“To Kurt Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, summed up his philosophy: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” — from the N.Y. Times obit for Vonnegut, who died on Wednesday in Manhattan.
After my riff on the Get Smart movie went up earlier today, I received three interesting e-mails. One containing a draft of the Get Smart movie script (dated 3.30.06, by Tom Astle and Matt Ember), a second pointing me to a Get Smart TV series fan site that has posted a fairly negative, very detailed review of Astle and Ember’s script, and a third from a guy in the business who asked to be referred to as “Agent Orange.” I know him — he’s for real.
“Agent Orange” doesn’t like the script any more than the fan site guy does, but that’s neither here nor there. The film could pan out and by funny and make money; you never know with these things. The interesting part is that AO is claiming that Warner Bros. is trying to keep the original series’ creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry “from being paid [the] huge sums they’re entitled to.”
I don’t know the details and I haven’t made any calls yet. For all I know Brooks and/or Henry are getting paid a modest amount but not, in their view, enough. Or they’re getting royally shafted. Or their compensation is being chipped away at. I know nothing. I do know, however, that “Agent Orange” has certain relationships and is in a position to know what’s up.
“Your piece on the new Get Smart film hit the nail perfectly on the head,” he began. “The script, from the morons who wrote Failure To Launch, has been long considered to be eye-rollingly bad and was only given the go ahead because of Steve Carrel’s current ‘heat,’ as well as his limited windows of availability due to his series and other movie commitments.
“The greenlight notion was, let the star and the title speak for itself and ‘let ‘er rip.’ But this material makes Steve Martin‘s Pink Panther seem like genius.
“What’s most egregious is the apparent disregard the producers and studio have for the original creators of the show. Mel Brooks said in an interview that it would be best to leave Get Smart alone, but if it is to be redone, he offered to give input because he liked Steve Carrell and thinks he’s ‘talented.’
“Brooks postulated that a modernized Smart should deal with current events, just liked the original show lampooned the Cold War, and should riff on Iraq, Condi Rice and finding Osama bin Laden. Instead, this Get Smart is a dumbed down redo of the plot of Rowan Atkinson‘s Johnny English. So much so, that it’s already been nicknamed Johnny American.
“There’s also a lame attempt to address the age gap between Carell and Anne Hathaway, saying that she had plastic surgery to hide her identity. Still, the photo you’ve shown looked like The Forty Year Old Agent posing alongside Little Miss Sunshine. In this version, Maxwell Smart will try to legally adopt 99.
“The worst part of all this is that Warner Brothers is trying to deny Brooks and Buck Henry their sizable royalties for this production by claiming that they didn’t actually create the original show. The legal department postulates that since the original idea to spoof James Bond back in the ’60s came from a production company, Brooks and Henry were ‘work for hire’ as opposed to incepting the idea.
“They’ve taken depositions and are combing through paperwork as they endeavor to prove their contention and cheat these two comic legends out of the huge sums they’re entitled to.”
Thursday morning update: After this item went up late yesterday afternoon, I heard from another admirer of the original Get Smart TV series who has ties to Leonard Stern, one of the surviving owners of Talent Associates, the production company that brought together co-creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and produced Smart in the mid ’60s.
“I wanted to drop you a note and confirm the story about how Warner Brothers is trying to screw Brooks and Henry out of their credit as creators of the show,” his letter began. “I have spoken to Leonard Stern about this and [he confirms] it is true.
“WB attorneys have taken depositions to attempt to prove that Talent Associates came up with the concept, characters, and details of Get Smart and that Brooks and Henry merely served as writers for hire. They have a memo from Talent Associates that gives the show bible and they are trying to use that as proof. Unfortunately, the memo is dated a year after Get Smart aired. Not letting that fact stop them, WB is claiming that it was a misdated memo.
“Both Stern and Daniel Melnick, the surviving owners of Talent Associates, deny the studio’s claim, but the suit is still moving forward,” he says. “This is all part of the reason why no one is consulting with the original series’ creative team.”
The Get Smart film is being produced by Mad Chance’s Andrew Lazar and Mosaic Media Group’s Charles Roven and Alex Gartner. The Stern ally claims that Mosaic, the talent management firm founded by Eric Gold and Jimmy Miller that reps Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell and the Wayans brothers, is the force or impetus behind the lawsuit, and “not executive producers like Carell.”
Congratulations to Bingham Ray for landing a new gig as marketing and acquisitions chief for Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, and apologies for not raising my glass yesterday along with everyone else. A smart and shrewd indie veteran tying in with a successful like-minded operation… clink.
Kimmel, 69, has been financing films since the late ’70s, and has a distribution deal with MGM, although Focus, Paramount Vantage and Universal have also cut deals with him. Ray’s new division. And he seems to have good taste in the films that he’s financed so far. These include Breach (an above-average espionage piece that I found more involving than The Good Shepherd), Married Life, Boot Camp, Lars and the Real Girl, Talk To Me, Death at a Funeral and Charlie Bartlett.
There’s only one slightly uncool thing about this whole arrangement, and that’s the fact that the name “Sidney Kimmel Entertainment” — no disrespect intended — sounds like a company that distributes pinball machines. It sounds like an entertainment company run by a New York gentleman of the Hebrew persuasion who made his money in the clothing business. (Wait…Kimmel did make his money that way.) The company needs to sound less 20th Century ethnic and more 21st Century digital.
A clothier named Samuel Goldfish realized he needed a makeover when he got into the movie business almost a hundred years ago, so he changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn — same difference.
Ray is reportedly in charge of a “new division,” according to Dave McNary‘s Variety story, so why don’t they come up with a new name that’ll spritz things up?
Start with a boilerplate Jerry Bruckheimer– style inspirational sports drama plot — a tough coach molds some young black students into a hard-charging team (a la Glory Road and Pride). Set it in a more-racist-than-today time period (’50s or ’60s or earlier). Include a rote third-act competition climax with the students going up against a team of elite white guys and showing ’em what for. And then mix it in with the intellectual pursuit-and-triumph vein of films like Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds and Stand and Deliver.
(l. to r.) Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Joe Roth, Oprah Winfrey
The result (and I wish there was a less cynical way to respond) is a very predictable-sounding hybrid called The Great Debaters, a fact-based drama that Denzel Washington will direct next month in Louisiana for The Weinstein Company. (Go Harvey!…don’t let Grindhouse get you down.)
Variety‘s Michael Fleming says that Oprah Winfrey (say no more, I get it) and Kate Forte are producing with Todd Black and Joe Roth. (I’m sorry to say this but as far as impressions of the upscale film world are concerned, the name “Joe Roth” listed as one of the producers is tantamount to a kiss of death…a hex…a black spot as imagined by Robert Louis Stevenson.)
“Washington, who has long developed the pic as a directing vehicle, recently decided to play a key supporting role, as he did in his directorial debut Antwone Fisher,” Fleming writes.” “He’ll play a volatile coach who molds a group of students from a small black college in East Texas into an elite debate team in the 1930s that wins the right to go against Harvard’s championship team.”
Whitaker will play the father of one of the students. Wait…I see an abusive character…an alcoholic who puts the kid down and wants him to work on the farm instead of being in school, prompting Denzel to drive out and look Whitaker in the eye and straighten him out and gradually enlist his support. The script is by Robert Eisele.
Seven days and a wakeup until the official 60th Cannes Film Festival slate is announced on Thursday, April 19th, probably in the wee, wee hours. But I’ve already emotionally divested myself from the idea of catching a Croisette screening of Martin Scorsese‘s Rolling Stones concert doc (which has seemed to some like a reasonable prospect, given the certainty that Scorsese will be at the festival) because it’s just not happening. “No chance in hell,” a friend from Paramount distribution told me a little while back. “Paramount isn’t even seeing an early cut of it until mid May. It won’t be ready at all for sure.” Okay, fine…Toronto!
Because the title of a hit TV show from the mid to late ’60s called Get Smart is still a semi-recognizable brand (primarily among boomers and older GenXers who were in their early tweens to late teens when “would you believe…?” was a cool catch phrase, and who are now in their 40s, 50s and early 60s), Warner Bros. is making a Get Smart movie with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway in the Don Adams and Barbara Feldon (i.e., Agent 99) parts.
USA Today‘s Anthony Breznican has written a totally boilerplate, just-the-facts piece about it,
The new Get Smart is reportedly an origin story about how Carell’s Maxwell Smart got to be a top secret agent and work for CONTROL, etc. (Alan Arkin is playing the chief with Hathaway as Agent 99.) The baddie-waddie org known as KAOS is back also, along with the shoe phone and the Cone of Silence. The world of the mid ’60s (James Bond spoofs, the Hugh Hefner aesthetic, threat of Russian and Chinese communism, boning the babes, dry martinis, Ford Mustangs) transferred to a world that has next to no relation to the one that existed 40 years ago.
All in an effort to sell tickets (a fundamental reason to make a film, obviously, but one that ensures a rancid and empty vibe if that’s primarily what the makers are thinking about) and make people like me miserable.
You can”t go home again. The mid to late ’60s can’t be re-animated and re-alchemized, and 40 year-old TV shows don’t mean much to anyone under-40 who doesn’t watch Nickleodeon. Or do they?
To increase the offensiveness, the producers have Peter Segal — the grinning go-alonger with the Adam Sandler relationship and, okay, a certain facility with lightweight comedy (50 First Dates, Anger Management, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Tommy Boy) — directing it.
The problem is that Segal is just a breezy-ass hah-hah guy — no apparent “taste” or seasoning or underlying whatever. I don’t know if the producers approached Jay Roach or Richard Linklater (or if these guys felt that Get Smart was beneath them and blew them off…I would have). But if the producers had any interest in making something that wasn’t intended as a total wank from the get-go, they wouldn’t get Segal. (How about someone like Jon Favreau or…I don’t know….Christopher Guest?)
How would you like to be Segal and know that you’re directing a movie that’s regarded by your top stars as a straight hold-my-nose, do-the-job and get- through-it-so-I can-pay-for-my-children’s-education type gig?
Carell has now officially squandered the good will and positive associations he had in his pocket all last year as a result of his extremely winning, ground-level comic performance in Little Miss Sunshine. It’s over and he’s pissed it away. His image (doubly fortified by Evan Almighty) is now that of a complacent and obedient clown who makes corporate comedies for guys in suits as long as you pay him enough.