Top 5: Country biopics I’d like to see

I do like a good biopic. From Walk the Line to Ray, it’s pretty easy to get wrapped into a fictionalized, more drama-filled version of the life of an artists that I love and respect. For that reason, it’s fun to play the game “Make that biopic!,” in which I create my dream-team line-up of biopics I’d totally watch. And it just so happens that all of them happen to be country music super-stars. Bonus: I cast them!

1. Hank Williams

Hank Williams I was a rambling, gambling man. He pretty much defined the country singer-songwriter: rough life, sad songs. He was addicted to pain killers and alcohol, was a devout, torn Christian, and was dead by the age of 29. Christian Bale has the intensity to do old Hank proud.

Hank Williams, courtesy Mxdwn

Christian Bale, courtesy Judy Halone

2. Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings is another country music star deserving of a cinematic coverage. His life story is almost too bizarre to be believed. He grew up in Texas, became friends with Buddy Holly, almost ending up on the the plane that crashed and ended Holly’s life. Instead Waylon become a country music sensation, singing about hard luck times that he lived and breathed. Bonus: you’d get to have someone play Willie Nelson, one of Jennings’ close musical partners and a fellow Outlaw. Jason Lee, who did hicks right in My Name is Earl, would play a mean Waylon.

Waylon Jennings, via Yahoofs


Jason Lee via Film School Rejects


3. Dolly Parton

Another fine rags-to-riches country story. Ms. Parton grew up in Appalachia, one of many children. She made it as a songwriter in Nashville, co-starring on the Porter Wagoner Show, and managed to make herself an independent millionaire by keeping the rights to all her songs. I’d love to see the sunny, optimistic star played by the similarly happy (if not endowed) Kate Hudson

Dolly Parton, courtesy

Dolly Parton, courtesy

Kate Hudson, via Celebtv

Kate Hudson, via Celebtv

4. George Jones and 5. Tammy Wynette

What a pair. Depending what you read, he drove the lawn mower to town to buy liquor when she hid the kids. He sang “White Lightning,” she sang “Stand by Your Man.” Their marriage was six years of hell and heartbreak, with two of country’s saddest singers. Call me crazy, but I can see Jim Carrey as the tyrannical George, and Laura Dern as the sweet but sorrowful Tammy.

George Jones & Tammy Wynette

George Jones & Tammy Wynette

Jim Carrey

Laura Dern











Want more?

I’ve written about it before, but Nathan Rabin has the most amazing series (that is turning into a book!) at the AV Club. He takes the anti-country music fan’s tour through these artists’ work. I’d suggest reading them all: Hank, Waylon, Dolly and George & Tammy.

Also, I made a Youtube playlist for your enjoyment!



I’m Not There

I'm Not There (via

Why make a movie about Bob Dylan, let alone six Bob Dylans? He’s a living legend who has shaken off every label that the public and his fans have put on him: voice of a generation, prophet, rock star, elder music statesman.

Perhaps Todd Haynes’ 2007 film, I’m Not There, is the only way to reconcile all the Dylans. Six actors portray the musician: Christian Bale as the folksy protest singer; Ben Winshaw as the tortured poet; Heath Ledger as the high flying rock star; Richard Gere as a hero of mythic, rootsy Americana; Marcus Carl Franklin as the itinerant singer-songwriter; and Cate Blanchett as the angry, gifted songwriter dealing with fame.

The whole film is a dreamy, music-soaked affair, drawn together by Dylan’s songs. Each story has a different arc that illuminates a facet of Dylan’s life or his myth. Some stories fall flatter than others – I could never completely tell what Richard Gere’s character was doing.

But some Dylan doppelgängers work beautifully. Cate Blanchett plays one of the most interesting characters of her whole career, as the twitchy and uncomfortable Dylan. She channels some of the scenes from Pennebaker’s 1967 Don’t Look Back. I’m not quite certain that Haynes meant to highlight any sort of femininity on the part of the character, but rather show how he felt like someone else acting in his own body.

Heath Ledger also shines as the debauched 1970s version. He and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are in the middle of getting a divorce, because he’s angry and detached from his family. It’s the story of the perils of fame against self and family, and the fact it’s played by Ledger gives the whole affair an even more tragic lens.

I would only recommend the film to Dylan fans, as it’s more fun to recognize the allusions. Perhaps film buff would enjoy it too, as it stands alone as a quirky and innovative film telling of the many lives of a man who refused to be there.

Want more?

Cate Blanchett talking about her role:


Sherlock (via

Two questions may occur to you while surveying the new BBC production of Sherlock:

1. Did we really need another Sir A. C. Doyle supersleuth adaptation?

2. How does every BBC miniseries I see manage to be so bloody good?

The answer to #1  is quite dependent on #2. Because the 2010 series does manage to breathe fresh air into the cliche of the know-it-all-detective. First off, he is played by the divinely named Benedict Cumberbatch, who has the intense eyes and stare of a more twitchy Cillian Murphy.

Watson, as any purveyor of pop culture knows, has his bowler hat filled by Martin Freeman, the UK’s Office‘s Jim, only he was called Tim. Instead of smirking his way through scenes, Watson is introduced with a scowl and a limp, fresh of a tour in the Middle East as an army doctor. He meets Holmes through a mutual police friend, they become unlikely roommates at 221B Baker Street, and zaniness ensues (of a sort)!

There are only three episodes in the first season, so each are about movie-length. The thing about having a single mystery per episode is, as with Scooby-Doo, you know that the villain will be introduced at some point in the storyline. So some of the plot leaps get quite convoluted indeed.

But there’s so much to make up for it. Holmes and Watson have great chemistry, especially for, as far as I can tell, the producers are keeping us guessing as to Holmes’ sexuality. There’s none of the Tarantino-esque bromance found in the Robert Downey Jr.-Jude Law variety. This is a slick, modern incarnation, with sinister text messages and designer sneakers.  I’d say he makes a far better Holmes than Hugh Laurie as House (what, you didn’t realize that was a Holmes, too?) – we Americans give Laurie an award every year because we are so surprised he’s actually British. Sherlock is a bit more fun, too, with Cumberbatch is as slippery as an eel as he whips around London in his topcoat, with Freeman trailing behind. The second season is filming now, and should be available in Britain by the end of 2011.

Want more? 

The first season is on Watch Instantly over on Netflix.

Also, both actors will be featured in the Hobbit!




Labyrinth, courtesy Wikipedia

As if birthdays themselves don’t make you feel old, Labyrinth is 25 years old this week. I believe it has gone down in history for introducing young kids to David Bowie’s music (and his incredibly tight pants).

Labyrinth is one of those delightful mid-80s movies that combines live action actors with Muppets. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit: I love muppets. Not just of the Miss Piggy variety, but all flavors coming from Jim Henson’s creature factory. And boy, does the movie come through with the muppets.

Storywise, David Bowie plays the King of the Goblins, who captures Jennifer Connolly’s baby brother when she, a put-upon teenager, wishes him to be spirited away. She then must travel to Goblin land to rescue her brother, teaming with Muppets great, small, and gross, in the process learning some about friendship and growing up (aw!).

Watching it as an adult, you realize that Connolly, at sixteen, looks like a Renaissance beauty, and Bowie, in his natural predatory state, circles her like a hungry fox.  Is it slightly creepy? Yes. Can this be overlooked? Oddly, also yes.

Also as an adult you wonder: why did David Bowie decide to dress up like an elf attending a disco in a kids’ movie? Where was his career? Did he consider this an extension of Ziggy? These are not important questions; what is important is that it happened. And it may be his finest role on film.

Because what really blows the movie out of the water is the music, composed and performed by DB of course. I would be eternally pleased if every jukebox had a copy of “Magic Dance.” The rest of the songs aren’t too shabby either.

It’s one of those childhood movies that sticks with you. And yet it’s probably best not to watch it again until you’re showing another youngster, so as not to burst that happy bubble. Happy 25, Labyrinth!

Want more?
You MUST watch “Magic Dance:”

And the Flight of the Conchords’ take on Labyrinth-era Bowie is pretty hilarious:

The Dot And The Line

Have 10 minutes? You should definitely check out “The Dot and the Line,” an Oscar-winning animation short by Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes!) written by Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth). The A.V. Club interviewed Juster recently and he said this about the film:

Norton Juster: The Dot And The Line was something that popped into my head one day, doing a little thinking about myself, not so much architecturally as socially. I was very much that rigid straight line. And I had a friend who was absolutely disreputable, would say anything, do anything, ran around like mad, had enormous success in both his life and with women. And he was the squiggle. So I view that story, a little bit, as my revenge.

Check it out:

Blacksad vs. Rango

Let’s call this the battle of the animated animals. NO, the battle of the genre’d animated animals.

In one side of the ring we have Blacksad, the noir graphic novel starring a giant black feline private eye named John Blacksad. In the far side of the ring, we have plucky Rango, a laissez-faire chameleon who ends up deep in the heart of a Western movie.


Blacksad will draw you in with its art, done by Juanjo Guarnido, a Spanish-based illustrator who used to draw for Disney. For adults of a certainBlacksad, courtesy Dark Horse generation, this means all of the animals feel slightly familiar, like they are echoes of childhood animated movies you can’t remember. Of course, the effect can be a bit creepy, as these are meant for adults, and there are definitely some adult situations for your run-of-the-mill cartoon dogs and cats.

The book it reminded me of most was Maus, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Holocaust memoir by Art Spiegelman. Blacksad doesn’t address the same dark issues, or have the same level of sophistication, as Maus, but several plot points rely on the “species as race” divisions for their conflict.

As far as the stories go, if you’re a fan of private eyes and the like, you’ll be well pleased. It’s really the amazing illustrations that set Blacksad apart. I’d recommend it to any casual comic reader to show that there really is something for everyone.


In all honesty, I caught Rango on a plane, so I may have missed some precious jokes.

Rango is crazy. Director Gore Verbinski must have got real sick of the pirate genre, because he crammed every film reference he could into his first animated movie. It was more Tarantino than Tarantino; I counted: Apocaplyse Now, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Chinatown, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, any spaghetti western you can name, and, indeed, Pulp Fiction.

Rango, courtesy Movie-listA tangent that shall become related soon enough: my dad always used to complain about kids’ movies that pander to the adults that have to watch them too (Shrek being a key culprit). Watching this movie, with its filmbuff asides and prostrate jokes, did make me wonder who this film was for (sleepy twenty-somethings on planes?).

Luckily the characters have enough loopy charm (although Johnny Depp! are you ever going to play normal again!) and the plot is just simple enough that the film works. Plus, the animation is really captivating, with scenes of a (rodent-sized) Western town and the surrounding desert.


I’d say Blacksad by the whiskers of his chin.

Want more?

Check out the Dark Horse preview for Blacksad.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes video for Rango.



Thoughts on Bridesmaids.
Every few years, a movie comes out that puts the media in a lather. These are not controversial films, nor do they break fundamental rules of cinema or elevate the genre to new heights. Nope, we’re talking lady comedies.
You may have heard or noticed the flurry with the movie Bridesmaids, but it’s nothing new. It happened  when Christopher Hitchens wrote his now-infamous “Women aren’t funny” in 2007 (which everyone keeps referencing, but I’m sure he’s not really thinking about it). It happened with Baby Mama. Apparently “Are women funny?” makes great copy.

If we’re not funny, then you men out there are wasting a lot of time fake laughing (amiright ladies?!). In all seriousness, some women are funny, just like some men. The real question is, and it’s asked by movie industry executives: 1). are women’s comedies made in the same mold as men’s? And 2). will women pay money to go out and see them?

Well, the answer to question one is – kind of. Bridesmaids neatly captures the little moments that make up female friendships between Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph). It’s about fake working out, then treating yourself to brunch, or coming over to drink white wine and read gossip magazines together (both things I have done).

What the title, and previews, might not show is that Bridesmaids is not really a buddy comedy, or an ensemble show a la The Hangover. There’s a brief moment en route to a bachelorette party in Vegas when the supporting cast (including Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper and Melissa McCarthy) shines, but then the film changes focus back to Wiig’s life.  Which is falling apart.

Wiig is less manic than her SNL characters might suggest. Annie is happy for her friend, but can’t be entirely pleased at the loss of her only support system. I feel like the signs of her hitting bottom could be remixed in a trailer and make a completely different, far more depressing movie.

Modern weddings are not just an opportunity for two people in love to show it to their family and friends; it’s also a VERY BIG moment for friends and family. For women, there can be a host of high-profile activities. Showers, bachelorette parties, gifts, what have you. So as Annie is falling apart, Helen (played oh-so-mean-girly by Rose Byrne ), Lillian’s fiance’s boss’ wife, takes the reins for the preparation. There’s one scene, at the engagement party, when the two try to outdo themselves? Classic.

So there’s another part. I’ve read it’s producer Judd Apatow’s influence, and it’s basically a scene when the ladies get extreme food poisoning while trying on dresses. All you need to know – I closed my eyes and ears. Did the (full) theater erupt in laughter? Yes. Did I just get queasy typing the word “erupt”? Yes again.

I just don’t think this comedy needed the gross-out element. There was enough comedy! In fact, I feel like there is going to be a fuller movie with the  deleted scenes on DVD, as some of the plot points felt a little abandoned. But then again, we don’t see these films for the stories, do we? We see them to giggle at women who earn it, take after devastatingly awkward take.

To summarize, I will end with the wise words of Kosmundo, who had this to say about the film:

so yes, it was funny. but at the end of the day, the lady heart is really why i liked it. for the brunch scene and the couch pep talk and the wilson phillips dance moves – if i have to sit through ladies crapping themselves in pretty dresses, to get real/funny/honest representations of what friendship looks like for me, i’ll take it.

Want more?

NY Mag has a great roundup of all the Bridesmaids coverage.

And if you’ve seen it? You’ll probably want to watch this:


Cave of Forgotten Dreams

How do you feel about historical nature movies in 3D? Most people (including me) would probably be, “Meh, I prefer to watch James Cameron’s elaborate, expensive and rather froofy version of nature again.” Wrong answer. I foresee a great demand for 3D cinematic versions of real-life wonders. Soon we will be like the rotund people in Wall-E, rolling ourselves to see GRAND CANYON VI: WHEN CONDORS ATTACK.

Chauvet Caves courtesy Wikimedia

Until then, we’ve got treasures like Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog’s brief but beautiful look into the Caves de Chauvet, caverns in the South of France discovered in 1994 with some of the earliest examples of prehistoric art.

I had never heard of the caves, but who doesn’t love a prehistoric mystery? Even though, as the droves of French researchers (seriously, these caves must sustain fifty grants alone) prove, archaeology is not done by dashing men with fedoras and whips; it’s done by poring over maps and data.

Especially when, due to the fragile nature of the caves’ ecosystem, the French government has restricted researchers’ access to one month of the year, and entirely banned the public. Herzog and his team got very special permission to film there for less than one month.

And once you see the footage, you’ll be thankful they did. One thing I appreciate as an American used t0 History Channel, sensationalist documentaries is that Cave of Forgotten Dreams didn’t rely on testimonies of experts and drag out the great reveal. Instead, we get to appreciate the amazing pictures, in their oscillating glory, early on. (Nice to know that artists 20,000 years ago are much, much better at rendering horses than I am).

The footage alone would make for a splendid, if slightly stilted, documentary – like the type that plays in museums in the background displays. But Werner adds his apparently infamous Herzogian take on human’s early artistic efforts. He asks one of the professor types about early man’s musical efforts, attempting to stretch the art of the caves to a giant allegory for WHY WE ARE HERE.

But it’s his touch that makes the film quirkier than a standard documentary. Herzog ends the film with some albino alligators, a move that has gotten some talking, but makes the whole experience stick in your mind. At the very least, the images of the caves will haunt you.

Want more?

Read the 2008 New Yorker article by Judith Thurman that piqued Herzog’s interest. Werner Herzog was interviewed by GQ recently, and the Paris Review. Learn more about the Chauvet Cave on Wikipedia, or check out the French government’s site.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

On the tail of the royal wedding is probably an auspicious time to examine our particular fascination (as Americans at least) with the British aristocracy. The runaway success of the British series Downton Abbey confirms that this obsession still runs deep.

When I heard of the series, I thought it was created just for me. I have written before about my love of the interwar time period in England. From Gosford Park to The Remains of the Day, I have come to adore the upstairs-downstairs dynamic    (upstairs are the landed gentry; downstairs are the people that serve them).

Downton Abbey actually begins right before World War I, with the sinking of the Titanic. Unfortunately for Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and his family, his heir and daughter’s fiance drowned when the ship sank. Now his three daughters and wife face the possibility of losing everything if he dies due to a pesky entail.

What the show does so well is explore how people attempt to reconcile their personal desires with the social constraints around them. Both the Earl’s family and the servants that work for them must follow a set of archaic protocols. Dress for dinner. Lock up the maids’ rooms at night. Elaborate hunting parties (though I think those still happen).

But history is quickly catching up with the family, and you can practically watch the old ways come crashing down on the beautiful abbey. The smallest differences in age, like between the eldest and youngest Crawley girls, become monumental as both take on new world views as to what they are capable of as young women. Funnily enough, the most thrilling victory comes for one of the housemaids, who manages to escape and become a secretary. (Just fifty years before Peggy Olson…)

I’m not doing the best job of explaining the plot, but then again I don’t want to ruin it. Suffice to say, it is heavy with drama of seductions, plots, love affairs, covered up deaths, and (gasp!) ruined reputations. It’s currently streaming on Netflix, and has been renewed for a second season so I suggest catching up. One of the best things I’ve watched this year.

Want more?

Downton Abbey preview

The Fighter

The Fighter poster, via Wikimedia

What’s the deal with ‘based on a true story” movies anyway? Is it any less remarkable that someone came up with a notion of a plot that warms the heart, blows the mind, tickles the funny bone? Most “true stories” are sanitized for audiences anyway. Why the desire to coat it as “real”?

I wonder this because “The Fighter” seemed at first like unlikely choice for a sports movie. “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlburg’s) rise to fame is not epic; he defended his WBU Light Welterweight championship for only one year.

It’s really the second story, about Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) where the plot gets its forward motion. Dicky used to be a real boxer, once beating Sugar Ray Leonard. After his win, he’s drifted, training Mickey some, but mostly delving into crack addiction. An HBO crew is filming him, purportedly film his comeback, but actually for a film about addiction. Dicky is in prison when he watches this. He has let his own career go and he’ll let his brother’s go as well.

Mickey has depended on the tutelage of his brother and mom Alice (Melissa Leo) as his manager to direct his less-than-stellar career. And he’s not very dynamic, so it’s hard to say where he would have ended up as a boxer had he not met the scrappy bartender Charlene (Amy Adams), who challenges him to stand up to his overbearing family. But the family does not take kindly to letting him go. There’s a frankly awesome scene when Charlene takes on Mickey’s seven Boston-style Greek chorus sisters.

Because Mickey is not really “The Fighter” of the title; his skill in the ring is to be able to withstand the tough punches. No, it’s his brother, Bale at his manic and twitchy best, who has the verve to push Mickey to be a better boxer than he is. Both Bale and Leo got Supporting Oscars for their roles, and they seem to feed off each others’ energies. No wonder Dicky is Alice’s favorite kid: they both have the same drive and will to make life happen.

The film rests heavily on the great performances by Adams, Bale and Leo, but director David O. Russell can’t seem to decide if he wanted a straight-up “Rocky” style movie or something more quirky. What he gets then is an uneven mash-up. Still, a fine entry into the uplifting sports film genre.

Want more?
Maybe you’ll giggle at this take up of Boston-set movies, appropriately called Boston Movie (via