Sitting in the warm early evening on top of the London Hotel in West Hollywood, eating a bacon-wrapped scallop the size of my head, chatting with George Gallo about “Midnight Run,” a movie I love dearly, was one of those Hollywood moments that you have to just enjoy for the sheer absurdity of it.
Gallo was there to discuss “Middle Men,” his film that Paramount Vantage will be releasing on August 6, and to show a group of journalists the trailer before talking to them about the movie and his hopes for it. The cocktail reception/dinner was built around the screening of the trailer, which went online for everyone to see this morning, and my first reaction is that this sort of story has been told many times, and it always has a chance of working if they tell the details of the story well. When you’re doing a look at the rise-and-fall of something, the cautionary Icarus tale of what happens when you get super-rich super-fast and can suddenly do and have anything you want, there are only so many riffs you can play on that story. What makes the good ones work is that they are specific. Henry Hill’s story is not terribly special, but the way Scorsese tells it, he makes that feel like the most amazing epic life of crime ever lived. And you’ll certainly find some of the DNA of “Goodfellas” in “Middle Men,” along with pretty much everything else ever told in this genre.
In addition to “Midnight Run,” which I consider one of the great underrated films of the ’80s, he wrote De Palma’s “Wise Guys,” then wrote and directed “29th Street” and “Trapped In Paradise,” which were both interesting. Since then, it’s been a lot of stuff that I honestly haven’t seen, and so it’s nice to see him making something like this. The sense I got from my conversation with Gallo is that he’s an old-school movie nerd who knows a certain world very well, and this movie dropped this perfect opportunity in his lap to tell the story of that world. Big money New York in the mid-’90s? Sure. It’s a period piece about a moment that doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s only fifteen years ago, so things aren’t that different. It’s a tricky tonal piece to get right, and the story goes forward and backward in time, so it’s all about energy and the details. Making the audience feel like they’re on the same crazy ride as Chris Mallick was when it happened to him in real life.
Mallick was also there last night, and he’s a producer on the film. Talking to him, he’s a shrewd player, a survivor of the mid-’90s boom-and-bust cycle. He still has his hands in all sorts of internet businesses, although he’s out of the porn industry completely. He is bright, instantly friendly and effortless in the art of drawing you into his stories. I love guys who collect good stories and know exactly when and how to break them out. Part of it is that guys like that have actually lived. I like to think that at 40, I’ve got some serious and difficult life experience to draw on in my reactions to art and life. Someone like Chris Mallick telling his own cautionary (and in-no-small-part celebratory) tale makes sense because he survived it the right way. He got into some wild situations, and now he’s able to tell the story with an observer’s eye to try and make sense of a moment when the internet, arguably the single greatest communication revolution ever, first figured out how to monetize itself. That’s a Wild West moment that we’re still working to recover from, and it’s a story that is absolutely worth telling.
William Sherak and Jason Shuman are also producers on the film, and it was a pleasant surprise running into them. In the very early days of Ain’t It Cool News, when “Moriarty” was just starting to establish a presence on the site, I was contacted by Sherak and Shuman and asked to appear in a short film called “Spoof.” They were development executives at big production companies at the time, and later went on to producing movies at Revolution and now at other studios including this one, which was picked up by Paramount. I had no idea this was their movie until I saw them at the event last night, and we did some catching up as I also talked with Gallo and with some of the cast.
Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht both showed up to chat about the experience, and when they showed us the trailer, he hadn’t shown up yet. I recognized his voice, but not his face, and I had to ask who that was after the trailer. I like that about Ribisi. He’s got no ego about you knowing it’s him. He seems to try to disappear into roles, and everyone was excited about his work in this one. Gabriel Macht is one of those young guys who is obviously being groomed as a movie star, and he’s had at least one shot (“The Spirit”) so far, unsuccessfully. He’s got a key role in this film as a partner to Luke Wilson, who is the character standing in for Chris Mallick in this mostly-true telling of the experience. Wilson’s character is the one who figures out how to charge money for services online, and it’s really his film.
Still, a movie like this lives or dies based on the full cast, on all the stops along the way. Both Ribisi and Macht seemed really pleased with this experience and with the film, and I’m frustrated that I missed a screening of it a couple of months ago. It would have been nice last night to be able to talk to them about the full movie and not a trailer, but as it was, they all struck me as genuine in their responses to this film. It’s an interesting movie to put out in the summer, even if it is the late summer, but I hope it works as an adult alternative to the long rotten summer that 2010’s been offering up so far.
Before I left, I had to ask Gallo his attitude to the recent news about a “Midnight Run” sequel that De Niro is attached to with Timothy Dowling writing the script. Gallo doesn’t seem too precious about the “Midnight Run” characters (there were, after all, three TV-movie-sequels starring Christopher McDonald at one point), and genuinely doesn’t think he’s the same writer who made that film. He seems curious to see if they actually pull it off, and I got the sense if anyone came calling for his advice, he’d be happy to give it.
I’m off to another Paramount event tonight, and I need to warm up my singing voice before I go. More on that later, and my thanks to them for a lovely chance to chat with the “Middle Men” filmmakers.
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