At The Movies
I saw Rounders today, and I highly recommend it. I predict it will do for poker what Color of Money did for pool. Even as we speak, wannabe card sharks are probably descending in droves on the Commerce Casino, Bicycle Club, and other such poker houses of Los Angeles, elbowing aside the Asian Pai Gow players like human dominoes. It's bound to be a madhouse there, with long waits for them to get a seat at a table and then a short stay once they're in and are eaten alive by the real players. I love playing cards but haven't been to the casino in quite awhile. Now that this movie's out, I think it's going to be even longer.
If you haven't heard about it (and even if you have), it's about a poker player who's sworn off the game and gone straight but finds himself dragged back into it by an old friend's problems. Unlike most movies today, it actually had a story to it, and a good one to boot. The only real weakness in it was John Malkovich, who is well on his way to becoming this generation's Al Pacino -- but not good Pacino of the early days, no, bad Pacino of recent years. Malkovich is waaay over the top with his Russian accent, to the point where it takes you out of the movie, much as Pacino does with his screaming. In fact, Malkovich even does a Pacino-style screaming rant, which was all the more unsettling with the overdone Russian accent. But don't let that put you off; this is a movie worth seeing.
When you do see it, pray that you're more fortunate with your fellow audience members than I was with mine. I went to the Century 8 in North Hollywood, which I recommend you avoid at all costs if you live in the Valley. This theater is always overrun with talkative septuagenarians and today was no exception. I had a pair three rows behind me and halfway over and I could hear every word as they told each other what had happened, what was happening, and what was going to happen in the movie. It was maddening, especially because they were so dim-witted.
Two moments in particular stand out in my mind. The first took place during a key scene, a very key scene, where Malkovich's character KGB is toying with his omnipresent Oreo cookie. All is silent, both on the screen and in the theater, as KBG holds the Oreo before him and examines it carefully. It's a tense moment because we've been set up to know something's going to happen, then the tension is abruptly broken as Tweedledumb behind me announces to the entire theater: "It's a chocolate cookie!" and Tweedle-almost-as-dumb corrects, "No, it's an Oreo." Sheesh. Then, a bit later during an even more tense moment as we're watching the cards dealt face-up onscreen, the Stupids excitedly exclaim "He's got a straight!" I couldn't help myself. I turned around: "No he doesn't, you moron. But thanks for sharing." And the place erupted in laughter. I was appalled and pissed off and I'm going to have to see it again so I can fully appreciate the moment they -- and I -- ruined. It's a safe bet I won't be seeing it in that theater.
Unfortunately, I also saw another movie today. Mine. I dropped by the production company's office to pick up a video copy of Midnight Healing, made from my script Sexual Healing about six months ago, and came home to watch it for the first time.
Oh. My. God. It's terrible. No, it's horrendous. No, it's really, really bad. I'll be the first to admit the script never came close to being high art -- I wrote it as a low budget erotic thriller -- but it sure as hell wasn't the dreck they turned it into. They changed the story, gutted the character development, changed the ending and then tacked on a lame second surprise ending, cast a lead actress the camera hates, shot it on digital video, used a first-time director who should never be allowed near a set ever again... They absolutely killed it. It's not even a shadow of its former self.
It's so bad, it's hard to pick a place to start to detail how bad it is. The direction, the cinematography, the lighting, the video transfer, the sound, the acting, the rewrite, the music, the acting again, the locations, the direction again, the set dressing... It all sucks rocks. It's painfully bad. Beth compared it to bad porn. But as bad as you think it is from what I'm telling you here, it's twice as bad as that. Three times as bad. Trust me, it's bad. They took what could have been a stylish, suspenseful thriller and turned it into a junior high A/V squad project. They even ruined the title. Over at the prodco they tell me they're trying to sell it to HBO. I say "good luck." HBO's gonna laugh 'em right out of the office.
Despite the utter suckosity of how badly they mauled my script, I'm not really all that upset about it. I severed all emotional ties to the material when I sold it a year ago, figuring then (correctly) that I wouldn't like what they did to it. I am a little disappointed, of course, because it would have been cool to have friends over for a premiere party (no way in hell I'm doing that now), but I think I'll live. The one thing that really bothers me is my name being on it. It says it right there, on a screen by itself in both the opening and end credits, "Written by Chuck Atkins." That should be extremely cool for me. Instead, it's embarrassing.
Damn, I wish I'd used a pseudonym. Too late for that now, so maybe I'll change my name instead. Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Jones.