Tag Archives: Biopic

Problem Children with Big Eyes who make Biopics that’ll give you Goosebumps: An Interview with Larry Karaszewski by Kent Hill

As the child from a working class family in South Bend, Indiana, Larry was introduced to the movies by his father. He was not restricted as to what he could watch, so he watched it all. After high school he debated between pursuing either a career in comedy or a life in pictures.

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Larry opted for the movies, and soon found himself at USC. It was there that he would meet Scott Alexander, and together they would form not only a friendship, but also the foundation of a prolific career as a successful screenwriting duo.

After (and though it launched a trilogy of films and even an animated series) Problem Child, the screenwriters struggled to find work. It seemed as though they had been typecast buy their work and so looked to independently produce a biopic they were working on about the notoriously bad filmmaker Ed Wood.

As fate would have it, word of the project reached director Tim Burton. After expressing interest, the boys would have to hammer out a screenplay in double-quick fashion. They succeeded, and this, the first in a string of biographical efforts, would re-establish them in Hollywood and from it they would carve out their place in the genre and become, in many ways, its ‘go-to guys.’

Biopics of Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman would follow, seeing the boys team up with Academy Award winner Milos Forman. They would go on to re-team with Tim Burton as well as dabble in a variety on different genres including everything from a kid-friendly version of James Bond to horrific hotel rooms were you’ll spend a night or perhaps even an eternity.

Larry and Scott have garnered the highest accolades the industry has to offer and continue to deliver. While trying to get a hold of Larry for this interview I caught him riding high on his recent wave of success, so I would just have to wait for the tide to turn. I am however, glad that I did. It was, as it is ever, a privilege to chat with a man whose work I heartily admire. I love the films he has written and I look forward to the projects that he and Scott have in the pipeline.

Without further ado I present, the award-winning screenwriter and all-round nice guy . . . the one, the only, Larry Karaszewski.

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GUS VAN SANT’S MILK — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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In 2008, eclectic filmmaker Gus Van Sant released two films: Paranoid Park, a challenging and formally adventurous indie, and the more classically structured but no less emotionally stirring biopic Milk. I’ve long been fascinated by Van Sant’s interesting and unpredictable career, and his film about San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay politician in the U.S., remains as powerful now as it did when I first viewed it almost 10 years ago. Sean Penn delivered a splendid performance as Milk, and everyone around him, including James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, and Diego Luna all offered fantastic supporting turns. Dustin Lance Black’s sharp screenplay was heavily researched, the dialogue intelligently written, and the film carried a sense of the tragic almost from the beginning. Shot by the incomparable cinematographer Harris Savides, the film had a vibrant and period-authentic aesthetic, which helped to solidify the time and place of the socially combustible narrative. Harvey Milk stood up for the entire gay community in the United States when nobody else dared to speak up for what they knew was right. This made him both loved and hated; wherever he went and whatever he did, his actions provoked passionate responses from everyone who crossed paths with him. The level of conviction that Penn brought to the role of Milk was remarkable, as he fully jettisoned any lingering elements from previous performances, totally embodying the man in both body and spirit. Here was a man who decided that enough was enough – it was time to set things right for himself and everyone like him. Penn breezed through the film with likable ease, and because death hangs over the proceedings so ominously, there was genuine sadness when he met his ultimate fate.

The other actors were all up to the task as well. Franco, playing Milk’s lover and first campaign strategist Scott Smith, gave one of the best performances of his career; combined with his hilarious turn in Pineapple Express, 2008 was a banner year for Franco. Penn and Franco, from the first scene, generated real on-screen chemistry, making their relationship all the more special and affecting. Brolin was absolutely gripping as the confused and desperate Dan White, a man who may or may not have been gay himself, giving a chilling performance as a person unable to understand the potential differences in other people; it’s a role that could have been oppressively one-note, but Brolin brought layers of emotion and mental complexity to the role. Hirsch registered strongly as Cleve Jones, one of Milk’s political strategists, and Luna, playing Milk’s emotionally troubled boyfriend Jack Lira, brought skittish, nervous energy to every scene he appeared in; you never quite know what will happen when he appears on screen. Van Sant has led an extremely idiosyncratic career as a filmmaker, and after embarking on some seriously avant-garde works (Elephant, Gerry, Last Days, and the previously mentioned Paranoid Park unofficially form a rather brilliant quartet of minimalistic storytelling), it appeared as if he wanted to prove that he could still deliver a more traditional and commercially friendly piece of filmmaking, and that he did with this engaging, wholly engrossing time capsule. And in working with Savides for the fifth time on Milk, Van Sant seamlessly blended archival footage with vivid re-creations of San Francisco in the late 1970’s; the atmosphere that this film possesses feels tangible. It’s sort of like a visually thematic cousin to the work that Savides did on David Fincher’s masterful serial killer/journalism thriller Zodiac. Danny Elfman’s score was never intrusive yet offered wonderful moments of musical inspiration while Elliot Graham’s fluid editing kept the two-hour run time moving along at a swift but unhurried pace. As far as biopics go, this one is at the top of the pile.

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NICOLAS WINDING REFN’S BRONSON — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Bronson was the film that brought director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Tom Hardy into my cinematic sights, and since then, I’ve followed both artists with intense fervor and anticipation. This film is like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and even if it blends elements from other films within its framework, the overall originality of the entire endeavor is wild to watch unfold. The film uses a highly stylized structure consisting of surrealistic performance art, abrupt flashbacks, and jarring tonal shifts which makes sense given the extremely heightened aesthetic. Hardy stars as real life British convict Charlie Bronson, aka, The Most Violent British Criminal Ever, a man given to massive fits of rage and stunning moments of primal, animalistic physical violence. The film is a crazy, bloody, kinky kaleidoscope of his oversized life, showing him in an out of the slammer, trying to adjust to the outside world, falling in love, getting mixed up with a variety of wacky side characters, and always spinning back on Bronson’s violent tendencies in almost every situation that he faced. Hardy is extraordinary, giving quite literally one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from any actor in any film. This is a forcefully bizarre movie, and he carries the entire thing, appearing in almost every scene, and letting it all hang out (literally and metaphorically), giving a ferocious performance of astonishing energy and personal chaos. His character is so unpredictable and so unstable that the viewer is constantly left to wonder what will happen next. All of the supporting performances are stellar and help contribute to the zany mood of the entire piece.

And then there’s the eccentric, eclectic soundtrack, featuring numerous classical opera pieces, as well as stuff from The Pet Shop Boys, Doris Day, and David Cassidy, all of which adds to the dense sonic layers of the soundtrack. I love how Refn brilliant subverts your expectations at almost every turn with this perverse movie. He knows you’ve seen other prison films and biopics, and I love how he defiantly refuses to play anything safe in this movie, which is probably the best overall piece of work in his already sensational career. He downplays the customary visual language of this particular genre, going for something more aggressively stylish and baroque than usual, and I love how he’s constantly undermining the inherent masculinity of Bronson as a character and the thugs that he encountered. The way Refn views his psychologically complex lead character suggests that he’s both in awe of Bronson, and totally in fear of him. Macho posturing is elegantly skewered all throughout, with the interesting layer of homosexual social commentary thrown in to spice things up, and also demonstrating the interesting duality to Bronson’s unique persona. Refn is constantly provoking his audience with every film he makes, always throwing multiple layers at you, and it seems to be his M.O. as a filmmaker to challenge whatever genre he’s working in, and it’s going to be extremely exciting to see how he develops as a filmmaker.

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