About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Oscars Timeline

Last night, as has been the case for the last 35 years, I watched the Oscars. For the first time, though, I found myself taking notes on the show. Here then are my random first impressions of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. 

7:48 PM: Turned on the preshow. These red carpet interviews are a dream come true if you love seeing your favourite stars being really awkward.

8:06 :  I resolve not to have any "best dressed/worst dressed" coverage in this post. To paraphrase what my Mom used to always say, "You go to The Academy Awards to honour excellence in the field of motion picture arts and sciences, not for a fashion show.".

8:12: I briefly switch over to Fox. I discover that the network's counter-Oscar programming is, for reasons that I cannot fathom, all of their Sunday night animation show's Xmas episodes.

8:22 :  Note to ABC: fire the guy controlling the audio levels between the show and the commercials.

8:27:  Show is about to start. IS has just broken out the wine. I know it's gonna be fun show now, no matter what.

8:30: The opening film segment. The Oscars are still ripping off that old MTV Movie Awards bit all these years later…

8:43: Nice try on that tricky spin to keep a billion people interested in the Best Art Direction award there, Mr. Hanks.

8:47: Wally Pfister wins the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Inception. Note to self: when I win my Oscar, remember to make one more last minute check to see if I'm still wearing my glasses on my forehead before making my acceptance speech.

8:56: Only a 94 year-old, stoke-surviving Kirk Douglas could get away with holding up announcing the Best Supporting Actress Oscar....twice .

Here's Michael's dad when he was slightly younger...

8:58: Melissa Leo's acceptance speech proves that live television no longer uses the seven second delay. Man, would I have loved to see what Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Billy Crystal or even Bob Hope woulda done in response to that baby.

9:04: The Lost Thing from Australia wins Best Animated Short. The short “was produced over eight years from 2002 and features a mix of computer animated and hand-painted elements.” Note to the Music Director of the Academy: update the Best Animated Short walk-up music from that loud wacky Carl Stalling-style silly symphony stuff you insist on playing every year. Very few of the nominated short animated films these days feature Daffy Duck or Chilly Willy.

9:07:  Toy Story 3 wins Best Animated Feature. Oh, man, that movie is gonna be impossible to rent for about a month now on account of all the six year-olds who will suddenly want to see it just because it won an Oscar.

9:26:  I predict that the Canadian media today will not be able to shut up about the Quebec-made film Incendies not winning Best Foreign Language Film. You won't see quite as much of that in the French media who are considerably less needy for American attention than their English Canadian counterparts.

9:32: Christian Bale becomes the second Oscar-winning actor in history who has also played the role of Batman. There's hope for you yet, Mr.West.

9:44: Did that guy from Nine Inch Nails just win an Oscar?

9:57:  The Wolfman wins for best make-up. It’s nice to see a technical award that just focuses on the actual technical achievement. Too often the Academy hands that Oscar over to a less deserving technical achievement that happens to be in a movie that is sweeping all the awards that night.

10:20: Hey, Coen Brothers, the camera is on you! Yes, now....look...yeah, that's right...over there...see...oh, darn...it's too late....

10:32: Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law officially become The Funniest Thing in The Whole Show (there wasn't really a lot of competition in that department). I'm sure I'm not the first person to float their names out there as contenders for next year's hosts.

If Downey can make jokes about his heroin bust then he can certainly handle all the bitchiness that the internet reviewers like to dish out on Oscar hosts.

10:55:  The In Memoriam segment. Claude Chabrol and the guy who directed The Poseidon Adventure died?

11:07: Francis Ford Coppola directed some of the greatest American films ever made: The Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, to name a few. Eli Wallach is one of the greatest living method actors still working today. He has appeared in such classic films as The Misfits, The Good The Bad & The Ugly and The Magnificent Seven. Jean Luc Goddard reinvented filmmaking as part of the French New Wave movement of the 1960's. Among other things, his landmark film Au Bout du Souffle influenced mainstream Hollywood cinema throughout the 60's, 70's and beyond.  Kevin Brownlow is a film maker and film historian responsible for documenting and preserving many of the greatest films of the silent era including the restoration of Abel Gance's lost 1927 epic, Napoleon. He also directed the excellent alternate history mocumentary It Happened Here.
Coppola, Wallach, Goddard and Brownlow are suitably honoured during a three hour broadcast with a 90 second film clip highlighting a previously held awards ceremony. The clip is reverently followed by three out of the four film legends briefly appearing live on stage, waving to the crowd without speaking. The audience slows down the the entire show by stopping to give them a standing ovation.

11:25: Jeff Bridges does not win the Oscar for Best Actor in True Grit, proving once and for all that he is no John Wayne.

11:34: In addition to launching a huge campaign amongst Academy voters for The King's Speech to win Best Picture, Harvey Weinstein apparently also lobbied to have The King's Speech dominate the montage of this year's nominated films.

11:36: The King's Speech wins Best Picture. Harvey Wienstein must have hired Karl Rove to advise him on how to snatch the Best Picture Oscar from the jaws of The Social Network.

Midnight: I frantically put together all my observations before hearing, seeing or being influenced by any other media comments or reviews. It's not easy.

And, oh yeah, I suppose I have to close by saying, yes, I am indeed a dummyhead...

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Have Not Missed The Oscars Since 1976

Yes. The title of the post speaks the truth. I have seen every Oscar telecast live, when it aired, since the mid 1970's. That encompasses more than two thirds of my life. It goes from being just old enough to negotiate staying up late with my parents, to managing to work the Oscars in between homework assignments, to telling my too-ironically-sophisticated-for-the-mainstream-movie-scene roommates to shut up for once while they announce the best picture, to racing home from improv workshop in time to catch the opening monologue to an Oscar party phase to curling up on the couch with IS and glass of wine.

I've never really been into the celebrity gossip or the "best dressed/worst dressed" obsessions that drive many people to watch the Oscars. I've also never been one of these "I turned it off when they got to Best Set Design" people. If some of the jokes or the musical numbers fall flat, no big. I watch the show for one reason and one reason only: I love movies. Period.

I don't really remember the individual Academy Awards telecasts. A few highlights over the years stand out. I remember Bob Hope's edgy Gerald Ford material that flew way over my head,  David Niven's streaker comeback line that did not fly over my head, Johnny Carson equating the Oscars with the Iran Hostage Crisis by announcing, "We are now on Day 39 of the Oscar Telecast", Robocop chasing Pee Wee Herman, Robin Williams when he was still fresh, Jack Palance's not-actually-all-that-funny one handed push ups, being outraged that Billy Crystal stole the inserting himself into scenes from the Best Picture nominees gag from the MTV movie awards, Jon Stewart's satirical political style Oscar attack ads  and Steve Martin's massively underrated turn as host of the Academy Awards in 2001 ("Movies are so violent now. I saw Gladiator with a nine year old boy and all he kept saying was 'Who are you? Where are my parents'").

That's only just a few things over 35 years.

What I do remember well, though, are the movies. I have seen every movie that won Best Picture from when I started watching the Oscars at least once (plus many of the earlier ones as well, of course).  In some cases, it was a lot of years between seeing, say, a One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest win the Oscar and seeing the actual movie. Thanks to the Home Video Revolution of the 80's and a bunch of free evenings, I managed to fill in all those gaps.

Having seen so many Best Pictures over the years, it's become pretty obvious to me that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has very specific criteria and preferences for what constitutes the "Best" in cinema. Some of the movies they chose are very good, some are overrated and many are between the two. The Oscars are no more the arbitrators of quality cinema than the Independent Spirit Awards or The American Film Institute or the jury at The Cannes Film Festival or even the Razzies.

That being said, here are my random two cents on each and every Best Picture since I started watching The Academy Awards way back in 1976.


 One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is one of my favourite movies ever. Milos Forman captures the dreary and oppressive 1950's mental hospital setting in all its depressing splendor. The great performances from Louis Fletcher, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, Will Sampson and Danny Devito help to make this film remarkable.  For me personally, this is the performance that defines Jack Nicholson as an actor.

Am I ever glad I didn't have to cast an Academy ballot that year. The other Best Picture nominees were Barry Lydon, Dog Day Afternoon, Nashville and Jaws.


There has not been a sports movie made in the last three and a half decades that does not owe a debt of gratitude to....

The original Rocky is a solid film that still holds up.

So good, in fact, that Sylvester Stallone has remade it five times.


Woody Allen is better known today for his output of repetitively themed more-miss-than-hit movies and, of course, the very public scandals surrounding his personal life. Sadly, those things now overshadow the genius of the man in his heyday. Between Annie Hall in 1977 and 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody did the bulk of his best work.

Annie Hall has an almost perfect blend of amazingly well written comedy and a very real sense of poignancy. It's a combination that Woody never really pulled off again. I also love his anything goes approach to film making. In Annie Hall, he throws in everything from fourth walling to animation to Marshall McLuhan cameos to highly subjective flashbacks to the use of subtitles to portray his character's inner thoughts.

Annie Hall is up there with Airplane! and Monty Python and The Holy Grail as one of the comedies from which I can quote verbatim off the top of my head.

I remember being incredibly incensed that this movie beat out Star Wars for Best Picture. That is, until I actually I saw Annie Hall.


The Deer Hunter was the first big mainstream Hollywood movie to take the subject of the War in Vietnam head on.Up till then, there had been a couple of smaller films,  a few that took on issues encountered on the home front of the controversial war and, of course, The Duke's 60's propaganda piece, The Green Berets. There had been nothing quite like this film. The Deer Hunter features amazing performances from Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep and, in the role that won him his Oscar and introduced him to the world, Christopher Walken. If Francis Ford Coppolla had got his act together and released Apocalypse Now a year earlier, he woulda had Best Picture in the bag. Instead that honour the next year went to...


The SNL parody was titled Kramer vs Godzilla. The Family Guy bit was Kramer vs Predator. My version would be Kramer vs Mad Dog Vachon (it's a 1970's Canadian  wrestling joke, folks, keep up with me here).

Kramer vs Kramer is one of those small character driven dramas that the Academy favours when it's not favouring big scale epics. This Dustin Hoffman-Merly Streep vehicle beat out both Bob Fosse's brilliant semi-biographical musical, All That Jazz and Francis Ford Coppola's colossal masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.  So I ask: is this film now considered a cult classic? Has Kramer vs Kramer seen subsequent re-releases, a making-of film made 15 years after the fact, a re-edited redux version and a best selling commemorative three disc Blu-ray edition?


Ordinary People marks the heralding of Robert Redford's directing career.  And it's quite the heralding too. My personal favourite sequences are the emotionally charged therapy scenes between Judd Hirsh and Timothy Hutton. At the time I remember being really annoyed that every other person I knew was saying stuff like, "Mary Tyler Moore is so amazing. She can play comedy and drama too."

Um...yeah...it's called be an actor, there, folks.


Throughout most of the 80's and 90's there were an innumerable amount of parody running bits that always used this music...

Another fave of the Academy is the Dark Horse Horse Underdog Outsider Upstart. These are usually independent or foreign films that are, as is often the case, also British. In this case, Chariots of Fire is both. I remember it being quite the upset back in the day. I don't even want to talk about all the money I lost in my college Oscar Pool.

Chariots of Fire beat out Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the greatest escapist movies ever made and Warren Beatty's Reds, one of the most underrated films of all time.


To the tune of The Vestibules "Gandhi" (or, if you prefer Windy by The Association): "What movie won the Best Picture? Everyone knows it's Gandhi!"

I remember one of the Montreal morning deejays complaining the day after the Oscars, "So Ghandhi won Best Picture. Geez! Why do the Oscars always like the artsy stuff." 

I'm sorry? Ghandi? Arsty stuff?  K, pal, you might wanna steer clear of Bergman, Goddard and, for that matter, just about anything in the "foreign film" section of your local Blockbuster.


I remember it well. The TV was on the background while I was working under a serious deadline for a major undergraduate paper when Terms of Endearment won Best Picture. Yep. I recall the moment, not the paper.

Jack Nicholson and Shirley Maclaine really made this movie for me.  James L. Brooks has long since lost his shine but Terms of Endearment is still of the best films of its kind ever.


Milos Forman continues to explore his ongoing theme of rebellion against oppressive life circumstances. I remember watching Amadeus for the second time at the old Seville Theatre repertory cinema. There was guy sitting behind me in a Van Halen T-shirt who kept yelling "All right! Yeah! Wooh!" to just about everything Mozart did. Nothing speaks more powerfully about the Forman's ability to engage an audience than that.


Time for the character driven sweeping epic to get some Academy recognition. Out of Africa boasts beautiful aerial cinematography, one of John Barry's best scores and great acting from Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

Besides that, though, it must say that the rest of it left me cold, which is weird because it's about Africa where it is hot.


Platoon is the other Vietnam War movie to win Best Picture. It was also part of a massive Hollywood trend of movies about the war, many of them quite revisionist. To this day, I never miss a new Oliver Stone movie, despite his frequent hammer-over-the-head approach to directing. Actual 'Nam vets say that Platoon is the most realistic film about the war. True enough. The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now both employed a great deal of artistic license with historical events. 

Nonetheless, I do have issues with the use of Adagios over scenes of weary, battle-worn soldiers; Peter Weir did the same thing, to much greater effect, in Gallipoli five years earlier. And, sorry, but no matter how many times I see it, I still do not believe a single of word of Tom Berneger's "Let me tell you about death..." monologue.


Not necessarily Bernardo Betrolucci's best work (Last Tango in Paris anyone?), The Last Emperor is a film that has stayed with me over the years. Two of my personal favorite things about this film are David Byrne, Ruyuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su's worthy-of-owning-the-album score and the fact that Peter O'Toole plays a rare non-drunk role.


I know it's something of a cliche to point to Dustin Hoffman's performance in Rain Man. But, man, carrying a film with a character that has such limited means of expression is no small feat. Not to mention that he had to play off of Tom Cruise at the same time.

The Vestibules parody sketch at the time was an ad for The Rain Man Pocket Calculator featuring the voice of Hoffman's character, Raymond Babbitt. We kept that one in the live show for years.


Driving Miss Daisy is a quintessential example of those Academy favored small character driven film with social and/or political overtones. Another popular opinion about this movie was voiced by a friend of mine I saw it with, "Nothing happens!".

Personally, I can watch anything with performances this good. Even Dan Ackoryd got a nomination out of Driving Miss Daisy.


I admire where Kevin Costner's heart was but, I remember even back in the day finding Dances With Wolves really simplistic. I also had a hard time understanding why Kostner's supposedly pacifistic character seemed to have absolutely no issues with introducing fire arms to the Native Americans; an act that would surely lead to an escalation of their conflict with the white man and ultimately the massacre of Kostner's adopted people.

Dances With Wolves also smacks of that patriarchal attitude found in films like To Kill a Mockingbird, Lawrence of Arabia and even the Zorro movies. That attitude being that it's up to the good white people to stand up for the oppressed minorities 'cause, after all, they could never possibly do so for themselves.

Nonetheless, for those keeping score it's Westerns with negative Native American portrayals: 20,438, Westerns with positive Native American portrayals: 1.


The Silence of the Lambs was the first horror movie to ever win Best Picture. I remember having many debates with my friends as to whether the end of the film was meant to be scary or funny. Am I allowed to say both?

Hannibal Lector and cannibalistic themes in general saw a brief but large spike in improv show suggestion popularity around this time.

Followed by way too many sequels and prequels.


For me, The Outlaw Josey Wales is Clint Eastwood's best Western as a director. Unforgiven comes in second, Pale Rider third and High Plains Drifter rounds out this very specific category at number four.

I remember many critics had issues with film's alleged endorsement of violence as a means of resolving conflict. I think that's missing the point. Not surprising, though. Existentialism has never really played that well in mainstream popular culture.


The thing that speaks most strongly to the emotional power of Schindler's List is that, though I have thought about it many times, I have never been able to bring myself to go back and watch the film again. The last time I saw Stephen Spielberg's Holocaust epic was during its initial release . It's up there with Saving Private Ryan and Munich as one of Spielberg's very best films.

My favourite stand-up comedy line used by comics when a show isn't going so well: "You people are looking at me like you're watching Schindler's List."

Still used to this day.


Forrest Gump is a classic example the way Best Pictures often work: critically acclaimed, popular, successful and very entertaining at the time of its initial release. However, is it really one of those classic films that people keep coming back to years later?

Life is like the box of chocolates line, you keep hearing jokes about the same scene over and over again.


Braveheart is one of the earliest signs of Mel's Gibson's gradual descent into madness.

Personally, I always preferred this version of the William Wallace story:

BTW, the MTV Movie Awards were doing this shtick a good two years before Billy Crystal started doing it at the Oscars. Just sayin'.


In The English Patient, Willem Dafoe plays an Anglo Montrealer in the 1940's who uses the French pronunciation of "Laurier street". He also says the name of his native city as "MON-treal". I also love that the Nazi interrogator has to say to him, "You're a Canadian spy working for the Allies".  I guess that line is there 'cause American audiences might be unsure about what side a country that shares the same continent with them might have been on during World War II. Despite all those awful horrible glaring mistakes, The English Patient still won Best Picture.


It's fashionable to bash Titanic these days (and even those days, really). I saw it in the first few days of its release. None of the "highest grossing", "greatest movie ever" hype has really kicked in it yet. I had no issues with any of that. I found the whole three hours really emotionally engaging (well, minus the Celine Dion song over the closing credits).

James Cameron is the master of making the most basic simplistic stories come to life with incredibly entertaining results (Hello Avatar!). He is also able to master both the technical and emotional elements of a film with equal aplomb.

Still, Titanic is no True Lies.


So apparently it takes the Queen's guards almost the entire running time of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to get from The Palace of Whitehall to The Globe Theatre (it actually takes roughly half an hour on foot -keep up with me here 16th century London geography geeks!).

According to the film, Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night as a means of sublimating his lost love for Viola , played by Gwyneth Paltrow. However, there was a 16 year gap between the time when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet and the time when he wrote Twelfth Night. Man, that Billy dude sure carried the torch for Gwyneth for at long time, huh?

On the surface, those may sound like picky pedantic critiques. It wouldn't be the first time I've heard such a response to my opinions. However, if I'm thinking about those things and not focusing on anything else during the film's crucial third act, then there's definitely a problem there.

But, hey, any behind-the-scenes story about one of the greatest playwrights of all time and I'm there, no matter what.

One of the things I really liked about Shakespeare in Love was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead playwright Tom Stoppard's contributions to the screenplay. His distinctive stamp abounds in much of the dialogue.  Ben Affleck's portrayal of a pompous poltroon of an Elizabethan actor kinda started to turn around my opinion of the guy.


American Beauty is, among other thing, a film of character studies fleshed out by some freakin' amazing actors. There's also beautiful cinematography and that always beguiling plastic bag blowing in the wind stuff.

That being said, I've seen the film a few times now and, I gotta say, I'm still not sure why we're supposed to be sympathetic to Kevin Spacey's character. While his wife, played wonderfully by Annette Bening, certainly has many flaws, really let's face it, the guy is unnecessarily cruel towards her. That and, yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it already: Mena Suvari is hot.


Hollywood returns to the old school historical epic movie making of Ben Hur and Spartacus. This time around, though, they've got CGI effects that Cecil B. DeMille would have considered Divine Intervention.

Gladiator also marks director Ridley Scott's return to greatness. Scott's films, unlike James Cameron's, are often technically and visually incredible but not always emotionally engaging (this does actually work for Mr.Scott in the case of movies like Alien and Blade Runner).  In Gladiator, Scott deftly combines the two elements seamlessly. 

I still use the opening battle scene to show off my 6.1 DTS Dolby Surround Home Theatre System (just not when anyone his home downstairs).


Russel Crowe again. I don't know about you but I saw the twist in A Beautiful Mind coming early on. I mean some of that stuff Ed Harris talks about sounds pretty loony tunes right off the bat.  Notice how if you have not seen the film, none of that is a SPOILER ALERT?


I find it sad that we can no longer see that old school movie musical approach. You know what I mean: movies where the musical numbers are not all just only in fantasy sequences.

Well, okay...there's animated features, the High School Musical movies (if they count) and the recent film version of the Broadway musical Hairspray but, still, you get my point.

I know it speaks more to the Bob Fosse musical on which the movie is based but many of the songs off of the Chicago soundtrack are still on my iPod.


I think it's clear to everyone by now that the Academy wasn't just awarding the Oscar to Peter Jackson for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King but for the whole LOTR Trilogy. I must confess that I've never  been able to stick with the original Tolkien books despite many attempts. As a result, I don't have as many issues with these films as many of my fellow geeky friends do.

I liked all three movies, if that's okay, guys.

The Two Towers was my personal fave (and I'd also like to take this opportunity to give a big shout out to Peter Jackson's underrated King Kong remake). 

If nothing else, you have to hand it to Jackson for breaking the long standing Oscar barrier in the SF/Fantasy genre.

As far as Return of the King goes, I'm with Billy Crystal when he said, "11 Oscar nominations. One of each ending.".


Once again, Clint Eastwood confounds mainstream popular culture with his own brand of existentialism. Hilary Swank won her second Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. Ironically, she was fired from the cast of Beverley Hills 90210 because she "couldn't act."

I've just lost all respect for Beverly Hills 90210.


Crash is The Most Overrated Best Picture Ever. People I know who live in LA tell me that race relations in the city are even worse there than they way they are depicted in this film.

However, a series of ironic coincidences does not a movie make.

I prefer the David Cronenberg version.


Martin Scorcese describes The Departed as the first movie he's ever directed "with a plot". True dat. It's one of the most engaging films of his that I've seen in years.  It's got all the tortured drama of a Taxi Driver or a Raging Bull with great suspense to boot. It's also continues the trend of Scorcese's crowning of Leonardo Decaprio as his New Deniro.

The Departed is a remake of the great Hong Kong movie, Internal Affairs, but there are many many examples of great directors unable to pull the remake feat off.

Jack Nicholson's best performance since The Shining.


The Coen brothers enter Stanley Kubirck territory in their most audaciously perplexing film yet. They pull off that great film ending thing that previously only Kubrick had been able to make work. Which is to say, ending the film in a place when the audience is least expecting it ("What? Huh? Closing credits? Now?") . 

One of the more intriguing theories I've heard is that Javier Bardem is Death; not the character, the actor.


The Independent Foreign Outsider Best Picture strikes again. The screening of Slumdog Millionaire I attended had many people walking out during the now infamous blinding of children scene. Oddly, if all those people would have stuck with it, they would have seen a feel good movie of the year ending that puts most Sandra Bullock vehicles to shame. You really gotta hand it to Danny Boyle and his ability to reinvent himself with almost every film he makes. I remember really liking the film the first time I saw it.  I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire since it came out so I can't really comment on the fashionable critical backlash it is now enduring. I will say this though: how weird is it that the Indian Police are willing to torture people for allegedly cheating on a TV game show?


Is it just me or was all that coverage in media about how Hurt Locker director Karhyn Biegelow is woman director yet almost always makes films about "male" subjects (like cops, submarines, vampires hunters, bank heists and war) actually kinda sexist?

That aside, Hurt Locker is an interesting film that doesn't really take sides in the pro-Iraq War vs anti-Iraq War debate. It examines the life of one man who, to quote the opening on-screen text of the film, is "addicted to war". As far as its political stance on the war goes, well, you could be Toby Keith or you could be Noam Chomsky and still get a message that supports your viewpoint from The Hurt Locker. That, in and of itself, makes The Hurt Locker great filmmaking.


Well, I predict...anyway. The Social Network that kind of film that the Academy traditionally loves: a small character driven film with topical social/political overtones. Plus, now that we all know Facebook alone was responsible for the recent revolution in Egypt, the movie is oh so much more relevant...

Feel free to call me a dummyhead if it turns out I got that wrong...but only once.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Horatio Hornblower vs James T. Kirk

There is nothing original in popular culture. Virtually every big movie or TV show out there is derivative of some previous movie, book, comic, play, myth, opera or any number of other pre-established cultural archetypes. You may think a movie is fresh and original  but look into it and you'll find that the whole thing is, to some degree or another, a total rip-off.

For example, I remember seeing the Montreal premiere of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was a CHOM-FM hosted event held at the old Imperial Theatre way back in 1982. I remember really enjoying it. The whole movie seemed like a fresh and original take on the whole Trek thing (unlike the first Trek film but that's another blog).  About 15 years later, I was killing time watching TV between improv shows in the green room at The Comedyworks. History Television was running some old 50's sea adventure epic. I was half watching it out of the corner of my eye when I noticed there was a naval battle scene. In seconds I was exclaiming, "Holy crap, this is Wrath of Khan!" (Trek fandom runs high in stand-up comedy so most everyone in the room at the time concurred with observation). Turns out that movie they were showing that night was the 1951 film, Captain Horatio Hornblower.

The character of Captain James T. Kirk is often said to be based on C.S. Forester's 19th century navel hero, Captain Horatio Hornblower.  Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry reportedly used the term "Hornblower in space" to describe Kirk as part of his original network pitch for the first Star Trek TV series. Though he also used the term "Wagon Train to the stars", so you can take that with a grain of salt. Roddenberry later claimed that Star Trek: The Next Generation's Captain Jean-Luc Picard is really the guy who is based on Hornblower. Roddenberry is up there with George Lucas as one of The Greatest Revisionist Bullshitters of All Time so it's hard to be sure of the veracity of any of his statements.

There is much less ambiguity when it comes to the Hornblower connection to the second Trek motion picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Director Nicolas Meyer openly credits the Hornblower influence on the Trek II DVD director's commentary track.

Captain Horatio Hornblower is the lead character of a series of novels written by C.S. Forester between 1937-67. Hornblower commanded a number of different ships in the British Royal Navy in the 19th century. While a skilled and courageous Captain, Hornblower is described as "unhappy and lonely".  He is a character that is plagued with self doubt and introspection. Hardly the kinda guy you 'd want to bring up in a pitch meeting with TV execs who are already skeptical about your whole "Enterprise".

In Star Trek II, Kirk, now promoted from Captain to Admiral, has to deal with, among other things, the prospect of aging, an estranged son, the kid's mom (one of his ex's from way back, also estranged, natch) and a bad guy he sent up the galactic river many years ago who is now bent on revenge. All that leads Kirk down the road of self doubt and introspection (but only during breaks between the action packed scenes of starship warfare).

The Hornblower influence on the Trek universe can be seen quite clearly in the aforementioned 1951 film adaptation Captain Horatio Hornblower. Starring Gregory Peck in the title role, the movie was co-written by Forester and adapted from three of the original Hornblower novels. With Greg Peck as the illustrious captain you get only to see a token amount of unhappiness, loneliness, self doubt and introspection (but it is there nonetheless).  In fact, you see much more of those characteristics from William Shatner as Admiral Kirk in Star Trek II. However, it's not just the character development that the film version of Hornblower and Trek II have in common.

It's the battle scenes.

Star Trek II has got some of the most exciting space battle scenes this side of the Millennium Falcon. Much of the excitement is owed directly to the naval battle scenes in Captain Horatio Hornblower. Myer was being a bit coy when he sited the Hornblower "movies" as an "influence" on Star Trek II. Hornblower director Raoul Walsh should share the screen credit on the Trek II. Many of the action scenes from Hornblower are recreated almost beat-for-beat in Wrath of Khan.

In Star Trek II Admiral James T. Kirk, along with dealing with personal matters, squares off against crazed warlord Khan who has commandeered a Federation space vessel. In Captain Horatio Hornblower, Captain Hornblower, along with dealing with personal matters, squares of against crazed Spanish warlord El Supremo who has commandeered a Spanish naval vessel.

To use a term coined by my sketch troupe, The Vestibules, nothing makes the similaritoid case more clearly than this little montage I put together.


There is a scene in Woody Allen's Stardust Memories where Woody, playing a comedian turned serious film director (how does he come up with this stuff?) is attending a film festival retrospective on his work. During a Q&A, a cinephile in the audiences asks him if a horror parody scene from one his "earlier funny movies" was an homage to the 50's horror film, House of Wax. The cinephile winks to his buddy as he asks the question. Woody looks out to the guy in the audience and replies, "A homage? No. We stole it outright."

Mr. Meyer?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Saint Valentine is the Reason for the Season

St. Valentine's Day 
496 A.D.

St.Valentine's Day
2011 A.D.

So just how exactly did we get from a Fifth Century early Christian martyr symbolizing romance to a  21st century shapeshifting robot symbolizing romance?

Let's begin by pointing out that Valentine's Day is actually St.Valentines Day. I say that not to be pedantic (okay, well maybe a little) but because I find myself running into an increasingly large amount of people who are not aware of the holiday's religious origins. It's kinda like what the Christian right fears that Christmas will become one day . Interestingly, most of the War-on-Christmas commentators seem to have given up completely on the overly commercialized and secularized Feast of St.Valentine.  It may have something do with the fact that Saints and their feasts are primarily an obsession of the Catholics. Catholicism is only just a notch above Satanism, after all.

Just like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, St. Patrick's Day and anything else that was supposed to be fun, the nuns teaching religion in my Catholic elementary school tried to steer it all back to Catholicism. They told us about a Saint Valentine who was locked up by bad Roman people. From prison, the persecuted saint would write messages to his friends and family singed "your Valentine".  They were the first ever Valentine's Day cards. Yes. That is how they explained it to us. And, oh yeah, later the bad Roman people cut St.Valentine's heart out just because he was Christian and they were bad people.

Chocolate hearts, yum!

Either the nuns were a little off or I'm just not remembering what they taught us very well (those of you who know me well are more likely to accept the first explanation over the second). Turns out that there at least three different "official" Christian stories about St.Valentine. Each story involves a different version of St.Valentine living in the early days of Christianity.

The first St.Valentine was a priest in Rome circa the Fifth century A.D.  This particular St.Valentine secretly married couples at a time when the Roman Empire had outlawed marriage. The Romans enacted this completely reasonable piece of legislation because too many young men were using marriage as a means of avoiding military service. Married men were exempt from being drafted at that time so getting married had suddenly become very popular, particularly among young men.  Holy Vietnam War era!

Now I ain't no Roman emperor or nuthin' but wouldn't it make a lot more sense to just change the law exempting married men from military service? Isn't outlawing marriage altogether kind of a complicated way to go? And what did the powerful bridal industry lobby have to say about this draconian legislation?

Anyhoo...the bad Romans locked Valentine up for marrying people in secret. I'm not really sure what the plan was with the secret marriages. Such marriages couldn't possibly ever be legally recognized. So the guys would just end up the army anyway.  Well, I guess i ain't no Christian martyr neither.

The second version places St.Valentine as a bishop in Turni in roughly the same era. He got locked up for "helping Christians" and then fell in love with his jailer's daughter. It was that last part that this St.Valentine ended up getting executed for.  That version of the story makes slightly more sense. Well, at least it does until you start thinking about what the jailer's daughter was doing hanging out with dad at work so often...or that a Christian bishop at that time would most certainly have to had taken a vow of chastity.

Some accounts of the story combine the first two into one big epic story of St.Valentine. The combination of the two accounts doubles the amount of plot holes.

In the third version of St.Valentine was martyred in the then Roman province of Africa. That story is a little light on the details, thus making it much harder to pick apart.

In every version, St.Valentine was martyred on February 14th. What are the chances? And, oh yeah, no version features the Romans cutting Valentine's heart out. Ahem. Sister Nancy?

Here is a news story on the history of St.Valentine that nicely encapsulates the whole deal:

Well, that's one take there anyway, folks.

There are other less reverential versions. Just like Christmas, Easter and Halloween, St.Valentine's Day is thought to go back to an ancient pagan ritual.

On February 14th, the Romans had this thing called Juno Februata. The ritual was named for the Queen of the Roman goddesses who also doubled as the goddess of marriage. It involved women putting their name in a box and then men drawing the names out of the box. The two randomly selected people would then be a couple for the rest of the celebration. And, really, who hasn't been to one of those parties?

After a short break, the festivities would pick up once again on February 15th. That ritual was known a Luperaclia. This time around, the men went down into a sacred grotto, killed a goat, donned its skin and then would proceed to run around hitting the woman with small whips. And, really, who hasn't been to one of those parties?

Both of these rituals were meant to celebrate life, marriage and fertility. Ya think?

They are, of course, are just the Roman variations; it is believed that earlier versions or similar rituals date back even further than the Romans or even the Greeks.

Doing a Google image search for this kinda stuff is..um...really interesting.

Not surprisingly, the church had issues with Juno Februata and Luperaclia. So like Christmas, Easter and Halloween, they attempted to smooth it all over it a nice and devout Christian holiday.

It was not until the 14th century that anyone put the sex...er...romance back into St.Valentine's Day. It was all thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame. In the 14th century and earlier it was believed that birds mated on February 14 (how weird is it that all this stuff happens on the same day?).  Chaucer made reference to the avian mating connection in his 1832 book, Parlement of Foules, writing "For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."

The book also featured an illustration of two birds, um  "mating", I guess. Hence the expression "love birds" was born (now if only I could figure out where the hell The Cure got "Love Cats" from).

Written "Valentines" (as they became known) start turning up around 1400. Exchanging paper Valentines as gifts becomes particularly popular in England, where everyone at the time was, apparently, pretty cheap. By the 1800's, factories started churning out Valentine's Day cards. It was the beginning of the end for the good saint.  In the early 20th century, capitalism had got its mitts on the whole Valentine thing and there was no going back.

It is unclear where and when the tradition of children exchanging Valentine's Day cards originated. According to my mom's memories, it dates back at least to the 1930's.  This card, circa 1940, also serves to back that up:

I don't get this joke.

In the wake of widespread secularization and commercialism, there are, apparently, an increasing number of people who who know little or nothing about the origins (religious or otherwise) of Valentine's Day. Even the church and most religious leaders have pretty much completed abandoned St.Valentine.

St.Valentine's Day has not been an official religious holiday for almost 40 years now.  The Catholic Church dropped the feast of St.Valentine from the Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969. Quite possibly, they did so after they saw this:

So there you have it kids. How Valentine's Day made its way from ancient sexual ritual to arcane Christian martyr to Optimus Prime and Peter Parker.

There are still many unanswered questions:

What about the candy?

The chocolate hearts?

The flowers?

The naked flying baby archer?

Check back with me next Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Superbowl and The Sum of All My Fears

Not to fear, all my geeky readers of this blog, this post isn't really that much about the Superbowl. Mainly it will involve action movies, Tom Clancy and on set film business anecdotes as they relate to the biggest football game of the year.

The Super Bowl is this Sunday. It will feature That Team There playing against That Other Team There. If  that doesn't reassure you of this post's minimal Super Bowl coverage, I don't know what will.

I hope The U.S. Department of Homeland Security watches a lot of movies. If so, they will have operable intelligence that the Super Bowl is quite the popular potential target for terrorists and/or psychos. It's a scenario that very much predates 9-11.  Super Bowl attack paranoia goes at least as far back as 1976:

A psycho sniper at the Super Bowl that only Charlton Heston and John Cassavetes can stop?  Suddenly I'm a lot more interested in football. 

I know. I know. It's actually referred to as Championship Sunday in the movie. More than likely the producers could not afford the rights to the name Super Bowl. That NFL legal licensing team was on the ball even back then.  I wouldn't be surprised if this post is pulled for legal reasons because I did not title it The Big Football Game at the Beginning of February and The Sum of All My Fears.

A year later, Hollywood upped the stakes with this classic John Frankenheimer thriller

In Black Sunday, terrorists plan to bomb the Super Bowl (they had the rights to the name this time around) using the Goodyear blimp as the delivery system.  And, yes, actual terrorists do figure in the plot. Palestinians in this case. Just to back up the point, the hero of the movie is a tough Mossad agent played by Robert Shaw. Though, really, the Goodyear company should know better than to hire a bitter psycho Vietnam veteran played by Bruce Dern to pilot their blimp.

Back in 1977, such scenarios seemed quaintly far fetched.

Why is it that I'm only interested in football when it involves the threat of mayhem and destruction being reigned down on the sport's biggest game? Oh, yeah, right. High school Gym class.

Best selling political thriller author Tom Clancy brought the Super Bowl attack premise to its ultimate logical conclusion with this 1991 entry into his popular Jack Ryan series of books:

Yep. Part of the plot of Clancy's The Sum of All Fears involves terrorists setting off a nuclear bomb at -you guessed it- the Super Bowl.

Hollywood decided to wait until 2001 to announce plans to film The Sum of All Fears. It was kinda odd timing given that three other of Clancy's books about CIA operative Jack Ryan,  The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, had already been filmed featuring the 007-like switch-up casting of Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford as Ryan.

In The Sum of All Fears, the much younger than his predecessors Ben Affleck was cast as Ryan. James Earl Jones suddenly became Morgan Freeman.  In fact, there was no real indication if there was or was not supposed to be continuity between this newest Ryan adventure and the previous two. The Sum of All Fear has got to be the most secretive reboot of all time.

At this point,  you may be wondering where the acenecdotes about the movie biz that I promised earlier fits in to all this.  It's coming, trust me.

The Sum of All Fears was one of the first big Hollywood blockbusters to shoot in Montreal.  That meant that a great deal of Montreal actors would probably get quite a lot of smaller speaking roles (with various variations on the term "smaller").

That included yours truly.

The Sum of All Fears was one of the weirder auditions I've been on. I went in for some other movie or TV show entirely.  I don't remember the title even. These were the old glory days of the Montreal film and TV production boom. It was not uncommon to lose track of auditions, especially once I was done with them. In recession laden 2011, however, it's hard to forget something you do only two or three times a year.  Anyway, while I was auditioning for whatever, I was asked if I'd like to read one line for The Sum of All Fears.

Yes, it's true. Actors audition, sometime multiple times, for roles of one line or sometimes even less. This is especially true for Montreal-based actors.

They put me on tape saying my one line, "Mr.President". I said it while handing a video cassette box over to an unseen presumably off-camera President of the United States. I had no idea of the context of the scene in the story but I'm pretty sure that the prop in question was not actually supposed to be a video cassette case in the actual movie.

Auditions had already been held for The Sum of All Fears and all the parts had been cast some time ago. I even knew some actors who had already worked on the film by then. I had never auditioned in the first place. That I got to read for it at all was a total bonus.

Like many auditions back in the day, I put it out of my mind and went on with my life. A few weeks later, I was in Toronto working on the editing of "The Font Doctor", a short film written, performed and directed by The Vestibules. I picked up a phone message from my agent. The director of the movie, in the words of the casting director, "really loved" the way I said "Mr. President".

I had been offered a part in The Sum of All Fears.

Before the role was a done deal, they wanted to know if I could drive a manual transmission vehicle. If so, the gig was mine. Many years ago, I had an acting teacher whose advice when it came to any question regarding potential work was "always say yes". Can you sing? Yes. Can you dance? Yes. Can you speak German with a Scottish Accent? Yes. Can you drive a manual transmission? Yes. Thinking foremost of that advice and not wanting to lose a role of any size in a major Hollywood movie, I , of course, said "Yes."

As you may have guessed, I could not drive a manual transmission vehicle then (or now even). I decided that I'd take a crash course (no pun intended) and learn how to drive standard before my shoot date. In my experience, roles ivolving driving in movies usually meant going about four feet and then stopping and getting out. I was sure I could master that much in a short period of time.

There was one small problem. From the time when I got back to Montreal to when my shoot day was scheduled was only about one week. So as soon as I got home, I went to the driving school down the street. I told them I had to learn to drive a car with standard transmission in one week. The woman behind the counter asked me why it had to be done in such a short period of time. I said it's because I needed to know how to drive standard so that I could act in a movie with Ben Affleck. She looked at me blankly for a beat then said ,"No one will believe that. I'll tell the instructors you are going to Europe for business in a week.". Then she got on the phone to find any available driving instructors who could fit the lessons into their schedule in the next week.

I ended up landing four different lessons with four different instructors. I also ended up paying a nice and hefty "rush" fee on top of the cost of the lessons (still, though, at Hollywood pay scales, I'd be coming out way ahead).

At the time, I was writing and recording radio sketches with The Vestibules during the day and then doing shows with On The Spot Improv at night. So each evening that week, I'd finish with The 'Bules, shove a sandwich in my face on the bus, do an hour of manual driving lessons (at various weird locations all over the city, beggars can't be choosers) and then go do a show with Spot that night.

I think I wrecked many a clutch during that week. My fourth lesson was canceled by the instructor at the last minute. I would have to make do with just three lessons. I was still a little shaky on my abilities to drive a  vehicle with a manual transmission.

My shoot day finally arrived. I was lucky that first day. Production was behind schedule and they didn't get to my scene at all that day. I got paid to sit around in my trailer for twelve hours and then go home. It was a nice way to relax and build up my manual transmission skills confidence.  I kept coming back to "Hey, I'm only gonna have to drive for like three feet. I probably won't even have to shift gears." It was a night shoot so I managed to get some sleep in as well. Nice work if you can get it.

On the second day (we still call 'em days even when they're nights), they were ready to shoot my scene right when at the beginning of the day. Normally, that's a rare treat for a bit player in a big movie. This time around, not so much.

At this point, I should point what my role was. I did not get the role of a Pentagon official handing the President a video cassette box. No. Instead I got the role of a National Guard driver.

See, in the movie (SPOILER ALERT), there is this convoluted Chechnyian terrorist plot to set off a nuclear bomb at the Super Bowl (which is again, for legal reasons, referred to as The Big Football Game or something equally lame). Of course, CIA analyst turned super agent Jack Ryan somehow figures out the plot. However, he is not in time to stop the bomb from exploding. Nice going, Ryan. James Bond would never have let that happen. So in my scene, Ryan is rushing to a makeshift aid station set up near the blast site.  Destruction and mayhem are everywhere.

I'm the National Guard driver that drives Ryan on to the site. I have one line. I say, "Oh, great. Now it's snowing too." to which Ryan says, "It's not snow. It's ash from the blast" (my guess is that this scene was added last minute over concerns that audiences might misinterpret the ash as snow-it being late January in Maryland in the story and all).

It seems I had, out of nowhere, suddenly landed myself a dialogue scene with  Ben Affleck. Score...sort of.

We were shooting out at the Armed Forces base airport in St.Jean Sur Richelieu (about half an hour out of Montreal). I walked on set and saw the whole thing in its entirety for the first time. By set, I mean two airplane hangers and a massive tarmac. There were two huge tents. One was for make-up for the extras so that they could all be made up to have simulated radiation burns and other injuries. The second was the hospital tent in the movie that they were going to shoot in. There was also a bunch of cars and trucks, military and otherwise. There were even actual soldiers from the US Army, presumably playing themselves (hello, typecasting).

Right next to the crane (OMG, a crane shot!), there was this very large truck. It had a great deal of expensive camera and lighting gear attached to it.

That was the truck that I was going to have to drive. Gulp.

Just then, the director, an extremely nice man named Phil Alden Robinson introduced himself to me. He explained that that day was the biggest and most complicated day of the entire shoot. The biggest day of the entire shoot of an action thriller involving a nuclear explosion. Did I mention that it would be best for the shoot and my career that I not fuck anything up and ruin a shot with all this other incredibly expensive stuff going?

I was then introduced to Mr. Affleck. We headed over to truck. I'm was about to do a scene in the middle  of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster driving a truck I didn't  know how to drive while playing a scene with Ben Affleck.

Piece of cake.

I got into the truck so we could rehearse the scene. I took a look at the gears. My mouth hung open in amazement.

The truck had an automatic transmission.

So when they told me I had to know how to drive standard, they were just kidding I guess. Can I have the last week of my life back now, please?

Immediately, my confidence level shot up about ten fold. However, I still have to drive a huge truck with lots of expensive equipment hanging off it. I ran the scene with Mr. Affleck a couple of times while doing some rehearsal driving. Other than almost running down some extras who were walking where they should not have been walking, everything went fine. Mr. Afflect disappeared back to his trailer. We continued to run the mechanics of the driving and the scene several times with his stand-in.

During that time, I was constantly told by the assistant director to drive much faster. Meanwhile the Steadicam operator, not unpredictably, kept asking me to make it all nice and smooth. I'm not sure where the director was in any of this.

The scene required, as I predicted, a short drive. I do my lines with Mr.Affleck while driving, drive a few more feet then stop. Mr.Affleck gets out of the truck and the Steadicam follows him out, the operator seamlessly walks onto a platform on the crane as it rises up and we see Mr. Affleck continuing to cross the tarmac in, to use Mr. Robinson's words, "the most complicated shot of the picture".

The whole scene is almost second nature to me by the time that we are ready to shoot. As we prepare, the stand-in is suddenly gone and I'm sitting next to Ben Affleck once again. We rehearse the scene once. We now are ready to shoot. There is a long delay. Mr. Affleck goes away someplace again. The assistant director comes over to me. He asks me if I can get out of the truck for a moment. They need to run the scene with one their guys, for some technical reason.  So I get out and watch them run the scene with a member of the crew driving the truck. It goes nice and fast.

Suddenly, Mr. Affleck is back. He gets into the truck. The crew member gets out of the truck. I figure they will be calling me back any moment. Then I suddenly notice that the wardrobe and hair people are hovering around the crew member.

They are putting a national guard uniform on the guy and giving him a military style haircut similar to mine.

Years earlier, I played the lead role in a wonderful play by Christoper Durang titled The Actor's Nightmare. It's about an actor who suddenly finds himself in a production of Hamlet but has not rehearsed the part and doesn't know any of the lines. As an improv veteran of many years, that scenario was never my version of The Actor's Nightmare.

That moment on set that night was my Actor's Nightmare. My Sum of All Fears.

Now nobody had said a word to me at that point. So I decided, "Fuck it. I'll play dumb".

As they were getting ready to roll, I walked over to the truck to get in. The assistant director came running over and said, "Um, we're gonna do the shot with one of our guys. It's a big rig and it needs to move fast.".  Thanks for the update, pal. Then I asked him what was going on with my lines. He said he didn't know.  I was quickly ushered away.

Later Mr. Robinson, the director, came over to me and apologized. He said that with all that equipment on the truck, it was an insurance issue. And they just suddenly realized this before rolling? To this day, I'm still not sure if I buy that explanation.

Though the director did tell me that Mr. Affleck and I would record our lines at the end of the shoot.  The shot in the scene is of the back of our heads so they could just dub the lines in later.

I was still not at all happy. As it turned out, the branch president of ACTRA, the actor's union, also had a small part in the film and was shooting that day.  "Ha! Little do they realize that the union branch president is on set today. They have not heard the end of this!", I thought.

I marched over to his trailer and explained what had happened. He very calmly and casually said, "Yeah.They can do that. As long as they're paying you.". I walked away singing Billy Bragg's "There is Power in a Union" to myself.

Just then the second assistant director came up to me and told me that they would not be using me in the shot tonight but that I would be recording me with Mr. Affleck at the end of the night. Boy, are those second assistant director's ever in the loop or what?

The end of the night came and me an' Ben (he wasn't Mr.Affleck anymore) recorded our two lines in the truck while it wasn't moving. About a thousand people stood around being completely quiet until we were finished.

I went home thinking that ,well, at least my voice would get to be in a major motion picture. And I did make something like 2500 bucks for two days work.

My date on set was in April of 2001. I think the film wrapped some time in June (they had been shooting since February).  I don't think I need not get into the events that followed in September. The original word that I was getting through my agent was that in the aftermath of 9-11, the movie would be shelved permanently and never released.  What had once been a far fetched Tom Clancy plot was now hitting way too close to home.

About a month later, Collateral Damage, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about a firefighter tracking down a terrorist that had killed his family, was a huge hit. Add to that all those stories of  how movies like Independence Day were flying off the video store shelves (which, it was later learned, was based on a report from one New York area Blockbuster -so all those post 9-11 pundits were actually analyzing the behavior of one movie geek).

Early in 2002, I began seeing this in the theatres:

The Sum of All Fear opened in May 2002. I went to see it.

Most of the scenes depicting the attack were cut way down or were right out completely. Gone were the tents full of survivors with radiation burns. Only one short scene about the aftermath of the blast stayed in the movie on account of its importance to the plot. Also gone also was me, the damned truck, the crew member standing in for me and even the dialogue Ben and me recorded. Less than a year after 9-11, not showing the horrific aftermath of a nuclear attack on U.S. soil was understandable. A big drag for me but understandable.

When The Sum of All Fears came out on DVD, my scene was nowhere to be seen even in the deleted scenes. The movie was never a big enough hit to warrant a super duper two disc collector's edition DVD or Blu-ray. I doubt that footage will ever be unearthed. No. It will forever remain one of the great lost scenes of cinema history.

Every year I could care less about the Super Bowl except for one thing. It reminds of that day on the set of The Sum of All Fears. Showbiz is totally and utterly unpredictable.

Much to my surprise, a couple of years ago, I got suddenly $400 royalty cheque for The Sum of All Fears. I started singing "There is Power in a Union" with a different meaning this time.

Those royalty cheques keep coming in every year. And I'm not even in the movie!

Imagine what  kind of cheques Ben Affleck must be getting.