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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Casting Steven Soderberg's Bazooka Joe and His Gang

If you grew up between 1954 and 1981, you are no doubt familiar with Bazooka Joe and His Gang. They were the  comics that came with every package of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. The original antics of the eye patched youth and his rag tag group of streetwise kids were on the radar of just about every kid back in the day. Most of us know the Bazooka Joe characters inside out....well...okay...it's probably more like a kind of  passing familiarity bordering on dim memories.

Since 2009, rumours on the Internet have abounded concerning a potential big screen live action Bazooka Joe movie . With comic characters both major (Batman) and obscure (The Green Hornet) dominating the box office, just about every comic property in existence is finding its way to the big screen. So why should what is perhaps the tiniest come ever be an exception?

The best possible film adaptation would have to feature Golden Age Bazooka, '54-'81. None of this 80's and 90's rebooted retro-coned Bazooka Joe Universe, featuring Bazooka Joe as a time traveling rapper or any of that nonsense.We're talking Old School inner city Bowery Boys-esque Bazooka here, folks. So before Hollywood mucks it up I want to get this out there. Here is my ideal director (cinematic chameleon Steven Soderberg is perfect for the job-but more on that later) and dream cast for Bazooka Joe and His Gang, the movie.

Ryan Gosling as Bazooka Joe

Too often the casting of iconic roles in important reboots like Bazooka Joe are based solely on looks. In the case of Bazookas Joe this would be a mistake. There is more to the character of Joe than just his youthful looks, shock of blond hair and trademark eye patch.

Despite his happy-go-lucky, every man attitude, Joe has demons, lots of them. The guy completely lost the use of his right eye at a very young age. How does that emotional subtext inform Joe's behavior in three to four line blackout sketches?

You need an actor with the right chops to pull that kind of thing off. Canadian Ryan Gosling is that actor. Critically acclaimed for his work in such films as Lars and The Real Girl, Blue Valentine and Drive, Gosling has got the what it takes to pull off the depth of Joe's buried inner pain yet still maintain the levity necessary to bring dignity to some really bad punchlines.

Robert Pattinson as Mort

As I seem to recall, Bazooka Joe and His Gang was never quite as popular with the girls as it was with boys. So the Bazooka Joe movie would have to do what many comic-based films before it have done: play not just to the core audience of male fans but also be able to attract a viable female audience. Remember how many times in the recent Marvel Comics-based superhero movie, Thor, for instance, lead actor Chris Hemsworth had his shirt off?

In that case, the Twilight move hunk Robert Patinson is a natural to play Joe's best friend, Mort. Mort is an interesting character too. He's guy whose face is covered 100% of the time with a turtleneck sweater and....oh...um...yeah....wait a sec...okay...um...maybe not.

Amanda Seyfried as Jane

Bazooka Joe and His Gang would be Amanda Seyfried's second crack at an iconic role. She has previously played Little Red Riding Hood in the 2011erotic fantasy thriller of the same name. If she can make that work, then she can certainly play the part of just about the only woman in Bazooka Joe's gang. 

Jane is Joe's longtime girlfriend (21 years, and that's just counting the original continuity) . She must love the guy a lot because she pretty much always got stuck playing straight man to Joe or one of  the other members of his eponymous gang. When Jane does get a punch line, it's usually one that's part of a group effort like the classic comic where Joe asks his gang, "Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?" and the entire gang replies together, "At the bottom!".

If anybody can breathe dignity and poise into the thankless role of a non-character like Jane, it's the woman who somehow ended up cast as "the unattractive girl" in the Megan Fox vehicle, Jennifer's Body.

Zach Galafianakis as Hungry Herman

As with many of the over weight characters from the 50's and 60's, Hungry Herman was about one thing and one thing only: eating. Pretty much every gag in some way had him wanting, trying to get or getting food. We saw little of his home life, his relationships or his job (or school?). It was like the guy was a food addict or something.

Then who better to play a character with that kind of an obsession than the guy who lit up a joint on live TV while appearing on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher? Pot and hunger: one follows from the other, right?

If you've seen Mr. Galifianakis in the Hangover movies or in the HBO series, Bored to Death, then you know that the man has penchant for playing cryptically obsessed characters. They're guys' who, despite the obvious nature of their desires, still remain somewhat ambiguous in nature.

A great new spin on a one track character, I say.

He would have to lose the beard to satisfy the purists.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Pesty

It's never really made clear in the original comics but most Bazooka Joe historians and scholars agree that Pesty is more than likely Joe's little brother.

True, Leonardo Dicaprio is 16 years older than Ryan Gosling but he does have that ageless baby-face thing going for him. Having played characters as diverse as Howard Hughes, King Louis XIV and J.Edgar Hoover, Dicaprio could make the part his own.

And it that isn't reason enough for you then, well, it's a Bazooka Joe movie, eh?

Tom Hardy as Toughie

"I just had a fight with toughie. When it was all over, he crawled up to me on his hands and knees."
"What did he say?"
"Crawl out from under that bed you coward!"

Toughie was frequently the heavy in Bazooka Joe comics. He was usually the source of most of the conflict and dramatic tension throughout the 2 to 3 panels of the story.  Most of his storylines involved physical confrontation or the threat of physical confrontation with Joe or other members of his gang. Make no mistake, urban gang violence was indeed prevalent in the Bazooka Joe Universe.

The character of Toughie would have really have to be a toughie, when you think about it. The guy, just by himself, is consistently a major threat to a gang composed of anywhere from 4 to 7 members.

Tom Hardy is an actor who brought an incredible threatening physical presence to the title character of director Nicolas Winding Refn's film,  Bronson. Yet Hardy was also able to bring a degree of sympathy to the monstrous character. Such a nuanced portrayal of Toughie would certainly help to shake up the often staid narrative structure Bazooka Joe's 2 to 3 panel stories.

Hardy would be comfortable in a franchise film. He played Captain Picard's younger clone in the movie, Star Trek: Nemesis. He will be appearing as the Batman villain, Bane, in Christopher Nolan's upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. In 2012, he will taking over an iconic role first made famous by Mel Gibson in not one but two upcoming Mad Max sequels.

Anne Hathaway as Pat

Anybody remember Pat?

Me neither.

Nonetheless, if the reaction to the casting of Anne Hathaway as Catowman in the next Batman movie is anything to go by, Bazooka Joe fans everywhere will be outraged by the news of her appearance in the film. And I don't want to think about what's gonna happen the first time photos of Ms.Hathaway in her Pat costume surface on the internet.

Kall Penn as Tex

There's too many white people in this movie.

Obama administration to Bazooka Joe: it's a natural progression.

Nicholas Cage as Boastful Billy

Speaking as a writer, I admire the audacious simplicity of some of the Bazooka Joe character names. Case in point, Boastful Billy. With stories that are sometimes just one panel long, you don't have much time to flesh out and develop characters as you may in with, say, in stories that are seven or eight panels long. As soon you hear Joe or Mort say, "Here comes Boastful Billy", though, you know exactly what to expect.

Lately, Nicolas Cage, it seems, has a hard time saying "No" to just about any role. I mean Season of the Witch and Sorcerer's Apprentice back to back, followed by a Ghost Rider sequel? How much debt are you in, again?

If there is one thing Cage can play, it's slightly deluded yet boastful characters (Vampire's Kiss, Honeymoon in Vegas, accepting the lead in the Wicker Man remake). Let's face it, the man is a very good actor who has done far too much slumming. He certainly could use the career prestige of a project like the Bazooka Joe and His Gang.

Robert Duvall as Joe's Dad

Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, The Great Santini, Tender Mercies: none of these roles, while all amazing performances, are anything like the part of Bazooka Joe's dad. Duvall hasn't really done all that much lighter fare, especially ones that feature so many puns along with awkward set-ups and punchlines.

Duvall ultimately would give us a glimpse into not just Joe's dad but into Joe himself. He is, after all, the guy who made Joe into the man he is today.  A name like Duval's would bring a certain degree of legitimacy to the project. With any luck, he'd pull a Marlon Brando and ask for like 11 million dollars for a two minute role.

And just think about how cool it would look in the credits and on the poster: 

Robert Duvall
Bazooka Joe's dad"

Judy Dench as Joe's Mom

Because, quite frankly, Helen Mirren will turn this role down cold.

Director: Steven Soderberg

Steven Soderberg is probably the most versatile director working in both Hollywood and the independent film scene today. He has tackled many different kinds of films in different genres. He's taken on the big mainstream star driven blockbusters like Ocean's Eleven Trilogy and the recent Contagion. He's no stranger to indie character-driven films like Sex, Lies and Videotapes and Full Frontal. He's done art-house fare like the four hour subtitled biopic Che and narratively experimental Terence Stamp film, The Limey. He's helmed Oscar winning movies like Traffic and Erin Brokovich.  And Soderbergh is not afraid to take risks that sometimes don't payoff. Risk like, for instance, casting adult film star Sasha Grey in the lead role of The Girlfriend Experience. Soderberg is now breaking into franchise cinema as well. He'll be directing the upcoming Man From U.N.C.L.E. reboot starring Bradley Cooper.

With the possible exception of  Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting), Soderberg is one of the very few directors that is able to successfully reinvent himself from film to film.  He is the only auteur out there that could conceivably pull off a Bazooka Joe movie. After all, we are talking about a two hour movie consisting of a series of three to four line scenes ending a single punchline and no other narrative closure.

Work your magic Steve!

And I have one final request for the Bazooka Joe and His Gang movie. For the Canadian release of the film, every line of dialogue has to be repeated twice: once in each official language.

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