Red carpet chatter with some folks from “Backwash”

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If, like me, you grew up a weird kid compulsively watching the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and, yes and alas, the Three Stooges, then you might well enjoy “Backwash,” an enjoyably dippy web series with its final episode to be uploaded on Crackle this Monday night, December 20. The series stars Joshua Malina, who also wrote it, as the grumpy and conniving Val, who is, for whatever reason, charged with the care of the childlike and lovably idiotic Jonesy (Michael Panes). When they accidentally rob a bank with a sausage — you kind of have to be there — and hook up with a flamboyant ice cream truck driver, Fleming (Michael Ian Black, who I was unable to nab for a quick interview), the on-the-lamb trio begins a cross-country odyssey of sorts.

The enjoyably lowbrow but sometimes surreal silliness is book-ended by introductions from a rogues gallery of comic and acting talent, the funniest being a mysteriously bearded Jon Hamm, Allison Janney, John Cho, Dulé Hill, and Sarah Silverman. Somehow, Victorian author William Makepeace Thackeray is maligned as being the originally author of this more or less contemporary travesty lovingly directed by Danny Leiner, who also helmed “Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle.”

It was my privilege to chat with with some of the actors and creators of “Backwash” at the theatrical premiere of a somewhat shortened feature-length version of the web series. I started with Josh Malina, an actor I’ve been rather fond of since I stumbled over “Sports Night,” the show that convinced me that the writer of “The Social Network” was something more than an entertainingly glib semi-hack, actually a lot more.

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Looking for a 7/4 movie suggestion?

Well, I always pretty much have the same one, and it’s showing today on TCM at 11:30/2:30.

Fans of the terrific HBO “John Adams” miniseries in particular might find this a refreshing alternative take on the founding fathers and just how the Declaration of Independence came to be written and signed. True, it’s a little stagy and far from the best Broadway-to-Hollywood transfer in movie history, at least on a strictly cinematic level. At the same time, it’s a cracking entertainment with first-rate wrting and indelible performances by William Daniels (“The Graduate,” “St. Elsewhere”) as Adams, Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard (“The White Shadow”) as eventual president Thomas Jefferson, and the once-blacklisted veteran character actor Howard Da Silva (“The Lost Weekend,” “Sgt. York”), for me, the definitive Benjamin Franklin. There’s also a nice appearance by a crush-inducing Blythe Danner (she became Gwyneth Paltrow‘s mom the same year the 1972 film was released) as a slightly ahistoric Martha Jefferson.

Now, if this is the first time you’re hearing of “1776,” there is one major difference between this and other cinematic history lessons, but you’ll that figured out by about 2:47 or by reading the name of the video.

Yeah, it’s a musical. The songs are by the late Tin Pan Alley songwriter turned history teacher Sherman Edwards and the great, if necessarily theatrical, dialogue is written by Peter Stone (“Charade”). Live with it. Here’s another favorite number with great work by Daniels, Da Silva, and Howard based on real opinions the three great men held.

  

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An audience with the “Iron Man 2” crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2” — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On ‘Iron Man 2’] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2” actually takes place before 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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Does Megan Fox have what it takes to go from starlet to star?

I watched “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” this weekend, and one thing really struck me as I took in the initial (and totally gratuitous) shot of Megan Fox in cutoff jean shorts half-straddling a motorcycle: Wow, she’s hot. Throughout the course of the next 150 minutes – really, did a “Transformers” sequel need to be that long? – I found myself observing Ms. Fox’s work wondering if she had what it takes to transform – pun intended – from starlet to star.

By most standards, she’s already a movie star. She has played a lead in two “Transformers” installments, had a supporting role (as a vacant actress, no less) in the Simon Peg comedy “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” and she recently starred as the title character in the horror flick “Jennifer’s Body.” Moreover, she seems to have a stranglehold on the current #1 ranking as the Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. But does this really make her a star?

Not in my book. There was no point in the latest “Transformers” installment where Fox couldn’t have been replaced by Elisha Cuthbert, Jessica Biel or some other former (or future) #1 Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. When I started to type this up, I actually blanked on her name, and had to look it up on IMDB.com. (Ah, yes, Megan Fox.) If nothing else, that makes her a starlet.

Every year or two, there’s a new crop of young’ns vying for the title of “it” girl, and Fox owns it, for now. But it’s a dicey transition from being a hot young thing to developing a long-lasting, viable career in the movie business.

So, does she have what it takes to become a star?

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Playing catch-up

Predator with Arnold Schwarzennegger

A few more random items worth mentioning…

* Robert Rodriguez is producing a “Predator” reboot, entitled “Predators,” to be directed by Hungarian-American helmer Nimród Antal. As per today’s Variety, along for the ride are Adrien Brody and Topher Grace. I, personally, will wait for the movie to decide first whether I’ll bother to see it and second whether these two undoubtedly talented actors are well cast here. (Grace is kind of a personal favorite and this sounds like chance to be sort of a badass Norman Bates, which I can kind of see.) However, as usual geek film bloggers and some film geek bloggers can’t wait for the movie to have an opinion, and Spout’s Christopher Campbell collates the reaction. No word on Brody’s chances for eventually becoming a not-too competent and unlucky governor of California.

* Two very tentative but interesting items from Mike Fleming today. Gary Ross, who’s past specialty was such seriocomic Oscarish fare as “Dave,” “Pleasantville,” and “Seabiscuit” but who is doing the the latest rewrite on the next “Spiderman” film may also be directing as well as rewriting a proposed “Venom” movie, without Topher Grace, most likely. The many problems with “Spider-Man 3” to my mind had nothing at all to do with Grace, but who said life was fair?

* The second Fleming item has screenwriter-director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls“) “in discussions” to return to biographical material somewhat along the lines of “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey,” with a proposed film about the late Richard Pryor to star Marlon Wayans. Adam Sandler‘s “Happy Madison” company is involved at this point, which makes sense given the reverence nearly all modern comedians have for Pryor.

* Speaking of people who’ve been known to throw a few M-F bombs in the name of a laugh, our own Will Harris has an interview with the praised and maligned indie film mainstay and part-time funny de facto stand-up comic, Kevin Smith at Bullz-Eye. Very definitely worth a read. And, though I probably don’t need to say it, the following video is NSFW and is just plain dangerous to your life and career if you are anywhere near Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas.

  

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