Hidden Netflix Gems – The Extra Man

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The Extra Man is a rather unconventional film about a pair of very unconventional characters. Louis Ives (Paul Dano) is a young aspiring playwright who moves to New York City after an embarrassing incident that forces him to quit his job. He meets and moves in with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a former professor and playwright who now works as an “extra man,” which he stresses is not the same as a gigolo, or even a male escort; first of all, he doesn’t receive money for his services, and secondly, he doesn’t engage in anything sexual with the wealthy older women who hire him. Instead, he says, he brings a certain air of respectability and class to his engagements, in exchange for gifts and fine meals. In the meantime, he lives the sort of penniless existence that occasionally requires him to paint his ankles and calves with shoe polish in order to disguise the fact that he has forgotten to buy socks, which he says may have the added benefit of killing some of the fleas that inhabit him.

Louis is duly fascinated by Henry’s eccentric, acerbic ways, and Kline delivers one of the best performances of his career, mining big laughs from lines like, “I’m against the education of women. It dulls their senses and effects their performance in the boudoir.” He also rails against such practices as recycling and charity to the homeless, which makes an interesting contrast to Louis’ newfound job at an environmental magazine, where he develops a crush on his vegan, uber-green co-worker, Mary Powell (Katie Holmes). Louis is also fascinated by Henry’s mysterious, bearded neighbor, Gershon Gruen (John C. Reilly), who can be heard through the vents each morning singing beautifully as he showers. Louis is hiding his own eccentricity from his new friends, and without giving away too much about the course this particular character development takes, I will say it is perhaps the most sensitive, realistic exploration of heterosexual cross-dressing since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, adapting a novel by Bored to Death scribe Jonathan Ames, clearly share Louis’ attraction to cranky oddballs such as Henry, as evidenced in their excellent first feature, American Splendor. Henry has much in common with that film’s protagonist, Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), though there is a misplaced sense of class superiority in Henry that Harvey would undoubtedly abhor. Still, as mean-spirited and narrow-minded as Henry often seems to be, it is difficult as an audience member not to share in this fascination; as Louis says at one point, “You have a strange power over people, Henry,” to which Henry replies, “It’s my constant disapproval. People think it fatherly.” He might not be someone most of us would actually want to live with, but Henry is a wonderful cinematic creation, and probably Kline’s funniest role since A Fish Called Wanda. Though The Extra Man has much else to recommend it, it is this central character that buoys the film, and brings added life to all around him.

  

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A roundtable chat with Kevin Kline of “The Extra Man”

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A highly accomplished stage actor, trained at Julliard under the tutelage of such exacting instructors as the legendary John Houseman, Kevin Kline pretty much started his film career as one of the best of the best, a genuine “actor’s actor” and also something of an old fashioned movie star with the presence to match. His first movie role was opposite Meryl Streep in Alan Pakula’s 1982 Oscar-winning film version of “Sophie’s Choice.” That was followed by Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated ensemble dramedy, “The Big Chill,” and a leading role opposite Denzel Washington in Richard Attenborough’s portentous 1987 apartheid drama, “Cry Freedom.”

Though that was followed up by a part in Kasdan’s lighthearted homage to classic westerns, “Silverado,” Kevin Kline’s comic gifts remained under-recognized until his utterly ingenious, deservedly Oscar-winning turn as the murderous and hilariously insecure and pretentious Otto in the farce classic, “A Fish Called Wanda.” After that Kline became one of the screen’s most reliable comic leading men with parts in such high-quality mainstream comedies as “Dave” and “In and Out,” was well as the occasional part in such hard-edged tragicomic dramas as “Grand Canyon,” again with Lawrence Kasdan, and Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

Kline, who recently completed a successful stage run in Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Jennifer Garner, has — like other outstanding actors of his generation — gracefully moved from the A-list to the art-house. Though once noted for turning down movie roles in favor of stage work — John Stewart reminded him of his “Kevin Decline” nickname on his recent “Daily Show” “Colbert Report” appearance — Kline has been a busy and hugely reliable film actor for decades. More recent roles include the screen’s first correctly gay Cole Porter in the 2004 musical biopic “De-Lovely,” Garrison Keillor’s radio detective Guy Noir in Robert Altman’s 2006 swan song, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Jacques in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and the 21st century’s version of Inspector Dreyfus opposite Steve Martin‘s Inspector Clouseau in the rebooted “Pink Panther” series.

Add to those the role of the suave but irascible platonic male escort Henry Harrison in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s adaptation of the Jonathan Ames novel, “The Extra Man.” Taking in a confused and nervous younger protegee (Paul Dano of “There Will Be Blood”), Harrison is an utterly reactionary self-made throwback to another time and place, and an ideal role for an actor gifted with the finest of old fashioned acting virtues.

Kevin Kline and Paul Dano in

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A chat with Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, directors of “The Extra Man”

Shari Springer Berman and Robert PulciniThe recent death of autobiographical comics writer Harvey Pekar at age 70 was a more bitter than sweet reminder of one of the first really great films of our young millennium. Released in 2003 and written and directed by the husband and wife team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, “American Splendor” dared to place actors Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, and Judah Friedlander — portraying Pekar, wife Joyce Brabner, and their ultra-nerd friend, Toby Radloff — alongside the real Pekar, Brabner, and Radloff, seamlessly combining traditional fiction, documentary film, and some charmingly minimalist comic book-style animation to make easily the most inventive and rewarding comics-to-film translation so far. (Yes, I think it’s better than “The Dark Knight.”)

What made it even more impressive was that this was the first fiction film by its makers. Prior to “American Splendor,” Berman and Pulcini were the documentararians behind a pair of films focusing on film and show-business landmarks. They chronicled the death of a venerable, movie-star-beloved Beverly Hills restaurant in “Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s” and the rebirth of the ultimate movieland cemetery into the world’s hippest burial plot in “The Young and the Dead.” The pair also made a 2006 IFC documentary about road movies, “Wanderlust.”

Their return to fiction films, 2007’s “The Nanny Diaries,” was less well-received, but now Berman and Pulcini are back with an imperfect but enjoyable comedy. Co-written with author Jonathan Ames (HBO’s “Bored to Death”) from his semi-autobiographical novel, “The Extra Man” stars Paul Dano as Louis Ives, a courtly 20-something with a fixation on 1920s literature and a certain amount of sexual/gender confusion, who finds himself spending a lot of time with his new roommate — an aging, ultra-obscure, ultra-reactionary playwright named Henry Harrison (Oscar and Tony winning veteran stage and film star Kevin Kline).

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Berman and Pulcini are also preparing their next film. “Cinema Verite,” with James Gandolfini, Diane Lane, and Tim Robbins starring in a screenplay by veteran scenarist David Seltzer (“The Omen,” “Punchline”). It’s a tailor-made premise for the couple: the making of “An American Family,” the groundbreaking and highly controversial PBS documentary series which essentially created the modern reality television genre in 1975. The series was also the inspiration for the 1979 Albert Brooks comedy, “Real Life.”

When I was escorted to the room at L.A.’s Four Seasons where I was to meet with the writing-directing pair, I was surprised to see only one person and at first I wasn’t sure I had arrived at the right place. Robert Pulcini and I talked about our shared first name (he’s a “Bob” too), and he explained cordially that his wife would be returning in just a moment. Shari Springer Berman arrived and then somehow got into the topic of the unusual spelling of my last name. All very fascinating — to me — but I figured I’d better talk about Berman and Pulcini’s movies instead.

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2009: A Year’s Worth of Interviews – The Top 100 Quotes

Some people think that the life of a work-at-home entertainment writer is one of the most lax jobs out there, since the perception is generally is that all you do is sit around and watch DVDs, occasionally venture out of the house to see movies or concerts, and then sit in front of the computer and write about them. Okay, it’s a fair cop. But when you throw interviews into the mix, there’s a bit more work involved. First, you’ve got to get the interview (they aren’t always handed to you on a silver platter), then you’ve got to do the research to make sure that you can ask some halfway knowledgeable questions, and after you conduct the interview, let’s not forget that you’ve got to transcribe it, too. In other words, yes, there really is work involved…and when I went back and discovered that I’d done well over 130 interviews during the course of 2009, I suddenly realized why I’m so tired all the time.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve pulled together a list of 100 of my favorite quotes from the various interviews I conducted for Premium Hollywood, Bullz-Eye, Popdose, and The Virginian-Pilot this year, along with the links to the original pieces where available. As you can see, I had some extremely interesting conversations in 2009. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that I’m able to chat with just as many fascinating individuals in 2010…

1. Pamela Adlon: “In the first season (of ‘Californication’), when we had the threesome with the nipple clamps, I was, like, ‘I don’t get this, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.’ And then, all of a sudden, there’s a crane with a camera hanging over our heads, and you’re, like, ‘Okayyyyyyy. But how are you gonna sell this? How are you gonna make it work?’ And they ended up shooting it brilliantly, cutting it together, and it just all ended up working without me having to compromise my own personal morals.”

2. Jonathan Ames: “After my first novel, my mother said to me, ‘Why don’t you make your writing more funny? You’re so funny in person.’ Because my first novel was rather dark. And I don’t know, but something about what she said was true. ‘Yes, why don’t I?’ Maybe I was afraid to be funny in the writing. But since then, seven books later, almost everything I’ve done has a comedic edge to it.”

3. Ed Asner: “I loved journalism until the day my journalism teacher, a man I revered, came by my desk and said, ‘Are you planning on going into journalism?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘You can’t make a living.’”

4. Sean Astin: “When somebody brings up a movie (of mine) that I haven’t heard about in a long time, I feel like a 70-year-old pitcher at a bar somewhere, and somebody walks in and says, ‘Oh, my God, I was in St. Louis and I saw you. You pitched a shutout.’ It’s real. I really did do that, because someone today remembers it.”

5. Darryl Bell: “The legend of ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ has become much more incendiary than the actual show. It’s funny how I usually challenge most people who talk about how much they disliked ‘Homeboys’ to name me five episodes. Most of them can’t, because they just bought into the ‘oh, it’s awful, just the title. Oh, it’s terrible.’ What’s interesting is that I had a great conversation with Chi McBride, who was doing ‘The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,’ which, if you want to talk about in terms of the imagery of what was wrong, that show was much more infamous than ‘Homeboys.’ Yet it’s not remembered in the same way because the title didn’t grab you in the same way. I remember Chi pulled me aside and he was, like, ‘Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. All of them. So all I can tell you is that this is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.’”

6. Adam Campbell: “For some reason, people always pick on the British sensibility, and we always come across as stupid, but remember: we used to run this country!”

7. Nestor Carbonell: “Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not wear make-up, and I do not wear eye-liner. This is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I remember I was in college in Boston, I had a commercial agent, and they sent me out for some print commercial stuff. And they called me into the office and said, ‘Look, we called you in to talk to you because we just want you to know that…well, we don’t think you need to wear eyeliner.’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, it’s okay, you don’t have to wear it for print ads.’ ‘No, I’m not wearing eyeliner!’ And I kept dabbing my eyes and saying, ‘Look! No eyeliner! I’m not wearing any!’”

8. Elaine Cassidy: “The last two days of shooting (‘Harper’s Island’) was probably the most hardcore, the coldest anyone has ever been. It was like your head was freezing, and my motivation for most scenes was, ‘The minute this scene is over, I’m heading straight over to that heater to get warm.’”

9. Chris Cornell: “I started as a drummer, so I sort of took on singing duties by default. I had sung backgrounds and some lead vocals from behind the drums in different bands that I’d been in, and I’d gotten great responses for the songs I would sing. I really started pursuing the possibility of being a lead singer based on the fact that I was working a full-time restaurant job and then playing gigs at night, hauling drums around. One day, it just dawned on me that, ‘Hey, I could be in a band and be the singer, and it would be a lot easier!’”

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Greetings to the New Show: “Bored to Death”

You may recall that, during my TCA press tour wrap-up, I declared the panel for HBO’s new series, “Bored to Death,” to be the funniest of anything presented to us by any cable network. But in fairness, I also admitted during my coverage of the panel itself that, at the time, I still hadn’t actually seen the show, though I was still willing to take what I’d seen in advance clips and heard from the panelists and say, “Basically, if this show isn’t a hit, then it’s at least destined to be remembered as one of the greatest cult sitcoms of all time.” I think I’m still pretty safe in sticking with that theory, but now that I have seen the first few episodes of “Bored to Death,” I have to admit that, although it gets a good head of steam during the second episode, it’s rather slow-going when it comes out of the gate tonight.

HBO’s press release for the series summarizes “Bored to Death” thusly: “Jonathan Ames, a young Brooklyn writer, is feeling lost. Heʼs just gone through a painful break-up, thanks in part to his drinking, canʼt write his second novel, and carouses too much with his magazine editor. Rather than face reality, Jonathan turns instead to his fantasies – moonlighting as a private detective – because he wants to be a hero and a man of action.” That doesn’t really do tonight’s premiere justice, though. Things do kick off with Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) watching his girlfriend move out of their apartment, but it’s in a moment of quiet desperation – and with a coffee cup full of white wine – that he spontaneously decides to put an ad on Craigslist, claiming to be a private detective. Despite admitting that he’s not licensed, he nonetheless gets a call in short order, and he’s off on his first case…though it’s probably not a good sign that his client, before their first meeting is over, has asked, “Are you sure you’re a detective…?”

As with all first episodes, we spend more time setting the stage than anything else. We meet Jonathan’s best friend, comic book illustrator Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis), as well as his boss, magazine editor George Christopher (Ted Danson), but the predominant purpose of tonight’s premiere (“The Stockholm Syndrome”) is to give us an idea who these guys are and what roles they play in Jonathan’s life. Rest assured that, in the subsequent couple of episodes, they will find a much larger place within his new profession…and also rest assured that, if the premiere of “Bored to Death” does indeed leave you feeling like its title, the odds of the sensation continuing next week are few.

  

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