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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Your Premium Hollywood Oscar Live Blog

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Yes, my friends, the action starts right here, right now, right after the jump.

New comments will go above older remarks, so if you’re reading this later and want to start at the beginning, you’ll scroll down to the end. Got that? Good. Let’s hope for an interesting night and don’t forget to keep refreshing — the page and yourself with the commestibles of your choice.

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A geeky movie Tuesday

Little time but some big news today in the geekier realms of moviedom (which is pretty much all of big moviedom these days, or so it seems at times).

* The dynamic duo of Finke and Fleming have broken the news that “Dark Knight” helmer Christopher Nolan will be leading — though probably not directing — a new Superman reboot that will definitely not follow on the (in my view) somewhat underrated Bryan Singer/Brandon Routh semi-sequel to the Richard Donner/Richard Lester films of the seventies. I’m sure me and half of everyone reading could probably write a novel length essay about this. From my end, at least, that’ll have to wait.

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* The apocalyptic battle over the rights to “The Terminator” winds on. Last night, Nikki Finke claimed the exclusive that something called Pacifore had purchased the rights for $29.5 million. Today, since Pacificore is a Santa Barbara-based hedge fund with presumably no knowledge of how to make a blockbuster franchise film, they are today reportedly in negotiations with the former bidding adversaries, Sony and Lionsgate as to actually making new Terminator films. Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times Company Town blog has the details. Apparently, if the negotiations don’t go well, legal action may be in the cards. Gotta love show business.

* And a fun casting story to top everything off. Did I ever tell you people I actually know people who’ve actually been on UCLA stages with Tim Robbins back in the day? It’s really true. Well, I just got a few degrees of separation closer to the “Green Lantern” movie since the very talented writer-director-actor-dramaturg and Sarandon-ex (<sigh>) has joined the cast of “Green Lantern” where he’ll be playing the Peter Saarsgard’s dad. Heat Vision has the scoop.

  

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Welcome to the Concession Stand

Welcome to a new feature here on Premium Hollywood…and, believe me, it’s one I’ve been wanting to premiere for quite some time. I’m someone who enjoys trying new foods and new beverages, and I’ve often thought it would be fun to write a column which gave me the opportunity to write about the experience. Unfortunately, I’m forever buried in DVDs that need to be reviewed. Finally, I had an epiphany: why don’t I figure out a way to combine the two?

And, thus, “Concession Stand” was born.

The beverage: Mountain Dew Voltage.

Last year, over a quarter million votes helped Voltage win the so-called “DEWmocracy” election, with the taste, name and color of the product all developed by the customers themselves…well, y’know, with a little help from the folks at PepsiCo. (What, like they’re gonna give the yokels all the power?) As the bottle proudly trumpets, it’s your standard Dew brew, but charged with raspberry citrus flavor and ginseng. The color of the beverage is a slightly disconcerting shade of blue, but the raspberry mixes with the traditional Dew flavor rather well, making the taste not so far removed from a Sweet Tart. If it’s icy cold, it goes down fast and smooth…which is good, since it’s so sweet that drinking it slowly may result in you taking awhile to finish the bottle, but caffeine fiends with a sweet tooth will have no problem chugging it down to score the inevitable rush.

When I was pitched the opportunity to check out Voltage, they sent me three bottles of the stuff, so I scoured my to-be-reviewed pile to see if I had three DVDs featuring the same person in some role or other. Lo and behold, I did…and that person’s name was Lea Thompson.

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The Lucky Ones

Neil Burger’s “The Illusionist” was one of the most underrated films of 2006, so it’s a bit disheartening to see his latest movie, the post-9/11 war drama “The Lucky Ones,” suffer a similar fate. Though it’s not nearly as good as his previous effort, the film is still better than a majority of the movies just like it, mostly thanks to its talented cast. Tim Robbins, Michael Peña and Rachel McAdams star as three U.S. Army soldiers who have just returned to the country after their latest tour in Iraq. When a blackout grounds all the flights out of New York, however, the trio decides to rent a car and make the cross-country trip back home together, despite having just met hours before. What follows is a journey of self-discovery, as they must all come to terms with the way the war has changed their lives. Unfortunately, the average moviegoer got so burned out with post-9/11 fatigue that “The Lucky Ones” never got a proper theatrical release. It only seems fitting, because “Grace Is Gone,” the movie it’s most like, received the exact same treatment. Still, if pro-solider embarrassments like “Home of the Brave” and “Stop-Loss” can find an audience, then surely “The Lucky Ones” deserves one too.

Click to buy “The Lucky Ones”

  

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