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Moriarty's Rumblings From The Labs #9

Alright folks... This should make for an interesting talk back. Seems the dear ol professor got up in arms about the way the media has been CONTINUING to cover Columbine... Not that I blame him. Personally... I'm just gonna get out of the way and let Moriarty get to it. I'm sleepy.

Hey, Head Geek...

"Moriarty" here.

It's been hours since the last henchman went to bed, but I'm still awake, sitting in the main media room of The Moriarty Labs, watching the news channels blather on as the second day of the new school year dawns at Columbine High School, and to be quite honest, I'm amazed no one's dead yet.

No, no, really. Think about it. Those students have had the whole summer to themselves. Think about what they've been up to in that time. Videogames... lots of them. CDs, concerts... and, yes, movies. Tons of movies. I know because I've gotten e-mail from some of them. The movies they've seen... some of them have even been rated R. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. AMERICAN PIE. SOUTH PARK, for God's sake, with that language and that violence! Can you imagine? And some of them may have even finally caught up with THE MATRIX and seen that by now, and we all know what that leads to. I'm sure that right now, some poor disenfranchised youth is in his garage, working on a batch of genetically altered sharks just in case they fail a test and have to flip out.

Oh, excuse me... am I making you angry? Have I offended you?


There's something that's really been under my skin the last couple of weeks, and I wasn't able to pinpoint it until the coverage started ramping up on Columbine's opening day. We've been unfortunate enough to have had several workplace shootings in the last few weeks as well as the Van Nuys shooting with Buford Furrow last week, and there's been the typical flurry of coverage around each one. Now the media's feeding off Littleton's desire to heal and move forward, and it made me remember the tone of the coverage right after the April 20 incident. If you remember my piece on a particularly heinous 60 MINUTES story, there was a deeply frenzied attempt to point fingers at certain movies and games at that point, something captured beautifully (and coincidentally) in Matt and Trey's wonderful SOUTH PARK: B, L, & U.

So where's that same chorus of finger-pointers now? We have a rash of shootings across the country, and I haven't heard one peep, not one word about what movies the shooters watched or what videogames they played or what music they listened to. Furrow's a Neo-Nazi, but that's not universal to all the shooters. There's no common component to any of them. Instead of desperately casting about for some reason, some external thing that made them do it, we seem content to accept that they couldn't handle the stress of the world, that they were broken men who lashed out in an effort to find any voice possible.

Why, then, the hypocrisy? Why should we dismiss the idea that Kleibold and Harris were anything more than hate-filled boys with no outlet for their rage? Why should they be any less responsible for their actions? Why should they be allowed an excuse as convenient as the entertainment they consumed when the adults are held to different standards?

I think it's a basic lack of respect for children as actual people. I think it is astonishingly wrong of us to believe that there's no pressure associated with childhood. I think it is willful blindness, and it's dangerous. We have officially beat to death the idea that the media is somehow on the hook for these tragedies. We must accept the idea that children, even the broken ones, are responsible in the same way that the rest of us are. The only way someone can grown into that responsibility and learn to handle it is if they are trusted to make mistakes, trusted to learn from them. We must respect our children and know that the things that make us angry can make them angry, too. The things that give us stress can give them stress. And just as an adult can snap and become a menace, so can a child.

I am truly moved by the reports of the hundreds of parents at Littleton who turned out on Monday to form a human shield that blocked the 2,000 students from the view of the media. Since the media couldn't show the basic human decency to give these still-healing students room on this very important day, these parents took the responsibility on themselves. That's a beautiful thing, and it should serve as a signal to the rest of us. Our interest is understandable, but our intrusion is unforgiveable. This community is recovering, and it's a process they can't do as long as the camera keeps butting in.

I think the reason the media can't move on, and the reason so many people are still fascinated by the incident, is that it's an unresolved issue for us. We were fed so much crap about whose fault it was at the time of the shootings that we never got a clean sense of closure. There's still unresolved lawsuits stemming from this shooting and an earlier one that promise to drag the whole "the movies did it" argument back into the limelight, confusing things even further. Let's all have the respect for young people, even the broken ones, to treat them better than that.

Who am I to write of media responsibility? I mean, I recently heard a publicist describe Harry and I as "pirates and rabble-rousers." I'll tell you who I am to write of media responsibility... I'm someone who's doing his best to define it for himself every day. Sometimes I think I get it right, and sometimes I think I get it wrong. It's never a giant thing in either direction, though. It's normally just a matter of degrees, and I try to take whatever lesson I can from each decision, each outcome. For example, I think I would handle my review of the LORD OF THE RINGS script differently if I wrote it today than I did two weeks ago. I vehemently defend our right at AICN to review material as it progresses from one stage of development to the next. I think it teaches people about the way great films really happen -- fight after fight, each one a step forward or back in that drive to make something special. I think I would have probably revealed a few less details if I were writing the review again, leaving out certain things, hinting at more than I confirmed.

The reason for this is the roughly 1900 e-mail messages I've been sent from people DEMANDING the script, DEMANDING clarification of certain points, DEMANDING details about every minute story element. Every answer I offered in my review only inspired dozens and dozens of questions. The other reason is the sad, sad saga of Peter Jackson's coulda-been classic KING KONG. As many of you may be aware, Peter was developing an update of the film at the same time that Sony was developing their poisonous GODZILLA remake. Universal, the studio for the project, ended up blinking, afraid of the lizard and the post-ID4 heat of Emmerich & Devlin. They refused to greenlight it despite the fact that Jackson shot one scene out of his pocket (and it's a great one, too, a magic movie moment we may have all been denied forever now), and despite the fact that they had a great screenplay. That screenplay was somehow leaked to the public at large on a massive scale, to the point where Jackson himself found a copy of the script on sale in a London bookstore.

I know that Jackson has maintained an interest in the project, hoping to eventually revive the film, but that hope may have taken a major blow this week with the announcement of THE LEGEND OF KING KONG, a coproduction of BBC Films, CBS, and TNT. The picture's supposed to star Lawrence Fishburne, Rachel Weisz, and Sam Neill, and it's going to be shot on location in New Zealand. Now, I'm not going to accuse the makers of this film of theft... at least, not yet. I am, however, going to serve notice that the KONG script that's floating around contains a hell of a lot of inspired work by Jackson... original work... and it will be easy for those of us who love Jackson's script to pick out anything that was his and not in the Cooper film. It makes me sick that I'm not going to see Skull Island as imagined by Jackson and Fran Walsh. It makes me sick that I'm not going on this particular adventure, no matter how grand his current project is. I am sorry that Jackson, a man whose love for the original KONG is evident to anyone who has ever spoken to him about the subject for even a moment, is not going to get to realize this particular dream. After all, that's what movies are -- shared dreams, and this is one we've been denied.

One of my particular dreams seems to be unfolding even as we speak, and I'd dance and sing in the streets except for the fact that it would look like poor sportsmanship. I have heard several times over the past few weeks that Will Smith and Barry Sonnenfeld's embarrassingly public lovefest is finally drawing to a close, and Barry is close to leaving POWER & GRACE, the Muhhammad Ali biopic. Having finally located and read the original draft of the picture, allow me to say good riddance, Barry, and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Now it's time to get the right director in, someone who's willing to sit down and read all the drafts of the picture in an effort to find the best one. I can't imagine that Gregory Howard's script has been bettered by the subsequent work done on it. It's already everything the film should be -- smart, moving, deeply political, concerned about race but never exploiting it, and genuinely suspenseful even for an Ali fanatic like myself. I was involved in each fight described, invested in Ali's emotional state approaching the fight, aware of the stakes for him at each particular step in his awesome career. This struck me the way Robert Towne's handling of the races in WITHOUT LIMITS struck me, as a wonderful distillation of the very essence of competition, a true understanding of what makes someone push themselves to be exceptional at anything.

If I could throw my vote in for who would step in and make the film, I would nominate someone unexpected, the enormously gifted Steven Soderbergh. He manages to find the genuine human center of the material he directs, whether it's a genre exercise like OUT OF SIGHT or a period family drama like KING OF THE HILL. If he were to bring his keen, provocative visual sense to bear on this early draft, the result would be breathtaking, a true monument to one of my heroes. I've also had the case made to me -- and persuasively, I might add -- that Coppola could do a great job with the story, capturing the epic sweep of the story. If he was properly inspired by Ali's life, I concur that he could be a great choice. Who would you readers nominate for the job if given a chance? Remember... Columbia will see these TALK BACKs, so articulate your reasons and give us some serious choices.

I'm dying to see Dabs Greer in the footage just shot for THE GREEN MILE. He's the actor who finally was chosen to play the older Paul Edgecomb in the scenes that bookend the film, and this marks his 100th movie. With that film finally wrapping its production and moving into post, anticipation is running high. I'd like to take issue with the description of the trailer from our ComiCon observer elsewhere on today's page. It's not being sold as a feel-good film, but a picture about miracles in low places, which is exactly the story written by King. The script is as faithful in tone as SHAWSHANK was, and is in many ways an improvement over that film... no small task. The use of CGI is appropriate, since King described the physical manifestations of Coffey's powers. Remember that cloud of "black flies"? I'm hoping to see the film soon myself, since it's one of the big few left for me this year. I know from my time spent on the set that the actors are, across the board, phenomenal, and that the film is dark, somber, imbued with real sadness. I also predict that the hot topic of conversation concerning the MPAA next will be their reaction to KNB's magnificent work on the electrocution scenes. If they have the courage and the intelligence to pass the film without cuts, I will be surprised, delighted, and I will apologize publicly to Valenti for calling him a chicken-headed moral witchhunter.

But not until and unless.

I've noticed a couple of ads lately, one good, one awful, and I thought I'd share a few quick thoughts. Artisan should be held up as a shining example of a good marketing team blessed with a killer line-up this year. They have started piggybacking 30-second TV spots for BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with 30-second spots for their next release STIR OF ECHOES, and it's an effective one-two punch. I'm hoping it pays off in a strong opening and run for Koepp's picture. I haven't seen it, but I loved the script, and it struck me as a wonderful double bill with THE SIXTH SENSE. If you love Shyamalan's film, I suspect you'll be equally fond of ECHOES.

On the other hand, the only way to be enthusiastic about JAKOB THE LIAR would seem to be lobotomy, pure and simple. What a vile, evil, loathsome little preview. What's going on with Robin Williams these days? I love him as an actor... I've been on board since the days of POPEYE (a woefully underrated little bit of weirdness) and GARP (proof that I can enjoy a John Irving adaptation that isn't entirely faithful). In my early review of GOOD WILL HUNTING on this page, I made the confident prediction that Robin would finally win his Oscar, and I was delighted to be proved correct. When he is good, he is very, very good. Lately, though, it's as if he has applied for sainthood, and all he can do is push us, batter us with emotion, doing everything short of jumping up on the audience like an excited puppy and humping them. He's a big wet hug of an actor when he's in this mode, and it's wearing thin. PATCH ADAMS is not a horrendous film, but it's a film that didn't move me or make me feel anything in any way. It was all so calculated, so dull, so predictable, that it left me cold all the way around. This past weekend, I happened to be around a cable box that somehow managed to get all the pay-per-view channels all the time, meaning the same six films played in endless rotation. One of the films was PATCH, and in the little "making-of" featurette shown between airtimes, Tom Shadyac kept talking about how Robin does as a hobby what Patch does for a living. He talked of how Robin's visits to hospitals actually cause statistical differences in recovery rates. All of this is well and good, but the best charity is invisible. I feel assaulted by Robin's humanity at this point, and the JAKOB THE LIAR trailer only promises more of the same. Like Harrison Ford, Williams is in danger of becoming the most obnoxious cartoon version of himself if he doesn't start picking projects that challenge him, that force him to play something different. What about that Callahan biopic, Robin? DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT could be edgy, provocative, and allow a more blistering, scabrous side of your humor to shine through. At this point, anything would be better than what we're getting.

The Dalai Lama's appearance in the US this weekend led me to pull out my DVD copy of Martin Scorcese's brilliant KUNDUN and take another look at it, something I'd advise everyone to do. Well, with their own copies, of course, 'cause I don't need 400,000 fingerprints on mine, but you get the point. The film is one of this decade's true accomplishments, one of the finest pieces of pure cinema since Kubrick's 2001, a tone poem about peace and violence, religion and God and learning and resistance. It's a film I find breathtaking beautiful and emotionally profound, but I don't lay awake nights wondering about its box-office failure the way I do with IRON GIANT. It's a film experience one must be open to, and the rewards are massive for anyone willing to search them out.

Have you seen that AMAZING new commercial now playing for the Sega Dreamcast gaming platform? Normally I wouldn't bring something like this up, but it's a truly remarkable little piece of genre filmmaking, closer to live-action anime than even THE MATRIX. The world of the commercial is AKIRA/BLADE RUNNER, and it's beautiful, as is the lead actress, a GHOST IN THE SHELL/AEON FLUX acrobat with a gun who runs up the sides of buildings and survives 100 story falls onto police cars. I would love to know who directed the commercial and who the FX house for it was. I believe that great filmmaking can be 30 seconds or three hours, and this is proof of that theory, in my opinion.

To all those who attacked me after my last RUMBLINGS, saying that I couldn't lump Albert Brooks' THE MUSE into the dog days of August and September, I'm assuming you didn't read my original review of the film, which I saw in finished form. I love Brooks. I hate this film. Skip it, and you might be able to retain you respect for the man untarnished. You have been warned.

Finally this week, I'd like to discuss the story that ran on Wednesday, August 11, in THE NEW YORK OBSERVER. Written by Jim Rutenberg and Peter Bogdanovich, it's provocative stuff, and the story was immediately picked up by everyone else. Small wonder, as the details of the new SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE contracts were leaked, causing much embarrassment to Lorne Michaels and NBC.

At first glance, it's easy to get worked up about the contracts as described. Supposedly, any new cast members starting this season must sign a document that could tie them to the network for up to 12 years. The contracts just went out last month, as Michaels got the auditions for new cast members underway, and the response from agents and managers was terrible, with many advising clients not to sign. I personally spoke with two managers today about the situation, and both of them bemoaned all sorts of potentially lost revenue for their clients, even though they haven't actually appeared on the show yet and no one knows what the reaction to them will be. After all, not everyone turns into Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, or Bill Murray. There's a lot of Tony Rosatas and Tim Kazurinskys in the history of SNL, too.

The thing that's really freaking people out is the idea that NBC can remove a cast member from SNL after two years and put them in an NBC sitcom. Because of the maximum terms of each part of the deal (six years on SNL, 6 years on the sitcom), that's viewed as a potential for 12 years under contract to one employer.

The contract also gives SNL Films first option on the performers, tying them to three movies for salaries that progress from $75,000 to $300,000, rates which can also be paid to keep an actor from doing a film for another studio.

In the end, though, I think the outrage over the details of the contract amount to thinly-disguised greed on the parts of the managers and agents, and represent a recognition on the part of Michaels and NBC about something I've been saying for years. There is no television show in history that has had such a profound impact on films. None. Nothing even comes close. If you look at all the writers, all the performers on the show, all the talent that's flowed through there since 1974, there's no arguing that fact. Michaels and NBC are just trying to protect their investment. After 25 years of producing a television institution and cultivating a talent pool only to see it poached by everyone else in town, they've finally wised up. Were their terms strict? Yes, and that's something that's already blown up in their face with this article and the buzz around town as a result. Are they justified? Perhaps.

One quote from the OBSERVER article (which you can read at that I thought deserved discussing in particular is as follows:

"Now you can tell them, ‘Sorry, you can’t do the
Farrelly brothers’ $10 million movie," said one
manager. "‘You have to do the SNL fart movie for

That's insulting and condescending on the part of the manager, and one look at the development slate that Michaels is attached to could clear up that misconception. I mean, true... the man produced A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY and BLACK SHEEP, but he also produced the delightful new SUPERSTAR, the surreal and overlooked KIDS IN THE HALL: BRAIN CANDY, and he co-wrote one of my favorite '80s comedies, THREE AMIGOS! The future looks like a diverse one for Michaels with films like a David Mamet biopic of Meyer Lansky, a dark comedy by Ron Bass and Al Franken called DISGRUNTLED FORMER EMPLOYEE, the Walter Yetkinoff story, and a Tom Stoppard scripted adaptation of the spy thriller ENIGMA on the way.

There's one film in particular, though, that sounds like reason enough to encourage Michaels in his film efforts. James L. Brooks is evidently attached to cowrite and direct an adaptation of Alan Zweibel's deeply affecting BUNNY, BUNNY, the story of Zweibel's friendship with Gilda Radner. I'm a Brooks fan, and I loved the book. Having read the wonderful script Zweibel wrote for the new Rob Reiner film THE STORY OF US, I have utmost confidence that he can turn his book into a script that will devastate audiences with both laughter and tears.

These are not just "stupid SNL fart movies," and to be honest, I couldn't find any of those promised in any of Michaels' upcoming endeavors. I think these deals are rough models for what will eventually be the standard SNL contracts, and I think that's fine. The show is a springboard for talent, and it gives a platform to new performers time and time again. The wheat will always outshine the chaff, with the show's old gender issues finally seemingly resolved these days, and managers and agents should understand just how special a showcase this show is. The cast has always been informally called the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players for a reason. They come to SNL raw, full of energy, willing to try anything. By the time the best ones leave, they have learned how to channel their talents, how to best present their comic gifts. Believe me... the next Eddie Murphy isn't going to get "trapped" at NBC. A breakout star will always be a breakout star. That's what the term means.

Anyway, I have to go rouse my faithful bodyguard and butler "Junka" Phillips so that he can drive me to the airport so I can pick up a very special guest. There's various nefariousness in the works these next few days, and maybe I'll even be able to share some of it with you all next time. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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