for Steve Soderbergh’s opening Ocean’s Eleven franchise. When dividing his times Detective Graham Waters in Paul Haggis’ star heavy, Crash in 2004. Then turning in a fine performance battling Hutus and the bureaucracy to save innocent lives in Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda. Then knocking it out of the park as 1960s Washington, DC disc jockey, talk show host and activist, Petey Green in Kasi Lemmon’s Talk to Me in 2007.


Small Roles … Big Performances Blogathon



Thoughts on Don Cheadle? What’s your favorite role(s) from the 47-year-old thespian?