It’s another end of week movie news dump

It’s oh so tempting to slack off with more trailers and videos, but a few items too interesting to ignore…

* Regular readers, both of you, may remember a number of interview pieces here and elsewhere by me dealing with a film called “Middle Men.” Well, my interview with the film’s producer and presumed model for the lead character, Christopher Mallick, has become a lot more interesting over the last few days. It has drawn some unusually strong comments from netizens, and not for no reason. The Wrap’s Johnnie L. Roberts sums up how funds deposited by Mallick’s current company, ePassporte, have been effectively frozen — leaving some people truly in the lurch — and also that this isn’t the first arguably suspicious crisis that Mallick has weathered.

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I will say that if you have over $240,000 pre-loaded on a card which I gather is mainly for use on porn sites these days (not online poker as I once assumed) — I’m no one to judge on this matter, but I think you’ve got a bit of a problem.

* A much more positive story, especially for hardcore movie fans, is Roger Ebert’s announcement that he is returning the format he and Gene Siskel perfected back to its original PBS home, with a few interesting new twists including the presence of the one of the universe’s more photogenic of cinephile bloggers, Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun, alongside headliners Christy Lemire and Elvis Mitchell, Omar Moore and Ebert himself.  Nikki Finke, via TV Deadliner Nellie Andreeva, provides the turd in the punchbowl. (Please, Mr. Mitchell — don’t give Ms. Finke the pleasure of a “Toldja!” here.)

* Speaking of the amazing Mr. Ebert, be sure to check out his TIFF swag.

* William Monahan, who did such a great job turning the engaging-but-slender Hong Kong thriller, “Infernal Affairs,” into a full-bodied near masterpiece for Martin Scorsese in “The Departedwill be working with “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski on something called “Oblivion” for Disney.

* Alamo Drafthouse will be getting into the film distribution game with a bang in more senses than one with their release of the ingenious, ultra-dark British comedy, “Four Lions,” which really does do for terrorism what “In the Loop” did for needless wars. A parking snafu created by the organizers of the Los Angeles Film Festival caused me to be 20 minutes later for the screening but, even so, I can’t imagine that the film will be anything less than one of the year’s best, even if its premise scares many away.

  

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A roundtable chat with Kevin Pollak of “Middle Men”

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A highly entertaining character actor, stand-up comic, and now also a screenwriter and Internet talk show host, Kevin Pollak will nevertheless remain forever in the shadow of three men. One is wise-guy crook Todd Hockney from Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer’s slambam 1995 debut, “The Usual Suspects” (currently at #24 of all-time most popular films on IMDb); the other two are, of course, William Shatner and Christopher Walken. So powerful are the Pollak impressions of these two men, I’d venture that when most of us attempt to impersonate either actor, we’re really not doing Shatner or Walken, we’re doing Pollak doing Shatner or Walken. (Though, personally, my extremely bad Christoper Walken is really a very bad impression of Kevin Spacey‘s Walken but, for all I know, Spacey got his from Pollak while shooting “Suspects.”). Indeed, I can remember a time when it seemed like nobody did Shatner and I’m pretty sure it was Pollak who kind of opened to door for all the other impressionists into the voice and mannerisms of the man Pollak calls “the Shat.”

Among the nearly 90 or more productions he’s been involved with as an actor, Kevin Pollak’s latest release is “Middle Men,” a black comedy-laced drama owing more than a little bit to Martin Scorsese. The film stars Luke Wilson as straight-arrow businessman Jack Harris who falls in with a pair of highly inventive cokeheads (Gabriel Macht and Giovanni Ribisi) and would be Internet porn kings during the late 1990s. The pair have developed the first really viable method for collecting money over the ‘net in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, things get massively complicated from there and Pollak turns up later in the film as an FBI agent who comes to Harris and his porn star girlfriend (Laura Ramsay) with a startling new reality. The film, co-written and directed by George Gallo, best known as the screenwriter of “Midnight Run,” is actually just part of an ongoing collaboration between the director and the actor-comic and now screenwriter.

As is often the case, I was one of a number of scribblers who were participating in a roundtable with Pollak during the “Middle Men” press day at L.A.’s Four Season’s hotel. Pollak arrived in a friendly but highly subdued mood. He was a late addition to the press day and obviously has been keeping very busy. Among many other projects, he had a new stand-up special ready premiering, and an increasingly popular podcast, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, with recent guests including Neal Patrick Harris and John Slattery of “Mad Men.”  Pollak frankly seemed a little tired at first, though going out of his way to be funny — because that’s what you expect from Pollak. Things perked up as it went.

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A roundtable chat with Luke Wilson of “Middle Men”

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It’s been nearly 15 years since producer James L. Brooks bankrolled a feature version of a short film made by some Texas youngsters, and that movie (“Bottle Rocket”) introduced the movie world to director Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and his brother, Luke. Since then, Dallas-born Luke Wilson’s movie-star handsome likeness has become a highly familiar to filmgoers, playing both leading men and supporting roles mostly in comedies like “Legally Blonde,” “Old School,” and Mike Judge’s criminally maltreated “Idiocracy,” as well as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and a classic cameo in “Anchorman.” (He was the anchor who — spoiler alert — got his arm was sliced off with a sword by Tim Robbins.)

To this day, Wilson has a habit of turning up in odd and interesting places, like a series of well-known commercials for AT&T or in the uneven but entertaining “Middle Men,” in which Wilson very credibly stars as a Texas businessman who gets much more than he expected at the intersection of e-commerce and adult entertainment. He is also preparing to play the part of Laura Dern’s flaky ex-husband on “Enlightened,” a new TV series from cult writer-producer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock“) with episodes directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

At the risk of creating an embarrassing but perhaps partially correct impression of a man-crush, in person Luke Wilson is a highly charismatic guy. Behind his highly colloquial speech — I’ve left out a lot of “likes” — is an intelligence that, without giving away much of anything, dispenses with a lot of the usual show business interview platitudes. Now in his late 30s, he also appeared thinner than his slightly chunky appearance on “Middle Man” or his recent AT&T commercials. That was because Wilson had deliberately gone over his normal weight by about 25 pounds for the role of a hard-driving businessman and family guy.

What was that like?

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A Chat With Producer and E-Commerce Pioneer Christopher Mallick of “Middle Men”

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He’s definitely not a household name, but if you’ve ever bought anything over the Internet, Christopher Mallick has had an impact on your household. If your purchases include an occasional picture of illicit sex or gratuitously naked people, that goes double.

Mallick is the producer and inspiration for the highly fictionalized new film, “Middle Men,” which covers the early days of Internet porn as seen through the eyes of businessman Jack Harris (Luke Wilson). Harris makes millions and gets in way over his head after meeting up with a couple of drug addled fools and geniuses (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht), who, in the process of selling dirty pictures, have developed a way to safely and securely collect credit card numbers over the Internet so they can sell dirty pictures.

In real life, the one-time chief executive of Paycom pioneered the technology that makes buying anything from a DVD to a raincoat to a monthly membership in ButtBusters.com easy, safe, and more or less confidential. He is said to have many outrageous and hilarious behind-the-scenes tales that provided background for the fictional film.

“Middle Men” is actually just the start as Mallick appears to be very serious about the film industry. He’s got more projects coming along the way including films with writer/director George Gallo and a documentary about former porn people, “Exxxit: Life After Porn,” directed by Bryce Wagoner and written and produced by “Middle Men” co-writer Andy Weiss.

Christopher MallickI met Mallick during a recent press day at the L.A. Four Seasons. There was a last minute change in the planned location of the room, from the second floor to the first floor, where we were to talk. When I arrived, I found Mallick — who is apparently slightly camera shy (that little picture to the right is it as far as available online photos are concerned) — in a wheel chair, wearing a leg brace, and, I am told, the company of a bodyguard, who apparently was so good at his job I didn’t even notice he was there.

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