Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Seth rogen

“The Fabelmans” Is Steven Spielberg’s Memoir Moment

Dad  Arnold, played by Paul Dano, is presented as a genius light years ahead of his time in working on and designing computers. He also seemed to be more “in charge” of making decisions on where the family would live and work. You have to feel some empathy for the man whose wife left him for his best friend after 21  years of marriage.

Spielberg has said his father was a workaholic. His parents eventually divorced when Steven was 19. His mother, Leah Posner Adler, divorced his dad in 1966 and married  one of his best friends, Bernie Adler, in 1967 in Phoenix. Portrayed as Uncle Benny Loewy in this film, Seth Rogen plays “the other man” within the Spielbergs marriage, and Rogen said he shaved his hairline back to play the part (commenting that nobody noticed and that they just thought he was balding!)

Steven stayed on in California with his father. He was not the brainiac his father had been in engineering complicated computer systems. He did not like the academic life, especially mentioning his dislike of algebra. From the beginning, he wanted to be a filmmaker. Uncle Boris, portrayed by Judd Hirsch in another Oscar-caliber role, perhaps nourished that seed more than any family member beyond Spielberg’s mother. According to Wikipedia, Spielberg was diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 60; his creativity and imagination via his film work are legendary.

I usually take notes during a movie (a throwback to the days before IMDB, when you had to take notes, even if it was in the dark), I forgot my notebook this evening, or I would have recorded, verbatim, the line spoken by Michelle Williams as Spielberg’s Mom, which basically said that people should follow their hearts and nobody should give up their own life to satisfy others. We are told that his classical pianist mother gave up a promising career to marry in 1945, with young Steven born in December of 1946.

The film suggests that Steven’s Mom loved two men at the same time, one of them her husband, one of them his best friend Bernie Adler, dubbed Uncle Benny. Since Steven’s father had moved the entire family from Phoenix to California without much family discussion of whether his wife and the four children were in favor of that program, his mother’s departure in the film to return to Phoenix and Bernie (Uncle Benny)  with Steven’s three younger sisters (while Steven stayed in California with his Dad) made sense.

The film addresses Spielberg’s being bullied because of  his Jewish background, especially when he was the new kid in high school in Phoenix (a move from New Jersey, although the Spielberg roots in Cincinnati seems to have been glossed over). Once again, the young Spielberg (or Fabelman, here) turned to film, making a film for the Class of ’64 Ditch Day. He got revenge against all those who had been mean to him in high school onscreen; his film was well-received, but that segment of the film is not as interesting as the family divorce dynamic or, perhaps, some of his success in later life. Getting David Lynch to play Director John Ford, a true story, was more interesting than the Beach Blanket Bingo feeling of Spielberg’s Ditch Day project.

I have to believe that the anecdote involving filmmaker John Ford that ends the film is true (sources confirm it is) and that his mother really did buy a monkey; my neighbor across the street bought a monkey, so, to me, that was not the most outlandish concept to wrap my mind around. Otherwise, the office interaction of a young Steven Spielberg with an old John Ford bears little relevance to the plot itself, which traces the young filmmaker’s genesis from nerdy Jewish kid cast adrift in a Christian world right up to the very brink of his success in Hollywood. You almost feel that this should be a series that traces Spielberg’s soon-to-come successes, one by one.

The usual suspects aided Spielberg in this autobiographical memoir film. The cinematography is, once again,  Janusz Kaminski, who has received multiple Oscar nominations and wins while working with Spielberg. Tony Kushner co-wrote the screenplay.  The music by John Williams is their 29th collaboration. Williams has done the score for all but 5 of Spielberg’s films.

In addition to a nearly sure-fire Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the standoouts in their respective roles are Michelle Williams as his mother and Judd Hirsch as his Uncle Boris. The 20-year-old Canadian actor Gabriele LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman scored the role from among 2,000 applicants and does a very credible job. LaBelle has recently appeared in the television version of “American Gigolo,” portraying the younger version of Julian Kaye, the gigolo character portrayed by Jon Bernthal.


Film “50/50” with Seth Rogen & Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Seth Rogen (“Knocked Up”), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception,” “500 Days of Summer”), Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) and Blythe Dallas-Howard (“The Village,” “The Help”) set out to make a dramedy (a combination of drama and comedy) about cancer in “50/50.”  The balancing act between humor and pathos is a delicate balancing act, but the film, written by writer Will Reiser and directed by Jonathan Levine works in telling the true story of a young man (Adam) who is unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer at the age of 27.  Reiser, who has a bit part in the film as “Greg,” was diagnosed with cancer in real life at age 25.

Seth Rogen, a Canadian native, enjoyed the standing ovation the film received at its Toronto Film Festival World Premiere. There is much to enjoy and appreciate in the bittersweet story of a life hanging in the balance and a good friend who stands by his buddy. The performances from all are spot-on and the cinematography and music are similarly skillful.

Rogen explained the film’s origins this way:  “We worked with Will (Reiser) on Da Ali G Show, and it was shortly afterwards that we learned he was sick.  As shocking, sad, confusing and generally screwed up as that was, we couldn’t ignore that, because we were so ill-equipped to deal with the situation, funny things kept happening.” (Facebook page for “50/50”). Or, as Director Levine told the Los Angeles “Times,” “Little Will got sick.  Now he’s fine. And we made a movie about it.  That’s crazy.”

It was crazy, in fact, that Jonathan Levine ended up directing the film at all. Levine had originally passed on the project (although he sent a complimentary note regarding the script) and a different director was set to helm, but dropped out.  It was only in the interim, when two of Levine’s family members were diagnosed with cancer, that he stepped in to direct.  As Levine said, “That (his relatives’ cancer diagnoses) made the script resonate that much more for me.  I went through those experiences where things are just so ridiculous and so intense that you have to laugh and I went through those experiences where things are so ridiculous sometimes that you have to cry.”

However, it’s a tough sell to get people into a theater to see a movie with the working title “I’m with Cancer.” Director Jonathan Levine realized that when the movie, ultimately titled “50/50,” was filming. [The second title “Live With It” didn’t take, either.]

It’s just as tough when your lead drops out a week before shooting is supposed to start. Originally, the part played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt was to have been played by James McAvoy (“Atonement”), but his wife went into labor and McAvoy went home. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had only 7 to 10 days to prepare for the part of Adam Lerner.

With the insertion of comic material in such serious subject matter, Director Levine says, “You never want to be too manipulative.  You never want to stretch for a joke.  You just want it to sort of unfold, the way life unfolds.” While the comedy works, some may criticize the serious parts of the film, saying Adam, the film’s central character, remains much too calm for much too long when in such dire straits. In only one memorable scene (while driving Rogen’s car) does Adam really lose it, emotionally. Adam is portrayed as an obsessive-compulsive neat freak who chews his fingernails and believes in the adage, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Calm is an understatement for his demeanor after his diagnosis, considering that the rare hereditary form of spinal cancer he incurs has only a 50/50 survival rate before it metastasizes and a 10% survival rate after it spreads.

In the film, Seth Rogen’s character Kyle, after hearing the news of his friend’s illness, tries to cheer Adam up by citing other cancer patients who have beaten the odds. “F***** Lance Armstrong. He keeps getting it… Patrick Swayze.” Adam interrupts Kyle to mildly remind him that Patrick Swayze died. This seems to come as a news flash to Kyle (Rogen).

Seth Rogen’s reactions are priceless at all points. Although he will soon be too mature to play the part of a walking hormone constantly trying to get laid using any excuse possible, the Rogen vamping on this theme has been wildly successful in several previous films (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”). In this film, Rogen is “funny, sad and honest” (the announced goal of the film) at all points, whether he is helping shave Adam’s head, verbally nailing Adam’s cheating girlfriend, or helping his good friend change the bandages on his spinal incision.  Rogen reminded Gordon-Levitt of that scene, saying, “That was exactly how I reacted (to the large incision down Adam’s back—which he describes in the film as “Saw material”). I almost threw up on you.” For fans of “Falling Skies” with Noah Wylie this past summer television season, Adam ends up looking like he has had one of the infamous creatures removed from his backbone in much the same way as the hapless victims of the aliens of that TV show.

Perhaps the most amazing behind-the-scenes story about the film involves the head-shaving scene, which is featured on posters and trailers. As Director Levine described that day, “Will wrote the scene and then, within that, the specifics of the dialogue were totally improvised and the rest was improvised. It was the last thing we shot on the first day.  As I said, Joe (Gordon-Levitt) pretty much had 10 days, we barely knew the guy, and he had to shave his f****** head at the end of the first day.  And it was his first scene with Seth, as well.”

Other actors who excel in their parts are the Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick (for “Up in the Air”) as Katie McRay, a compassionate 24-year-old therapist-in-training, who has only had 2 previous patients; Blythe Dallas-Howard as Rachael, Adam’s cheating girlfriend; and two elderly patients with cancer, played by Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer  (“Max Headroom”). When Frewer’s character of Mitch dies unexpectedly, the reality of Adam’s 50/50 odds sink in more seriously and the reality of life and death comes home to one and all.

(Dr.) Katie McRay (Anna Kendrick) is all about earnest attempts at touchy-feely closeness (“It’s like being slapped by a sea otter,” Adam says of her robot-like grabbing of his wrist in her office.  He calls it “creepy.”) Katie is all sympathetic smiles and clichéd book learned wisdom. You get the feeling that Katie has read all the books but is still feeling her way along in implementing these techniques in the real world. Another fine supporting performance from Kendrick. Upon learning that Adam considers his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston) to be “an irrational loon,” Katie tells Adam, “You can’t change who your parents are.  All you can change is how you react to it.” (Psych 101).  Kendrick continues her spacey, Diane Keaton-esque comic vamping. You only have to go back to “Up in the Air” where Kendrick shone, to realize that she will play many sensitive/comedic parts in future films.  George Clooney commented (at the time of “Up in the Air”) that Kendrick blew all the other actors (including himself) off the screen with her spot-on performance.

Bryce Dallas-Howard is equally good as Rachael, Adam’s girlfriend. She plays the villain of the piece. This is apropos, since Dallas-Howard is fresh off playing villainess “Hilly” in “The Help.”  Actor-director Ron Howard’s little girl is caught by Seth Rogen’s character making out with an artist at a gallery opening (an artist who, says Rogen, “looks like Jesus”). Adam is back home, zonked out from his illness and waiting for his girlfriend to get home. There is another instance when Rachael shows up very late to pick Adam up after his chemotherapy. She also refuses to enter the hospital to be with him during his chemo treatment. In other words, we see her exit from his life coming from several miles away and “good riddance to bad rubbish” is Kyle’s reaction.

Good friend Kyle (Rogen), playing amateur detective, takes a picture of the cheating couple with his cell phone. Rogen then confronts Rachael at Adam’s house immediately after the gallery showing, saying to Rachael, “You are reprehensible. You’re disgusting…I’ve hated you for months.” The two friends will later creatively unleash their hostility on an oil painting Rachael made for Adam.

The music in the film is outstanding, ranging from the Bee Gees to Pearl Jam, with Michael Giacchino scoring the film, Jim Block and Gabe Helfers music supervisors and Music Editor Stephen M. Davis. Still, Director Levinson, who used hip-hop in his 2007 Sundance film “The Wackness” had much input and was delighted to obtain an Oscar-winning composer (for “Up” in 2010) for this film saying, “So, yes, him (Giacchino) scoring was a major coup for us.” (Giacchino was also nominated for Best Original Score in 2008 for “Ratatouille”).

Up next for Director-on-the-way-up Jonathan Levine is a zombie movie with John Malkovich entitled “Warm Bodies.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt is filming “The Dark Knight Rises” in Pittsburgh. And audiences nationwide will get the opportunity on September 20th to enjoy “50/50’s” message of life’s fragility and the enduring and sustaining nature of true friendship.


17 Questions for Writer/Director Kevin Smith (“Zack and Miri Make A Porno”)

Writer/Director Kevin SmithQ&A with Kevin Smith following the October 21st showing of “Zack and Mimi Make a Porno” at the Chicago Film Festival

As Kevin Smith approached the front of the theater to answer questions, his opening gambit was, “Awesome to be here in Gotham City.” He added, “If our movie makes one-tenth of what that movie made, I’ll be a happy man.”

The first audience question was: “How did you get an “R” rating for this movie?” Smith’s answer was involved. “Initially,” he said, “the movie was given a rating of NC17. We expected that. They said, ‘No, it is still too raunchy. That s*** shot will never play in an ‘R’-rated movie. We just had to accept the rating. Then, it goes before a board of 14 people. One half were from NATO, and I thought, ‘Whoa!’ I didn’t know it was this important!’ Turns out NATO means National Association of Theater Owners. The other 7 are Motion Picture ratings board people. We had 15 minutes to stand up and tell why the movie should be an ‘R.’ Then you leave and there is a silent vote. There were 2 areas that were under discussion. One was the first porno scene because of ‘too much thrusting.’ I felt like saying, ‘Come to my house. There’s no thrusting at all; just hovering.’ The other area of concern was the s*** shot. It’s only 14 frames…not even a second of film. It definitely makes an impact. It certainly did on Jeff Anderson! You get to cite precedent, so we were ready to argue our case. It takes 24 frames to make up one second of screen time. That shot is only 14 frames. If I were 13 and it was 1983 and I saw those scenes, yes, I would go to the bathroom and tug one out. But no kid is gonna’ do that today. So, we cited, as precedent, Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke in ‘Taking Lives,’ where there is a lot of  (sexual) thrusting, but it’s done seriously. Our was a comedic version of sex. In order to do that, we had to go over that. For the s*** shot, we cited “Jackass: the Helmet,” where they have a fart helmet. Then, they get a funnel and there’s actual excrement expressed into the funnel in documentary fashion, and THAT got an ‘R’ rating.

So, I’m out in the hall with Joan Gravis who heads up the ratings board and I’m close to making a deal. I was definitely invested in keeping the s*** shot. And then someone comes out and tells us we’ve been given an ‘R’ and I’m, like, ‘See you later, Joan.'”

Question 2: “What about marketing the movie?”: A: “Marketing the movie has been a bitch. We actually use stick figures for the marketing poster, and we’re still having trouble getting the word out or getting people to post them (the posters). We’re having a hard time marketing because the word ‘porno’ is actually in the title. Some people think it actually is a porno film because of that. I’d rather let the movie speak for itself; it comes out in 10 days.”

Question 3: “What about the current generation? Would you let your children see your films?” A: “My daughter is 9. She is gay for ‘High School Musical 3.’ That is the antithesis of our movie. I can get behind it, though. I think our audience is all 10 to 20 years older than my daughter. Kids are hip to that s***. Even in the kids’ world, gossip rules.”

Question 4: (from a would-be writer) “I’m a writer. Can I work for you?” A: “I don’t’ have enough juice to get my own s*** made! I had to get Seth Rogen in this movie before I got the power to get it made.” (Answer was a resounding “No.”)

Question 5: “What strikes you as funny?” A: “I try to make myself laugh and, if other people laugh, that’s my internal barometer.”

Question 6: “How did it happen that Tom Savini appeared as Jenkins, the owner of a shop in the film?” A: “Tom Savini, of course, is the make-up guy associated with George Romero in films like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and many, many others, and he was a fan. He just wanted to be in it. Monroeville was the place where they shot ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and that shopping mall where they shot that film is in the movie.”

Question 7: “When would Joe Siegel walk out?” A: “I don’t know that he would have made it past the s*** shot. And then he died. So, I really couldn’t talk about it with him. But thanks for bringing the room down!” (Laughter) [*The reference to Joe Siegel was  an attempt by an audience member to show how much more he knew than the rest of we mere spectators and how much better informed than the rest of us he was, in that most of the audience  didn’t have clue one about Joe Siegel (“Please, Alex! May I buy a clue?”) including me. I assume(d) Joe Siegel had something to do with rating movies…before he died, of course. I don’t really care. It was not germane, really, but, hey…audience member guy! I hope it was a Big Ego Boost to know something  arcane that the rest of us didn’t  know and that had little or nothing to do with the film, itself and thanks for asking that question and wasting all of our time!]

Question 8: “Were the scenes all scripted, or was there some ad-libbing and improvisation?” A: “Will Ferell and Chris Rock are great ad-libbers, as is Seth Rogen. Take the line, ‘Why is he so high-strung?’ It just sounded like Ben Affleck trying to be funny. With Seth, it was germane to the scene. It propels the scene forward.”

Question 9: “Whose films have influenced you? Who would you like to work with?” A: Jason Segal, Jonah (from “The Forty Year Old Virgin,” and “SuperBad”), Seth Rogen. When I saw Seth in “The Forty Year Old Virgin” I decided I was going to write him a lead. I wrote him an e-mail, asking if he would be interested, and I had an e-mail back within 5 minutes. Seth said he had told his agent, when he arrived in Hollywood, ‘I want to be in a Kevin Smith movie.’ This dude is famous now. He’s more famous than me.”

Question 10: “Do you think there will ever be a ‘Clerks II’?” A: “There was a messy divorce between the Weinstein Brothers and Miramax, so I doubt it.”

At this point, Smith diverged into telling a story about Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Steven Spielberg. George Lucas stopped by, and Ben Affleck was there at the time, along with the Paltrows, who are close friends of the Spielbergs. So, Affleck calls me up and says, (of Lucas and Spielberg), “They were both really geeky. They had a website-off and then lost interest in that and started surfing for porn, but not good porn, you know? That soft porn stuff. And Affleck asked them if they’d ever heard of a movie called ‘Clerks’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ That’s enough.”

Question 11 had to do with the use of R2D2 and other Lucas-inspired characters in the film, such as Princess Leia. A:  “Rich McCallum who worked for Lucas let us use the sound effects. It’s not like Lucas said, ‘You put balls on R2D2? I was gonna’ do that in the 50-year-reunion DVD.'”

The conversation moved on to Smith’s recent weight gain, which he attributed to not putting himself in the movie for the first time in many films and, therefore, hitting the craft services wagon much too heavily. “I look in the mirror now and I see my father at age 65, and I’m, like, only 38! Once this movie is over, I’m going to go and drop a lot of weight, but I didn’t think I’d hear anything about my weight here in Chicago. I expected Chicagoans to say, ‘Come: you’re one of us. Come feed with us at the trough.’

Smith then told a funny story about breaking a futuristic toilet at the Laker Blazers poker tournament. When he saw the futuristic toilet with no base, which jutted directly out from the wall, he thought, ‘Nothing under it. That is no friend to a fat man.’ Smith went on to describe doing what he termed “the hover,” (as done for women for years in public rest rooms.) He went into a long discussion of being “a back or front wiper.”

Basically, the story ends with the toilet pulling straight out of the wall and breaking, with Smith saying it was “Horrible on every f****** level. I gotta’ get off the bowl, count to 3 and jump like in ‘Lethal Weapon II.’ And then there’s the guy waiting on the outside of the stall. He’s shouting, ‘You okay in there?’ It’s not like you can come out and be like, ‘Who did this?'”

All ended well when the owner of the emporium was summoned and promised, “Nobody ever has to know.” [Except that Smith  just told the world.]

Question #12: “Are you filming a horror movie?” A: I’m filming ‘Red State,’ a $3 to $5 million-dollar horror movie. I’m having a hard time getting funding for it. It’s so black it makes ‘The Dark Knight’ look like ‘Beverley Hills Chihuahua.'”

Question #13: “Do you think you have grown as a filmmaker?” A: Noting that he is now back with his original Director of Photography Dave Klein, Smith said, “I think this is the best thing we’ve ever done visually.” Smith promised to stay faithful to using Klein in the future, noting that he had been paired with Vilmos Szigmond on “Jersey Girl,” as the studio sought to educate him by pairing him with a great Director of Photography in some recent projects. “They ended up saying, we could put him with a great DP and he would turn him into s***. I told Klein, ‘Dude, I will never not work with you (Klein) again.'”

Smith notes that he likes to set his movies in places where he hangs out, hence his settings which, up until this movie set in Pittsburgh, have always been in New Jersey. When he met Seth Rogen, Rogen told him: “‘Clerks’ was the movie that made me want to be a filmmaker.’ He’d (Rogen) say, ‘You’re great!’ And I’d say, “No, YOU’RE great!’ We have a very good interaction. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.”

Smith then told the audience that the s*** shot had actually happened to Barry Sonnenfeldt when he was working shooting porno films. “I want an e-mail or a call from him, saying either, ‘Dude, you nailed it!’ or ‘You were so far off!'”

Question #14: “Why did you cast 2 actual porn stars (Traci Lord and Katie Morgan) in the film?” “It was Seth’s idea. ‘Think about it,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing you can ask her to do that will be as horrible as what she does in her day job.’ So, we were researching it on the internet…just for the movie, I swear (laughter)…and I saw a YouTube bit of Katie Morgan where she was pretty good in the acting part. She was so excited about the Premiere of the movie. I was like, ‘I’ve been doing this for 15 years now. I’m jaded. I’ve got it at my house. I can watch it in my living room,’ and she’s all excited and enthused about the Premiere.”

Smith noted that Morgan has said to him, “I want to be able to do both” (i.e. serious and porno films). “It was very helpful having Katie and Traci on the set. They knew how it worked in the porn industry. It became ‘Teach me how to direct, Katie Morgan.’ Getting Traci Lords was kind of a coup for us. She hasn’t made a porno film in, like, 20 years and, insensitively, we sent her the script. She read it and decided, ‘Maybe it’s time I embraced my past and made fun of it.”

At this point, Smith told a humorous story about interviewing the porn queen in his home and how he could just imagine his mother and father from his childhood viewing this. He  said, “Why did you waste the time on this?”

Question #15: “Do you still work with Scott Mosier?” A: “I find it nearly impossible to do my job without Scott. He’s a wonderful film editor, and he’s a great guy to bounce cuts off (Smith both wrote, directed, and edited the film). It’s like a porn version of how Scott and I make films.”

Question #16: “Who thought up or gave you the idea for the Dutch Rudder?” A: “That came from DP Dave Klein, and I added the Double Dutch Rudder. There was a third one that got cut, the Double Dutch Fudge Rudder.”

At this point, there was a discussion of Jason Mewes always being naked. “He’s always got it out or what-not.” (Smith says “what-not” a lot! Next up: “Yada?”) “When he walked out of the bedroom, naked, he was a lot larger than he normally is, and Ben Affleck said to me, ‘You realize that Mewes is one pump away from total lift-off.’ Mewes, upon hearing this, said, “Tell Affleck that I’m my own fluffer. And I was on the way down, not on the way up.'” An audience member asked if Mewes was off drugs and alcohol. Smith responded, “He’s been sober for 6 years. Doesn’t drink. Doesn’t do drugs.” (As I recall, we applauded Mewes being sober…and I don’t even know the guy!)

Question #17: “Do you have a favorite ‘Star Wars’ sexual fantasy?” A: “I never have had a “Star Wars’ sexual fantasy.”

Writer/Director/Editor Smith told an amusing story about chatting with Brandon Routh, who played “Superman” in the most recent installment of that franchise, and who plays a gay classmate of Zack and Miri’s, in this film.  (Smith):  “I asked him if there wasn’t some sort of morals clause in his contract that would forbid him from making this film, and he said that the only clause was that he couldn’t portray other superheroes and, when I heard that, I said, ‘Right on! Get in there and kiss that guy!’ “(Jason Long)

Audiences who can handle the crude language (as Smith fans can) and situations and are not scandalized by the storyline, which is basically a sweet story of the discovery of true love, will enjoy “Zack and Miri Make A Porno.” All of us present on October 21st enjoyed the film and the following  Q&A at the Chicago Film Festival with Writer/Director/Editor Kevin Smith.

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