You know, life is strange some times. For me, more often than I presume for most.
For a couple of years now, I sporadically have gotten emails from Ted Demme. I’ve never said anything particularly great about him… and to be honest over that time none of his films particularly struck my fancy. Also, at no point did he say, "I want you to see…" whatever film he had at that time.
Well, I just got back from Los Angeles… Flew myself out to shoot the SPIDER-MAN press conference for my television show, to review what happened for all of you and to just hang out at the Moriarty Labs Spa & Resorts…
Well, the day before I go I get a call from Ted’s agent… who also happens to be Willem Dafoe and Tobey Maguire’s agent (and knows I’m coming to town because my name is on that Sony SPIDER-MAN list). Well, she tells me that Ted wants me to see BLOW while I’m out there and…. To be frank, I like the trailer, I’m a Johnny Depp fan most of the time (hated THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE), and the film has Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente and PAUL REUBENS in it. I like them too.
We set up an early 10am Friday (today) screening at the New Line Screening room. I always like to drag other people with me so I have other folks there so I can talk to somebody real (not associated with the film) afterwards. So Henchman Mongo and Moriarty go with me.
Mongo knows nothing about the film…. At all. Didn’t know who starred in the film, didn’t know the director’s work… NADA.
Moriarty has had no contact with Ted Demme, likes the trailer, but is skeptical (as was I) about Ted’s potential as a director.
It isn’t that we didn’t feel he had a good film in him, everyone has a good film in them I believe… What I wish for every filmmaker is that they made one GREAT film within their lives… No matter how optimistic that may sound, reality often times shows that many filmmakers… though possessing all the heart and love for film in the world.. Just never get the chemicals right… never seem to fly the kite at the right time with that key tied to it. Never seem to be sitting under the right apple tree first. Luck.
Film is a weird medium where no matter how talented one individual may be, for greatness to be achieved, it takes a massive team effort.
So we arrive at the screening room about 6 minutes early… We sit down, having met someone who introduced themselves as the editor (Kevin Tent – he’s done ELECTION, CITIZEN RUTH and BASKET CASE 2). We sit there and speculate about what we think our reaction is going to be.
You see, the folks I’ve talked with at NEW LINE about their line up this year seem especially proud of this film. But they have never said anything particularly revealing about the film. Way back in August of 2000, we had our first and only look at the first assembly print that was test screened. The spy at the time had liked it, but seemed to have some reservations.
Ted arrived, shook hands and then went and sat at the back somewhere. Moriarty and Mongo were front row, I was sitting behind them.
The first GREAT film of 2001, that I know for certain about, will be being released sometime in April.
Many of you will not believe me, that’s fine. Be skeptical… walk into that theater thinking I’ve pulled down the big bucks for hyping this if you must, but I’m telling you… In the same type of genre as GOODFELLAS… I prefer BLOW. And when I last talked to Moriarty… he was in the same boat.
First it starts with the script by David McKenna (AMERICAN HISTORY X) and Nick Cassavetes. McKenna brought an amazing structure to the film… condensing a man’s entire life into a feature film. Cassavetes placed that man’s soul into the film.
Right now I am in the process of creating my list of the best films of 2000…. Had I seen this film 2 weeks ago, this would have been my pick for best film of 2000.
Ok… You want to know about the film, why I’m in love… all of that? Here ya go…
This is the true story about a man you probably have never heard of. He is sitting in a Federal Prison for bringing in a shipment of cocaine. It wasn’t a GIGANTIC deal. He’ll be out in 2015 or so. But this man has touched and affected the lives of nearly everyone on the planet because he happened to be a connection… a piece to the puzzle, the key guy that brought cocaine into the United States through a partnership with Pablo Escobar.
America’s cocaine problem started through this man and a barber… began on beach selling pot with his childhood best friend to surfers and beach bunnys.
The film begins in the late Forties to early fifties when George Jung was just the son of a working class fella out east. His father, played by Ray Liotta (echoing and nodding at GOODFELLAS), was a solid stand-up man. The sort of guy that would take his son to work with him. The film is absolutely gorgeous in this stage… looking like those great home movies from the period… a high contrast rich 4-strip Technicolor stock that just has reds so beautiful you want to lick them… taste that cherry lollipop flavor. The blacks deep and dark, blues like those in the eyes of Bing Crosby in WHITE CHRISTMAS… There is a Christmas scene that just popped out at me and left me glowing. At this point I’ll clue you in on a subtle thing that happens through the film…
As the passage of time comes and goes in this film, the film stock subtly and slowly changes. I’ve told you about the first filmstock… When George hits California in the sixties the film has that color you have seen in DR ZHIVAGO and this sequence takes you through to the sort of color look of films like THE WAY WE WERE…. Then it goes to the color stock we see in TAXI DRIVER then to look and feel of SCARFACE all the way up to GOOD FELLAS and BOOGIE NIGHTS.
Now I’m not saying it has the epic vistas of ZHIVAGO, what I’m saying the actual color guide seems to radiate from films like these… It is a subtle thing… Mongo never noticed it, but Moriarty did as well.
Anyway, back to the story… The childhood of George Jung is absolutely necessary… as you watch you see what he fears becoming, where all the basic seeds are placed for the lifestyle he’ll undertake…
By the time he gets to California and we meet Johnny Depp’s George Jung and Ethan Suplee’s Tuna… then nearly immediately Franka Potente’s Barbara and Paul Reuben’s Derek Foreal… We are invested in the character of George. We like him. He’s had a tough life and he wants to make a better world for himself. BUT this is where the story really takes off…
Did you ever see that PBS series on how the Personal Computer came to be? About that group of slackers drinking canned cokes and eating pizzas while being stoned and screwing around and making that first PC?
I remember while watching that thing that I was just beside myself with awe at how something so world changing could’ve come from something as simple as a bunch of buddies shooting the shit and activating and working on their ‘crazy idea’.
George Jung and California with that group of people happened to be the kindling that began the fire that swept up the entire world… still affects the entire world.
It starts so simple. Something that when you went to college… you might’ve found yourself into. Just selling some pot to some friends… wanting to get better stuff… A friend visits from out of state… loves your shit, wants some back east… there is no drug dogs at the airports… no DEA… your girlfriend is a stewardess… and quickly the money begins to get out of hand… the potential lighting ambition in your eyes. You’ll never be poor again.
Watching the film, each step seems like the most natural thing in the world. Yeah, sure… I do this in three days and I’ve half a million dollars? Sure.
At this point I thought what I was watching was a fictional tale. So far none of the names were familiar. I knew nothing of any of these events. The character of George takes some lumps, but rolls with it. Has some tough moments in his life. But he’s completely non-violent… he’s just bringing pot into people’s lives.
Like I said though, he gets the wind knocked out of him pretty seriously… climbs back on his feet… ends up forced on a plane… winds up in Columbia… and then I watched as he and his partner are talking and I see this figure walking in the distance… Nobody said a thing, but I knew who that figure was… and my heart sank. By the time the name Pablo was mentioned I began to realize this was a true story. And I knew that all the fun and laughter I had had to this point was a set up. I knew I was about to be messed with. At this point, Escobar was just a big coke guy in Columbia… he didn’t have his connections into the United States. And here is George Jung. Fun loving, happy ambitious guy. And Escobar. Would things of been different had they never met? Who knows. But because they did, cocaine flooded into the United States. George Jung was responsible for over 85% of all cocaine hitting the United States in the Seventies and Eighties. And all that that means.
I’m gonna stop talking about the plot right there. Johnny Depp is playing a character that is directly responsible through his actions with prisons being built, lives destroyed, crack babies being born… The flood of cocaine into America… Hell… his influence even touched the nostrils of our soon to be sworn in President of the United States if what has been reported is true.
What is brilliant though is we see how something like this happens. We see that it wasn’t this EVIL man out to ruin millions of lives… but just a guy trying to make a buck and stick by his friends… trying to hop around the system…
This is quite possibly the best film I have seen come out of New Line. I was completely engrossed by the film…. I am definitely set to pick up the Bruce Porter book that the film was based on. I was devastated by the film.
When it came to a close and I was actively sobbing, I saw Moriarty facing the wall and hand abreast his temples. Mongo landed on the floor… flat on his ass. We were sucker punched… the air taken out of us.
This is when I remembered that the guy that put this amazing film together was somewhere behind me. What the hell do you say? I mean, imagine you walk in with two of your buddies to a screening room 4 months before GOODFELLAS came out and it’s just you three… and you see that thing, and Scorsese comes up and wants to know what you think. That’s what I felt like at that moment.
We were all just stunned. The silence was broken with Ted saying, "Nice little light comedy to start the day with eh?"
We nervously giggle… he takes a seat on the front row on the end opposite from Moriarty, and I ask him one question… "Is that a true story?"
And he confirmed that it was… he continued talking, confirming the aspects of his life captured here, and I sort of tuned him out… sort of stared off into space. Mongo and Moriarty seemed to be listening, but at the moment I was just trying to isolate my own thoughts about the film. Trying to imagine and grasp how someone by chance ends up on the journey that George Jung took in this story. WHAT A STORY!!!
Ted Demme finally has his perfect film. It is personal and told with all the heart in the world. As you watch it, you can’t help but to feel great remorse for a man that caused more suffering and bliss than any man has any right to.
It is a story about human nature, about repeating mistakes you thought you learned from, about tragedy and elation. This is the story about cocaine and the United States, and I hope to God NEW LINE markets the hell out of this one, and re-releases it this Fall for awards considerations. The music, cinematography, acting, writing and direction are absolutely of the finest possible quality. Look for Moriarty’s review very soon. I’m sure he is going to be just as happy with it as me.
And as for you… Just be content with the knowledge that the possibility is very high that you’ll see at least one truly great film this year…