Moriarty RUMBLES! Manzarek And Moriarty In NYC! JACKASS One Of Year
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
There’s a lot of ground to cover this week. I’ve got my long-promised look at a new indie film featuring Sylvester Stallone called SHADE, something that should make AB King dizzy with joy. I’ve got my reviews for two exceptional comedies, JACKASS and OLD SCHOOL. But I’d like to start with a look back at the weekend of September 27th and a whirlwind last minute trip that we’ll call...
MANHATTAN DOES MORIARTY!!
When does a day begin? Because technically, my trip started Wednesday night, Sept. 25, in Los Angeles. I left the ground after 10:00 at night and didn’t land in New York until just before 9:00 the next morning.
The plane trip was uncomfortable, to say the very least. I was the only person onboard unable to sleep, evidently, and I learned several things during those long, cramped hours.
(1) “Spirit” is Delta’s special code word for “really, really fucking tiny.”
(2) My knees do not, in fact, bend backwards.
(3) The dickhead seated in front of me did not care. Not one little bit.
Until Monday of that week, it looked like New York wasn’t going to happen. For one thing, I’m literally neck-deep in work these days. My head is almost completely occupied with thoughts of POSTHUMAN. I’ve got all these new characters rattling around in my skull right now, and each day brings them into focus a little bit more. Every conversation with the notorious Harry Lime fleshes out this action sequence or this character arc or that exchange of dialogue a little bit more. As all these little bits start to add up into a (hopefully) exciting whole, I get a little more lost in the world of this particular story.
Then there’s that whole “desperately broke” thing.
”What?!” you say. “How can you be broke? Didn’t VARIETY mention some outrageous figure, some giant wheelbarrow full of money that was being wheeled up to your door?”
Well, sort of. And I’m sure when I get paid, things will be delightful at the Labs. We’ll light our cigars with $100 bills and blow our nose with the twenties. We’ll take Scrooge McDuck style baths in gold coins and do the backstroke through silver pieces. But as anyone who has ever done business with any studio knows, these things take time. It’s just something you learn to expect. Until then, I’m still doing the same old “broke and lovin’ it” dance that I’ve done for the last four years or so. And I’m not complaining, either. If I was all about money, I would have walked away from AICN and screenwriting years ago. It’s just one of those things that means that occasionally, you pass on doing things you want to do, and as much as I wanted to go to New York, I was prepared to let it go and just wish everyone well with the event.
So god bless Tim Sullivan and Brett Nemeroff and, above all, Ray Manzarek.
They all felt it was important for someone to be there to host the evening and to introduce Ray and to put the official AICN stamp on things, and they decided that they would move heaven and earth and make the last-minute arrangements and get my Californian ass across the country for a little East Coast adventure, no matter what.
Hence the plane. Hence the trip.
I touched down, caught a shuttle from La Guardia, and spent the next two hours creeping into the city. I ended up dropped on the corner of 38th and 8th at just after 10:00 in the morning, dazed, unprepared for the light rain that was falling, hungry, and more than a little cranky. I managed to walk past the entrance to the hotel about four times. It was better disguised than the train platform to Hogwarts, and it was only once I deduced that the door to the dry cleaners might also lead somewhere else that I found the front desk of the Manhattan Hotel.
There was a key waiting for me, and I made me way up to the third floor, where I collapsed through the door. Thursday afternoon was just about sleep. Surreal, disrupted sleep thanks to a phone that kept ringing and some impatient guy from the front desk who kept actually letting himself into the room just to tell me that I had phone messages and a drummer rehearsing, playing the same damn drum riff again and again in the next building over. If five hours spent hovering on the verge of consciousness can be called sleep, then, yeah, I guess I slept.
So finally I struggled to a state that closely resembled being awake, and just in time, too. Tim Sullivan came bounding into the room we were sharing, ready to figure out what we would be doing for the next few days.
Speaking of the room... did you see THE BLUES BROTHERS? You remember Elwood’s room, where it was basically four walls and a bed? Well, that was pretty much the same layout for us. Tim kept telling me that he was fine with the floor, proving to me again that Tim is brave beyond words. He also told me to be at the Society Hall at 7:00 so I would have time to talk to Ray before his piano concert with George Winston that night. It was about 4:00 when he told me that, and before we could really talk about anything else, he was out the door and on his way to the sound check.
No problem, I thought. I have something else to do first anyway, I thought. I’ll just run do this, then cut over to the concert, and it’ll all be easy and simple and uncomplicated, I thought.
I can already hear you laughing.
As I mentioned, it was raining. Remember, I live in Los Angeles, a city where water falling from the sky is akin to some sort of biblical plague. I didn’t bring the right jacket or the right shoes for the rain, but I didn’t care. I was determined to just roll with it. By the time I showered and got out onto the street, it was 4:30 or so, and I had a destination in mind. I struck out on foot, pausing to buy a small umbrella from one of the 4,200 little camera/electronics stores on the same block as the hotel. I walked a few blocks to 40th Street, then cut up towards 3rd.
Walking along like that, the sound of the rain on the umbrella such a great change of pace for me, I was struck by a bit of melancholy. One of the things that I have in common with my girlfriend is that we both love the sound of rain, both of us having moved to LA from far more humid climates. Those rare mornings where it rains and we can just sleep in and listen to that sound... they’re precious. I had to stop at a pay phone and call her at work, where she had just finished lunch, just so I could hold the phone up for her and let her hear the same sound, that THUMPA-TA-TUMPA-TA-TUMPA, just to tell her how much I wish she was there to share it. That quick minute stretched into a few, and before I knew it, I was late, hurrying up the street to try and reach my destination before the end of business.
By the time I reached the offices of Marvel, I was soaked, both from the rain that somehow inexplicably managed to blow up and under the umbrella, and from running the six or so blocks. I must have looked like a crazy person, dressed so lightly, but security was kind enough to send me upstairs anyway, and someone paged the person I was looking for.
Seeing Bill Rosemann walk into the lobby of Marvel, I didn’t know what to think at first. I met Bill when I was ten years old. He was, hands down, the biggest geek I knew at that age, and as a result, we became instant best friends. We each had our own particular fetish of geekdom... I was a movie freak, and he used to mainline comics... but we managed to share our obsessions with one another. We used to talk about how his favorite comics would be handled by my favorite directors and talk about how one day, we’d tell stories of our own.
I hadn’t seen Bill since I was 15, though. My family moved away from Tennessee, and then Bill’s moved soon after. We lost touch with each other. It happens. I moved a lot when I was younger, so I have lost many friends due to geography and youthful distraction. With Bill, though, circumstance brought us back into contact with each other last year. Some of the friends I’ve made from this website managed to connect a few dots, and I learned that the Bill Rosemann who is also known as Your Man @ Marvel, a guy with one of the dream comic geek jobs out there, was actually the same Bill Rosemann I used to know.
The odds of the two of us ending up in jobs that brought us back in touch seemed astronomical, but who am I to argue with that fickle bitch Fate? She does things for her own reasons, and all I cared about was the fact that this adult... this tall, lean, good-looking guy with the closely-cropped hair... somehow had the face of the teenage kid I used to know. Seeing Bill again was like taking a step backwards and forwards in time all at once. It was, frankly, a pure delight.
I spent an hour or so walking from office to office with Bill, meeting the people he works with every day, guys whose names I see on the mastheads of comics I read. I finally had a chance to say hi to Joe Quesada face to face, a guy I have boundless respect for. I got to see all sorts of advance artwork for various books in progress, and Bill gave me a stack of stuff to read on the way home. I also got a peek at a toy that I want immediately but won’t have the opportunity to buy until next summer, giant sculpted foam rubber green fists that you slip on like boxing gloves. They roar when you punch something. They’re called HULK HANDS. And they are ridiculously groovy.
I lost track of time as I joined Bill and many of the other mighty Marvel staffers at a nearby bar, and when I finally thought to ask somebody for the time, it was almost 6:30. I said goodbye to my friend with promises of parties to come next summer in San Diego and guarantees to introduce the wife and the girlfriend when that happens, and then I had to bolt. Bill told me which way to head when I caught a cab, and I sprinted down to 42nd Street. I figured I’d just catch a quick ride over and arrive a little early so I could dry off before I sat down to talk to Ray about the concert and his film and the Doors shows I saw recently in LA.
Forty five fucking minutes, pardon my french.
It took me forty-five minutes to catch a cab.
And don’t get me wrong. This isn’t my first time in New York. I basically lived out there in the summer of ’95, working out of the Tribeca Film Center with Harry Lime on a movie that eventually fell apart in the most magnificent manner. I’ve hailed plenty of cabs in my time.
It was like something out of an absurdist comedy. Not only could I not get a single cab to stop, no matter where I went, but I also managed to get splashed by passing traffic, not once, not twice, but three separate and spectacular times.
I finally managed to leap in front of a helpless old lady who had managed to flag down the solitary empty cab in the entire city, knocking her violently to the ground with a forearm to the throat, and I told the driver to haul ass over to Central Park and 64th. He glared at me and drove a jaunty five miles per hour the entire way.
So it was that I walked into the Society Hall nearly a half hour late. Ray and Tim were nowhere to be found at first, no one would let me backstage, and the guy taking tickets seemed unimpressed by my claims that I should have a ticket waiting. I finally negotiated my way into the auditorium, which felt for all the world like a church. A giant engraving over the stage caught my eye. “The place where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground.” I found a seat down front and tried to relax, pleased that at least the show hadn’t started yet. People filled in around me, and around 8:00, Ray Manzarek and George Winston walked out without fanfare, both of them relaxed and casual.
Two huge pianos were onstage in a sort of 69, and each of the guys sat down, facing each other. I still can’t get over the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Ray recently. We haven’t spent hours and hours talking, but I’ve been able to observe him at work, and I’ve soaked up a lot in these encounters. George Winston is a little under a decade younger than Ray, and he seemed as impressed by Ray as those of us in the audience were.
Winston’s new album is all jazz arrangements of Doors songs for solo piano, and Ray was so impressed by the album that the two of them decided to play this show together. “The Crystal Ship” was a beautiful way to start the evening off. There was no introduction. They just sat down and started playing. Within moments, I was entranced, forgetting completely about the rain outside.
“Love Street” was next up, and it struck me how different it was to see Ray in this context. For once, the keyboards were the whole song. No vocals. No guitar. The dynamics of the music were totally different. George Winston provided Ray the perfect companion onstage. There was a great sense of play between the two of them. These are Ray’s songs, but they were Winston’s arrangements, and it looked like Ray was hearing these songs for the first time. He was delighted, occasionally talking along as he played, letting loose with the occasional lyric, his foot tapping in time. “Love Me Two Times” proved that the evening wasn’t going to be some mellow VH-1 affair, injecting a bit of raunch into the proceedings. Ray finally slipped off his jacket, getting comfortable, laying actual copies of the CD onto the strings of his open piano, altering the sound for a very experimental version of “My Wild Love,” one of the evening’s unexpected highlights.
Before he played “Love Her Madly,” Ray plugged the AICN screening the following night, telling everyone about his first film as a director, underselling the heck out of it. There’s an offhand quality to Ray when he’s talking about what he’s up to, like he’s not trying to hype you at all. He’s going to be there, he’s going to show the film, and if you want to show up... great. If not, he’s still going to have a good time. He’s loose, totally at ease, and it should be noted, he’s very funny in person. He did a wicked impression of John Densmore before launching into “Light My Fire,” which closed out the first half of the evening. He and George left the stage, and as the house lights came up, I stood to walk around a bit and stretch my legs. I was feeling the effects of the travel and the lack of sleep and the rain, and I wasn’t sure how long we’d been listening to the music. I practically felt like I was out of body during the thing, and I wanted to wake myself up a bit.
I managed to find Tim in the midst of the crowd, and he pointed out where he was sitting with his mother and a friend. Tim had a camera with him, and he was shooting footage for an ongoing project, a document of all the things Ray’s working on right now. Tim’s like me, one of these proto-GUMPS who drifts through life, somehow landing in these amazing places and doing these amazing things.
He was one of the producers of DETROIT ROCK CITY, and it was really his blood, sweat, and tears that connected Gene Simmons and Mike De Luca, allowing the film to happen. Tim’s three great passions growing up were KISS, The Doors, and horror films, so it’s somehow fitting that he’s made a career with DETROIT ROCK CITY, his current work with Ray and the band, and with his upcoming film 2001 MANIACS. We spent the intermission talking, and he told me one of those “How stupid can some people be?” stories about how Macauley Culkin’s agent managed to not only profusely insult Ray on the phone that morning, but also managed to guarantee that Culkin, a massive self-professed Doors fan, would not get a chance to read for Ray’s upcoming film RIDERS ON THE STORM. It was one of those moments where someone’s total ignorance manages to not only offend someone, but also cost a client work. It’s not like Culkin is exactly turning roles down at the moment, either. It’s a shame. RIDERS is a good script with three really strong young lead roles. Eddie Furlong, who I met at the House of Blues show by the Doors a few weeks ago, was the first person to sign up for the film, and there’s a number of other interesting young guys currently circling the project.
The second half of the show began with an elegaic version of “Summer’s Almost Gone” that felt especially appropriate with the weather outside. “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” was up next, and it set Ray off on a string of memories about how that was the first song Jim ever sang to him sitting on Venice Beach. He described the process of recording the song with Paul Rothschild, and that set George Winston off in turn, talking about how he first stumbled across the music of The Doors and how it changed his entire life and his opinion of what music is supposed to be. Ray played a solo tune next, “Take It As It Comes,” talking about his work with poet Mark McClure, who he accompanies sometimes. He spoke of his regrets that he never got to play for Jim in the same way, and that this song was written “for Jim to read his poetry to. One day, we’re going to play this together.” It was achingly beautiful, the music of loss and memory. George followed this by playing his only solo piece of the evening, a selection from AN AMERICAN PRAYER’s CD release. It’s actually an original composition by George to accompany “Bird Of Prey.” It was so beautiful that Ray actually turned away from the audience so he could have a private reaction.
Afterwards, they played “Riders On The Storm” together, and it was a real reminder of just how epic and lovely the song really is. Even though that was supposed to be the final song of the night, the audience managed to coax them back out for one encore, “Soul Kitchen,” and Ray couldn’t contain himself any longer. He ended up singing along again, and even though he doesn’t have what I would call a great singing voice, there’s something so passionate and undeniable about the way he sings these songs that you just end up with this grin on your face, a natural reaction to such open exuberance.
By this point, the evening was pretty much a hazy blur for me. Fatigue had set in and I barely knew where I was. We went to some sort of nightclub, loud beyond comprehension and so dimly lit that I had to navigate my way through the dance floor by braille in search of our friends. Then we went walking in the rain, looking for bars, and found one where we began to piss off a bartender by unstacking chairs, a group of 12 of us trying to find a place to sit, and before we even started to shake the rain off, we were told the bar was closing.
It was 2:00. It hit me that I was supposed to get up the next day to try and get myself and Ray onto THE HOWARD STERN SHOW at some unholy hour, so I bowed out and headed back to the hotel. I figured sleep would be a simple thing by that point.
Turns out, though, that the drummer I heard earlier in the day was just the tip of the iceberg. We were evidently right next to a full-blown rehearsal studio, one that was mysteriously not soundproofed, meaning I was treated to the sound of a band playing the entire Strokes album live. Not once, either. Not twice. Over and over and over and over. For all I know, it was the actual Strokes, making sure they know all their own songs.
Whoever it was, they played until almost four in the morning, and I was finally able to drift into a sort of giddy, exhausted near-sleep that was disrupted mildly when Tim walked into the room, and that came to a sudden and ugly end at around 6:00, when Tim woke me up so that we could figure out how to handle the entire HOWARD STERN issue.
I had the office number that I had used earlier in the week when I talked to Gary Dell’abate’s assistant. For some reason, though, no one answered. The main K-ROCK switchboard kept sending me to the same number, and again, no one answered. They were there, and we knew it. All you had to do was switch on the radio to know for sure. So we decided to just pack up and head over to the studio and see what was going to happen. Originally, I had talked to the show about being on to discuss the SUPERMAN script with Howard, a well-known comic book fan. I was going to spring Ray on him as a surprise, since I know he’s also quite fond of The Doors.
Never got the chance. I made it as far as the lobby for the show, where I was greeted by Ronnie The Limo Driver, who asked me for my name and my reason for being there. Everything looked like it was going to be good until Aria Giovanni showed up with a stack of her all-anal porn DVDs. I listen to Stern every morning, so as soon as I saw her, I knew the score. Comic books... porn... no contest. Ronnie came to escort her in and ask me to leave, and that was that. Yeah, I ended up on the show by phone the following Monday, but Howard never even learned that Ray Manzarek was ready to drop by at a moment’s notice just to say hello, and I felt terrible about it at the time.
Back in the room, there was no chance of getting back to sleep, so I worked a little and then went out to lunch with some friends I made at Ebertfest this year, a filmmaker and his wife, a recently published author. Cool folks. Good meal. Long conversation. I took the subway and managed not to get lost or confused. At least, not until I got back to the hotel and tried my key. The door to the room didn’t open. I tried it again. Still nothing. I was standing there, confounded, trying the key again and again because, as tired as I was, it just wasn’t making sense to me.
The guy who I vaguely remembered from the day before, the one who kept walking into the room while I was sleeping, finally came walking up to me and started yelling at me in something that almost resembled English. Something about “an hour” and “reserved,” and then he kept pointing at the stairs.
So fine. Back downstairs I go. I wait for some other guests to finish checking in and then asked at the front desk why my card key wasn’t working. “What room were you in?” the woman at the desk asked. 309, I told her. She immediately realized who I was. “You suitcase! Here! We have for you!” Sure enough, all of my belongings were packed up and stored in a side room, along with a note from Tim. “We’ve been kicked out. Find me at Brett’s hotel. 236 W. 59th. Room 2419.” Okay. Easier said than done. Thanks to the state of heightened security that seems to permeate all facets of our daily lives now, you can no longer go upstairs in most hotels without having a card key of your very own. Doesn’t matter what explanations you have or how normal or rational you are. And it certainly doesn’t help if you’ve just dragged your luggage ten blocks in humidity so thick that you’ve begun to make your own gravy.
I took a few phone calls, but I finally got Tim downstairs to the lobby. He told me a story about how our room had somehow been rented out on an hourly basis, and as Tim had been run out of the hotel, there was literally a sweaty businessman waiting in the hallway with a hooker, eager to get into the room. As I tried to cope with my severe case of the heebie jeebies, Tim was able to wave his card key and fend off hotel security long enough for us to head upstairs, where I basically had time to shower and change and get all my luggage together to make sure I was ready to leave town almost immediately after the screenings. One more adventure in New York traffic convinced me to stop bitching just because of a little extra congestion around the Highland and Franklin intersection, and it didn’t help that Tim and I had the wrong address for the Clearview Cinemas where the night’s event would be taking place. By the time we got things sorted out and got to the right venue, it was time for things to get started.
NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE was the first film of the night, and I’ve written about this film before. Hell, I’m quoted on the one-sheet. This is one of those tiny films that needs to be mentioned over and over because they just don’t have the marketing budgets to fairly compete with studio fare or even most of what’s called “indie” film today. I’ve made no secret of my affection for Adam Rifkin’s grimy little slice of misery, and I was pleased to present it even if the audience was very small. 6:00 was the start time for the show, and it seemed like that was just too early for a lot of New Yorkers to be able to make it to the screening.
For those who did attend, we got to do an unexpected Q&A with Vinny Argiro who plays Mick in the film, one of the two main characters. I didn’t know he was gong to be there, but our off-the-cuff conversation for the audience was, I thought, a lot of fun and very revealing. Vinny doesn’t really edit himself when he talks, which makes him a real fun interview. He talked about how Farrah Fawcett was set to play the Anne Magnuson role, how she shot several days in the role, and how her increasingly bizarre behavior led to her eventual replacement. All of this is documented in a behind-the-scenes film that Vinny says will be on the DVD whenever it’s finally released. So much of Rifkin’s film is made up of near-documentary moments and atmosphere that I’m curious to see just how that line was intentionally blurred.
There was a brief break between shows, and I was relieved to see the theater fill completely for the next film. The primary reason for the night was, after all, the premiere of Ray Manzarek’s directorial debut, LOVE HER MADLY. This was the only film of the evening that I hadn’t seen before the screenings, and I was nervous. I like Ray, and talking to him about the various artistic projects he’s working on, his enthusiasm and joy is clear and unmistakeable. I’ve read the script for the film he’s going to make next, RIDERS ON THE STORM, and I think it’s ambitious and imbued with a really daring spiritual side. It has the potential to be something really special.
So in a way, I’m glad he got LOVE HER MADLY out of his system first.
It seems strange to say when the filmmaker is a world-famous rock star multi-millionaire, but this is very much a student film, with all the bumps and bruises that term implies. Its cast tries incredibly hard, but none of them are able to make much of their largely unsympathetic roles. For the most part, they’re impossible to relate to. They’re types, not people, and it keeps us from being drawn into any of the emotions that we see played out in rather obvious fashion. It’s a shame, too, because there’s some potential here. If we were able to really understand the madness that is supposed to grip the main characters, then maybe we’d be drawn in and we’d be willing to take this intense ride with these people. Instead, we watch these events unfold without ever once being in danger of actually feeling them.
Ray explained that the initial idea for the film came from Jim Morrison himself in the days after film school but before they started The Doors. The basic premise, for which Jim gets a “story by” credit, takes place on a college campus. As the film begins, there’s been a murder, but we aren’t sure who’s been killed, or why, or even how. The film flashes back in time 24 hours so we can meet Hadley, a beautiful drama major, as well as the three men who are obssessed with her. One is her theater professor, a former Pulitzer Prize winner who lives in a bottle now, coasting on his laurels while he “writes” his follow-up play. One is a sculptor, her supposed boyfriend, and all he ever seems to sculpt is her lithe nude form. Finally, there’s a video maker with ties to internet porn who sees dollar signs when he looks at Hadley. Each of the men is inspired by her in some way, and she feeds off of it, playing each of them to get what she wants.
And, as an idea, that’s a pretty good one. The execution, on the other hand, is a case of someone still learning to put it together as you watch. To be fair, the theater totally fucked Ray on the exhibition of the film. They lost his print and had to show a digi-beta tape version instead, and somehow the sound got off-sync even as the picture washed out completely. As a result, it’s hard to fairly judge the film on a technical level. I have no idea what the cinematography of the film actually looked like, since the version we saw was overbright to the point of being indistinct.
As always, Ray was engaging and self-effacing during the Q&A after the film, and he didn’t try to oversell the movie. He answered questions about the production with his typical laconic dry wit, and he stayed until the Clearview Cinemas literally forced us to wrap things up so we could get the next screening started. I think it would be wrong to call LOVE HER MADLY a disappointment, since I had no real expectations one way or another. Let’s call this a necessary first step, and let’s see what Ray can do with RIDERS ON THE STORM. If there’s anything Ray’s proven over the years, it’s that he is a rennaisance man, willing to try new things and push himself, and willing to fail at times. That’s something to admire in any artist, whether the filmmaker pays for his movie with his rock-star royalties or his credit card he can’t pay off.
Finally, we filled the theater again for the 10:00 show of INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSASSIN, Neil Burger’s debut film that I recently reviewed. I’ve described it as “JFK meets THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT,” but that doesn’t do justice to the real wit of Burger’s script and direction or the quiet power of Raymond J. Barry’s performance. This film’s getting a limited release from Magnolia Pictures, starting the same day as the release of HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. I’m guessing that the Warner Bros. sequel is going to have an advertising budget of, say, about 300 grazillion times what INTERVIEW is going to be able to spend, but if you don’t want to face the crowds of families that weekend, just remember that there will be a smart adult alternative out there, even if you might have to do a little legwork to find it.
In another happy accident, I was surprised when Neil actually showed up, and I thought he handled the Q&A like a pro. He’s a young guy, and he’s justifiably proud of his film. I wish we’d had more time to talk after the film, but he had to get back to the wife and kid, so I found myself with the last people there, a group of about 15 AICN readers, the last determined few, with no clear plan for what to do.
There was a VIP afterparty I’d been invited to where Ray and Tim and Brett were all waiting, and all day long I’d been hearing things like “The MAXIM girls are going to be there” or “Keith Richards is confirmed.” I knew I couldn’t take all the readers to the party, and I didn’t want to be a douche and just brush them off. After all, you guys are the ones who visit the site and read these rumblings of mine. We decided to walk down the street to the nearest bar, and we ended up hanging out and talking until just after 2:00 in the morning. I’m glad that’s how things actually ended up playing out. I’m sure they never missed me at the afterparty, and it was a chance to see a few old friends and to make a few new ones. It was one of those conversations where hours flew by in minutes. I’ve always said that the best part of the entire AICN experience is the people I’ve met in the last five years, both those who work in the industry and those who just read the site.
I headed back to the hotel just long enough to claim my luggage, then caught a cab to La Guardia. As we drove over the bridge (and, no, I don’t have any idea which one it was) past the giant neon Silvercup Studios sign, I was beyond exhausted, but I was also pleased. It was a preposterously paced trip, but it was packed with great people and some vivid memories. My sincere thanks to Ray and Tim and Brett for making it happen, and to Danielle of the New York Independent Film and Video Festival for her efforts, and to everyone I talked with or ate with or drank with during the trip. You guys reminded me exactly why I love New York so much, and you proved that the city is unchanged in the ways that really matter, no matter what’s happened in the last year. I can’t wait for my next visit.
STALLONE IS MADE IN SHADE!!
What is it about Sylvester Stallone?
I’ve long since given up on the idea that ‘80s action icon Ahnold is ever going to set aside his pursuit of the filthy lucre in exchange for doing smaller, more daring films. He might make good movies in the future, but he’s never going to really take a chance again. It’s just not the way that particular Terminator is programmed.
But every time I’m about to give up on Stallone for similar reasons (I mean, my god, did you actually SEE the abomination that was DRIVEN?!), he turns around and does something that keeps him interesting and relevant. COPLAND may not have been a great movie, but it was sincere and smart, and Stallone was quite affecting in his role. Now, a few years and several largely unreleased films (D-TOX, AVENGING ANGELO) down the road, Stallone’s pulled another ace out of his sleeve in the form on this clever little con game written and directed by newcomer Damian Neiman.
The film opens with a visually arresting opening sequence that perfectly sets the tone for what follows. It’s just close-up cardwork, a pair of hands expertly manipulating a deck of cards. It’s all real, too, something made obvious by the long, uninterrupted take. I’m fascinated by any opportunity to watch a good mechanic work, and this film is set in that world of the professional card sharps.
In fact, the opening titles are so interesting that I forgot to actually read the titles, so I had no idea who to expect in the film. As a result, I had no snese of what was coming, a real rarity for me with things these days. There’s an opening scene set in the ‘70s with Jason Cerbone (Jackie Junior from THE SOPRANOS) at a card game that goes bad and ends in gunplay, an extended sequence that ends in a Mexican standoff.
And then we jump to present day. And suddenly we’re following Tiffany (Thandie Newton). There’s a con in play, a scam underway. Thandie lays the trap expertly, a perfect turn, and then Charlie Miller (Gabriel Byrne) moves in to clean it up and make the kill. The two of them are a wicked pair, and the con they’re running is little more than them warming up for something better. They’re about to break in a new partner. It’s Tiffany who brings Larry Jennings (Jamie Foxx) into the mix, and it’s Charlie who teaches Larry the method by which they’re going to drain a local high-stakes game.
Jamie Foxx, by the way, has changed my mind in startling fashion with the work he’s doing in films like this one and ANY GIVEN SUNDAY and ALI. They’re both flawed movies, but Foxx shows far more range and depth as a performer than I ever would have believed possible when I was working as a closed-captioner, forced to endure his truly miserable sitcom on the WB. In SHADE, Foxx is a nimble, restrained comic presence, and both Newton and Byrne play beautifully off of him. One thing I enjoy in movies like this is the way a good director can trick you even as the characters onscreen are falling for the various deceptions. David Mamet loves making this kind of film, and I think Gabriel Byrne must, too, between this and THE USUAL SUSPECTS. You’re never really sure who the main character is, or who’s telling the truth about what, and that’s the kick of the thing.
A wild card suddenly turns up in the form of Vernon (Stuart Townsend), an artist with a deck of cards, and right away, it’s obvious that he’s got history with both Charlie and Tiffany. Vernon’s in town hunting big game, though, a legendary card player known as “The Dean.”
And that, finally, brings us back to Stallone.
Age has made Stallone’s face fascinating. He’s become the MAD Magazine version of himself in one way, those basset hound eyes buried even further in that sharpei landslide of skin, but there’s a rumpled dignity to him now, too. There’s a strange conundrum in his first big scene, though. He’s just rolled into town, and the first stop he makes is to see Eve, his old girlfriend, played by Melanie Griffith. We’ve seen this type of scene a million times, the old gunslinger finally ready to hang up his guns, looking to see if he’s got a home, a place he can finally come to rest. Stallone makes the scene worth watching, though. He’s very real, and there’s a weight to him. He lets his face tell the story for him. The only problem I had with the scene is that it’s played at such a different rhythm than the rest of the film that it takes the movie a few scenes to recover afterwards. It’s one of those odd cases where it’s a great little moment, but it might not be the right moment.
In fact, that seems to be one of Neiman’s main quirks as a writer/director. He loves to digress. There’s a scam involving Thandie Newton in the middle of the film that is, on its own, quite funny and well-done, but it’s played almost as a cartoon, broad and hovering just this side of absurd. The best stuff in the film pays an affectionate tribute to not only the cons but the characters who perpetrate them. One of the best scenes in the film takes place at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, where Vernon checks in with his mentor, a grand old man of the game known as the Professor, played with maximum charm by Hal Holbrook. The Magic Castle is a private club for magicians, and the only way to go is to be invited by one of the members. There are close-up parlors, theaters for different types of performers, a great restaurant, and cool shit everywhere you look, including a player piano that will play any song you tell it to. I’ve never seen anyone use the place in a film before, and Neiman manages to capture exactly what it is that makes the place so cool, that sense of a verbal history handed down, one magician to another, and the way the con community is almost exactly the same. The title SHADE refers to a particular sleight of hand move, a distraction designed to keep you from seeing the real move, and the film is just exactly that, a massive game of misdirection, where you’re always trying to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to trust, and what is just another set-up, just another scam.
These films only really work if it’s fun trying to outfigure both the characters and the filmmakers, and SHADE delivers all the way to its last twists and turns, with performances that really crackle (special mention must go to Stallone, once again, who embodies a particular sort of Old World charm) and a low-key wit that never strains, that never seems to work too hard. This is one of the first films from the revitalized RKO Pictures, and it’s an encouraging sign of life for producer Thom Mount. If this is the sort of thing they’re going to be making, then they should definitely be worth paying further attention to.
REASONS WHY MY FACE HURT, PART ONE!!
A little over a week ago, I missed BUFFY for the first time in three seasons. Totally forgot it was on. Didn’t think about it until the next day, actually. I didn’t have time to think about it.
I was too busy enjoying OLD SCHOOL.
Todd Phillips made a fair amount of money for Dreamworks his last time out with ROAD TRIP, an amiable teen comedy that made memorable use of DJ Quall and Tom Green. My first exposure to Phillips was the still-controversial documentary FRAT HOUSE, which he co-directed with Andrew Gurland. Those two films seem to have been a near perfect warm up for what is easily his best film so far. Like ROAD TRIP, OLD SCHOOL is an ensemble comedy that’s light on plot and long on character-based gag sequences. Like FRAT HOUSE, this is a big rude middle finger to the Greek mentality. Phillips is credited with co-story and co-screenplay on the film, and he does seem to be establishing a personal style now as a comedy director. For one thing, he’s very generous with his performers. He gives them room to experiment, and as a result, there’s a natural easy chemistry between Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn as the three main characters in the film. Wilson brings his charming goofball routine to the role of Mitch, a guy living an average life as a corporate lawyer. He comes home early from a convention in San Diego to catch his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis in a very funny cameo) in a rather unusual and extreme compromising position, and Mitch is shattered. He has no choice but to move out.
This leads to a near-complete meltdown at the wedding of Frank (Ferrell). Mitch’s abbreviated and graphic best man speech, the wedding singer who seems preoccupied with the word “fuck,” the whispered warnings from Beanie (Vaughn) even as the bride walks down the aisle... this one sequence delivers so many big laughs that it won me over completely. Phillips milked the situation with a very relaxed sense of control, and by the end of it, I was willing to pretty much follow these characters anywhere.
Good thing, too, because the set-up is all sort of off-the-cuff and perfunctory. Mitch has to get a new house. For some reason, Beanie picks it out, putting Mitch into a huge two-story place just off-campus. It seems that Beanie has a plan to get Mitch all the college-aged pussy he can handle.
Oh, yeah... did I mention that OLD SCHOOL is going to get an R?
I appreciated that the debauchery we see here is not played safe and tame. The first party in the new house lets us know just how broad and how lewd this film is willing to get. Ferrell’s new wife is worried about him partying because of his drunken alter ego, “Frank The Tank,” and Ferrell promises to behave himself. One “harmless” beer bong leads to another, though, and before you know it, Frank’s completely naked and standing onstage with Snoop Dogg, drunk to the point of being a menace.
Fans of the TV show 24 will be delighted to see Eliza Cuthbert show up in Luke Wilson’s bed the following morning clad in little pink panties and a baby-t. For Mitch, it’s proof that life is not over, and he’s actually feeling optimistic until Jeremy Piven shows up as the university’s Dean, who just so happens to be the same guy that Mitch, Frank, and Beanie used to torture back in high school. He takes great delight in telling them that the house has been rezoned following “Mitch-A-Palooza,” and now it’s for university use only, meaning they’ll have to leave. It’s pretty thin as an excuse for the rest of the movie, and there’s not much to Piven’s role as written. He’s a pro, though, and manages to have fun whenever he’s onscreen, especially towards the end as he reveals the full glory of his weaselhood.
In the end, that’s what a film like OLD SCHOOL should be about: fun. I don’t want to learn or grow or be changed for the better. I want to laugh, and this film delivers in scene after scene. The guys get the idea to start their own fraternity. They end up with a mix of college kids and other oddballs like a Korean businessman and a 90-year-old guy named Blue. There’s a romantic subplot about Mitch trying to finally connect with Tracy (Ellen Pompeo), who he’s had a crush on since high school. As is often the case, the romantic subplot is less interesting than the comedy, and it almost always feels like things have to slow down to accommodate these scenes.
There’s not many of them, though, and there are so many big laughs that I’d forgive the film almost any misstep. Artie Lange, Matt Walsh, Sean William Scott, Leah Remini, and Craig Kilborn all show up in smaller roles, and Andy Dick contributes one of his trademarked grotesques to the party. There’s a scene involving Will Ferrell, rented animals from a petting zoo, a children’s birthday party, and a tranquilizer gun that had our audience screaming with laughter. Even the ending, which seems slightly lifted from BACK TO SCHOOL, manages to include some inspired moments and gags. If there is a God in Comedy Heaven, OLD SCHOOL is going to be a huge spring hit for Dreamworks, and it should give Ferrell enough box-office clout to make a starring vehicle like ROD BURGUNDY, ACTION NEWS MAN! It should also prove that Todd Phillips is one of new young mainstream comedy directors worth paying attention to, a budding star like Jay Chandresekhar or Jake Kasdan. Whatever he’s up to next, I’m interested after seeing this.
REASONS WHY MY FACE HURT, PART TWO!!
I’m not kidding or exaggerating, and I’m not just trying for a cheap shock when I say this. I’m completely sincere.
JACKASS: THE MOVIE is assured a spot somewhere on my 10 Best Of The Year list, and I can’t imagine we’ll see anything strong enough to convince me otherwise in the next two and half months. It’s the funniest film I’ve seen since SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT, and is a unique comic masterwork that has to be seen to be believed.
And I’m guessing that a fair number of critics and social commentators are already gearing up to declare it the end of cinema and society as we know them.
I’m pretty sure that what I saw is the final MPAA-approved R-rated cut, and if so, I’m flabbergasted. The Farrelly Brothers at their filthiest come across as children’s entertainment by comparison.
Do you know where your gooch is? Do you even know if you HAVE a gooch?
If you don’t have an answer now, you will after this film. You’ll learn about the gooch and you’ll see demonstrations of all sorts of essential skills like “Department Store Boxing” and “Tropical Pole Vaulting” and you’ll wonder to yourself the same thing that everyone wonders:
What the HELL is wrong with these people?!
Director Jeff Tremaine describes this as “a coming of age film about nine young men who wander the world in search of love and companionship.” He is, of course, insane. JACKASS defies easy categorization, and I’ve noticed how quick people are to dismiss it, sight unseen. Earlier tonight, someone told me that only idiots would laugh at the show or the film, and they lumped it in with BUMFIGHTS. That’s not really fair, though. JACKASS isn’t about exploiting unfortunates or victimizing anyone. It’s performance art, and if you’re going to discuss the thing, you have to start by discussing the performers themselves.
Much like rap music, the world of underground comedy had an east coast/west coast division at first. BIG BROTHER SKATEBOARD MAGAZINE was home to Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O (originally trained as a Ringling Brothers circus clown), Jason “Wee Man” Acuna, Dave England, and the remarkably dirty Chris Pontius. The CKY videos (still more extreme than anything this R-rated film contains) were the outlet for Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, and Brandon Dicamillo. Somehow, Tremaine and Knoxville got MTV to pony up the money for a show that united both groups into JACKASS, 24 episodes of which scarred MTV starting in October of 2000.
What makes the show and now the movie so fascinating is the way all these absurdling outsized personalities collide, and the way they each add some particular strain of dementia to the mix. Knoxville is the “non-host host” of the thing, with his hyper-casual “Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville, and this is JACKASS” serving as the closest thing the whole endeavor has to a catch phrase. He’s the most normal and approachable of the guys, one of those people who just seems down to earth and comfortable onscreen no matter what. He’s also got the best “pain face” I’ve ever seen. Much of the humor involving Knoxville has to do with him getting very badly hurt. He suffers at least one blatant concussion in the movie, prompting the devastatingly-funny-in-context question, “Is Butterbean okay?”
Steve-O is the authentic circus geek of the bunch, willing to pass food or other objects in and out of the various openings in his body in the most disturbing ways you can imagine. Whereas Knoxville hurts himself for the sake of the joke, Steve-O seems determined to actually torture himself.
Bam Margera, on the other hand, gleefully tortures those around him. He’s got this one particular look, this smile that he flashes for the camera just before his most malicious moments, that is like the look a shark gets when that protective membrane rolls up over the eyes, just before the feeding frenzy begins. Looking at how he treats his long-suffering father Phil (a sequence involving pre-dawn fireworks contains the film’s single best visual gag), I’d be afraid to see what Bam does to the people he DOESN’T love.
”Wee Man” and Preston Lacy make a remarkable set of bookends in many of the jokes, Dave England proves that even among these guys, there is still a way to lose even more dignity, and Ryan Dunn pulls off a joke so heinous that even Steve-O said “no” to it. Even executive producer Spike Jonze gets into the act in an ongoing joke that is hilarious and horrifying at the same time. Everybody has their moments to shine, like the way Pontius is able to bring Party Boy out to play over and over, or the way Ryan steps up for some of the most punishing of the new routines.
And by now you’re saying, “So what? What merit is there to any of this?” And if you’re not saying that, then you no doubt already know the answer to that question.
What value is there?
None. Not a goddamn bit.
Imagine the anarchy of DUCK SOUP without any of the social relevance. Imagine the malicious physicality of THE THREE STOOGES without the exaggerated sound effects to remind you it’s all fake. Imagine something that feels like the Comedy Apocalypse played out with the volume turned all the way up to 11. Sometimes, you just want to treat the brain like a punching bag and toss something crazy at it. There are things you’ll see in this film that you can’t unsee, as someone once warned Nicholas Cage. I can’t promise that you’ll laugh as hard as I did, but I can promise that if this film gets a hold of you, it won’t let go. It may pull your pants down, stick a taser in your gooch, shove a lit firecracker backwards up your ass, shave part of your hair off and run you over with a bike, but it will not let you go until you have literally been exhausted from laughter. I’ll go back to this movie opening weekend just to watch an audience wrestle with the sheer assault of it all, and I can’t freakin’ wait.
Now, I’ve got to run because I have another column to finish, stuff I owe you including your first look at the David Hayter adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel, WATCHMEN, one of the single most difficult properties to translate to the bigscreen. Did Hayter pull it off? Can ANYONE pull it off after a genius like Terry Gilliam failed to crack it? I’ll also have my review of NARC, which opens in December, and a sneak peek at the next film from NARC director Joe Carnahan, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, written by Scott Frank and set to star Harrison Ford as Matthew Scudder, the main character in a series of novels by Lawrence Block. And, yeah, I guess I could get around to reviewing that LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING Extended Edition at some point, too, eh? I guess I’d better get busy...
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Oct. 17, 2002, 6:28 p.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
Guys... we're still experiencing some server confusions, mainly on the part of myself, so I goofed up. As a result, your earlier TalkBack is gone now. I apologize. Certainly wasn't the intent.
Oct. 17, 2002, 6:45 p.m. CST
by Bad Guy
On the topic of Sylvester Stallone, I have to agree with Moriarty. I thought he was great in CopLand. Sly could be a fine character actor if he ever gives up trying to be the "action star". I hope SHADE is a comeback for him, he could use it.
Oct. 17, 2002, 7:46 p.m. CST
Ok, that review was...verbose??? Let's hear about the extended version already!!!! Any links to Jackass clips???
Oct. 17, 2002, 8:23 p.m. CST
Perhaps you should start posting your epic missives in separate, spread out chunks. Lately I've found them so frickin' long and, as someone just said, verbose and overwhelming, that they're exhausting to get through (and not in a good way). I like comprehensive pieces, but man, brevity has its place. I think you risk losing even your hard-core readers with such padded pieces. You post original content so infrequently, what would be the harm in posting more regularly via breaking down the work?
Oct. 17, 2002, 8:25 p.m. CST
by Doom II
...still pretty good. I only wanted to know about Jackass:The movie and from what I've read so far, it will include Johnny Knoxville getting the webbing in between his toes sliced with a sharp business envelope, then sticking his feet in a fish tank filled with rubbing alcohol. OUCH! The price of fame. Old School sounds pretty good also. We shall see!
Oct. 17, 2002, 8:33 p.m. CST
Woo Hoo! I'm third! Yeah!....okay, I'm retarded. Can't wait to see the new Stallone film, though. -out
Oct. 17, 2002, 10:10 p.m. CST
Are you telling us you deleted a whole mess of talkbacks and you can't even bring them back? I wouldn't describe this as a "goof-up" as much as I would be inclined to describe it as a "really major fuck-up". Especially the AICN System Mainetenance Notice talkback...do you know how glad we talkbackers are to be able to talk about absolutley nothing; how much of a relief it is to have no topic to stick to? It sets us talkbackers free, we discover a whole new fun-loving frat-boy side of ourselves, instead of finding the nerdy computer geek-boy side we find in ourselves all too often on this site. If you're not going to do shit about this REALLY MAJOR FUCK-UP you could at least post another general talkback to give us a fleeting hope in discovering that side in all of us again and recreating the collective magic in the talkback on that day.
Oct. 17, 2002, 11:10 p.m. CST
by Noriko Takaya
The current slash is 2.2.6. Go. Download. Compile. Feel the joy as AICN finally enters the 21st Century. That is all.
Oct. 18, 2002, 1:16 a.m. CST
Sly recieved many awards for COP LAND, but I think he deserved an Oscar nomination. I hope the Academy doesn't overlook him with SHADE. Moriarty says the performances are top notch and the film is VERY GOOD. The Academy LOVES indie films. Stallone will be back on track with SHADE. Forget about EYE SEE YOU (a.k.a. D-Tox) and AVENGING ANGELO. SHADE will help bring back his clout...then it's on to Luc Besson's action spectacular and RAMBO IV. Hollywood will learn they should never have tried to count Sly out!
Oct. 18, 2002, 10:38 a.m. CST
you're a mastermind... what else is there to say?
Oct. 18, 2002, 11:04 a.m. CST
i'm pretty sure the surviving doors would be tired of all this milking by now.... OH WAIT THEY'RE ON TOUR WITH THAT GUY FROM THE CULT. jimmy's rolling in his whiskey bottle filled grave.
Oct. 18, 2002, 12:38 p.m. CST
It's raw, human, sincere and compelling. A long way from Harry's overblown masturbatory pieces :) Still.... I think the balance is there, Moriarty laid back and Harry on the spotlight :) I love this site. ^_^
Oct. 18, 2002, 5:27 p.m. CST
thanks!! it`s just great being here and getting the chance of reading such wonderful articles... despite the fact that it took hours till i reached this site(well it`s the only site i reached here today at aicn anyhow)!!!! aaarrghhhh ... oh folks! catch the catch me trailer!! it`s fantastic!!:)
Oct. 18, 2002, 10:49 p.m. CST
Really? Man, I've been out of the loop. Please tell me they're not using that godawful Sam Hamm script.
Oct. 19, 2002, 2:06 a.m. CST
MAJOR JERKOFF. The fact that you got so upset posts were erased, much less took the time to write about it. Get a life you loser. PS - Moriarty, try brevity. I'm a trial attorney and it works wonders.
Oct. 19, 2002, 11:08 a.m. CST
Oct. 19, 2002, 11:20 a.m. CST
It's pretty clear he's a 100% nerdy computer geek-boy. He can't comprehend the emotions of a real Talkbacker, it's so sad. He has no sentiment, no sensitivity, no real emotions and no real life. I must have really confused you just touching upon those subjects, Burke. ("Eee-moeee-shuns?") Silly me, I used to think there some kind of humanity behind every Talkbacker. Now I'll have to change it to "almost every Talkbacker". And by the way, you'll notice that Moriarty spoke in this very talkback about the subject of the deleted posts, so my talking about it in return was not out of line. Thinking about all this must have really drained your batteries, you cold-hearted robot.
Oct. 19, 2002, 11:26 a.m. CST
Saw THE RING yesterday and, sure enough, all of the dickens was scared straight out of my body. If anybody should come across any free-floating dickens in the Dallas area, please drop me a line. I'd like to have it back so I can have it scared out of me again when I see THE RING on dvd. And, speaking of, I'm not really sure how calm I'll be about watching THE RING on a television. My father touched my butthole.--BATEMAN
Oct. 19, 2002, 11:29 a.m. CST
Mmmm....I must see the reactions gotten...these fools at the theatre last night brought in blank tapes and left them in different seats in the movie theatre, and this bunch of girls were screaming their heads off when they found them when the flick was over(no, it wasn't me...=P). I laughed a bit, but then I thought....nah, i don't need that bad karma...samara might get me for that shit...LOL. Very decent flick though.
Oct. 19, 2002, 3:51 p.m. CST
Oct. 19, 2002, 3:53 p.m. CST
Spare us the extra verbage, dude.
Oct. 19, 2002, 3:58 p.m. CST
Geezis, I hope I don't end up sitting next to YOU, dude! That's gonna HURT and stink!
Oct. 19, 2002, 5:17 p.m. CST
Fuck you, prick. Why don't I never talk to you again and you pick at your rust while watching the pro wrestling marathon. Asshole.
Oct. 20, 2002, 4:01 a.m. CST
I live in Canada so we don't get it, I've only seen clips here and there on various friends computers (ie. Brad Pitt being kidnapped/ Fast Food Football). Personally, I WANT this to be my first experience of Jackass in its full. me and a few of my buddies are going to get loaded and go see it. I can't wait . . .
Oct. 20, 2002, 9:39 p.m. CST
Yes. Harry, Moriarty... SOMEONE!!! PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE get a threaded talkback! Ugh! This site is so 1995!
Oct. 20, 2002, 11:57 p.m. CST
Hope SHADE is as COOL as OCEAN'S 11 was!
Oct. 22, 2002, 8:13 p.m. CST
by Lord Summerilse
I guess the reviewer never saw Clive Barker's "Lord of Illusions" which features some scenes inside of the Magic Castle (though admittedly it also built a few sets trying to pass themselves off as actual Castle locations). Lord of Illusions even features a cameo from one of the Magic Castle's favorite magician residents, Billy McComb. Check it out...
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