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Have you seen posters for the movie “The Watch”?  It’s the movie with Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn as suburban neighborhood watch guys, and it comes out at the end of the month.  I think they’ve just started the marketing campaign for it, because posters just started going up all over LA.

I am very cynical. I’ve been that way since the 3rd grade, when I discovered I had to wear glasses all the time and my already-unglamorous life become even more so.  So, choosing to work in the entertainment industry was probably not the best idea for me, since I tend to look down on most things as dumb (True story: When I was leaving Boston for LA, one of the guys I worked with said, “I don’t think you’ll like LA; you’re very ‘Boston’ in the sense that…you think everything is stupid.”).  Working in the business side of entertainment, you tend to scrutinize things pretty harshly.   I try to remain human about it, but you would most likely be horrified at the superficial way we look at things and people. I suppose we sort of have to – if a movie poster or commercial doesn’t look good, you’ve probably already lost half your potential audience. Most people have the attention span of a retarded fly, so there is no reason to assume that people are interested if you haven’t hooked them with something in the first .2 seconds they see your stuff.  But it starts to permeate how you view the world, and it’s not a very kind way to live.

Earlier this year, George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin for reasons most of us still don’t understand. Truly, it seemed like a senseless act with the end result of a young life cut tragically short.  Zimmerman was the “self appointed head of the Neighborhood Watch” in the Florida community where they both lived.  To the outside world,  Zimmerman seems like some kind of wanna-be police officer (and probably a racist) with a paranoid personality who shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun.

The original title of “The Watch” was actually “Neighborhood Watch.”  You have to know for a fact that, as soon as news broke about poor 17-year-old Trayvon Martin getting shot by a Neighborhood Watch guy, some executive somewhere in Hollywood said, “Oh, shit” (or worse) and started making phone calls. Hence the name change to “The Watch.”  No one putting out a comedic summertime movie wants to be associated with a controversial media event, much less a teenager getting killed.

The bigger thing that struck me about the movie poster, however, is proof to me that I am doing poorly at keeping my cynicism at bay and my profession is only validating and encouraging this unflattering personality trait.  The poster features the four lead actors – Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, and Richard Ayoade.  Wait, who? Exactly.  I’ve never heard of Richard Ayoade before.  A cursory look at his IMDB page shows that he seems to be a respected to comedic actor in his home country of England.  I am a total dork for British comedy, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt here.  He must be very funny to hold his own with the other three lead actors, or he wouldn’t have been cast. However, regardless of how great you are in a movie, unless you are  a “name” and a proven box-office draw, you don’t make the movie poster.  However, Ayoade is half Nigerian.  I can’t help but think, in an effort to truly distance themselves from the idea of racist neighborhood watch crazies, the studio and marketing department deliberately included him on the poster with three men who are surely much more famous than he is.  In the industry in which I work, I believe this is what passes for “logic.”

Regardless of whether he wanted it or not, Richard Ayoade will now be much more famous in the US than he probably could have imagined.  I can’t help but think that if Trayvon Martin hadn’t been killed, that might not be the case.

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…the movie, not the holiday.

So my wife broke into our netflix queue last week and bumped the Ashton Kutcher opus Valentine’s Day to the top so that we would have it in time to “enjoy” by Saturday.  For the uninitiated, it is like Love Actually (and you cannot understand how difficult it was for me to write that; Valentine’s Day is a movie like  Love Actually in the same manner that I am a basketball player like LeBron James) but basically a bunch of seemingly disperate characters shockingly become inter-locked by the end.

I am, more or less, playing with my phone and looking up exclusively when there is a Jessica on the screen (Alba, Biel (alphabetically)).  But my wife is trying to piece it together like we are watching an M. Night Shyamalan puzzle that she is trying to solve; guessing how each piece fits with another.  Then we have this exchange:

Her: So they’ll end up together.

Me: What?  Who?

Her: Ashton and Ben Affleck’s wife.

Me: Aren’t they brother and sister?

Her: I don’t think so.

Me:  I’m pretty sure they are.

Her: Well, that would be interesting.

Turns out she was right.  On all counts.  They weren’t brother and sister.  They did end up together.  And that would have been interesting.  I mean, as it stands it is an incredibly weightless bit of pop fluff but to add the brother-sister element makes it feel like you’re reading a John Irving novel.  I’m not saying that I endorse this tact, I’m just saying that at least it would make for a more interesting film.

Can’t wait for New Years Eve!

 

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1).  I love dialogue.  In movies (and in real-life) pretty much all I’m looking for is erudite conversation.  When I write, all the notes come back “Great dialogue.  Meh, everything else”.  I love dialogue.  But the first ten minutes of this movie was so rich and so dense with two people talking that even I found myself thinking that if it continued like this for two hours my head would explode.  These ten minutes alone should get Sorkin an Oscar.

2).  Five years ago if I asked you who’s career you would rather have Michael Cera’s or Jesse Eisenberg’s, I would imagine that no one would pick the latter.  Both cut from the same stammering nebbish cloth, Eisenberg seemed like the guy studios went to when they couldn’t get Cera.  Now I would have to say that Eisenberg is on the verge of the A-list while Cera is dangerously close to a lifetime of playing GeorgeMichael Bluth.   Plus “Zombieland” was the bomb!

3).  Does anyone else think that casting a single actor to play the Winklevoss twins seems like a bit of tying-one’s-hand-behind-one’s-back on Fincher’s part?  Really, there were no actual twins who could have played those roles?  You had to “Benjamin Button” one guy to get the effect wanted?  I mean, it worked but it smacked of the kind of thing a director would do strictly to impress his peers.

4).  Casting Justin Timberlake as  a “douche-bag” is reverse casting at it’s peak.  For the record, I loooove JT.  It is my contention that he is the greatest talent in America today.  In former times (before A-listers could (almost) exclusively be movie-stars) he would have been Dean Martin.  He kills on SNL.  He kills on his albums.  He can sing and dance, he’s hilarious, he’s good looking, he dates the hottest women in the world.  I can totally see why the Zuckerberg character was seduced by him in the movie.  What was really difficult was seeing past awesome Timberlake to the character he was playing and realize that maybe everything he was saying wasn’t the awesome-est thing ever.  Hard to level with what we know to be true…that Timberlake is awesome!

5).  I am not on the Facebook but I do appreciate how they are willing to alphabetize all the girls from high school that I wanted to bang.

6).  Were I the real Mark Zuckerberg, I would contact the boys over at “Funny or Die” and put together a little short wherein I portray Jesse Eisenberg portraying me as if I have a low form of Asperger’s Syndrom.  Well, I guess that is one of the things I would do were I Mark Zuckerberg.  I guess the first thing I would do would try to put a dent in the list referenced in #5.

7).  The movie is really good you should go see it.

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1).  Jimmy Duggan is Jimmie Foxx

The put-upon manager in “A League of Their Own” is based on the Hall of Famer known as “Double X”.  Due to some poor, post-baseball investments the all-time home-run leader of the Philadelphia A’s was forced back into baseball later in life.  Unfortunately a serious drinking problem precluded him from being given the reigns of an actual major league franchise and so he found himself managing a bunch of girls during World War II.  He hit .325 with 534 homers in his career but, if not for a name change, would be most remembered as the guy who said that “there’s no crying in baseball!“.

2).  Johnny Drama is Johnny Alves

Many of the characters on “Entourage” are thinly-veiled parodies of actually Hollywood players.  Some are obvious while others you (or I might not get). For instance,  Ari is based on the Rahm Emmanuel’s brother who is as powerful in Hollywood as Rham is in D.C..  Not much is known about Mr. Alves given the fact that he is not actually famous.  He is basically Mark Wahlberg’s cousin and (assumedly) fulfills many of the same functions for Mr. Wahlberg that Drama fulfills for Vince.  There is no word as to whether Mr. Alves and whomever is the inspiration for Turtle ever really “crossed swords” in the bad kind of three-way.

3).  Jeff Dowd is The Dude

Some times there is a man…Some times there is a man who was one of the “Seattle Seven”, did a stretch in the can, moved to LA, produced some b-movies and became the basis for one of the most iconic characters in the history of cinema.  Also, that man is apparently a pretty good bowler.  Dowd is now on the lecture circuit giving his version of what really happened to Bunny Lebowski.

4).  John List is Keyser Soze

The original title of “The Usual Suspects” was “Who is Keyser Soze?”.  Had that title stuck, the answer would have been “John List”.  List was an overly-average middle American who, at one point, murdered his wife and their three children.  And then, like that, he disappeared.  He was at-large for almost twenty years before he was apprehended.  Writer Christopher McQuarrie has said that List was the basis for Soze, though, obviously, not a direct knock-off (no pun intended).  Where Soze was a spook story gangsters told their kids, one more imagines List to be a spook story that husbands would tell their families.

5).  Duncan North is Dex

Back when people used to make independent movies that could be consumed by mainstream audiences (instead of wholly for miniscule niches), there was a great little romantic comedy called “The Tao of Steve”.  It was basically the story of this over-weight kindergarten teacher named Dex  who did a bit too well with the ladies for someone in his station in life.  It was a witty script with winning characters (and a Lemonheads’-heavy soundtrack).  Apparently Duncan North was the basis for Dex.  Originally the director had intended on making a documentary about him but must have realized that that would either be really self-serving or really creepy and so they made a nice rom-com.

I include this here not because society has been clamoring to know on whom Dex was based but perhaps because not enough people are aware that Dex exists.  If you take a single point away from having read this let it be that you should bump “The Tao of Steve” to the top of your netflix queue.

Who have I missed…

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This morning on the Kevin & Bean Show in Ralph Garmin’s “Movie Beat” segment, he mentioned that movie-goers should sit through the credits of Iron Man 2 because there is bonus footage after the credits are done rolling.

Nothing pisses me off more than this ploy. First, because of my general feeling that movies today are just way too long. There’s no need to make a movie longer than 90 minutes.  If your movie is exceptionally excellent and  compelling, like The Hurt Locker, you are allowed to make it to the 2 hour mark. But movies that are 2.5 or 3 hours long? That’s just lazy editing.  I’ve never sat through a movie that long without looking at my watch and thinking, “When is this bullshit over? The plot stopped making sense 20 minutes ago. I have shit to do, and I really have to pee.”

Second, because it’s incredibly self-indulgent and ego-centric on the part of the filmmakers. You’re so amazing you get to steal an extra 10 minutes out of my day while I sit here like a drone listlessly staring at names fly up the screen until you give me some lame-ass 2 extra minutes of footage?  In my experience, these after-the-credit segments are either not funny/worth the wait, or they are some pathetic and obvious attempt to set up a sequel. 

So, if it’s essential to the plot, put it in your 90-120 minute movie. Otherwise, stop wasting my time.

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A few years ago my sister was working with this guy who (by her accounts) was always shooting his mouth off about his friends in Hollywood.  My sister and her co-workers, as the story was told to me, found him annoying and assumed he was making it all up but had no real way to prove it one way or the other.  Until my sister called him out on it by saying, “My brother wrote a screenplay, why don’t you give it to one of your connections?”   A few weeks past and my sister and her colleges assumed their vindication (I never worked in an office so really don’t fully grasp how these things work, but it all seems pretty petty to me).

However, into my sister’s schadenfreude bliss one morning plopped screenplay coverage on Paramount Pictures letterhead.  Now, this was either some elaborate effort by the co-worker to salvage his reputation as a self-styled man-about-Hollywood or he had actually passed it up the ladder through various connections to a reader at a major studio.  My sister holds it was the former.  I’m pretty sure it is the latter (or, “the ladder” depending on how closely you read that last sentence).

The coverage was pretty flattering (though whenever anyone says something nice about something you’ve written it is flattering).  It was “good” without being “great”.    While I was reading it, I was mentally quitting my job and leaving my wife for the bright lights of super-fame that is promised to any screenwriter.  There were criticisms, and they were valid (especially with the perspective of time for me) and there were some nuanced points that the reader missed (s/he kept referring to my “boy name Sioux” as a “kid named Sioux” illustrating a profound lack of understanding of Johnny Cash and word-play) but over-all it was all very affirmative.

Right up until the last line…

“Because the dialogue in this screenplay is so clever, and because we like Pub quite a bit (unlike many movie criminals) this has a chance at independent production.  But it doesn’t look like a big movie.  NOT RECOMMENDED”

So basically what that meant to me was that I’d written a single that could maybe be stretched into a double but would never, ever be a home-run.  That’s fine with me, there are very few “home-run” movies that I enjoy and I’d pretty much just written what I thought would be a movie I’d enjoy.  Paramount Pictures and I were at cross-purposes and stayed that way.  Until now.

Yesterday, imdb.com hit listed this story from indiewire.com about the fact that Paramount is now seeking micro-budgeted scripts (only in Hollywood and Washington would $100,000 be considered “micro-budget” but I digress).  I don’t know how it’s going to work.  Are they going to solicit agencies?  Take blind queries?  Or are they going to go back through the old files and re-read all the good scripts that weren’t “big” enough?

Either way, I’m going to quit my job and leave my wife, just to be ready.

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Beauty

I just saw this article about Wes Bentley and thought it was worth sharing.  I can remember seeing Spacey on “Charlie Rose” when the American Beauty wave was cresting and I recall him saying something to the effect that what he and Annette Benning et al get out of this movie are awards, but what Wes Bentley gets is that he gets to work for the rest of his life.

It kind of stuck with me because it is a kind of peculiar thing to have said.  There are a million teens who give a strong performance or two then fall away to obscurity (such obscurity that I can’t summon an example right now).  Plus, Hollywood is so fickle that there is little rhyme or reason as to why one actor is a star while another can’t find work.  Then there is the trick of actually finding projects that end up as good on celluloid as they seem on paper.

That’s without even mentioning what actually befell Mr. Bentley, which is probably one of a million land-mines that need to be side-stepped when one is young, rich and famous (I wouldn’t know.  I’m none of those things now and have only been one of them ever (young)).

Hopefully Mr. Bentley is on the right path now because his performance in American Beauty (simultaneously cool and passionate) was one of those things that made you feel like your heart couldn’t take it and it was just going to cave in.

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