Category Archives: The Rob Braithwaite Project

Ten Things I Learned From The Walking Dead Marathon

In case you don’t know, The Walking Dead is a zombie apocalypse show on AMC, the same network that brought us Mad Men and Breaking Bad.   So it’s a pretty serious take on the genre – well-written, high production value, great acting – although it does leave a couple of zombie movie clichés fully intact.

Like gore for instance.  I always forget how easy it is to rip a human being apart into a gooey, lumpy red soup until I get to watch a bunch of moaning zombies do it.  Everybody’s body seems to act like it’s been in the Crock Pot all day – just falls right off the bone.

And then there’s the Standard Horror Movie Dumbass Tendency, in which the characters behave with jaw-dropping stupidity, even as the rest of the plot seems tightly woven and well thought out.

So here’s a list of things I learned watching the marathon last night.  Spoilers ahead to some degree or another, so beware.

1.  Being A Zombie Is Not Very Contagious.  Apparently, the way to turn into a zombie is you get bitten by one, but damn – that’s about the only thing that seems to worry the survivors.  At one point they cover themselves in zombie guts so they can lurch down the street to get a truck, and sure, they put on some extra layers of clothing first, but I don’t think I’d be doing that without a Hazmat suit on.

“Make sure you don’t get any of it in your eyes,” one of them says, and yes.  I would agree you should be careful about that.  I sure hope breathing the zombified corpse fumes doesn’t do anything to you, either, but I guess there’s only one way to find out.

I don’t know about you, but when my kid has the flu and she’s been sleeping in my bed, I change the sheets before I get in that bed again.  I don’t drink out of the same water glass, either.  If you’re telling me, here’s the plan, to avoid getting turned into zombies we’re going to smear zombie guts all over ourselves, then I’m telling you, no we’re not.  Perhaps you have a mouse in your pocket?

2.  Think Twice About Horsy Rides.  I know that gasoline is hard to come by in the zombie apocalypse, but you have to understand, if you’ve decided to ride into a zombie-infested city on horseback, then what you’re essentially doing is trotting around on top of a giant, walking cheeseburger.

2a – Dead Horsy Alert – As a corollary, be certain you do not watch The Walking Dead unless you are prepared to watch a hundred zombies rip a horse apart like water balloon full of Johnny Marzetti.

3.  Boy Needs A Daddy – I know that it’s hard raising a son all by yourself at the End of Days, and I know that maybe your husband was in a coma right before the zombie attack, and also I know that in such a situation, it’s probably not necessary to mourn for a full, standard year before hooking yourself up with a big, strong man to watch over you.

But probably a little longer than a week or so.  And maybe question the motive, sincerity, and reliability of the dude who tells you that your husband is Extra Super Definitely Dead, before you sneak off into the woods to fornicate in the bushes with him. 

You know, as a rule, dudes will say just about anything to get you to sleep with us, and yes, that includes “I’m 100% positive your husband is dead.”

He’s not positive.  Practically all of us have used that old gag before, and we’d cut it out if it didn’t work so well.  I know you’re lonely and frightened, sister, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you.  That guy had about as hard a time getting your clothes off as he would on Spring Break circa 1985.

4.  It’s Okay To Hang Out On Rooftops.  If you chain a racist biker to a pipe on a rooftop, and then lose the key and have to leave him there, but first you chain the door closed so no zombies can get to the roof, and then later you say, “Well he’s got to be still alive up there, because we chained the door shut!”

Then I have to wonder – why did you flee the city?

The cool thing about rooftops is that there are only stairs and ladders leading to them, and zombies are not very agile.  You could chain the door shut and then not chain yourself to the pipe, and it seems to me that you’d have a considerable advantage over the racist biker, who you are pretty certain survived the night.

A considerably less effective strategy would be to find a place in the middle of the woods, where you can be approached unseen from all directions, and then place the tents around the edges of it, the way you would on a regular camping trip if you were hoping for a little privacy.  And then don’t bother posting any guards or lookouts of any kind, just all of you sit around the fire yucking it up loud enough that you can’t hear thirty zombies lurching up on you through the brush, until they’re already biting people.

6.  People Who Are Turning Into Zombies But Aren’t Finished Have Rights.  See, I would have gone the other direction on that one.  Oh, you got bit by a zombie?  BLAM! 

You gotta do it like you’re ripping a Band-Aid off, don’t talk about it.  Nobody wants to sit there turning into a zombie, and if they’re telling you any different, it’s because they’re turning into a zombie

Jeebers H. Mice.  How many zombie attacks before you guys start taking this shit seriously?  You’re up to like eight now.

 7.  Don’t Be A Dick Or Anyone’s Hot Sister – A good way to get eaten by a zombie is to be a real dick, like throw around racial slurs or make leering, unwanted sexual advances on hot girls or simply beat up your wife. 

See, in a zombie movie, the audience would get psychologically exhausted if all of our favorite people kept getting ripped apart, so if you’re going to act unpleasant, then that’s all we’re thinking – have fun getting eaten by a zombie, jerk.

Similarly, there is really no point in having two hot sisters in your show.  If you have a hot sister, then one of you is going to have to get eaten by a zombie to add depth and motivation to your otherwise not-very-interesting sister.  So if you have a hot sister then it’s either her or you.

Hard choices, sweetheart, that’s why they call it the Zombie Apocalypse.

8.  That’s A Pretty Funny Name.  A Walking Dead Marathon sounds like all the zombies have little numbers on their backs and are listening to iPods, doesn’t it?  Heh.  That’s not really what it is, though.

9.  An Upper Torso Zombie Can Crawl Across The Park – Make sure you bend down and talk to it before you put it out of its unholy misery, though.  No hurry, it’s just an abomination suffering through Hell on Earth – take a moment to say a few words it won’t understand.  That makes tons of sense, and we learn that early on.

10.  Even In A Zombie Apocalypse, Baby Boomer Dudes Have Irritating Stories And Demeanors. – I think I’d probably just shoot that white-haired guy the first time I got him alone, and then just pull the old He Was Turning Into A Zombie trick.  What are they going to do, call the cops?

Nobody cares, professor, just put your eyebrows down.


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True Grit, Two Times

The plan for today is to watch the oringal True Grit  and then go and see the new one, and that’s probably the best plan I’m likely to come up with all year, so I kind of set myself up for disappointment the rest of 2011, but the dye’s cast.  Let’s do this.

Marilyn is anxious to watch them both, because she’s never seen the original but she read the book last week.  I got her a crazily overpriced paperback copy of it for Christmas, and she cracked it open and then devoured it in a day, while the rest of us hung around and trashed the house, ate White Castles.

I’ve seen the original as a kid, the way I saw pretty much every other John Wayne movie, sprawled out on the floor of my dad’s living room, eating chips, not really getting it.  They sort of blur together, all the westerns – that’s about all that was on television for quite a stretch, westerns and football games. 

So now we’ve finished the original, and here’s the first thing that struck us both – there simply were not a lot of great actors back then.  The way all the dialogue is flat and canned, it’s like watching Star Trek, except all the aliens are different kinds of cowboys.

I think the idea is that television and the big screen tipped the craft of acting on its ear, because for centuries they had to be loud and obvious and flamboyant in order to convey anything to a huge crowd of people.  Subtlety wasn’t really valued or noticed.  So I shouldn’t say they were bad actors, just that it was a less advanced form of it, one that’s pretty striking.

For example, there is a scene in which Rooster Cogburn and his partner are trying to leave Maddie, the heroine, by crossing a river by ferry and refusing to let her on board.  She goes ahead and swims across the river with her horse.  There’s a bunch of that big western music blasting and Cogburn goes, “She reminds me of me!”

Which feels like a brick to modern sensibilities.  He could have cracked a grin or something, and we would have got it, you know?

That’s really about the first thing people tell you when you try to write anything these days, show don’t tell.  Not really how they rolled back then.  It’s more like, everybody tells, loud and clear – and if anybody shows you anything, you can be sure someone will tell you what it is right after they show you.

Also Maddie has a really distractingly terrible haircut.  She looks kind of like a boy wearing a dress, which is fine, don’t get me wrong.  It just took me twenty or thirty minutes to realize they were going to keep it that way, it wasn’t a mistake.  My guess is, they wanted to avoid sexualizing the fourteen year-old girl, so they made sure to square off her hair for her.

Wouldn’t that be awesome if modern movie producers were always trying not to sexualize teenagers in their movies?  Like some kind of bizarro paradise land, where it rained cheeseburgers and the cars could talk. 

Anyway, it turns out this is in keeping with the novel.  Marilyn says there isn’t a hint of sexuality about the girl in the book, either – though there’s the same dread that I feel, watching this or Breaking Bad, possibly just the modern curse of knowing how often young girls are victimized  by men.  We keep expecting the worst possible things to happen, but maybe that’s because modern movies are so comfortable going there.

I don’t know if a reader from sixty years ago would have the same dread, or if that was just something you didn’t really have to worry about in your novels back then.  It certainly doesn’t seem like the viewers of the original movie carried around such concerns – the idea of a fourteen year-old girl riding around with two drunken gunslingers looking for a gang full of the same, it’s pretty much played for laughs.

Of course it’s cool watching John Wayne, but he doesn’t really seem to act, to me.  He’s again like Captain Kirk except in a sudden, shocking realization, I understand that I like Captain Kirk more.  A lot more.  In fact, I’m pretty sure Captain Kirk could beat up John Wayne – there, I’ve said it.

Marilyn says that the movie is fairly true to the book in a lot of ways, but deviates sharply at the end.  And I can attest that while she was reading the end of the book, she kept going, “Oh my God!  Oh my GOD!!   OH MY GOD!!!”

Kind of got on my nerves.  Trying to blog over here.

But the point is, none of us were saying that at the end of the John Wayne movie.  Even my youngest watched that one with us, and she got outraged a few times, but just in the way she always does when she watches old Westerns.  Why the fixation on tripping horsies and shooting horsies and running horsies until they drop dead on the ground?

Not real horsies, I assure her.  Not dead horsies.

They don’t look like comfortable horsies, she points out.  Still very shocking to her.

Now we are headed off to see the Coen Bros. version of the movie – minus the youngest daughter, obviously.  They’ve said that they weren’t so much remaking the John Wayne movie as they were making another film adaptation of the novel.  So I’m thinking at the end of it, I’m probably going to say, “Oh my God!”  Louder and louder and louder.

So I’ll be back later, and I’ll post this then.  I’m not going to post it until I get back, for Internet Safety Reasons.  Then later I’ll post about the new version, and link to it right here.


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History Of The Watershed Banner

Did you ever wonder where Watershed got the huge banner they hang up behind themselves when they play a show?  Well let me tell you – I made it, that’s where.

Okay, I didn’t make it exactly.  What I did was get a few art students in high school to ask their art teacher (the notorious Mr. Counts) to allow them to work on it in class as an art project.

This was in 1990, some time after Campus Rocker and Watershed Band Manager Mike McDermott bit me on the neck and turned me into a Campus Rocker and Little Skinny Dude Who Was Always Hanging Out At Watershed Shows.

My relationship with the guys in Watershed and their campus pals was always a complicated one – I had a car with which I could drive Mike home, and for whatever reason, I could get ten or fifteen girls to show up at your party, pretty much any night you chose to have it.  That’s because I was a Campus Rocker now.

Don’t get too freaked out – at least one marriage resulted from that arrangement (not mine), and you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

So after I got through the complicated, Watershed Inner Circle Initiation Process – I had to drive my car across the Oval, kidnap a hobo and get him to sing “Fame,” and take an asskicking from Colin, then Joe, then Herb right in a row – I was given a key to the majestic Patterson Avenue house.

The key wasn’t necessary, since the door was very rarely locked.  And it’s possible that I was given several old driver licenses stating that I was twenty-one and named Mike or Rich or Ralph – the details are lost in the sands of time.

But when they went on Spring Break, leaving the house empty, that key came in quite handy.  Because now I was in high school with my own campus pad for a week.  Trouble brewing.

We made extensive use of the house – in fact I slept there a few of the week nights, got up in the morning and went to school, feeling a bit groggy. 

And so many of my pals liked to hang out there that we had already been thinking before they left, we should do something for the Watershed guys, in recognition of all the debauchery they’ve enabled.

So we took one of their stickers, the ones they were always plastering all over campus, which you might remember looked exactly like miniature versions of the banner.  And then I brought down an opaque projector from the High School Library Audio Visual Department, which I had a key to as well, and we got to work.

I have no idea why folks were always giving me keys.  I had a ring of keys like a janitor, eighteen years old.

Anyway, I brought the projector to the Art department, where a guy named Aaron went to work reproducing it on a giant piece of canvas or cloth or whatever that was.  Aaron and I convinced Mr. Counts that this was Aaron’s big break in terms of beginning his artistic career as a banner-maker.

That must have been some conversation.  I wish I had recorded it, because it just sounds like blah, blah, blah in my head right now.   Pretty soon we had the canvas for free, and I think I might have bought the black paint myself.

Once the outline was traced on the banner, we took it down to the basement of the Patterson Avenue house, and finished painting it as if we were on the set of Dazed and Confused

The lettering was the hardest and most tedious part.  To this day, I don’t need to look it up to remember it – “An event or occurence after which a significant change, as in public opinion, is noticeable.” 

Then we hung it up so that when the guys returned from Spring Break, they got a little surprise from the diminutive, beer-swilling gang from Olentangy High School.

That was over twenty years ago.  The last time I saw Watershed, they were still using the same banner, and in an odd testament to the artistic skills of a bunch of hammered teenagers, I have to say it still looks pretty good.

And did they ever thank us, even once? 

Well, actually yes, lots of times, even though that’s a weird question, since the point of the banner was to thank them.

For about three to five years of my life, Watershed shows were about the most fun I could come up with.  They were the cornerstone of my entire social life, and their shows marked the beginning of a lot of friendships that have lasted to this day.  One of my time travel stops would be a 1993 Watershed show on my way back from having a talk with Hitler.

You can see them tonight at The Rumba Cafe – it was originally going to be Colin Gawel and the Lonely Bones, but I guess everybody’s in town, so Watershed’s going to take the stage for at least a set.  You should go and check them – and their supercool banner – out.

And if it’s not there then by all means, feel free to bust the place up.
Also: The Legend of Colin Gawel

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Posted by on September 10, 2010 in The Rob Braithwaite Project


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Unintentional Hilarity In Old Movies (I)

A government guy and a doctor are having a conversation in the original 50’s version of The Day The Earth Stood Still, about the man who has come from the flying saucer to warn humanity about the dangers of nuclear war. 

The doctor says that the man appears to be in perfect health, but that something’s not quite right.  The government guy says, oh yeah, how’s that?

Well, the doctor goes on, how old do you think the flying saucer guy is?

Oh, I don’t know, around thirty-five?

Yes, that’s what he looks like, says the doctor, but what if I told you that he claims to be in his eighties?

That just blows their minds for a second, and the doctor reaches into his pockets for something as the government guy muses, “How on earth is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” the doctor replies, breaking off a cigarette from the pack in his hand.  He gives one to the government guy and lights it, and then lights one up for himself, without a hint of intentional irony.

“I guess,” the doctor muses, around the cigarette in his mouth, “that their scientific and medical technology must be that much more advanced than our own.”

Put Leslie Nielson in that scene with the exact same mannerisms, and it’s pure hilarity.  It’s just that they didn’t know they were being hilarious. 

Like Reefer Madness.  They showed that on Turner Classic movies a while back, and there was a guy high on reefer, driving his Edsel like a madman. 

“Slow down!  You’re going to get someone killed!”  Someone screams at him.  Then they cut to the speedometer, the needle rising past forty. 

She’s right, too – he kills a guy ten seconds later, the stoner.

That’s the flip side of the pace issue I talked about yesterday – the way old movies unwittingly ridicule themselves.

Watch Escape From New York, for instance.  One of my favorite movies ever, no question.  I love the blue screen effects, the hilarious outfits, the smoky, sneering dialogue.  The big cobra tattoo.

But one of my favorite parts of the movie is the prison commander’s comically enormous phone.  He picks it up at some point toward the end of the movie and it’s like a prop in a Saturday Night Live skit.  The phone is about the size of a pay phone from the same era, ripped out of a phone booth and held up to the guy’s ear.

That’s the future, said the prophet John Carpenter.  Our cities will be our prisons, our outlaws will be our heroes, and our telephones will be gargantuan devices the size of bar stools, useful for phone calls and nothing else.

Even 2001: A Space Odyssey, maybe one of the smartest movies ever made, but really, guys.  How many times do I have to tell you, if you’re going to build a super computer with a mind of its own, you need to simplify the Off switch, in case it goes nuts.  There should be one button, big enough to hit with a tennis ball from across the room.

Actually, there should be buttons like that all over the place.

When DVDs first came out, they were few and far between.  Blockbuster had a single row of them – the whole rest of the store still VHS tapes.  Boggles the mind, seems like yesterday.  Anyway, that meant only about ten kids’ movies when Ellen was around three, so when I went in one day, I saw that Benji: The Hunted had come out on DVD.

So I got it and went home and stuck it in the computer and said there you go sweetheart, you’re going to love this.  Benji’s a cute dog, solves mysteries or something.

I was in and out of the room for the next hour, and then at one point I walked in and there was some guy in a long overcoat talking to the boy who owned Benji. 

“Wow, so you’re really a spy?”  The boy asked in awe.

“That’s right,” said the spy.  I don’t know how Benji and the boy ran afoul of spies, it’s just the kind of stuff Benji gets mixed up in, is all.

“I’ll bet you’re really tough,” the boy said.

“Well, I don’t have to be,” said the spy, unholstering a pistol for the boy to examine.  “Cause I got this.”

“Wow!” said the boy. 

You don’t see that too much anymore, except in Kick Ass.  No, when Spielberg went to digitize (or whatever he did) E.T. after twenty years, he went into the scene where the boys fly their bikes over the government agents, and he digitally removed the agents’ guns, put cell phones in there instead.

That was right around when kids started shooting up their high schools, so I’m not even going to say it was a bad thing.  Like the cookie monster – I know it sucks that he doesn’t crank down as many cookies anymore, but seriously.  The folks running Sesame Street are doing so for educational purposes, not to maintain their street cred among adults and not to feed my nostalgia.  Guns and cookie benders – bad, not wholesome.

But unintentionally hilarious, looking back.
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The Curse of Future Tom


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Inception, Flash Gordon, and Me

The first thing that came out of my mouth when Inception was over was one word:   “Bastards.”

I meant it, too.  I’m positive that I liked the movie, and I’m enthralled by its apparent depth and complexity.  It’s a movie that I look forward to watching several more times.  It struck me as a little slow and clichéd at times, but those are traits of a dreamlike state – I could accept that given what the movie is about, provided it all holds up to a little scrutiny.

I need it to all hang together in one piece, and make sense.  I want to watch it later and see a hundred little details I didn’t notice, and I want them to contribute to the story.  I want to figure out what just happened here, because there’s no point denying it.  I currently have no idea.

The reason I called them bastards at the end is that they did the equivalent of sticking a question mark after the words “The End.”  The last and greatest use of such a melodramatic close-out was, as we all know and agree, the end of Flash Gordon, followed by voiceover of Ming the Merciless’ diabolical laughter.

Quite a few movies have messed around with other realities, whether they are dreams or computer generated simulations or implanted memories.  I’m thinking of Dreamscape, The Matrix, Total Recall, Vanilla Sky, and Existenz.  The mindbending question of how anyone ever knows that they are “really” awake and not in the other realities is rendered considerably less mindbending by its prevalence, front and center, in all five of those films. 

Movies didn’t make it up.  Philosphers like Descarte have been asking how we know that we aren’t brains in vats for many, many years, they just didn’t have computers and a hundred million dollars to set it all to action. 

So when, at the end, we get another dose of skepticism toward reality, I was a little surprised to see that kind of lack of inspiration in an otherwise really imaginative and original take on the concept. 

This time, the hero is Dom Cobb, a guy with such a weird, clunky name that there has to be some pretentious reason for it.  Maybe it’s an anagram for something, who knows.  Leondardo Di Caprio plays Cobb, and he’s a guy who can enter other people’s dreams, and thereby steal information which is only in their mind.

The manner in which he does this is one of the things that I don’t fully understand.  This is a movie which moves itself along very quickly, they tell you something once, in a quick, urgent voice, and that’s it, hope you got that.

I didn’t.  Cobb works with a team, including Ellen Page from Juno, who plays Ariadne, a student who creates finite structures of dreamworld, and then what they do is administer chemicals to the knocked-out target and Cobb and anyone else who wants to be a dream trekker.  Then they are all in the dream structure somehow built by Ariadne, and populated by the thoughts and subconscious mind of the dreaming target they all linked up to.

You heard them – that’s what they do, there’s a funny little box with a Dream Button on it, and some Dream Hoses they plug into themselves.  How does it work?  It works just fine, that’s how.

There are some really original aspects to the storyline – dreams within dreams within dreams – and for once, getting killed in the dream doesn’t do anything but wake you up.  Later on, of course, the stakes go up and getting killed develops into something with a very serious and possibly worse-than-death consequence.

Other aspects smack of Narnia – time seems to move slower in dreamland, and if you’re having a dream in dream land, it slows down exponentially.  So if you were having a dream within a dream within a dream, then you might live ten years in the dream world, and finally wake up five minutes later.

Keeping track of all that as the dream team navigates through three layers of sleepytime craziness is part of what’s so exhilarating about the story.  You start to get a sense of what’s at stake, screwing around in the subconscious mind the way they are – sanity itself. 

The storytelling aspect of this unfolding awareness is really masterful and meticulous.  Christopher Nolan clearly spent a lot of time carefully crafting this thing.

I will confess that at the end, I wasn’t quite sure what they were doing or why it was so important or really much of anything.  It was loaded with action, but I found myself not really caring about the action.

In the dreams, most of the people you see are projections, not real people.  So when the dream team was suddenly skiing around corners on a snowy, mountaintop set from Halo 2, and shooting the projections, and going for snowmobile rides, I had a hard time being interested or excited or scared. 

From what I can tell, this was all a receiver error – just me being a bit dim – and so I’m looking forward to watching this movie again, and seeing whether it shines or falls apart under scrutiny.  If there’s a solid story here, the way there looks like there is, then this movie might be brilliant.

Learning that I am growing slow in the head and this time really, truly didn’t get it, that would be awesome news.

If it falls apart, well, it’s still so ambitious and slick and full of eye-popping effects that it’s probably worth watching anyway.  At least once.

But I’ll be a little annoyed if I find that there are holes in the movie which were just left in place, knowing that average jackass like me wouldn’t catch them until I was twenty bucks deep.

Complexity is a easy thing to dress up as depth.  I really hope this movie is – unlike the characters’ experiences in it – something close to what it seems to be.


Posted by on July 24, 2010 in The Rob Braithwaite Project


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The Edward Norton/Incredible Hulk Divorce

Edward Norton is one of those guys who really doesn’t seem to me like he has much range.

I’m not an expert and half of his movies, I haven’t seen – so it seems more likely that in this case, I simply don’t know what I’m talking about. He’s probably an awesome actor, and I simply lack the sophistication to grasp it.

He was really great in Fight Club, that’s for sure – but he was swimming in genius soup in that one. I don’t know if he’s capable of really stinking badly enough to overcome the greatness around him in it.

And you know, he was not particularly memorable in a lot of other films I’ve seen him in. The Italian Job just seems like he was wearing his smirk and talking to people, yelling a lot and gloating. In The Score – with Robert De Niro – he had an absolutely miserable time trying to channel Kevin Spacey, trying to pretend to be a guy pretending to have a disability.

In that case, he was a guy pretending to be mentally challenged for a decent slice of the movie. Again, let’s just say it looked like anybody pretending to do that – and there is no reason why the characters around him should have been convinced if I wasn’t.

So for me, he’s hit and miss. The best thing about him that I can think of, other than The Incredible Hulk and Fight Club, is that he looks a lot like my old pal Mark Renz.

He was really good as Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. I really liked the movie. But you know, it wasn’t called Bruce Banner – The Movie. It was called The Incredible Hulk.

The Incredible Hulk is computer generated. He’s twelve or fifteen feet tall and green and he isn’t real.

So it’s hard for me to imagine why I should care which Normal Guy he looks like, when he’s not The Hulk.

A quick read on Wikipedia supports – in whatever way we can say Wikipedia supports anything – the rumors I heard when The Incredible Hulk came out. The word was, Edward Norton got pretty comfortable putting his mitts all over the script.

He wanted the movie to be a bit longer than the producers wanted. They wanted to keep it under two hours. And although they’d let him rewrite a chunk of the script already, they told him, “No, Edward. We’re doing it this way.”

Edward Norton responded by refusing to participate in the marketing side of the film. For instance, he was in Africa doing charity work when it was released.

Sure, no one can knock him for doing charity work in Africa – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that sounds a little convenient, like a mob guy sitting in a public restaurant when his rival is whacked.

I of course do not know to what extent Norton hamstringed the marketing on that film and it did fine in the theaters. Couldn’t have been that bad.

But being on the wrong continent for the premiere – that sounds like he was being sort of a brat about it, doesn’t it? If we don’t do it my way, I’m taking my ball and I’m going to Africa to do charity work.

So now, The Avengers is in production, and all of these Marvel Comics movies we’ve been watching, like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk and (soon) Thor, are all going to converge on the Avengers franchise, and the announcement today was, Norton’s not going to be in it.

In fact the first article I read about it – here at Access Hollywood or Yahoo – says that he won’t reprise his role as The Incredible Hulk, which doesn’t seem quite right. He never played The Incredible Hulk. He played Bruce Banner.

That already sounds less interesting, when you say it like that, doesn’t it?

Kevin Feige, Marvels president of production – who was careful to phrase it properly, in terms of which character Norton played last time – was quoted in the same story as saying:

“Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. ‘The Avengers’ demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.”

He’s not asking too much money – we just want someone who is going to show up for the premiere and not be a crybaby if we decide to have a writer write the script instead of him.

It’s interesting – you couldn’t do that with Iron Man. You couldn’t just swap out Robert Downey Jr. and expect the same movie. He owned that role.

And they aren’t that different – a lot of Iron Man in his Iron Man suit has nothing to do with Robert Downey Jr. The main difference is, Bruce Banner is so normal and forgettable, while Tony Stark is flamboyantly neither of those things.

But Bruce Banner? Come on now. Jack from LOST could do it, even with his single, unchanging facial expression.

I think that Norton has this coming, and I think he grossly overestimated how much of an impact he personally made on The Incredible Hulk.

The folks at Marvel don’t seem to be having much trouble getting along with other Hollywood egos – just look at the quote up there. I can’t imagine Scarlett Johansson is the easiest person in the world to deal with on a daily basis, you know?

She’s not cheap, either. But she’s right up there on the list of people who can play well with others. Seems like there’s only one boy on the playground having trouble getting along with the rest of the gang.

I guess what I’m saying is, if Edward Norton is no longer Bruce Banner, then who really cares if he – or his agent – gets really, really angry about it?
By the way, this counts as The Rob Braithwaite Project, even though I haven’t spoken to Rob in weeks.


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Ellen Margot And The Kansas City Shuffle

My twelve year-old daughter Ellen calls me up on the phone the other day, says, “Hey, listen. I thought maybe on Friday evening, we could go and catch a movie.”

You take a wife and three kids to a movie in 2010, it’s about fifty bucks even if you’re going easy on the popcorn. So it’s not usually something we do lightly.

“Is that what you thought, Ellen?”

“Yeah,” she goes on, casual and half-distracted by some kind of horsy computer game or something, while she’s breaking off a quick cell phone call to her dad. “Grandma had me doing a bunch of chores, and she paid me twenty bucks, so I thought, me and you could go and catch a movie.”

Startling. “So, you want to take me out to a movie?”

That’s what she wants, and she’s got a deal. So a couple days later, we’re walking into Lennox to see Toy Story 3 – in super 3-D.

My wife isn’t here to protect me from the up-selling concession girl, so we go ahead and get the large popcorn based on the undeniable logic of it only being an extra dollar – and free refills. Then we go in to the theatre, and we’re early so we can get good seats, and we crank down the popcorn so quick it’s almost gone, and let me tell you, we are in no way interested in a refill.

We start thinking, let’s go and get a free refill and then go around pouring it into everyone’s smaller containers, then go back and get another free refill. Give the popcorn to the people.

This whole overpriced popcorn thing is an oppressive shakedown anyway, let’s rise up and take the power back.

How many free refills you figure, before they’d cut you off?

We don’t do it – because we’re lazy – but it leads to a discussion of what exactly we just paid ten bucks for.

“This soft drink,” I tell her. “Is water, and carbonation, and a little syrup. It’s worth about a penny. This popcorn is mostly air – it’s worth about ten cents.”

“Why did we buy it?”

I shrug. “Movies and popcorn are ingrained into my psyche. There’s nothing I can do about it. I need to have popcorn with my movie. If it was forty bucks, we’d have to work out a grift, some bit of misdirection, get ‘em looking one way, while we’re swiping popcorn the other way.”

“The old Kansas City Shuffle.”

“That’s right, cupcaker. It would take cracker jack timing, and nerves of steel, but I know that…”

Then suddenly, a young usher comes in – the same girl who was frowning at us in the hallway, for leaving a big cloud of popcorn in front of the giant cardboard stand-up of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where we stood and killed some time while they were cleaning the theatre. She had a broom and a dustpan on a stick when she was coming toward us frowning earlier.

Now she’s just got the frown.

She says, “It’s just going to be another five minutes. There’s a problem with the projector.”

Yes, that would be the new state-of-the-art 3-D digital projector. Every other projector in the building is working fine.

That’s no problem. We go on back to talking about popcorn and grifting and Nick Cage, while all around us, the mild moviegoer grumbling begins to build until finally the most high-strung guy in the place gets up and theatrically stomps out of the theatre.

Yes, I’ll bet that’s going to be a constructive exchange. Somebody needs to go on up there and furrow their eyebrows at them, start bitching. Perhaps remind them about the ten dollars he spent to come in here, and how that makes him the Lord and Master of Time and Space.

“Where’s he going?”

“He’s an agent of chaos, sweetheart. He’s going to spread negativity throughout the universe. Let’s insist on being super, bulletproof happy no matter what, to cancel him out.”

Ellen shrugs. On inspection, we realize that we both are pretty happy right now – no need to insist. I’m pretty sure the theatre – which has been here for fifteen years – is aware of its responsibilities toward ticket holders, and if they can’t get the projector working, they’ll make it nice and square for us here in a minute.

Ellen turns around in her seat and looks around. When she sits back down she looks amazed and says, “Dad, there is exactly one other kid in this whole theatre.”

I turn around and check it out – she’s right. There are only about thirty people in the theatre, but all of them are full grown adults or suspiciously blinky, smily college students. Yes, hello you little groovers, I see you.

So pretty soon, the usher comes back and she has another usher with her. They both look like they are about sixteen or seventeen, but the new one is some kind of senior usher or shift manager or something.

She tells us that the projector is being stupid and that it would be stupid to ask us to keep sitting here waiting for the stupid projector. Following her logic so far, we’re waiting for more specific instructions.

She says, “So there’s another movie starting in forty minutes in the next theatre. You’re all welcome to go and see that one, or you can go and get a full refund at the ticket counter. Also, everyone gets a free pass to an additional movie which you can redeem any time.”

See? Squaresville. Ellen and I snap to our feet and start gathering our belongings and we are startled as we get moving to realize, no one else in the whole theatre is going anywhere. They’re still staring at the teenage manager as if she isn’t finished talking yet.

A couple of people start firing off irrelevant questions at her. When will the projector be fixed? What are we supposed to do for forty minutes?

At the same time, a substantial number of them start grumbling in general. The most overused word in the English language right now is “ridiculous.”

Because listen, theatre-full-of-full-grown-adults, this kid just came in here and reported reality to us – it’s a technical problem, and we’re all getting a couple of movie passes for our troubles. This conversation is over – do you think that’s Brittany Pixar standing up there or the BP spokesman or something?

She just used the word stupid three times, in describing the situation to us. Let’s not give her a reason to use it again.

So Ellen and I clear out of the whole theatre, while everyone else goes up to the ticket counter to squawk and urinate and inflate their amphibious neck glands.

Meanwhile, the two of us head over to Johnny Rockets and sit there at the counter dropping French fries and cheeseburgers right on top of the large popcorn we just inhaled. And I realize that I’ve never sat at the counter in a diner and eaten dinner with Ellen before, maybe never in my life.

We laugh our asses off for a half an hour – an innocuous experience that I will remember for very literally the rest of my life. We could have been sitting in the parking lot of a Seven Eleven eating hotdogs and potato chips and we would have had exactly the same amount of fun.

Then back to the theatre, where the shell-shocked ushers at the ticket counter look exactly like they’ve been screeched at for the last half hour by about thirty adults who didn’t get to see Toy Story 3 precisely when they planned to.

They even lean back as we approach, thinking we’re going to lay into them.

When all we say is, hey, we’re going to go and catch that six-forty showing because of the projector thing, they blink at us suspiciously, nodding their heads. Why aren’t we vomiting bile on them and demanding that they all bow their heads in shame?

Because we’re perfectly happy, that’s why. We rock on into the new theatre, and the projector works just fine, and the movie is awesome and like its two predecessors, it makes us both cry like small children by the end of it.

Neither of us is a small child anymore, is probably why.

That’s the flip side of the white-hot, atomic reactor pride I experience, whenever I hang out with my smart and beautiful and confident twelve-year old baby – the jarring, agonizing knowledge that she doesn’t need me in the same way that she used to.

That she still needs me, to be sure, but that the past is vanishing in the rear view mirror at alarming speed, and the day is arriving when I’m the one who will need her that way, and that I’ll have no right to ask it of her.

We hit the corner exit door that no one ever uses for some reason, stepping directly out into the sunlight, wiping our eyes, and when we get in the car I realize, Ellen’s still got her twenty bucks.

She says, “Yeah, that’s because I’m the one who sabotaged the projector. Get you looking that way as a distraction – the old Kansas City Shuffle.”

Well done, Ellen Margot Chalfant. Later this week, you’re buying me some ice cream.
Previously featuring Ellen and her deadly-and-talented sister Chrissy, The Lunch Money Job

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Posted by on July 3, 2010 in The Rob Braithwaite Project


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