May 31, 2013 11:00am EST
A good magic show isn't all about the payoff — in fact, it can't be. In order to dazzle, mystify, and distract an audience all the way up to the big reveal, a performing illusionist must put on one hell of a spectacle. The nature of this material can vary: For the likes of David Blaine and Criss Angel, it's all about the thrill. For Penn & Teller, it's about comedy. For Siegfried and Roy, it's about being as ostentatious as humanly possible. But all three of these ideas, dissimilar though they may be, are rooted in fun — a fact that the magician-stocked heist film Now You See Me seems to forget halfway through its run.
In fact, the Louis Leterrier movie does have a good deal of fun stocked away: its would-be central team of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco play a motley crew of dissimilar magicians who band together after a mysterious meeting to form a Robin Hood troupe of high level criminals. The group, dubbing themselves the Four Horsemen, use magic shows to rob banks and insurance companies, distributing the money to the working class men and women who have been wronged by big business (yet who can still afford a trip to Vegas and tickets to a magic show... let it slide). The team's elaborate performances make for some of the film's best material, second only to the behind-the-scenes squabbling that stems from personal rivalries and ideological differences. Eisenberg's narcissistic card trickster frequently butts heads with Harrelson's no-nonsense "mentalist" and Fisher's daredevil... all of whom look down upon Franco's sleight-of-hand street hustler.
All attention devoted to the Four Horsemen, whose origins are embedded in mystery, is charming and entertaining, thanks largely to the charisma of the players in question — Eisenberg and Harrelson haven't lost their Zombieland chemistry. Unfortunately, we get barely any time to witness this glory, as Now You See Me seems bent on lending its focus to the other side of the story: FBI Agent Mark Ruffalo's pursuit of the criminal team, and his interractions with Interpol Officer Mélanie Laurent and magic-debunker Morgan Freeman all the while. Far less engrossing than any of the Horsemen's antics, Ruffalo's journey plays out like any hot-on-the-chase summer crime thriller, with the hard nosed agent obsessing over the case, entertaining paranoid conspiracies, and alienating his colleagues and cohorts. For a movie that sells itself on its magic and its all-star cast, it doesn't really seem that interested in either, devoting far more time than necessary to the chase. Why, you might ask?
For the big twist. Of course a summer movie, and one delivered on the pretense of magic, has a big twist ending. Whether it needs, deserves, or benefits from one is another question (the answer: No). But Now You See Me seems to put all its eggs in the big reveal basket, investing a crescendoing burn to the identity of the enigmatic stranger who brought the Horsemen together. Meanwhile, it misses out on what every magician knows to be a key component of the act: the act itself. The lead-up is just as important as the ta-da. And while Now You See Me has plenty of magic up its sleeve in the form of its central tricksters, it's too focused on what's behind the curtain to enjoy the show all the while.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow hollywood.com on Twitter @hollywood_com
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April 11, 2013 2:46pm EST
We have a pretty clear image of your typical horror movie director. A twitchy, teeth-gnashing, middle-aged white guy living in an unlit room of junk-filled boxes and opera music playing on loop. But James Wan hardly fits this picture: he's young, he's charming, he's a family man. Still, he's got enough creep in him to muster up resonant images of people cutting one another's limbs off at the behest of a masked tricyclist in Saw, or undead spirits possessing the body of a comatose preteen in Insidious. Wan has proved himself capable of horror, a vivid genre held separate from many of Hollywood's other styles of film. He will continue his legacy with 2013's The Conjuring, proving himself a loyal genre helmer, but Wan might now be also tasked with taking on action, and undoubtedly a layer of corny comedy: the filmmaker is in talks to helm the developing franchise feature Fast & Furious 7.
More specifically inclined than the fan bases of drama, of comedy, of romance, or even of action are those of horror. There aren't many on-the-fence horror fans. You either love movies comprised of sustained anxiety, jump scares, and colossal sums of gore, or you hate them. This is why the genre itself is a big money-maker, a producer of many the cult sensation, and a critically panned schlock-fest all in one. And this alloted character is what keeps many of its directors in the confines of the motif.
Many established horror directors aren't known to stray far from haunted houses and human centipedes. Wan, for instance, only has one non-horror feature on his directing résumé, a crime drama called Death Sentence... and let's be honest, that's a pretty horrory title. So, Fast 7 will be the furthest thing from a scare flick that Wan will have tackled to date.
This makes franchise fans wonder what, exactly, the dark-skewing filmmaker will bring to the next chapter? Director Rob Cohen introduced the series with pure adrenaline. John Singleton tossed in his signature grit for the second installment. And from Tokyo Drift on, the great Justin Lin made the movies a platter of smooth, sleek style, easy on the eyes and condusive to a simple but fun brand of storytelling. Wan has big shoes to fill stepping in for four-time-Fast director Lin, but his fresh take might be a riveting one.
We're not going to see a straight up horror movie in Fast 7, but we have to imagine that Wan will embrace the sensibilities he used to craft genre exploits Saw, Insidious, and Dead Silence for this new project. And they might work in sublime harmony with the Fast & Furious premise. Horror is all about building and maintaining tension, an ideal whose merit isn't lost on a picture about high speed chases and high concept criminal activity. If we're immersed enough in the film to fear the possibility of car crashes, then we're no longer just dealing with impressive eye candy: Fast 7 becomes another animal entirely, and one of stark value.
The Fast & Furious movies are fun because they're freeing; you lie awake with grinning eyes, soaking in the beauty of Lin's aesthetic poetry. But there's an importance in a movie like Fast 7's ability to envelop its viewers. We should aspire for more than vacant watching, we should worry about the men and women whose cars jump one another, fly over cravasses, and risk damage to their perfect paint jobs. A good horror movie, while fun all its own, is adept at making you worry and care about its characters. Even if you're also prone to yelling at the screen about how stupid they are.
And so, we can hope for this sort of tension to be injected into Fast 7, courtesy of potential director Wan. We won't be seeing any haunted cars or undead drivers (unless youc ount Michelle Rodriguez... didn't she get killed a few movies back?), but we just might feel the same anxiety that we'd get from a Saw movie. Thankfully though, for those of us not so in tuned to the joys of horror, there won't be blood. At least not as much.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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April 04, 2013 2:13pm EST
In 2001, Rob Cohen gave us The Fast and the Furious, a race-to-the-finish movie stimulating enough to provoke a decade and counting of follow up features. The franchise's sophomore turn, 2 Fast 2 Furious, sacrificed the life and luster of Cohen's entry, amounting to a disagraceful hack job at the hands of director John Singleton.
But then, the road raging series found its true savior: Justin Lin, a visually-gifted director with only a few lesser known titles to his name at the time of taking on The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Lin has stuck with the series ever since this third entry, pumping out improvements with Fast & Furious, the admittedly invigorating Fast 5, and the highly anticipated Fast & Furious 6 later this year. But that's where it ends for Lin — The Hollywood Reporter reports that the filmmaker will not return for the developing Fast and Furious 7.
Lin's decision to pass on the project comes with the demanding schedule of Fast 7, the production of which would require his immediate participation for a summer 2014 release (meanwhile, he's still working on post of the upcoming sixth entry. Lin is reportedly leaving on good terms with the studio and his team of engine-revving cast members, indicating that any future Fast and Furious movies (and you know there'll be more) could well fall back in his hands.
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So who might handle Fast 7 in the absence of Lin? Franchise creator Cohen has a couple of projects attached to his name (a xXx continuation, among them), but nothing with a tangible future at this time. Singleton, too, has a free schedule. But Universal might be best off opting for a new hire: someone who can make poetry of the action, as our dear Lin does so well. It's not easy making drag racing artistic.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures]
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November 14, 2012 11:27am EST
We all know how the story goes: Boy meets girl, boy and girl get drunk, boy and girl get fake married, and — oh f**k, that wedding wasn't fake! It's every single person's worst nightmare. And, for actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo, the sitcom's wacky plot device was revealed to be reality. Garofalo revealed at the New York Comedy Festival's reunion for The Ben Stiller Show that until this past Saturday, she had been unknowingly married to Big Bang Theory producer Rob Cohen for 20 years. Wha? That's crazy talk! Crazy, but true.
According to The New York Post, Garofalo explained, “Rob and I got married, for real, which we had to have a notary dissolve not 30 minutes before we got here tonight … We were married for 20 years until this evening.”
“We got married drunk in Vegas . . . We dated for a year, and we got married at a drive-through chapel in a cab. [We thought] you have to go down to the courthouse and sign papers and stuff, so who knew? We were married, and apparently now that [Rob] is getting married for real, his lawyer dug up something,” says Garofalo.
Holy moly, this is some pretty unbelievable stuff. Unbelievable, but not unheard of. From everyone's favorite mildly incestuous cousins to a hungover toothless man and his stripper, funny people just love gettin' accidentally hitched. Luckily for Garofalo, her surprise marriage ended in a quickie divorce. Not so for these less fortunate brides and grooms, who had things go terribly awry once they said their vows.
Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon on 30 Rock
While Jack is trying to marry his girlfriend Avery on the show's fifth season, the minister accidentally pronounces Jack and Liz husband and wife. The horror! Before they can undo what had been done, Jack and Liz are forced to go through couples counseling.
George Michael and Maeby Funkë on Arrested Development
Unfortunately, romantic feelings are not so mutual with these kissing cousins. After George Michael and Maeby have a "mock" wedding to appease Alzheimer's patients at the hospital, George Michael decides not to tell Maeby that the wedding was actually real. When the truth gets out — because the truth always does — Maeby is none-too-thrilled. Hey, at least Garofalo and Cohen's wedding was a secret to both parties!
Ross Geller and Rachel Green on Friends
Much like Garofalo's situation, Ross and Rachel tie the knot in a drunken stupor in Sin City. But as the two remember what they had done, things take a turn for the creepy — Ross pretends to have annulled the marriage when, in fact, he never signed the papers. That dastardly so and so!
Stu and Jade in The Hangover
During his inebriated nuptials with Jade (a Vegas Stripper), Stu not only gives away a tooth but also his grandmother's Holocaust ring. At least neither Garofalo or Cohen gave away priceless family heirlooms… that we know of.
Fonzie and Jenny on Happy Days
What starts out as a fun costume party on a boat turns into one heck of a web to unweave when Fonzie and Joanie's friend Jenny realize their farce wedding might actually be real. While the Fonz thought the whole ordeal was just a gag, the fact that an actual sea captain performed the ceremony meant that he might have actually gotten hitched. To complicate matters, Jenny is not so keen on getting the marriage annulled. In classic overly complicated sitcom fashion, our hero is ultimately saved by a technicality — the boat upon which he said "I do" was only a half mile off shore, and, according to Happy Days' Maritime Law, a vessel must be three miles out to see before a sea captain can take matrimonial authority. Needless to say, Garofalo got off easy.
DJ Tanner and Uncle Jesse Marry Their Greek Cousins on Full House
Whatever you do, don't walk around a table with a Greek person — you'll wind up married. Luckily, all it takes to end said marriage is to walk back around the table backwards... at least in the reality of Full House.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Joseph Marzullo/WENN]
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November 13, 2012 4:00am EST
The West Wing star exchanged vows with The Big Bang Theory producer Rob Cohen at a drive-through chapel two decades ago in Sin City, but they didn't realise the wedding was for real until the TV executive started making plans to marry his new fiancee.
The pair's divorce finally came through on Saturday (10Nov12), shortly before they met up at the New York Comedy Festival as part of a reunion of workers on The Ben Stiller Show - the actor's 1990s comedy sketch series.
Garofalo tells New York Post gossip column Page Six, "Rob and I got married, for real, which we had to have a notary dissolve (a dissolution of marriage) not 30 minutes before we got here tonight. We were married for 20 years until this evening... We got married drunk in Vegas... We dated for a year, and we got married at a drive-through chapel in a cab. (We thought) you have to go down to the courthouse and sign papers and stuff, so who knew? We were married, and apparently now that (Rob) is getting married for real, his lawyer dug up something."
Cohen is engaged to Jill Leiderman, a producer on TV talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live.
October 21, 2012 8:37am EST
Run-of-the-mill thrillers rarely get the respect they deserve. On the surface, they appear as straightforward murder mysteries, showy texts with nothing to say except for what they're bluntly saying.
This article contains many spoilers for Alex Cross — beware!
That's why this weekend's Alex Cross is worthy of a deeper examination. We here at Hollywood.com took out our fine-toothed combs to put the rebooted detective story under a microscope. What we discovered is that the film is one of the most complex "essay films" of the year. Alex Cross isn't just a James Patterson adaptation, Tyler Perry's titular character not simply a pawn in a simplistic "chase to find the killer" routine. The movie has something more to say — whether it actually did or not when the filmmakers put it all together is besides the point. Here are ten moments of commentary that turn Alex Cross into 2012's most successful piece of outsider art:
1. The Expendability of People
Alex Cross introduces three major characters in its opening fast-paced chase scene: the title hero, his partner and lifelong best friend Tommy Kane (Ed Burns), and their young colleague (and the latter’s love interest) Monica (Rachel Nichols). Midway through the film, Monica is tortured and killed by the psychotic Picasso, mere moments before he also does away with Cross’ pregnant wife Maria. And while the scenes to follow feature a wake and some subdued for the latter, nobody ever really brings up Monica again. A once apparently prominent element of the film cast away forever as soon as someone even more important dies, leaving no mark on the Earth whatsoever. We’re all going to die eventually. We’re all going to be forgotten. No matter how significant our lives might seem, we all end up as dust in the wind.
2. Homogeneity of Pop Culture
People have "likes" and "dislikes," entertainment preferences that define them just as much as their physical features or hertiage. But Alex Cross damns those invested in film, TV, and even literature when it haphazardly (and purposefully) slips in allusions to other texts – often with little connection to one another. One minute Tommy is calling Alex "Gandalf," for being a wizard of detectiving, the next, he's jumping to a Harry Potter reference: "why don't you tell us Muggles what's going on?" Whatever we thought defined us in the world of pop culture has been diluted by branding. As Alex Cross makes clear, we seek enjoyment from an inherent sameness.
3. The Nutritive Habits of the Working Class
Cross, Kane, and Monica head on over to the home of the affluent Frenchman Leon Mercier, whom they have determined to be Picasso’s next victim. While awaiting his attendance in the sitting room of the mansion, Mercier’s coked-up employee approaches and offers the lot something to eat (repeatedly). Whereas the average films would simply have its characters reject the offer without an explanation why — or at least, without a specific explanation — Cross informs the persistent young woman that he and his colleagues stopped for McDonald’s before arriving. So why throw this into the script? As a promotion for a sponsoring chain? Or, perhaps, a commentary on the class distinction between corporate giant Mercier (who can afford a vast array of delicacies) and the underpaid Detroit police officers, who sustain on fast food without even enough time for a proper lunch break. Does the writing of James Patterson inherently call for Marxist subtexts, or was that an addition for the film?
4. Desperation for Nostalgia
Actor Giancarlo Esposito makes a one-scene appearance in Alex Cross and his very entrance speaks volumes. There's no skirting around it: Esposito is now deeply connected to his Emmy-nominated run on Breaking Bad. Director Rob Cohen knows we can't separate it from our minds, so he fully embraces the connection to overwhelm the "now" and provoke our thirst for the "has been." Esposito's character continually refers to the "The Chemist" while speaking to Alex. Immediately, our minds fill with images of Walter White — "when is that show coming back on?" We are incapable of living in the moment. Cohen pushes it even further when Esposito's character leads Alex to an old fashioned car, where they will conduct mob business. Nothing in the present can satisfy.
5. The Collective Writings of Sigmund Freud in 60 Seconds
Former psychologist Alex Cross delves deep into the psyche of his pursued killer. But he doesn’t hone in on one specific theory for Picasso’s derangement: he covers all of ‘em. Narcissist. Sociopath. Hates his mother, hates his father, hates the world. Phrases and terms like these are spat out in an ominous minute-long monologue delivered by Tyler Perry, prompting his chief to pick the only one he can remember and assign it to the case officially. Ah, the arbitrariness of the insanity label. The interchangeability of diagnoses. We’re all crazy—that’s what Alex Cross is saying. All messed up from the inside out. Any fancy names we assign to this psychotica, well, those are just for show.
6. Society's Views on Ethnicities
People of the 21st century perceive themselves as progressive, yet Alex Cross acts as a mirror showing us the ugly side of humanity's current prejudice. The film never shies away from a good ethnic caricature: from a raging German man, screaming and pounding on his desk, to an appearance of French actor Jean Reno. Reno only has to speak to send the audience into a fit of laughter, the contrast of his voice to the Americanized world around him. Alex Cross could be guilty of mining comedy from the diversity of its cast, but a deeper read suggests the film is aware of how the foreign cast members integration act as stiumli for the audiences own self-reflection.
7. The Relevance of Nerd Culture
Instead of casting normal looking human beings to play the Detroit police department's crack team of computer experts, the filmmakers behind Alex Cross make the bold choice to fill the roles with two caricatured dorks straight out of Revenge of the Nerds' Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity. With only a few short lines, the duo's nerd iconography not only suggests that "geek" has become mainstream, but that the even geekier sect of geekdom — i.e. the Reddit community, vocal Comic Con-goers, and the troops of online army"ANON" — are the puppetmasters of today's society. Alex Cross solves a mystery, but in the end, who really solved it?
8. We Are All Robots
Free will is a myth. The human race is comprised of people carrying out pre-programmed tasks — be they programmed by DNA or the environment is the big question. But we all wind up in a rut, operating within the parameters that are inevitably deemed our own. Around the climax of Alex Cross, we meet a nameless policeman with a strictly regulated set of behaviors. He enters a frame, quips something idiomatic about his observations, and then leaves abruptly. After multiple exhibitions of this pattern, we understand the message: none of us is really living. We’re all just carrying out the programs instilled in us by our genes, or jobs, or whatever higher power might control us. And as it does with this poor sap, this type of routine will eventually be what does us in for good. If only he could think for himself and get the hell out of there…
9. The Ambiguity of Morality
Alex Cross is consistently shown to disregard the law. To disregard civil rights, even. And the big conclusion at the end of the movie: he operates against ethics and has the brains behind Picasso, one Leon Mercier, killed by firing squad after planting a trunk of cocaine on him. The endeavor earns Cross a long, solemn, silent stare from Kane, before the latter shrugs it all off with the remark: “We got him.” They sure did. Maybe they had to play dirty to do so. Maybe they had to resort to the vilest operandi imaginable. But they won. Machiavelli would be proud of you, Alex.
10. The Death of Film
Many recent essays have lamented the death of film, but no commentary compares to Alex Cross' definitive statement. In a moment that lasts no more than a second or two, Alex takes a stumble during a foot chase through the project room of a abandoned-movie-theater-turned-car-park and lands with a thud on top of a knoted mess of celluloid. The frames are decrepit and brown, collecting dust for years as the theater rested without an audience. Alex Cross owns its own destiny: in its attempts to entertain, it is signal that "cinema" is a thing of the past.
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment (2)]
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Hollywood.com's Review of 'Alex Cross'
'Alex Cross': Tyler Perry Breaking Out of Tyler Perry
October 19, 2012 11:08am EST
The first two adaptations of James Patterson's famed character Dr. Alex Cross Kiss the Girls and Along Came the Spider were basically souped up Law & Order episodes with grislier details and the gravitas of Morgan Freeman. The latest incarnation bluntly titled Alex Cross follows the same format with the added bonus of being absurdly nonsensical to a near-parody level. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious XXX) finds a solid leading man in the Hollywood titan Tyler Perry but it all goes to waste in a hyper-stylized laughter-inducing translation of Patterson's mystery novels.
Alex Cross picks up in the early days of the psychologist-turned-detective's life as Cross (Perry) traverses the crime-ridden landscape of Detroit with his snappy sidekicks Tommy Kane (Ed Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols). For a homicide detective things are picture perfect — Cross has a family two kids (and a third on the way) and his mystery-busting team is always wearing smiles. Everything comes crashing down for Cross when "Picasso" (Matthew Fox) comes to town an assassin who enjoys toying with his targets and law enforcing pursuers as much as getting the job done. After discovering the meticulous murder of a businessman and his daughter Cross sifts through clues to pick apart the mind of his violent madman but when he gets too close Picasso makes things personal. That doesn't make Cross too happy.
The major problem with Alex Cross is that Cohen handles the material like one of his previous action movies. But Cross isn't an action character — he's a thinker. Rarely does the detective manage to dig up evidence from a crime scene or better yet visit a crime scene. The search for Picasso comprised of lots of poetic waxing ("Maybe he hates his mother. Maybe he hates his father. Maybe… he's a sociopath") random shoot outs (are there other police Detroit other then Alex & Co.?) and plenty of growling threats between Cross and Fox's muscled corpse of an assassin. Occasionally Ed Burns steps in with a pop culture quip ripped straight from a Google search of what "the kids are into these days." Name-dropping Gandalf and "muggles" in one zinger sheesh.
Attempting to survive the lackluster script Perry gives a decent performance thanks to his towering build and the general warmth he's nurtured in his own personal projects. His action side leaves a bit to be desired — intimidation requires more than doing someone's best Jack Bauer impression. Cohen doesn't help him shooting Alex Cross like one extended whip pan. There is shakycam and then there is Alex Cross' insistence on turning set pieces into photographic spin art. Fox who transformed himself for the role works as the crazy-eyed psycho. If there was a moment to understand his motivations or how he's able to plan his elaborate plans (in one sequence he swims up a water pipe into the bathroom of an office building).
Alex Cross is fun but for all the wrong reasons. Every element is so incredibly mishandled the lunacy circles back from "bad bad" to "good bad." Even an entrance by French actor Jean Reno elicits laughs just because it's hard to believe everything on screen is really happening. Intended or not Alex Cross is one of the stranger movies of the year a rebooted franchise that decided to go off the rails from minute one. Maybe for the better.
October 18, 2012 6:03am EST
This Friday, Tyler Perry arrives in theaters in a vehicle that, for the first time, he has had no hand in writing or directing. Under the eye of Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, XXX), Alex Cross enlists the multifaceted Hollywood maven purely for an acting role — one that Morgan Freeman previously inhabited Kiss the Girls and Along Came the Spider. After this weekend, it be clear whether Perry's fans will accept him in a potboiler thriller, and whether those who haven't yet been convinced by the man's skills will trek out to give him a chance.
But producers behind the movie are confident audiences will flock to the new and improved Alex Cross. So confident, that they're moving forward on a sequel.
Through their corporate website, production company QED International has confirmed that they intend to turn James Patterson's Double Cross into the second installment of the Perry-led franchise. The tagline for the book sums up the expected premise, in line with the first film's gritty, over-the-top nature:
"Alex Is Being Targeted By Two Psychopathic Killers"
Simple and effective. Perry is expected to return for the sequel, although Cohen's and Alex Cross supporting player Ed Burns' involvement have not been announced. The moving forward of production will still ride on this weekend's box office gross, but reports that the first film's budget was in the $25 million range means modest grosses are all the film needs to be a success.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment]
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The actor/director trained with Krav Maga specialists to perfect his fight sequences in the film, but when it came to unleashing his martial arts moves, he almost knocked the Lost star out.
He tells WENN, "I kept feeling within myself that he (Fox) was too close. I wouldn't commit all the way to the turn and I was afraid to completely let go because this Krav Maga training I took is really amazing. I had major issues because I didn't want to hurt him.
"But (director) Rob Cohen kept pushing me and pushing me, and finally I just let go. My elbow came too close and I hit him in the temple. Matthew spun around and we're on the catwalk of this scaffolding and I grabbed him because I thought he was going over.
"He was a good sport about it because he didn't turn around to kick me. I had to leave the set after that because that was it for me; I didn't want to be that committed!"
And Fox admits his co-star spent the next few days apologising for smacking him around the head: "You do those fight sequences and they're really drawn out and you're exhausted, so every now and then somebody makes a mistake and you misjudge and somebody gets hit.
"Tyler caught me with an elbow in the face about midnight on the scaffolding when we were doing that stuff. He was so unbelievably horrified that he did it that he called me every day just apologising. I tried to let him off the hook saying, 'It's no problem man'. I didn't get seriously hurt."
But it was a different story for a stuntman on the film - he reprimanded Perry after the star pushed his son out of the way during a fight scene in a restaurant.
The actor recalls, "I decked this waiter in the scene. Rob says, 'Go on, man, you're gonna try and save your wife. Knock him out of the way!' So I run and I knock the guy out of the way.
"After the scene, everyone is quiet and the stunt guy comes over to me and says, 'Hey man, that's my son. You can't hit him like that!'"
August 23, 2012 6:47am EST
Those well-versed in the films of Oliver Stone or perhaps a certain quirky hospital series that helped launched the age of the single-camera comedy might have noticed a familiar face popping up throughout this season of Burn Notice: that of John C. McGinley, the decorated film and television actor famous for playing Dr. Perry Cox on the NBC sitcom Scrubs. Throughout Burn Notice’s sixth season, McGinley has recurred as Tom Card, the nebulous former mentor to the show’s hero, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan). Thursday night will mark the broadcast of the USA series’ mid-season finale (McGinley will appear on more in the fall!) — and perhaps reveal a little more about his character's true intentions?
We got a chance to talk to the actor about his stint on Burn Notice, as well as a few other exciting projects he has on the horizon (including a Broadway appearance), his lasting appreciation for the gift that was Dr. Cox, and some of his own cinematic passions.
“I’d been a fan of Jeffrey [Donovan] for a long time,” McGinley explained, discussing his decision to take on a role on Burn Notice. “I’d seen the show off and on. And Gabrielle [Anwar] is a goddess. So, I just thought it was a bunch of good actors. And Matt Nix, he can write his tail off. I thought that was a good formula — and so it yielded huge dividends.”
As we quickly learned about McGinley, the quality of writing is his top priority when choosing a project. “I read it, and I thought it was really delicious. So I said, ‘Yeah. I’ll come down to Miami.’ Why not? … There’s that silly rule of thumb that you hear every actor talk about in every stinkin’ interview: if it’s not on the page, it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s the single truest thing in the history of the planet. If those words stink, then the [project] is going to stink.”
McGinley could tell from reading Tom Card that he was a character worth sinking his teeth into. “You don’t know if he’s coming or going as far as how he supports or subverts the protagonist for four of the five episodes. That’s fantastic. He’s not wearing a particular color in the story. You don’t know if he’s the man in black or the man in white, the bad guy or the good guy. So, to be able to straddle that tight of a tightrope is the stuff that actors dream of.”
There are several big screen projects that McGinley has in the works — each of which commanded his interest thanks to the quality of its script. First on the list is 42, the developing Jackie Robinson biopic written and directed by Brian Helgeland. “The script is very smart. It’s one year. It’s 1947. It’s the year baseball was integrated. It’s not Jackie Robinson from cradle to the grave. That’s too hard. You’ve got to do that with a book … This is one year in a man’s life that, in a lot of ways, changed our country.”
McGinley enthusiastically celebrates his chance to play radio sportscaster Red Barber in the film.
“He’s one of the top-of-the-food-chain, iconic radio voices of all time,” McGinley divulged. “I don’t say that in any way disparaging Vince Gully, because Vince Gully was an intern of his for five years. So, this is a guy who, along with Mel Allen, invented baseball on the radio. They co-invented it. They were the pioneers. And I got to do that. It was massive.”
However, this story reaches far beyond the confines of professional baseball. McGinley appreciates just how grand a story this film has in store — “As much of a sports story it is,” the actor said, “this is a civil rights story.” He continued: “This is a story about empowerment and courage. Branch Rickey, who Harrison Ford plays in this, was the guy who ran the Dodgers. What he did was breathtaking. In 1947, to bring a black guy into the big leagues? As you’ll see in the story, it was an uphill climb the whole way.”
Another highly anticipated film in McGinley’s future is the newest Alex Cross adaptation, featuring Tyler Perry and Ed Burns. While both of the leading men’s characters come straight from the texts of James Patterson, McGinley got the opportunity to create the character himself with the film’s writer and director Rob Cohen. “I played Ed Burns’ and Tyler Perry’s boss in the police force … It’s not in the book. So, [Cohen] invited me to come and create this guy. We got together and decided where this guy could fit into the story. That’s as exciting as anything any actor could ever do. When you get to create a character out of nothing? He doesn’t exist in the book. He doesn’t exist in the script. Rob knew he needed an instrument in there somewhere to push this information forward, or deliver this element of the story. He goes, ‘Do you want to be this guy?’ And I said, ‘Of course!’"
As far as his cast mates go, McGinley feels as though he hit the jackpot. “I’ve always thought Ed Burns was a profoundly underrated actor. He’s a great director, obviously. A great director/writer. But I think he’s a stunning actor, too … I was pretty pumped to see Ed. It’s so great when your perception of someone is eclipsed by how great they are in real life. That’s the effect Ed had on me. I thought he was a stunning person, and an equally extraordinary actor.” Although McGinley didn’t have as much of a chance to spend time with Perry off camera, he assured that he will be “marvelous” as Alex Cross.
Among this slew of dramatic new prospects, McGinley is also staying true to his gift of humor for the upcoming comedy film Get a Job. McGinley explained the theme of the picture: “It’s [about] the Gen-Xers who have lived at home with their parents. The angle the script takes is that these are the kids who all got trophies in soccer. And even if you were thrown out at first when you were playing little league baseball, you still got to stay on first. You were never out. You weren’t ever on a losing team.”
And how exactly do kids like this turn out as adults? “So, this kind of mollycoddling that generation was afforded or afflicted with by their parents has yielded kids — young people at twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty — who… who what? That’s what the picture is. Okay, what are you doing now? There are losers in soccer games. You are out at first.”
Once again, it all comes back to the writing: “The script was fantastic. I play one of their bosses. One of the guys gets a job on a trading floor. And talk about a shark pool. To come from that background to a stocks and bonds trading floor, where everybody would take a shiv and stick it in your esophagus just as soon as look at you. So, this one character, that’s his workplace conflict.”
A colorful stock trader, a shifty mentor (and possible villain), a sportscasting legend, and the head honcho on a homicide investigation — not to mention Dave Moss in the upcoming Broadway production of Glengarry Glen Ross, in which McGinley will star opposite Al Pacino (a role that McGinley called “a profound challenge”). Clearly, the actor has a lot of great characters on the way. But for many of us, he’ll always be associated with Percival Cox, M.D. And McGinley seems to have no problem with that.
“To get to play that guy for nine years,” McGinley explained, “is a gift … [I] did six films this year, and now I’m going to do a Broadway play. So, if I’ve been stigmatized as Dr. Cox, then give me more stigma.”
And it’s because of how tumultuously troubled Cox always was as a human being. “He was profoundly flawed, from being unquestionably an alcoholic, to being a divorced guy who moves in, moves out, moves back in with his ex-wife — then decides that they’re better divorced but living together — to sometimes using a jackhammer to teach, only because the stakes that they’re dealing with are so important, to being a great father but raging against being a mentor, to a guy who can’t stand human touch. These are all great things. And they’re so specific and meticulous.”
According to McGinley, this kind of human flaw is what makes for great character. “What helps writers, and ultimately, obviously, helps the actors — who should serve the words that the writer puts on the page — is if the character has damages. Because then the writers can cultivate and excavate, like a dentist going into a tooth. You go into those damages and write interesting stories for a prolonged period of time. So, Cox is so damaged that they got to write him for nine years, and he never became an exercise in redundancy.”
But there are aspects of Cox that make him triumphant. For one, his intelligence, as McGinley illustrated. “I surrendered to this early on: Dr. Cox, SAT- and IQ-wise, runs circles around me. That’s a horrible thing to say about yourself. I think the guy is super, super bright. And probably rebels against that, and tries to damage his intellect with booze.”
Even more importantly is the fact that, at the very core, Cox is a truly good person. “The great thing about Cox,” the actor said, “is that you knew he had a heart of gold. At the bottom of the ninth, bases jacked, two strikes, full count — who do you want? You want Cox. Who do you want as your doctor? You want Cox. So, working backwards from there, it gave him license to hammer those kids. The guy was so fundamentally sound, that he could take those liberties.”
McGinley got to talking about one of his most memorable episodes on Scrubs, which took place during an arc in which Cox spiraled into a crushing depression after inadvertently causing the deaths of several patients. “I didn’t talk in that episode until the last scene,” McGinley recalled. “People kept coming to the apartment. It was an exercise in listening, which is always really useful for actors to do. There’s a whole school in the Neighborhood Playhouse — Sandy Meisner and the Neighborhood Playhouse — all their focus is on listening. And the listening exercises that Sandy came up with always, always are the stuff of treasure and genius work for actors.”
One thing that fans of Perry Cox might look back upon fondly is the doctor’s signature nose-flick — a quirk that McGinley himself brought to the character. But where exactly did it come from? “I was lucky enough to become friends with Paul Newman during Fat Man and Little Boy,” McGinley explained. “When John Cusack and I were down in Mexico doing that film about the atomic bomb. So, I kind of was obsessed with Paul Newman. He was the best to me. One of his famous throws to Robert Redford in The Sting — “The coast is clear, everything is okay” — was that nose flick. So, it was kind of an homage to Paul.”
Talking about The Sting got the actor thinking back upon some of his other favorite films. Among them: Casablanca, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Godfather, and The Grey Fox. “A lot of people would argue with The Grey Fox,” McGinley admitted. “But I don’t care, because it rocks me. The storytelling is so clean, and it’s so gorgeous. And Richard Farnsworth, who I never met… he’s a reason to put a motion picture camera on a human face.”
And when you consider the common themes of this string of movies, McGinley’s favorite pick of 2012 might surprise you: The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The actor affirms that it is “the best film of the year,” divulging emphatically: “You have to be willing to suspend your disbelief, a la E.T.. If you can’t do that, then don’t go to the movie. These reviewers that have been uniformly unkind to it, I don’t know what film they were watching. If they think they were watching a true story about a little boy… it’s a love letter. It’s an enchanted love letter. If you watch E.T. and say that there are holes in the story because this alien lands, then don’t go to the movie! It drives me insane. You go see Timothy Green, and tell me if it doesn’t rock your world. I loved it. I loved every frame of it.”
While it might be a bit easier to pinpoint his favorite of other artists’ works, McGinley just can’t decide when it comes to his own line of films — specifically, his list of Oliver Stone movies. McGinley holds the distinction to be the only actor to have worked with director Stone in six features, and he cherishes each one of them. “They’re all pretty special. Going into the Philippines for six months and surrendering your life to [Platoon] was unbelievable. Doing Wall Street was special, because my father and Oliver’s father both worked, independent of each other, on Wall Street. Doing Talk Radio, I created the role in the play and did it for a year and a half, and then Oliver said, ‘Do you want to do the movie?’ Any Given Sunday, I got to meet Al and spend five months with Al.”
And although he was not involved with this year’s Savages, McGinley had nothing but high praise for the film. “I thought it was fantastic. I thought all the actors were great. I thought Benicio [del Toro] and John [Travolta] and Salma [Hayek] were just in top form.”
Three big pictures, one Broadway play, a television guest spot on the way, and a hell of a lot in the realm of film and television to his name already. McGinley is one of those rare actors that seems to crank out golden performances wherever he goes. Does he have a knack for picking terrific material, or is he just good enough to make anything worth watching (a skill he accredits to a limited populace, including the likes of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams)? Whichever you choose to believe, it’s hard to ignore the actor’s vast talent.
Catch McGinley in the season finale of Burn Notice on Thursday night at 9 PM.
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