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.
I’ve got just a little less than an hour to write this up tonight, but let’s see how much we can get through.
* RIP Jill Clayburgh. I’ll have more in remembrance of this very fine actress tomorrow. She passed on from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an illness she’d been dealing with for more than 20 years.
* This makes me feel a bit old since I remember him before he was President of the United States in “The West Wing” and even before he was a very bad possible future U.S. President in “The Dead Zone,” Martin Sheen will be Peter Parker’s oh-so-doomed old Uncle Ben in the Marc Webb “Spiderman” reboot. Making me feel even a bit older, Sally Field is looking like a likelihood as Aunt May, who was always drawn by artists like Steve Ditko and John Romita as if she were about 99 years old. Of course, these days we mainly see her selling hawking Boniva for bone health, so I guess should just adjust to the new reality that Sister Bertrille (aka “The Flying Nun”)/Sybil/Norma Rae isn’t a baby anymore. And I really do like her. I really do.
* The very interesting, talented, and occasionally irritating (when he writes op-eds about with premises about the impact of movie violence I disagree with) Mike White has been offered the gauntlet of “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies” recently dropped by the equally interesting but more experienced David O. Russell. White is best known as a writer and actor. His most fiscally successful screenplay — in which he also acted — was the terrific “School of Rock.” In quirkier times, he starred in and wrote 2000’s “Chuck and Buck” as well as “The Good Girl.” This will be his second directorial outing, the first being…I don’t remember the name and you don’t either. It’s a bold and interesting choice, I will say that.
* A lot of people thought his “Hot Tub Time Machine” was kind of toxic (others thought it funny; I thought it not seen by me…I’ll get to it someday), so I guess it makes sense that Steve Pink’s next project will apparently be a remake of “The Toxic Avenger.” Gross-out franchise, here he comes.
* AFM, the American Film Market, has been going all week. It’s an event where lots of smaller films find distribution and foreign deals are made. Deadline has some interestingdeals today. “The Giant Mechanical Man” might sound like one quirky rom-com too many, but any film with Jenna Fischer and Topher Grace in the lead has my attention. Starting up also is the AFI Film Festival, which I’ll be checking out some over the weekend and there may be some quickie off-the-cuff impressions of the movies there coming from there.
* And finally, I’ve been guilty of ignoring the MGM bankruptcy this week, and I’m writing this directly across the street from the Sony lot, the home of Leo the Lion in his prime and for many years past that. Anyhow, the Wall Street Journal summarizes the situation numerically. Reminding us that, adjusted for inflation, “Gone With the Wind has made $1.6 billion. On the other hand, the studio only had one movie in the top 50 this year. What was it? The aforementioned “Hot Tub Time Machine.”
* Though I was a big fan of “The West Wing” while he worked on it, my one complaint with Aaron Sorkin’s abandoned TV classic was that it was a bit rosy in how it viewed politics and politicians. Currently flying high as the screenwriter of the upcoming docudramas, “The Social Network” and “Moneyball,” he was almost the Gene Roddenberry of political drama in imagining a relatively ideal world that could be, but probably never would be. I don’t think excess positivity is going to be an issue in his movie directorial debut, as he’ll be covering the John Edwards mega-debacle. To think I contemplated voting for/volunteering for the egocentric jerkwad who, had he succeeded, would have sunk a party and a nation on the altar of his ego.
* Things have been hopping over at our sister site, Bullz-Eye.com. Earlier in the week Will Harris, with a little assistance from one or two other people who will remain nameless, took a look at 25 cinematic swan songs from film acting greats. Very cool (except for seven of them, which I’m unable to judge). Also, today, Will had a chat with his friend and rising young star, Dileep Rao, currently being seen in “Inception.”
* There may be no justice in the world, but Roman Polanski’s next movie is already being prepped, and it sounds good. It’s the film version of the London/Broadway hit play “God of Carnage.” Being as it’s a dark comedy/drama, it sounds right up Polanski’s alley. Also, Polanski’s 1994 film version of Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden” was one of the most seamless stage-to-film translations I’ve ever seen.
* My high school history teacher, who was also a saxophone playing jazz fan on the side, always used to say that of all the rock music figures, the one he was sure wouldn’t last beyond another couple of decades in terms of popularity was Janis Joplin. Her super-gritty style was just too of the late sixties moment, he theorized. Indeed, she seems to be one of the less popular of the rock superstars of that era today. Well, director Fernando Meirelles of “City of God” and Amy Adams — a top-flight actress who is way cute to be playing the weather-worn Joplin — will be hoping to disprove that theory with a new biopic.
* I like the sound of this: Stanley Tucci, who obviously gets along very well with Meryl Streep, will direct her and Tina Fey in a mother daughter comedy. * The Playlist apparently wants to make me happy. First, they report that the long-awaited DVD of the pre-prepared exploitation double-bill, “Grindhouse,” as it was originally presented in theaters is coming this October. Second, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is apparently planning to appear in some kind of a musical. Interesting.
I’m just annoyed that I missed his rendition of the Donald O’Connor “Make ‘Em Laugh” number from “Singin’ in the Rain” on SNL last year and it’s gone from Hulu for some reason. Moment of rank and utterly baseless speculation here: Could a team-up with fellow three-namer Neil Patrick Harris be in the cards? “Dr. Horrible and Dr. Horribler” perhaps? Forget I said that.
Once upon a time, the third Monday in February was designated as a day to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. These days, however, although it varies from state to state, it tends to be known less specifically as Presidents Day, which means that we can ostensibly celebrate everyone who’s ever been the President of the United States. Here at Premium Hollywood, we’d also like to extend that to those who’ve served as our nation’s commander-in-chief on television and the silver screen.
Now, granted, that’s a lot of people…more, in fact, than we could possibly give shout-outs to in a single piece. As such, we decided to pare it down to the same number of individuals as have held the highest office in our land since its inception. Forty-four folks is still nothing to sneeze at, but we’re betting that we’ll still end up having left out someone’s favorite son (or daughter). To paraphrase one of our real presidents, you can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. With that said, however, we still think we did a pretty solid job of picking the best candidates for the piece.
1. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews), “Idiocracy”: Why are we leading off with President Camacho? Because, really, when you’ve got a fake President on your list who’s also a porn superstar and a five-time ultimate smackdown wrestling champion, why in God’s name would you wait any longer than necessary to trumpet his inclusion? Clearly, this man is the fake President to end all fake Presidents, and he’s #1 with a bullet. It’s all going to be downhill from here.
2. President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), “The American President”: President Shepherd is a widower who pursues a relationship with an attractive lobbyist — Sydney Ellen Wade, played by Annette Bening — while at the same time attempting to win passage of a crime control bill. Although the film was mostly ignored by the Oscars, it racked up several Golden Globe nominations and has since found its way into the #75 spot on the American Film Institute’s list of America’s Greatest Love Stories. Plus, its screenwriter managed to find a good use for the excess material that he didn’t have room to fit into the script…but we’ll get to that in our next entry.
3. President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), “The West Wing”: Yes, if you hadn’t figured it out already, “The American President” was written by Aaron Sorkin, which is why you may notice a resemblance between the mannerisms of Presidents Shepherd and Bartlet. Ironically, though, Sorkin had originally envisioned the series as revolving so much around the White House senior staff that viewers would rarely, if ever, see the president. Instead, what the nation got was an idealized leader, one who – in A Novel Approach to Politics, by Douglas A. Van Belle and Kenneth M. Mash – is referred to as the “most popular Democratic president in recent memory.” The book was written pre-Obama, mind you, but we’re pretty sure the title still stands.
4. President William Harrison Mitchell (Kevin Kline), “Dave”: Given the vaguely “The Prince and the Pauper”-esque premise of the film, which involes a guy who makes a few bucks on the side as a Presidential impersonator being asked to play the part for real when the actual President suffers an incapacitating stroke, there was every reason to believe that “Dave” would’ve been a trifle at best, but between Kline’s imminent likability and a fantastic supporting cast (Sigourney Weaver as the First Lady, Ben Kingsley as the Vice President, Frank Langella as Chief of Staff, and Charles Grodin as Dave’s accountant buddy, Murray), it often comes close to – even though it doesn’t quite reach – the heights of “The American President.”
5 – 8. President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), “Independence Day” / President Blake (Perry King) and President Becker (Kenneth Welsh), “The Day After Tomorrow” / President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover), “2012”: As soon as you see the credit “directed by Roland Emmerich” on a disaster flick, you just know things are going to reach a point where the President of the United States is going to be brought into the discussion about whatever imminent danger may be about to thrust itself onto our planet.
There’s also a very good possibility that the ol’ rite of succession may come into play during the course of the film, such as it did in “The Day After Tomorrow,” when we lost President Blake after the blades of his helicopter froze. Say hello, President Becker! The same thing happened in “2012,” too, but we were so in awe of President Wilson’s selfless sacrifice – he stayed behind to help survivors in need, only to meet his death when the tidal wave struck the White House – that we’ve made an executive decision not to include Wilson’s successor, President Anheuser (Oliver Platt) in the list. Why? Because he’s a dick.
The definitive Emmerich-flick president, of course, is President Whitmore. During the course of “Independence Day,” he sees the White House blown up, loses his wife, fights off a psychic attack from an alien, and flies a goddamned jet fighter into battle to help save the day. Plus, he gives the most stirring speech this side of “Patton.” Hell, I’d vote for him.
Like all character actors, Karl Malden never got quite the same level of attention as costars like Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Steve McQueen, Anthony Perkins, Montgomery Clift, Michael Caine, and George C. Scott. Even the seventies TV series he starred in, “The Streets of San Francisco” found him being overshadowed in the eyes of the teenybopper set by his young punk of a male ingenue costar, Michael Douglas. That was largely because Malden was the kind of performer who understood that acting is a team sport. His best scenes were like great duets with near perfect communication between him and his scene partners. The exception were American Express travelers’ checks; those, he wiped off the screen.
Karl Malden died today at age 97, having been more or less fully retired since appearing in a 2000 episode of “The West Wing.” While he was never precisely an A-lister, he was a go-to actor for secondary leads, president of the Motion Picture Academy, and as far as I can tell a universally respected figure among actors and everyone else associated with the movie industry. He was also married to the same woman for seventy years, a rare enough Holllywood achievement to merit it’s own special Oscar. Not a bad life.
Below the fold is a video tribute I found that, from the misspellings, I gather may come from Serbia. (Malden, whose real name was Mladen Sekulovich, was the son of a Serbian father and a Czechoslovak mother.) The image quality could be better and some of the clips are a little too brief, but it does give you an excellent overview of his truly diverse film career, which included work with some of the greatest Hollywood directors including Elia Kazan, John Frankenheimer, and Alfred Hitchcock. It also includes some interesting moments from two oddball spy films, “Murderer’s Row,” which I haven’t seen, and the underrated “Billion Dollar Brain,” which included some pretty amazing scenes between Malden and Michael Caine as his old spy buddy, Harry Palmer, as well as Françoise Dorléac as his treacherous spy girlfriend (though he’s pretty tricky himself).