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Battle of the biopics: Eight rival pairings of movies about the same person.

Battle of the biopics: Eight rival pairings of movies about the same person. (photo)

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Sometimes, be it chance, convergence or studio groupthink, interest in making a movie about the life of a public figure re-explodes, and multiple biopics about him/her go into development to capitalize on that interest. Most of the time, one of the parties involved backs down and the victor emerges with no competition. But occasionally, two films emerge in close proximity to another.

Lately, this has been happening a lot: there are rival Marilyn Monroe movies slated for production, with Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams slated as leads, double Miles Davis biopics, three-deep DeLoreans. Most of these movies will never actually be made. Here’s a look at seven such notable cinematic point-counterpoints that actually hit theaters:

06072010_chanel2.jpg“Coco Before Chanel”/”Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” (2009)

There have been four films about fashion designer/legend Coco Chanel so far, and not a single one has yet had the guts to delve into World War II and try to reconcile her status as a fashion icon with her years as a Nazi collaborator, SS contacts and all. 1981’s “Chanel Solitaire” is noted (if at all) as Rutger Hauer’s first English-language movie; the 2008 TV movie with Shirley MacLaine was chided by the New York Times‘ Gina Bellafante for how it “hopscotches right over Chanel’s unsavory wartime affiliations.” So, too, does last year’s “Coco Before Chanel” (how could adorable Audrey Tautou be up to anything so awful?) and, by default (their affair ended long before World War II), “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,” which opens this week. And they might as well keep making Chanel biopics until someone works up the nerve to include that particular factoid.

06072010_bathory2.jpg“Bathory” (2008)/”The Countess” (2009)

It’s entirely unsurprising that Erzsébet Báthory, a Hungarian countess who supposedly had hundreds of young girls tortured and killed in order to bathe in their blood (believing it would restore her youth), has been a popular figure in films over the years. Is there a handier, gothier metaphor for our aging-averse, product-obsessed culture? Anna Friel vamps as the titular aristocrat in the 2008 “Bathory,” the most expensive Slovak and Czech production of all time. A revisionist take on the legend from director Juraj Jakubisko, the film drops a historically inaccurate Caravaggio into the mix and suggests Báthory was actually a tragic victim who was framed by the power-hungry men in her life. She only killed a few people, y’all, not hundreds! And she was on drugs at the time! The following year’s “The Countess” was written, directed by and stars Julie Delpy — a dream project of the hers for years, it by all accounts offers a feminist spin on the Bathory legend, delving into the woman’s psychology while leaving the verity of her many murders up in the air. “Bathory” remains without U.S. distribution, while “The Countess” was picked up by Empire Film Group last year for an announced Oscar push that never happened.

06072010_capote2.jpg“Capote” (2005)/”Infamous” (2006)

The Truman show shoot-out of “Capote” and “Infamous” was not the first time Douglas McGrath’s work had run into unflattering comparisons with a similar movie preceding it. His 1996 adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma” was considered wan and lacking when juxtaposed with the clever updating of the same novel in “Clueless.” “Infamous” didn’t perform as well as “Capote,” although probably because seeing Toby Jones (best known as, well, the voice of Dobby the House Elf in the “Harry Potter” movies) slink into the famous Truman Capote voice didn’t have quite the same sense of showmanship as seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman do the same. In fact, most reviews agreed that the two films were basically worthy of each other, just covering the same material from different sides; I particularly like Kenji Fujishima’s suggestion that watching the two is like “differentiating between two conductors’ interpretations of one particular work.”

06072010_prefontaine2.jpg“Prefontaine” (1997)/”Without Limits” (1998)

Two movies about Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine that bombed independently of one another, both “Prefontaine” and “Without Limits” represented big ventures for their directors. “Prefontaine” was the first post-“Hoop Dreams” project for director Steve James, and its failure didn’t discourage him: he made two more sports-based TV movies (1999’s “Passing Glory” — black vs. white high basketball teams in the ’60s — and 2002’s “Joe and Max” — Louis and Schmeling, respectively) before getting back to what he does best. 1998’s “Without Limits” was only the third film legendary screenwriter (and highly paid script doctor) Robert Towne (“Chinatown”) had managed to get made, and it too flopped — as would the careers of their two respective stars, Jared Leto and Billy Crudup, neither of whom ballooned up into the acting A-list as promised. Both movies were admirably focused on pointing out what a difficult, uncoachable jerk Prefontaine could be, and both received respectful if lukewarm reviews. There’s a great moment in “Limits” when Crudup is interrupted mid-first-time coitus, is asked if he has “blue balls” and answers “yes,” as human a moment as any sports bio has ever achieved. Still, Prefontaine was simply too difficult and heroically unheroic to qualify for the standard Biopic of Sports Greatness treatment.

06072010_nixon2.jpg“Kissinger and Nixon”/”Nixon” (1995)

Cable television was nowhere near the level of commercial ubiquity it is now in 1995, which makes it somewhat odd to recall that TNT’s “Kissinger and Nixon” airing ten days before the release of Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” was viewed as something that could credibly disturb the latter’s commercial prospects. The reason had less to do with common sense than with a dubious sense of causality — two years earlier, a TNT biopic about Geronimo had aired before Walter Hill’s own version and the latter underperformed, therefore people were wondering if basic cable could ruin movies. But both films were dubious commercial prospects from the start: “Nixon,” unlike “JFK,” didn’t really have any controversial bait to offer the public, yet was still three hours long and beyond hallucinatory. The victor in the long run is probably Stone’s movie (which didn’t come close to recouping its budget in release, but became something of a cult movie for Stone fans), though the cable film is by all accounts really more about Kissinger — in the role, Ron Silver received excellent notices. Kissinger himself sent in a 42-page list of objections to how he was portrayed; Silver would later become a post-9/11 Republican, making his performance here prescient. As you can see in the clip here, at least he’s less inadvertently hilarious than Paul Sorvino’s distractingly dead-on, hyper-caricatured Kissinger in “Nixon.”

06072010_earp2.jpg“Tombstone” (1993)/”Wyatt Earp” (1994)

Hardly the first but, to date, the last movies made about the enduring Western figure of Wyatt Earp, neither “Tombstone” nor “Wyatt Earp” made any grand aspirations towards historical accuracy. Both, however, grasped for magisterial grandeur. According to “Tombstone” star Kurt Russell (who claims to have secretly directed the film), before it was recut by the studio it was “a Western ‘Godfather.'” “Wyatt Earp,” meanwhile, also reached for myth (Jonathan Rosenbaum also noted naked ambitions towards “Godfather” status), but mostly through sheer length (expanded from 191 minutes to 212 in its director’s recut). It’s best remember as the first moment at which Costner’s carefully honed star status began to crash under the sheer weight of his hubris. “Wyatt Earp” emerged only because Costner thought the “Tombstone” screenplay should focus on Earp (which says nothing about his ego, natch) but was far less profitable. In any case, it was an inglorious end to Wyatt Earp’s on-screen mythology, one of the great continuities of the genre, which gave us “My Darling Clementine” and other lesser lights still beloved by connoisseurs, like “Doc” and “Gunfight At The OK Corral.”

06072010_liberace2.jpg“Liberace”/”Liberace: Behind The Music” (1988)

In a crass display of naked ambition entirely befitting the subject, Liberace’s death in 1987 prompted two dueling made-for-TV movies that aired a week apart in 1988. The main difference was that the first was authorized (or, as one “Snicks” writes, “whitewashed”), the second unauthorized. The main issue of contention, of course, was Liberace’s sexuality, which remains such a contentious issue (one apparently vigilantly monitored by his estate) that even the Wikipedia entry dances around it, merely noting that he was sued for palimony by chauffeur/alleged live-in boyfriend Scott Thorson, who’d apparently received plastic surgery to look more like the star. Regardless of the truth, Liberace’s image (down to a museum he built himself including the world’s largest Austrian rhinestone) is certainly gay enough to make him an easy punchline in “Good Night, And Good Luck,” where archival footage of him mentioning his heterosexuality conspicuously is an easy audience laugh-getter. The first film danced around the issue; the second, judging by the clip below, made it the main point of focus. (Worth noting: the first film’s Liberace was Andy Robinson, the serial killer from “Dirty Harry.”)

06072010_harlow2.jpg“Harlow”/”Harlow” (1965)

There were two competing Jean Harlow biopics in 1965: the cheaper one opened May 14 in New York, Paramount’s more expensive version on June 23. Paramount had Irving Shulberg’s “controversial” (read: lurid) biography to their name and the overqualified services of Hitchcock screenwriter John Michael Hayes (“Rear Window,” 1956’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”); the Magna Pictures cheapie had Ginger Rogers’ last performance. Neither film was overly commended for accuracy (though at least the cheap version mentioned her likely affair with William Powell, which Paramount scrupulously overlooked) or for an overload of good taste, but perhaps the Paramount version has the edge, if only because it was actually shot on film. The Magna Pictures version was shot on Electronivision (i.e., a glorified ’60s TV process) in eight days, and boy does it look it.

[Photos: Naomi Watts in “Mulholland Dr.,” Universal Pictures, 2001; “Shutter Island,” Paramount Pictures, 2010; “Coco Before Chanel,” Sony Classics, 2009; “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,” Sony Classics, 2009; “Bathory,” Eurofilm Stúdió, 2008; “The Countess,” Empire, 2009; “Capote,” Sony Classics, 2005; “Infamous,” Warner Independent, 2006; “Prefontaine,” Buena Vista, 1997; “Without Limits,” Warner Bros., 1998; “Kissinger and Nixon,” TNT, 1995; “Nixon,” Buena Vista, 1995; “Tombstone,” Buena Vista, 1993; “Wyatt Earp,” Warner Bros., 1994; “Liberace,” ABC, 1988; “Liberace: Behind The Music,” CBS, 1988; “Harlow,” Magna, 1965; “Harlow,” Paramount, 1965]

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Bridesmaids Roommates Matt Lucas 1920

Roommate Not Wanted

The 10 Worst Roommates In Pop Culture History

Find out how Marc deals with his new roommate on the season premiere of Maron available now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Last night’s season premiere of Maron found Marc’s disastrous downward spiral landing him in rehab with an annoying roommate who breaks into rhymes whenever he feels like it. Played in an inspired bit of casting by real life celebrity rapper Chet Hanks, Trey makes Marc’s life a living hell by taking his stuff and doing unspeakable things to his bed. Check out some other insufferable roommates from pop culture below, and be sure to catch up on the two-episode Maron season premiere on IFC.com and the IFC app to see how Marc deals with his new rapping bunkmate.

10. Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim is the ultimate geek heroic fantasy. In that he’s living in a constructed fantasy world while ignoring all the people who have to deal with his failures. Saintly roommate Wallace Wells offers rent, food, and even his own bed to his eternally immature friend who rewards him by whining and leaving clothes on the floor.


9. Hooch, Turner & Hooch

Turner and Hooch

Nobody likes being forced to share their home. This goes double when you’re a police officer, the work is a murder investigation, and the unwelcome guest is a dog spraying more fluid than a leak in the Hoover Dam.


8. Floyd, True Romance

True Romance

Perfectly portrayed by Brad Pitt, Floyd is the worst kind of stoner roommate. He never answers the door, and barely moves from his position on the couch. Even worse, he rats out your pals’ location to a tough-looking stranger who comes to the door without a second thought. Not to “condescend” to you Floyd, but you’re kind of a tool. You probably never share that honey bear bong.


7. Gil and Brynn, Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids

Annie (Kristen Wiig) is already at a low point when her roommates Gil (Matt Lucas) and Brynn (Rebel Wilson) ask her to move out. To make matters worse, the tattoo-obsessed Brynn isn’t even Annie’s roommate — her brother has been letting her stay rent free so she can wear Annie’s clothes and read her journal.


6. Eddie, Friends

You might remember Eddie (played by the always reliably deadpan Adam Goldberg) as Chandler’s roommate who moved in after Joey moved into his own place with his big time soap opera money. Eddie proved to be a complete psycho, accusing Chandler of sleeping with his ex-girlfriend Tilly and watching his new roomie while he sleeps. In the end, Chandler tells Eddie that Hannibal Lector would make a better roommate. Could he be any creepier??


5. Bevers, Broad City

Bevers Broad City

What’s worse than an annoying roommate who eats all your food, tries on your clothes, and never seems to leave the apartment? How about a guy who isn’t even technically your roommate, but in fact the boyfriend of your roommate who is never around. If you’re going to hang out in your underwear all day, the least you could do is pay rent, dude.


4. Chris Knight, Real Genius

Real Genius

Freshman Mitch Taylor faces every college student’s worst nightmare: a pushy roommate. Chris Knight might be a genius, but within the first minute of their acquaintance he’s thrown out Mitch’s clothes, talked about his genitals, and smashed the dorm-room window.


3. Oscar Madison, The Odd Couple

Odd Couple

The Odd Couple defined the idea of mismatched roommates. Uptight neat-freak Felix and easygoing slob Oscar were meant to be just as bad as each other, but anyone who’s ever lived with other people knows that the lazy one is always the worst. At least the obsessive is keeping things clean while annoying you.


2. Roberto, Futurama

Futurama

Fry’s regular robotic roommate is an indestructibly amoral freeloader who’d sell Fry’s kidneys if he could think of a suitably lazy way to extract them. But Bender is the deity of domestic bliss compared to Roberto, the stabbing-obsessed psychobot who shares Fry’s room in the robot asylum.


1. Hedra Carlson, Single White Female

Single White Female

Hedra Carlson takes “drinking the last of the milk” to the ultimate extreme, stealing her roommate’s boyfriend, identity, and takes a stab at stealing her life. Well, it’s more of a butcher’s hook slash than a stab. Which makes it all the worse.

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Welcome Back

Fred Armisen Is Returning to SNL to Host the Season Finale

Fred returns to SNL for the May 21st season finale.

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NBC Universal

Saturday Night Live will celebrate the return of one of its alumni for the season finale on May 21st. Portlandia co-creator and star Fred Armisen will be stepping onto the Studio 8H stage to host the final episode of the 41st season with musical guest Courtney Barnett. The news was broken by SNL’s Twitter account, which also announced Brie Larson and Drake will be wrapping up the season along with Armisen. This will be Fred’s first time hosting the show and, because it’s the finale, we’ll likely see a slew of surprise guests pop in. (Perhaps Fred’s comedy cohorts Carrie Brownstein and fellow Documentary Now! costar Bill Hader? We can dream!)

We also hope that Fred will join Courtney Barnett onstage for a haunting rendition of “Pitter Patter.”

Pitter Patter

Which of Fred’s many memorable SNL characters should make an appearance? Fericito? Political comedian Nicholas Fehn? Or maybe he’ll have an Obama-off with current SNL Obama Jay Pharoah. Find out when Fred brings the funny to SNL on May 21st.

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Watch “Weird Al” Talk About Parodying Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney

Comedy Bang! Bang! gets weird starting Friday, June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Conan / TBS

Song parodist and Comedy Bang! Bang!’s newest bandleader “Weird Al” Yankovic dropped by Conan to chat about the upcoming season of the IFC series and drop a few bits of trivia from his past. For example, did you know meeting Michael Jackson is a lot like meeting an alien? Well, you probably did, but “Weird Al” confirms it! Also, Yankovic discusses how he had a little artistic dispute with Paul McCartney over the use of “Live and Let Die” for a parody titled “Chicken Pot Pie”. (We’ll let Al fill you in on details.)

Check out “Weird Al” talking about his odd encounters with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s joke-ruining suggestions in the video below. And be sure to catch Al on the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! premiering Friday, June 3rd with back-to-back episodes at 11P and 11:30P.

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