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 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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Weekend box office preview: “Inception” to meet its match in “The Other Guys”

Christopher Nolan’s science fiction thriller continues to hold audiences to the tune of over $200 million as it enters its fourth week.  It still will likely be no match for the projected $30-$35 million or maybe a bit more being bandied about by box office prognosticators like Ben Fritz and, more optimistically, jolly Carl DiOrio for the new buddy-cop cop parody/homage from Sony starring Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys.” Of course, having Ferrell in a movie is not an instant ticket to box office glory as the experience of “Land of the Lost” taught us not so long ago. “Inception” will nevertheless go to the #2 spot, it appears.

The Other Guys and friend

This time, Ferrell’s got what looks to be very strong support from the increasingly funny Mark Wahlberg not to mention supporting performances by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson as the supercops who would ordinarily be the leads in a buddy-cop flick. It’s even got very decent reviews, which are not a requirement for Ferrell to have a hit but they indicate the movie might be okay. That always helps, though there’s general agreement that the film from Sony is creatively not in anywhere near the ballpark of something like the similarly themed “Hot Fuzz.”

Aimed at a very different audience of young girls, the prospects are less promising for Disney’s “Step Up: 3D.” As the third film in a series that was actually declining, the conventional wisdom is that the only reason it was even made was to cash in on the three-dimensional craze. I’m thinking that craze has already peaked, at least for the present. Nevertheless, DiOrio says that its tracking indicates it might actually beat the $18.9 million opening of the prior entry. I’ll believe that when I see it, though admittedly there really isn’t a strong film for female tweens right now, so counterprogramming could be the film’s salvation. Though with “3D” actually in the title, I’d be worried if I was the executive who greenlit this one.

Luke Wilson and Friends in This week also sees two films opening in over two hundred theaters, making them larger than usual limited releases. As per Box Office Mojo, “Middle Men” from Paramount will be opening in 252 theaters, including the multiscreen drive-in theater about thirty miles east of L.A. where I’ll likely be attending an informal gathering at this weekend.  The movie is getting mixed reviews, which is about right in my view. It’s an attempt to make a Scorsese-style quality film about a major turning point both in the history of porn and e-commerce that fails simply because it tries to tell a miniseries story in the length of an ordinary 100 minute release. Still, it’s an interesting movie with a lot of good moments and some very good acting, including from star Luke Wilson. We’ve been covering it a lot at Bullz-Eye with interviews by me with co-stars Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht and there’s more to come here at Premium Hollywood.

Being released in 231 theaters is Joel Schumacher’s latest attempt at artistic respectability, “12.” Named after a fictitious designer drug, it’s getting predictably uniform bad reviews and is evoking mentions of Larry Clark’s infamous “Kids.”  On 45 screens is kind of the flip side of that, a sentimental comedy-drama of puppy love that sounds a little bit like a very wholesome “Let the Right One,” minus (obviously) the vampires, called “Flipped.” What’s weird here is not that its reviews so far aren’t so good, but that there are only four of them. Even at his best, Reiner was never a huge favorite of mine, though he sometimes chose great material. (No, “When Harry Met Sally” is not really great material in my view.). Still, only getting four reviews is just sad.

  

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Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

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Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.

Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”  “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.

That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001’s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.

Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)

Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.

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A trailer for the road: “Middle Men” show us how to make money on the ‘net

As I prepare for a reasonably brief semi-hiatus, via Anne Thompson comes this trailer for a film being pitched as one part “Boogie Nights” and one part “Goodfellas,” though this trailer reminds me more of the cold blood business machinations of “Casino.”

Co-writer-director George Gallo, who penned “Midnight Run,” brings us the story of how Luke Wilson, with a little help from Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht, figures out that this Internet thing just might be good for showing people very naughty pictures. Since this is a movie, naturally the porn-purveying “Middle Men” get a bit more than they asked for.

Nice bit with Kelsey Grammer there at the end. Also, considering that he’s openly contemplating running for office someday, kind of gutsy. On a different note, I’d love to know the actual “true story” this apparently pretty heavily fictionalized movie is supposed to be based on. Just curious. Finally, let it be said, I hold no ill feeling against actor Gabriel Macht for the despicable and unholy desecration that was “The Spirit.” He just did what Frank Miller told him to do. I just felt like that needed to be said.

Oh, and speaking of trailers, Anne Thompson also has the trailer up for the third Narnia film. Go ahead and click, I mean, if you’re into that kind of kinky shit.

  

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