How True Should a “Based on a True Story” Movie Be?

Posted on January 2, 2015 at 8:10 pm

What does “based on a true story” really mean? The Washington Post had a front-page story titled, “‘Selma’ sets off a controversy amid Oscar buzz,” describing the objections by Lyndon Johnson administration insiders to the way he was portrayed. They say it was his idea to go to Selma, that he supported Dr. King’s efforts, and that he had nothing to do with the FBI’s surveillance and J. Edgar Hoover’s sending tapes of King’s supposed affairs to Mrs. King.

Historian Michael Bechloss has posted this handwritten note made by King for his conversation with LBJ:

Vox’s Matthew Yglisias has responded to the criticisms from those who object to the portrayal of LBJ’s views and actions.  

And now my friend Jen Yamoto is summarizing objections to “Selma” and to other “based on a true story” films “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “Unbroken,” and “Big Eyes.” Some of these are the concerns of those trying to make sure that those who take their “history” from Oscar-worthy feature films at least begin to question the capacity of any dramatic work to be accurate in conveying historical events.  But some are just sniping by competitors in the Oscar race.

As Jen writes:

Oscar voting opened Monday, and like clockwork, the haters have come calling. As Deadline’s Pete Hammond wrote on Monday, ’tis the season for controversy over fact-based awards contenders: Now, Bennett Miller’s real-life Olympian tragedy Foxcatcher and Tim Burton’s art exposé Big Eyeshave joined MLK Jr. drama Selma, the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken in ducking for cover over accuracy issues in mixing fact-based stories with narrative structure.

Even the most scrupulous accuracy will still reflect choices of perspective, tone, and emphasis.  The best we can hope from any work of art is that it is the beginning, not the end, of an inquiry into the subject.

The Guardian takes on the portrayal of Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game.”

Movie critic Ann Hornaday has an excellent piece on this subject in the Washington Post. She wisely concludes:

if the Gotcha Game is here to stay, we can at least agree on some new rules. And we can begin by adjusting our own attitudes toward fact-based films and their inevitable nit-pickers. Rather than the dualistic one’s-right-one’s-wrong model, it behooves audiences to cultivate a third eye — a new, more sophisticated way of appreciating both the art and the reality that inspires it.

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Trailer: Helen Mirren in “The Woman in Gold”

Posted on January 2, 2015 at 8:00 am

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Neue Gallery
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Neue Gallery

It is one of the most famous paintings of the 20th Century, a masterwork by Gustav Klimt, a portrait of his friend Adele Bloch-Bauer. It was confiscated by the Nazis during WWII. And then, 60 years later, it became the subject of an international lawsuit as Bloch-Bauer’s niece sued the Austrian government for its return. That case was the subject of three documentaries, Adele’s Wish, Stealing Klimt, and The Rape of Europa.  “The Woman in Gold,” a new feature film about the lawsuit with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, will be in theaters this spring.

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Happy 2015! Here’s What’s Coming to Theaters This Year

Posted on January 1, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Happy 2015! Some of the most highly anticipated films we expect this year are sequels. We’re going to get the rebooted “Star Wars” called “The Force Awakens,” with original stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, as well as Anthony Daniels, joined by some of today’s most exciting actors, including Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, and Domhnall Gleeson. Another chapter in the Narnia saga is coming as well, “The Silver Chair.” The final chapter of “The Hunger Games” is coming, a second “Maze Runner,” the next in the “Divergent” saga, and the sequel to “Finding Nemo,” called “Finding Dory.” We’ll be seeing lots of superheroes, too, with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Ant Man,” a Justice League movie, and another “Fantastic Four.”

There will be a seventh “Fast and Furious” movie, and fifth entries for “Mission Impossible” and “Terminator.” “Pitch Perfect” gets a sequel — hurray! Also “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” So do “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Ted,” “Magic Mike,” “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Hotel Transylvania,” plus third entries for “Taken” and “Kung Fu Panda” and a fourth for “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” There’s going to be a “Peanuts” movie and a “Goosebumps” movie.

We’re getting some remakes, too: “Poltergeist,” “Friday the 13th,” “Point Break,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (based on the 1960’s television series, this version starring Hugh Grant and Henry Cavill), and Disney’s live action “Cinderella.” The new “Mad Max” looks like more of a reboot (and it looks sensational).

Also coming: A sci-fi epic from the Wachowskis called “Jupiter Ascending,” with Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, and Mila Kunis; “Focus,” a con man story with Will Smith and “Wolf of Wall Street” breakout star Margaret Robie; the romantic period drama “Serena,” re-teaming Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper; “Tomorrowland” with George Clooney; a “Peter Pan” prequel with Hugh Jackman, a “Despicable Me” spin-off about the cute yellow minions, “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” with Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson; and “Home,” with Jim Parsons as an alien named “Oh.” “In the Heart of the Sea” stars Chris Hemsworth in a Ron Howard film based on the story that inspired Moby Dick. And, just in time for Valentine’s Day, “50 Shades of Gray.”

And one of my favorite writer/directors (Tom McCarthy) has a new film starring Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler. It’s called “The Cobbler.”

Here’s to a year of great movies and great reviews of awful movies!

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Tribute: Edward Herrmann

Posted on January 1, 2015 at 10:41 am

The loss of actor Edward Herrmann was a sad end to 2014. His elegant, patrician quality made him a perfect choice to play real-life characters like Franklin Roosevelt in Eleanor & Franklin and its sequel (and in “Annie!”) and fictional characters like Richard Gilmore in Gilmore Girls. I first noticed him in a tiny role as the piano player in The Great Gatsby. In just seconds, with the way he held his shoulders and his expression of resolute good cheer, he told us everything about the life of a man living on the good will and careless extravagance of others. He was perfectly cast as the headmaster of a prep school in the delightful “Lawrenceville Stories,” unable to hide his amusement at the antics and pranks of his charges.

He was an exceptionally accomplished narrator of audiobooks, including No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Home Front in World War II.  When Martin Scorsese needed a voice of impeccable credibility to create a “Wolf of Wall Street” television commercial for the film, he went to Edward Herrmann.

Lauren Graham, who played his daughter on “The Gilmore Girls,” said,

Ed Herrmann’s combination of pure charisma plus his distinctive voice lit up any room he entered. He had a gentlemanly manner, a wicked sense of humor, and a sharp wit. He was well-read, interesting, and just plain fun to be around. He had deep respect and love for the craft of acting and led by example. You wanted to be better prepared, or just plain better, because he always was. He brought such humor and humanity to all his work, but I know the character of Richard Gilmore had a special place in his heart. He loved our show and was touched by the enthusiasm of its fans.

May his memory be a blessing.

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