Hey, all. "Moriarty" here. Sorry for the interruption, but all sorts of things have been keeping me busy. Some of them are related to my Evil Master Plan To Rule The World, and some of them are simply wonderful excuses to procrastinate.
For example, earlier tonight, I was lucky enough to accompany the lovely Lynn Bracken to see Aimee Mann and Michael Penn at the Henry Fonda Theater. Ahhhh… bliss. The show was wonderful, spanning the entire careers of both performers. Special thanks must be given to Segue Zagnut, who couldn't use his tickets. I'm sorry he couldn't be there, but I'm f'ing glad I went. Hell, if I came up with a ticket for tonight's engagement in the same venue, I'd go again. It was that great. The surprise of the evening for me was that neither performer was the opening act. They walked out onstage together, and they simply traded back and forth, playing something of hers, then something of his, then something of hers. It was a delightful way to spend an evening, and the efforts of comedian Patton Oswalt, who opened the show and provided banter between songs, only made the whole experience better. So here I am, recharged and ready to rumble.
I PREFER "GEEK" TO "NERD," ACTUALLY…
Speaking of Patton Oswalt, I had the opportunity recently to see a pilot for a show that Comedy Central has been considering for their lineup. It's called SUPERNERDS, and it's very nearly a great show. There's some complaints I have, and we'll get to those. Let me tell you what works, first.
Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn are the stars of the show, and both of them are painfully funny men who have shone in past comedy projects. Oswalt, for those of you unfamiliar with his work, appeared in MAGNOLIA at the beginning as the dealer in Vegas who ended up dropped into the tree during the forest fire. He did an HBO half-hour special about two years ago that was, very simply, one of the funniest things I've ever seen. His dead perfect impressions of Nick Nolte as Han Solo or of Tom Carvell of the Carvell Ice Cream Store had me crying. More than that, though, there's a nimble sense of incredibly vulgar word play to what Patton does that defies description. He is blisteringly scatological. Posehn, on the other hand, is a visual punchline, a giant guy with a timid manner, black hornrims, and the slightest wisp of blonde hair struggling to hold on against incipient baldness.
The premise of the show is simple. Oswalt works at a comic book store. Poesehn is his friend who always hangs out there. That's it. What this allows them to do is riff endlessly on all the things that the typical geek is obsessed with. They argue over which heroes are stronger, over which comics are better, over which STAR WARS film is the best. They get a lot of this material exactly right, and it's apparent that they really are these guys. I've bumped into Posehn at Golden Apple (an amazing comic book store) on Melrose at least a half-dozen times, and just last night, Patton did an amazing riff on comic books when introducing Aimee Mann's "Ghost World" (inspired by the Daniel Clowes comic) that rendered me helpless with laughter.
The pilot gets a big boost from the presence of Sarah Silverman as a girl who shows up at the comic book store one afternoon. She walks in with a wealth of comic book knowledge at her fingertips, something that makes both Posehn and Oswalt practically rabid to get to know her. Turns out she's a girl who went to grade school with them, where only Oswalt was nice to her. She's always remembered that, and now she has a little crush on him. This infuriates Posehn, and it's obvious why. Silverman is every geek's fantasy girl… smart, funny, sexy, and totally into comics and SF. She's Lynn Bracken, basically, too good to be true. The pilot's main subplot has Oswalt and Posehn turned against one another when a fellow geek shows up with matching Spock and Kirk salt shakers to sell. The two friends end up bidding against each other, desperate to have the whole set.
So what are my problems? Well, the title for one. There is still such a negative connotation to the word "nerd" that I can't see any self-respecting fan tune in. We are not nerds. We are geeks. There's something chic about being a geek these days. The mainstream has picked the word up and uses it to mean anyone who is totally into something, who has a vast amount of knowledge on a subject, and who is good at what they do. Nerds, on the other hand, get beaten up a lot. Maybe even by geeks.
The other thing that's off about the show is the pacing. Yes, it's a pilot, and that's important to keep in mind. There's a lot of exposition and character establishment to be taken care of. Still, there's something about the rhythms between Oswalt and Posehn when they're having their simple, quiet geek conversations that just doesn't work. Maybe it's because they're overexplaining, something geeks never have to do with each other. Maybe it's just the middle ground between the decidedly different comedy stylings of these two performers. Whatever the case, the chemistry only partially gels here.
I'd love to see SUPERGEEKS (catch that name change?) show up on Comedy Central's lineup at some point. There's another show they will be looking at later this summer… ahem, ahem… that would make a perfect companion piece for SUPERGEEKS once it's on the air. I think there's definitely work to be done to get this show ready to air. That's why it's a pilot, though. This is the episode where things are allowed to not work. Director Troy Miller and the rest of the key creative staff has some work ahead of them here, but it's worth it. The show they have already produced has a living, vibrant comic voice, and it would be a shame if it didn't find a home on the air.
STAY, RONNIE, STAY!!
New Line… De Luca… can I ask what you guys are thinking? You have this great script for RUN, RONNIE, RUN: THE RONNIE DOBBS STORY, the MR. SHOW movie, sitting on your desk. You have a great cast. You have the right director. You have everything you need, but you won't pull the trigger.
How much can this thing cost? Let's talk crazy numbers. Let's say it's $20 million. Don't you remember DUMB & DUMBER? It cost nothing, but it earned you a bundle. Comedies are funny like that. You don't need special effects or giant marquee names for the film. You just need to make people laugh.
You're not seriously going to let Troy Miller and Bob Odenkirk and David Cross and the rest of the MR. SHOW writers start shopping this film around to other companies, are you? I thought New Line was the place projects went after other companies lost the balls to make something.
Guys… you made THE CELL. How much money did you spend on that extremely violent and surreal film that has a limited audience right up front? It's not STAR WARS, after all, or THE MATRIX, even if De Luca wishes it was. It's more like SE7EN with special effects and no moral compass. You sunk tens of millions of dollars into this thing, even though you knew up front that the audience that would eventually see it would be limited to a certain age group with certain interests. With RUN, RONNIE, RUN, you have a comedy that is going to play to an incredibly broad audience, something that's cheap with an almost limitless possible return. When a comedy connects, people can't seem to throw money at it fast enough. This is potentially one of those films.
In the end, there's also a prestige to making this film, guys. MR. SHOW has been one of the most consistent and edgy sketch comedy shows on television, and it's only a matter of time before Bob and David are movie stars. Don't miss out on being part of that phenomenon. You'll kick yourself if you do.
A LONG TIME AGO IN A STATE FAR, FAR AWAY…
Speaking of phenomenons and the fear of missing out on them, a funny thing happened after I wrote my recent piece on being Banned from the Ranch. As denizens of the AICN Chat Room know, one of our regular visitors there is a writer/director by the name of Patrick Read Johnson. He's made films like ANGUS, SPACED INVADERS, and BABY'S DAY OUT. At one point, he was set to make DRAGONHEART with Jim Henson's company signed on to help bring the dragon to life opposite Liam Neeson.
But way back when, Johnson was just one of us, a geek with a dream. He lived in Illinois, a million miles from Hollywood, and becoming a working filmmaker seemed to be the impossible dream. One film changed all of that for him, the same film that transformed James Cameron and Frank Darabont and John Singleton and me and Harry Lime and practically every person under 40 I've ever spoken to about film. It was, of course, STAR WARS.
When Johnson read my article, he came looking for me in the chat room. He told me how much the story had moved him, especially after following the links in the story to the other STAR WARS pieces I've written here on the site. He told me that he had a script he wanted to send me, something I might be able to appreciate. Within moments, 5-25-77 appeared in my e-mail inbox. Right away, the title struck a chord. That date has a hint of the mystic about it for those of us who were so profoundly changed by George's little space opera.
I stayed up until well past dawn reading Patrick's script. I didn't mean to. To tell you the truth, I couldn't afford to stay up that late that night. I had things to do in the morning. I had places to be. And as soon as I started reading the script, none of that mattered. Like Cameron Crowe, Patrick has reached into his own past to craft a moving story of someone finding their voice in a field they love. Unlike Crowe, Johnson has laid himself totally bare. He hasn't fictionalized this story at all. Instead, the lead character of the script is the young Patrick Read Johnson. This is as autobiographical as anything you're going to read, and it's surprisingly painful in places. He hasn't prettied up his youth. He presents his family life, warts and all, to show exactly how unlikely it seemed that he would ever end up directing films.
The premise of the film is simple enough. Patrick evidently visited LA in mid-1976, at which point he was lucky enough to visit the Van Nuys warehouse where STAR WARS and ILM had set up shop. He became obsessed with the film, convinced it would be the biggest thing ever. He spent months and months telling his friends about the film, determined to see the first show on the first day the film was open. When that day finally arrived, forces aligned to keep Patrick as far from the theater as possible. The entire film concerns his quest to see STAR WARS, no matter what.
Of course, that's just the surface. Underneath, this is a film about following your dreams, about doing whatever it is that makes you happy, and it is on that level that 5-25-77 achieves greatness. The last 20 pages of this script were read by me though the distortion of tears, and it's because it spoke to me where I live. This is a film that Johnson wants to make independently, and he and his producers are very close to making some supremely cool casting announcements. I hope this is a film that I have the pleasure of sitting in a theater and watching next year. I have a feeling that it could be important to young filmmakers who are still struggling to find their own wings, their own voices. I know that it spoke volumes to me.
WE'RE THE PIRATES?
When I recently wrote about the script for SPROCKETS, the Mike Myers film based on his Dieter character from SNL, I was very careful to talk around the identity of the film's major villain. I figured it was only fair. Yes, it's a joke. The movie concerns the kidnapping of Dieter's monkey, and the ultimate revelation of who did it is very funny, very silly, and not exactly the kind of earth-shattering secret that makes or breaks a movie. Still, he's not revealed as the villain of the piece until almost 2/3 of the way through the script. I thought it was just common courtesy to keep mum on who it was.
It seems that ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY doesn't share that sentiment. Or THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Or, for that matter, Imagine, since someone had to have tipped off these publications as to what role David Hasselhoff would be playing. Yes, it's true… Hasselhoff is the one who stole Dieter's monkey because SPROCKETS is more popular in Germany than BAYWATCH.
I'm shocked when I open a magazine like EW and read a major spoiler like that with no warning whatsoever. What shocks me most about it is how much crap we take here at AICN for "ruining" films, when so frequently it's more traditional outlets that blurt things out. Because we have access to scripts and early screenings, we know full well how careful we have to be about saying certain things. Look at Harry's review of HOLLOW MAN, for example, where he makes every effort to warn readers away from spoiler material, even going so far as to beg you not to discuss it with others if you do read what he wrote. We preface things… we place them in context… we work overtime to make sure we don't misstep… and we still get labeled the bad guys.
Just for the record… I'm an Evil Genius. That does not make me bad.
WANT SOME OTHER OPTIONS BESIDES DINOSAUR OR ROAD TRIP THIS WEEKEND?
I figure by now every self-respecting film geek has already seen GLADIATOR, and anyone who made the mistake… as I did… of suffering through BATTLEFIELD EARTH is probably trying desperately to erase the memory. As the summer movie season continues to gear up with this weekend's big releases, it is possible that some smaller movies will slip right by unnoticed, and I wanted to point out two smaller films that I've seen recently that are still rolling out in arthouses across America, both of which are well worth seeking out.
Sophia Coppola has taken more than her fair share of shit from film fans over the years as a result of stepping into GODFATHER III at the last moment to replace an ailing Winona Ryder. Personally, I've always thought that the attacks on her were much ado about nothing. She's not great in the film, but she also doesn't kill it the way people claimed. She's an awkward, uncomfortable girl who is playing an awkward, uncomfortable girl. Works for me.
When it was announced that she would be directing her first film, an adaptation of the novel THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, many people I talked to started making jokes again. I heard people insinuate that without her father or her husband (Spike Jonze, for those who don't know), she would never be able to pull off a film. I knew that was hogwash, having seen LICK THE STAR, a delicate, memorable short film she made a few years back.
About a month or so ago, I picked up the soundtrack to the film, written and performed by French pop band AIR. It was hypnotic, and I played it over and over while working. So when I walked into the theater to see the actual film, I was already in love with certain elements of the movie. I just wanted the film to be interesting, a nice debut. Instead, I found myself genuinely impressed by Sophia's work. She has revealed herself to be a filmmaker of uncommon sensitivity and perception, and THE VIRGIN SUICIDES is not just good… it's great.
The story of four sisters who leave a profound mark on the boys in their neighborhood, VIRGIN SUICIDES is a film that is filled to the top with longing for something that is lost. Just what that something is remains up to the viewer to interpret, and that's one of the strengths of the picture. Sophia never spoonfeeds any easy answers about who these girls are or why they do what they do (and the title itself serves as a spoiler of sorts, so don't yell at me), and as a result, we connect with the film's faceless narrator. We are left with our own questions, our own complicated reactions to what we see. Coppola is assisted ably by her cast, with Josh Hartnett, the delicious Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner, and especially James Woods doing great, quirky work.
The film's strongest asset, though, is the way Coppola seems to be able to dredge up memory and place it directly onscreen, all the texture intact. She uses music to maximum effect, but she also has the most eccentric eye for what details to include. Overall, this is a wonderful, haunting little film that promises great things from her in the future. I, for one, am ready and willing to follow wherever her muse takes her.
The other film I'd urge you to find before it's gone is HUMAN TRAFFIC, an import from England that I've heard compared over and over to TRAINSPOTTING. That hardly seems fair, since HUMAN TRAFFIC has nothing more on its mind than entertaining you. It's nowhere near as accomplished or as powerful as Danny Boyle's seminal film, but it has an undeniable energy and charm that I found infectious. Set against the backdrop of the English rave scene, this is the story of four friends who simply want to dance and drink and do Ecstasy and fuck all weekend long. First time director Justin Kerrigan has a wicked sense of wit, and he manages to capture the joy that these kids are chasing in a purely visceral way. It's the kind of film that you won't remember two weeks after you've seen it, but while you're watching it, it never stops entertaining. Personally, I'd rather see an inconsequential film like this than sit through another empty popcorn film like BATTLEFIELD EARTH or DINOSAUR. At least with this film, I meet people who I enjoyed meeting, and there's all that great music. It should be interesting to see what else Kerrigan has up his sleeve as a filmmaker. Here's hoping he approaches his next film with this rollicking sense of fun fully intact.
And now I have to run. I know, I promised I would talk about the worst film I've seen in recent memory… and I still will. Just not today. I'll also bring you reviews of NOVOCAINE, the new Coen Bros. Barber script, and a fistful of other scripts in a fairly major script review round-up. First, though, there are some major experiments that demand my attention this weekend. For example, I'm furious that Harry has seen SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE already. I just spoke with John Robie, cat burglar extraordinaire, and we're planning a spy mission to see the film for ourselves this weekend. Watch out, Lion's Gate… we're coming for you. Until then…