Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate Today: Trader Joe's Roasted Seaweed Snacks, Coconut Water and Edamame

Seriously, could it be any hotter in LA today?

I know it's August and all, but oy!

Too scorched to even consider turning on an oven or burner and too heat stroked to want to chop anything, lunch had to be easy squeezy, so I reached for my new obsession, Trader Joe's Roasted Seaweed Snacks.

I've never been a once-you-pop-you-can't-stop person. Way more of a Sweet than a Salty girl, I could live my whole life without eating another potato chip and be perfectly fine. But these crispy, salty, faintly sesame scented delights are irresistible to me. I can't be trusted.

TJ's was out a few weeks ago and I had to fight back tears. Then, when I saw an overflowing display at the entrance a few days later, I literally dumped armloads into my cart, grabbing for it like a looter in a riot.

The way they crackle and then dissolve on your tongue, leaving your lips flecked with bits of inky seaweed and tiny crystals of salt, is heavenly!

Next, an Amy and Brian's All Natural Coconut Juice with Pulp. I'm all about coconut water these days. I love that it pumps up my electrolytes and gives me little something sweet that's still healthy, but the real treat in Amy and Brian's is the chunkage. I said it: Chunkage! As you drink, you have to swirl the can to keep all the glorious young coconut pulp afloat. That way, you can finish each swing with a chew of the sweet al dente meat. So good!

Tossing in some edamame for protein and I was a happy camper. No cooking involved.

Now all I need is a cold shower.

Hollywood Bites Reviews: The Tillman Story

William Tucumseh Sherman once said "War is Hell."

In Amir Bar-Lev's skillfully composed documentary "The Tillman Story," the audience gets to see that war is also wasteful, heartbreaking, ruinous and shrouded in deceit.

There are few Americans who managed to escape the tragic tale of Pat Tillman, an NFL star so profoundly moved by the tragedy of 9/11, he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals in May 2002 so he could serve his country. On April 22, 2004, Pat was killed in the line of duty while in Afghanistan. It was a shocking death that whipped the media into a frenzy as each detail of his passing and funeral were documented in exhaustive detail and spun into pro-America propaganda by everyone from the local news to President George W. Bush.

But what managed to evade that microscopic gaze was that Tillman had actually been killed by friendly fire in a series of events typically referred to by the military term: Charlie Foxtrot, aka a clusterf--k.

Told through interviews, news clips, archival footage and Josh Brolin's gravely voiceover, "The Tillman Story" unravels the harrowing reality of Pat's death, something the military and Bush administration calculatingly covered up in favor of a flag-waving yarn of patriotism that could be used as a party line.

Wisely, the Tillman family wasn't content to quietly weep into the perfectly folded flag they were given in condolence, instead seeking answers to questions about their son's death. As the murky, disturbing truth slowly comes to light, Bar-Lev uses second hand accounts, photos and a few short video clips to give viewers the opportunity to meet and fall in love with Pat Tillman. While you discover he was a man who loved Noam Chomsky, opposed the war in Iraq, was a natural leader, capably heroic, well educated and thoughtful, the film isn't a eulogy, it's an intimate and touching portrait of loss that flings the audience from grief to rage and back again.

Appalling, disturbing, beautifully assembled and emotional, Bar-Lev weaves a documentary that sinks into your bones, leaving its weight behind long after you've left the theater, especially when you realize Pat's story is one of millions to illustrate the horror brought on by war.

Hollywood Bites Reviews: Mao's Last Dancer

If Billy Elliot had grown up under an oppressive Communist regime, he might have been Mao's Last Dancer.

In the hands of veteran Australian director Bruce Beresford, who helmed such tender triumphs as "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Crimes of the Heart," and screenwriter Jan Sardi, who also penned "Shine" and adapted Nicholas Sparks' novel The Notebook, Li Cunxin's autobiography of the same name has moments where it soars like a grand jete despite hitting a few faltering steps along the way.

Li Cunxin (played from youth to adulthood by Huang Wen Bin, Australian Ballet dancer Chengwu Guo and finally, the real stand out, Birmingham Royal Ballet principal dancer Chi Cao) grew up in rural China, the sixth son of peasants in a mountain village, who was selected by Madame Mao's cultural advisers to attend the Beijing Dance Academy, a place where young students endured grueling 16-hour days of training. Years later, he attracts the attention of Ben Stevenson ("Star Trek"'s Bruce Greenwood), the director of the Houston Ballet Company, and in invited to America for a three month cultural exchange program that leads to his triumphant debut with the company.

After falling in love with American dance, freedom, and one lovely woman, Liz ("Center Stage" star Amanda Schull), when the time comes to return to China, he opts for a quickie wedding instead, defecting from his homeland and inciting and international incident that insures he'll never be able to return to China or see his family again.

While the film can occasionally feel clunky, such as the night Li experiences disco for the first time or when Liz and Li have a paint-by-numbers lover's spat, the beauty cinematographer Peter James ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Alive") captures is enchanting as he moves the audience from dusty, cold Chinese ballet studios to the warmth of the klieg lights in Texas. But the film's true rapture exists in the dance scenes, stunningly performed by Cao, and in Greenwood's performance.

As the complex, conflicted puppet master Greenwood offers a smorgasbord of mixed emotions that range from calculated manipulation to tender affection, including one stellar scene where he offers the definition of the word "Chink" to Li.

Unapologetically sentimental and earnestly sincere, "Mao's Last Dancer" isn't without some major structural and narrative issues, but thanks to good acting and absolutely stunning dancing, when you leave the theater, all you want to do is pirouette.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Afterschool Special Recipe: Truffled Grilled Cheese with Crimini Mushrooms (aka: The Fungus Among Us)

I've been really into the idea of comfort food lately and decided to start posting recipes I'm going to call the Afterschool Specials, food for the sophisticated inner child. I'm going to take things we all grew up eating, like grilled cheese, pizza, sloppy joe's, fish sticks, and give them a mature modern twist.

First up: my favorite grilled cheese recipe!

Every April, in honor of Grilled Cheese Month, Los Angeles hosts the annual Grilled Cheese Invitational. Having never received an invite, my friends Amy Jo and Jason started hosting their own Grilled Cheese Social, a backyard throw down that requires multiple panini makers, numerous hot plates, a web of extension cords and pounds of butter. What starts out friendly eventually turns vicious as everyone battles for supremacy and by the end of the day you stumble home, high on congealed dairy, breathing like a fat man sprinting to the top of the Empire State Building. It’s totally awesome! Last year I was edged out of victory by one stankin’ vote, defeated by a sandwich that used a Krispy Kreme donut as its bread base. Cheap parlor tricks!

This is the sandwich that was robbed of glory, The Fungus Among Us, an offering that combines creamy cheese and woodsy depth on sweet, fluffy bread but, best of all, is topped with truffle oil, aka: liquid gold. You show me someone who doesn’t like truffle oil and I’ll show you someone who’s denying their taste buds one of life’s great pleasures.

Serves Four

2 cups Crimini mushrooms, roughly diced
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
8 slices Havarti cheese
8 slices buttery, soft, sweet white bread, such as Oroweat’s Country Potato Bread
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 scant teaspoon truffle oil
salt to taste

(Note: You should never heat truffle oil, it burns off the flavor. It’s best drizzled over a dish just before serving.)

Lightly coat a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat.

Add mushroom and sauté until tender and all liquid has evaporated, 7-8 minutes. Generously season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.

In a small bowl, toss cooked mushrooms with Italian parsley and set aside.

Return cleaned skillet to stovetop and reduce heat to medium. You want the pan to be hot enough to melt your cheese, but not so hot that the bread scorches.

Generously butter one side of each piece of bread and lightly salt.

Place a piece of bread, buttered side down, in the skillet and top with cheese, a sprinkled layer of mushrooms, a second slice of cheese and another piece of butter bread, buttered side up.

Grill until bread is golden brown and bottom layer of cheese begins to melt, about 3 minutes.

Carefully flip sandwich over and continue cooking until the second side is golden brown and cheese is melted, 2-3 minutes.

Remove sandwich from heat and place on a cutting board while you repeat process with the remaining ingredients.

Just before serving, drizzle with truffle oil and a final light sprinkling of salt.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Fresh Bites on Sunset Ain't So Fresh

For what seems like years, Fresh Bites has been heralding it's imminent arrival on Sunset Blvd, just blocks from my apartment.

Promising salads, sandwiches, pizzas and free wi-fi, I dreamt that I'd found my new home away from home; a cozy, eco-friendly cafe where I could work and scarf and wile away the hours.

This afternoon, Mahdi and I set out for lunch, debating between testing the Fresh Bites waters or charging for Papa George's Hy-Mart Deli (my new obsession) for their insanely delicious, garlic and fresh herb-laced Middle Eastern sandwich delights. Opting for convenience (we were three blocks away and both starving), we decided to enter uncharted territory and go for Fresh Bites.

That was our first mistake.

Entering the sleek space, designed by architect Osvaldo Maiozzi (Rivera, Angelini Osteria), we were both struck by the clean bamboo lines, the succulents planted into tables, the cafe-meets-lounge vibe the place gives off. Tres chic.

We ordered a Surfin' Tuna sandwich; tuna salad, marinated artichokes, fresh basil, arugula, dijon and roasted garlic pesto on scooped whole wheat baguette, which they tell you is lower in carbs, and an Edgy Veggie salad; hearts of palm, sliced button mushrooms, garbanzo beans, sun dried tomato, corn, parmesan and baby mix greens, dressed with balsamic oil, threw down the $27 bucks they cost (apprently fresh equals pricey) and took a seat at a rickety table outside that rocked and rolled for the rest of our meal but we were too lazy to move from.

Before anyone brought us water (they only brought one glass to start), we were presented with two complimentary croissants, one regular, one almond. It was a nice touch, though perhaps better for a breakfast crowd than lunch clientele.

When the food arrived (sorry there aren't any pictures, my camera got drowned just before we got to lunch), our sandwich was a wash of beige with a few blips of green basil and arugula, the accompanying salad undressed and looking like it had been plopped out of a bag onto our plate, scattered with some parched shredded carrots, also industrial in nature. The salad was slightly more appealing to the eye, but the first bite was all we needed to know we'd made a colossal mistake by passing up Hy-Mart.

The hearts of palm were so mushy, you couldn't differentiate them from parmesan, the corn was canned (what's fresh about that??? And in summer?!?! Sacrilege!), and the sun-dried tomatoes tasted like refrigerator.

While the tuna sandwich was slightly more appealing thanks to the brightness of basil and few gloppy mounds of pure minced garlic we'd stumble upon, but it was still thick and dry, offering little flavor beyond a whiff of pesto and too much salt.

After months of anticipation, Fresh Bites was a thorough disappointment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hollywood Bites Reviews: Eat Pray Love

If you're a dude or one of the many readers who found Elizabeth Gilbert to be a whiny, self-indulgent yuppie, the film adaptation of "Eat Pray Love" could probably be re-titled "Sit Bored Leave."

But if you're part of the millions of fans who fell in love with one of Oprah's favorite thiiiiings, Gilbert's uber bestselling memoir of the journey she took after her marriage fell apart, then this film is as highly anticipated as a new "Twilight" flick is for a 15-year-old who shops at Hot Topic.

Starring Julia Roberts and directed by "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy, the story moves from Italy (Eat) to an ashram in India (Pray) to a village in Bali (Love), all the while featuring halo-lighting and soft focus on Julia, who has never looked more ravishing. Purists will be pleased to see that Murphy sticks pretty faithfully to the road map of the book, but that becomes both a help and a hindrance.

Gilbert's inner monologue, which, of course, drives the narrative of her book, often becomes either expository voiceover or lingering shots of Roberts gazing beatifically into a sunset here, neither of which are very engaging. The few times Murphy veers off-course, striking out into new territory, the film hits upon some of its best moments, such as when Elizabeth confronts and makes peace with the guilt she feels about divorcing her husband (Billy Crudup in a small but well delivered role) on a rooftop in India. Thankfully, one of the book's most beloved characters, Richard from Texas, not only remains intact but is brilliantly rendered by Richard Jenkins in a scene-stealing performance.

While it can be difficult to sympathize with a woman spending a year frolicking across the globe, having liaisons with Billy Crudup, James Franco (as her post divorce rebound fling) and Javier Bardem (the man who inspires the Love portion of the story), you'll nonetheless walk out craving pizza, passion and plane travel.

Though not necessarily a second helping of the film itself.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Behind the Scenes of Animal Kingdom

Pound for pound, Animal Kingdom might be the best film of 2010.

Made for a fraction of Inception’s catering budget, writer-director David Michod’s gritty, enthralling, casually brutal Australian crime drama took top honors at Sundance earlier this year and opens in limited release on August 13 amid an cluttered summer weekend which includes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love. But don’t let this indie get lost in the shuffle because missing out on Michod’s debut feature would be to deny yourself one of the year’s best film-going experiences.

Entrenched in a family of Melbourne criminals, Animal Kingdom stars a slew of exceptional Australian actors, including Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford and Sullivan Stapleton, but the film centers newcomer James Frecheville, who was cast through open call auditions, after competing with over 500 kids. Plucked out of high school in the last semester of his senior year, Michod knew the success of his project hinged on finding a young unknown who would be the film’s nucleus.

“When you cast a kid at the center of your film, it feels a little like you’re on a high-wire when you go into [the auditions] because you have no idea if you’re going to find the kid that you need,” Michod explains as he settles into a chair in a 12th floor suite at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Young and handsome, the writer-director looks like he could be the love child of Wes Anderson and Tom Cruise. Michod says he was searching for someone who was capable of creating a character so emotionally stunted, they seemed autistic. “I needed an actor who could create that blankness [and still be] interesting to watch,” he says. “It wasn’t like with James there were twelve close contenders and we had to make a decision. It became quite apparent early on that James was the only contender. It was the level of detail in his performance that thrilled me.”

The details of Animal Kingdom are well tread territory for Michod who’s been working on the film for almost a decade. While 2010 is a big year for him, with both Animal Kingdom and Hesher, a film he co-wrote which stars Natalie Portman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, debuting at Sundance and making their way into theaters, Kingdom has been his pet project since he graduated from film school.

“It took eight years to write,” Michod admits, smiling a little sheepishly. “I taught myself to write over those years. I was fresh out of school when I started writing and I just had this idea of a big Melbourne crime film. That first draft is laughably infantile. It’s just full of cool, crime-y shit. I look back on it now and there’s not a single line of dialogue, not a single scene, that’s still in the movie. I can observe how the script improved as my writing matured and as I matured personally.”

Part of that maturation was realizing no one was going to let him direct his own script simply on the merits of his eager charm or screenwriting abilities, so he directed a short film to prove he had the visual chops as well.

“I went and made a short film called Crossbow which, like Animal Kingdom, was an attempt to represent a world that was sort of dark and dangerous but yet had a poetry to it, a contemplative beauty,” he says. The short was a huge hit at film festivals, including Venice and Sundance, and Michod quickly found his career taking off. “One of the beautiful things about Hollywood is that when you’ve done something new that gets attention, it can transform your career overnight, even if it’s a short film. On the back of [Crossbow], Animal Kingdom started to feel inevitable, which was scary in itself. From that point, everything happened really quickly.”

He says throughout the pre-production and filming process, it was fear that propelled him and made him a better filmmaker. “The terrifying thing and the exhilarating thing about shooting,” he smiles, “is you live in a state of adrenalized semi-anxiety for the whole duration of the shoot. But it’s kind of necessary. That anxiety produces a kind of critical rigor from which better work comes.”

Animal Kingdom opens August 13.

Hollywood Bites Reviews: Scott Pigrim vs. The World

If the words Zelda, Tetris or Duck Hunt have ever held a special place in your heart than Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the movie for you. From the moment Universal’s logo appears, roughly animated into glorious 8-bit pixilation, the kind known all too well by members of a generation who once thought Pong was the pinnacle of technology, it’s clear that you’ve stepped into a film that embodies the ultimate in hipster chic; a hyper-referential genre piece that’s perfected the affect of nonchalance despite exerting exhaustive efforts to be cool.

Hipster poster boy Michael Cera stars as Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old wannabe rock star meandering through life in Toronto, dreaming of greatness with his band, Sex Bob-omb, and dating the trifecta of porn fantasy girls, an underage Asian catholic school girl (Ellen Wong). But after meeting the girl, quite literally, of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Scott finds himself under siege. In order to win her heart, and keep his beating, he must battle Ramona’s seven evil exes, who range from a studly vegan rocker (Superman star Brandon Routh, ‘member him?) to an experimental lesbian fling (Mae Whitman), to the death.

Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s beloved six-volume graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim is an allegory for all romantic relationships. You may not physically fight anyone’s exes when you start dating, but there’s no denying that psychological warfare is always waged with your partner’s past.

It’s a simple concept, dynamically captured by director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) who festoons the movie with adorable hallmarks, visual witticisms and cinematic in-jokes for Generation X-Box. In many ways, Wright has created what might be this decade’s Reality Bites, a time capsule film fluently speaking the language of a generation, couched in what appears to be a fluffy romance.

Similarly, this movie is an assembled legion of some of the most talented young actors working today. Cera is predictably a-dork-able, leaving the door wide open for scene stealing from the supporting cast who jump at the chance to dazzle. Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick crops up briefly as Scott’s sister, proving her Oscar nod was no fluke. An exceptional comedienne, even her most momentary appearances are commendable. Similarly, Alison Pill, Mark Webber and Johnny Simmons as Scott’s Sex Bob-omb bandmates turn minimal screen time into memorable, tasty side dishes. But the largest heaping of praise goes to Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace Wells. Pitch perfect in every way, Culkin has barely acted since his attention-grabbing turn in 2002’s Igby Goes Down, a lamentable absence as proven by this performance. With any luck, next time audiences might get to see Wallace Wells vs. The World.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hollywood Bites Reviews: The Other Guys

Just when you thought buddy cop movies were as outmoded as Tetris and neon scrunchies, The Other Guys comes along and resuscitates a once dead genre (no thanks to you, Cop Out). Not since the days of Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon has there been such a seamless melding of action and comedy playing out over a ping pong match of talented leading actors, in this case Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg.

You know those hard core, kick butt cops who always get their man? Well, Wahlberg and Ferrell are the other guys, two NYPD detectives strapped to their desks, living in the shadow of a duo of super cops (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, both in a shining hour). But when they finally get the opportunity to step up to the plate, they find themselves in way over their heads.

Uproariously funny yet stealthily topical, the film, written and directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers) features a superb supporting cast, including Michael Keaton, Bobby Cannavale, Rob Riggle and Steve Coogan, but it’s really Wahlberg and Ferrell’s time to shine as they pay homage to greats like Martin and Lewis and Murtaugh and Riggs. Here’s hoping they’ll continue the grand tradition with multiple sequels as well.

Behind the Scenes of Step Up 3D

Back in the 1980s, during the days of moon-walking Michael, “Remember my name” Fame, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and Flashdance’s sweatshirt slashing Maniac, dance captured this nation’s imagination. Now, thanks to shows like So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Best Dance Crew and Dancing with the Stars, and films like the Step Up franchise currently on its third installment which arrives in theaters August 6th, dance is once again permeating American culture, making krumping, popping, locking and b-boying an integral part of everyday entertainment.

But making it look easy is the hard part. Just ask the cast of Step Up 3D.

Leaving behind Step Up’s previous setting, Baltimore’s elite Maryland School of the Arts, or MSA, returning director Jon M. Chu relocated the third film to New York City’s underground dance scene, a world Moose (Adam Savani from Step Up 2: The Streets) stumbles into when he arrives in Manhattan for orientation at NYU.

Knowing they needed to go bigger and badder for a third film in the surprisingly successful franchise, Chu knew he’d have to surpass his previous efforts. Choosing to shoot the film in 3D was the first set but the really challenge was choreography.

“Most people don’t understand what it takes,” Savani says, explaining the cast of Step Up 2 had one month to learn one routine, while the cast of Step Up 3D had one month to learn nine numbers. “But magic happens when you don’t know what’s [coming next],” he grins. “You just go, ‘I’ve got nothing prepared so let’s see what happens.”

Filling in Channing Tatum and Robert Hoffman’s studly shoes is former model Rick Malambri, who plays a videographer who chronicles the best Manhattan dancers and takes Moose under his wing. “We went through a month and a half, ten hours a day, six days a week, learning anything from parkour to capoeira to the tango,” Malambri says.

Despite battle wounds that ranged from the “multi-colored, rainbow-style bruises” Alyson Stoner (Step Up) sustained while shooting a Gene Kelly-esque dance number that had to be performed over twenty times to get a single perfect take, to the five foot drop SYTYCD alum tWitch took off the side of a stage, “I didn’t hear any complaints,” Chu laughs proudly.

Sharni Vinson, the female lead who follows in Jenna Dewan and Briana Evigan’s footsteps, admits the cast was warned by producer Adam Shankman before filming began that they’d be entering something on par with boot camp, but she says that was a vast understatement. “Our [personal] trainer told us that athletes training for the Olympics don’t train this hard!” she says ardently. “It was insane! A typical day would involve getting up at quarter past six in the morning, being in either parkour or in a capoeira studio for two to three hours, from there we’d go to dance rehearsals at 9:30am to 6pm. Then we’d leave and go meet our personal trainers and work out from 7:30pm to 9:30pm…”

“And then I would take them after that to rehearse,” Chu interjects.

“Yeah!” Vinson laughs. “At 11pm. And we’d be exhausted. But when you’re running on adrenaline and excitement, which is how we got by, you don’t really notice the fatigue until the last day and they say ‘That’s a wrap.’ Your body hears those words and just shuts down.”
All that work was to ensure that audiences would be able to experience a 3D dance movie that was unlike anything they’d ever seen before. Asked how he feels the technology enhances his film, Chu replies, “Dance and technology has always been a great pair, from Bye Bye Birdie when they do picture-in-picture to Fred Astaire [in Royal Wedding] walking on walls and the camera staying in place, technology has always been a great partner with dance. [But using 3D] puts pressure on filmmakers to actually make it worth that $5 more. We talked about that a lot on set. Our audience has to go work an extra hour to see our movie so we wanted to make it well worth that extra hour of work.”

At the end of the day, the cast and crew feel this film is part of a larger legacy, one that’s all about making the impossible appear effortless.

“What Michael Jackson started 20 years ago, telling stories thru dance as sort of the new musical; we want to continue that tradition and find where that next step may be,” Chu says. “Everyone’s pushing forward, whether it’s us, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars or stuff on the web, we’re all pushing dance forward.”

Step Up 3D opens August 6.

Behind the Scenes of The Other Guys

One of the biggest shockers in store for movie goers this summer won’t be found in the last few seconds of Inception. The real revelation is that Mark Wahlberg is seriously funny, a fact audiences will come to realize when his hilarious new film, The Other Guys, hits theaters August 6th. “If you come from a different background, doing serious films, and you try to do a broad comedy and it’s not funny, you’re probably not going to get the chance to do it again,” Wahlberg says of his decision to dive into the comedy fray with two of the strongest talents working in the genre today.

The movie co-stars Will Ferrell and was directed and written by Adam McKay, who also helmed Ferrell’s earlier opuses, Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers. Considering Ferrell and McKay’s relationship dates back to the beginning of their tenure at Saturday Night Live in 1995, grew to include co-founding, and birthed some of Ferrell’s most beloved roles, Wahlberg easily could have taken a backseat and let them handle the comedic pyrotechnics. But rather than play the patsy and let them have all the fun, the actor exploits his brooding tough guy image, perfected with roles such as his Oscar-nominated turn in The Departed, and turns in a side-splittingly funny performance that’s neck-and-neck with Farrell’s.

“It was really just about letting go, being fearless, not being afraid to look ridiculous and have people laugh at you instead of with you,” the actor explains. “Coming from the background I come from, you can be a little self-conscious. It’s okay to be cool but it’s not okay to be corny. That’s something I’ve dealt with over the years as an actor; not worrying what people think.”

He says the most important parts of the equation were finding a script that suited him, in this case one McKay wrote specifically with Wahlberg and Ferrell in mind, and a group of collaborators who were like-minded. “This set was so loose and relaxed. On most sets I’ve worked on, it’s always kind of fun but then it’s time to get serious. Usually I’ll take the fun too far and the director will come over (whispering), ‘Hey, calm down, we’ve got to shoot this, let’s get serious for a minute.’ That never happened on this movie. They let me go nuts and then they’d encourage me to go even further, to the point where I’d get to my trailer at the end of the day and I’d be exhausted with laughter.”

As the only member of the cast with demonstrable cinema cop experience, Wahlberg also had the pleasure of knowing he was on solid footing, firmly inside his wheelhouse. “I certainly felt very comfortable when it came to anything cop-ish or action-y, but I basically just wanted to follow their lead when it came to anything [comedic]. I did whatever they told me. I’d learn the lines, show up and say the lines and if they wanted me to try anything else, I would---.”
In the middle of downplaying his comic abilities, his co-star Michael Keaton, who got his big break alongside legendary Jim Belushi in the short-lived comedy series Working Stiffs and knows a hell of a lot about what constitutes “funny,” can’t help but interject. “I have to jump in and say something here,” Keaton blurts. “[Mark] is ridiculously funny. We’d all go, ‘Who the fuck knew this was in this guy?’ He does voices and impressions. I was knocked out. When you look at him, he seems nice enough, but he’s ridiculously funny.”

When Wahlberg demurs, shaking his head and seeming to blush a bit, McKay speaks up as well. “[Mark’s] got such great instincts, when he points it towards comedy, it’s such a pleasure to watch.”

Wahlberg does not, however, need any help looking like a bad ass. McKay laughs when he recalls Wahlberg’s nonchalance at the action portions of their buddy cop flick. “We’d be shooting a big action scene,” McKays says, “and Will and I were like, ‘Wow! Look at this! We’re breaking a window,’ and Mark would come over, almost yawning, and be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, we did this one time except I was being shot out of a canon and I was on fire.’”

The Other Guys opens August 6.

Behind the Scenes of Middle Men

Fuck you. Keep up.

Those were the words writer-director George Gallo (Midnight Run, Bad Boys) scrawled across the front of his break neck script, Middle Men, and they became his mantra. The film, starring Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, Kevin Pollack and James Caan, a fictionalized retelling of the men behind the founding of what would become one of the biggest industries in the world; internet porn, is a freight train of a tale that doesn’t slow down for a second as it plows through Russian mobsters, the FBI, barely legal porn stars, two idiotic genius inventors (Ribisi and Macht) and a straight-laced businessman (Wilson) who found themselves in a tsunami of money and intrigue thanks to society’s unwaning erotic desire.

Ribisi and Macht play Wayne Beering and Buck Dolby, best friends who stumble upon the idea of internet porn from the dregs of their cruddy apartment in a drugged out haze and become multi-millionaires within weeks. Ribisi, an actor’s actor known for tackling complicated character, had no problem with the subject matter Middle Men embarked on. “Just by virtue of the fact that George Gallo is written on the front [of the script], it already has an incredible pedigree,” Ribisi begins one Sunday afternoon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Sitting down to discuss the film, his slight frame appears fragile and lithe and he sports a heavy beard over an impish smile. “Opening it up to read, you know it’s going to be [about a lot more than porn.] I think the concern was, are they going to do this for the right reasons or is it going to be more of an exploitative nature? What project could you do that more with than this? But I think they really did go in the right direction with it. I think across the board, the editing, the acting, the directing, the cinematography, it’s just phenomenal.”

Macht, however, wasn’t as immediately certain and had some concerns about what his almost three-year-old daughter might think of his role. Tall, handsome and wholesome-looking, Middle Men is a family affair for the actor, whose wife, Jacinda Barrett (Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, Ladder 49), plays Wilson’s wife in the film. When the subject of porn is broached, Macht blushes and differs to Ribisi before admitting, “I was hesitant getting into the arena. There’s a scene where we talk about names of websites and I had a moment where I was like, ‘Do I really want my daughter seeing daddy, twenty years from now, talking about ass banging housewives? Mmmm?’ But then I thought, ‘It’s actually funny.’”

“For me, that’s sort of the mise en scene of it,” Ribisi replies, using the French term meaning, literally, placing on stage or setting. “[Middle Men] is about so much more; America, the American Dream, how these guys go in, achieve [success], almost get bombarded by it, and eventually get devoured. It’s a classic epic story about greed and lust, what people will do for money and the underbelly of America.”

“It’s like the Rockefellers or the Hunts or Bill Gates,” Wilson offers, “where one minute these guys are working in their parents’ garage and the next, they’re billionaires.” The soft-spoken Texan, looking trim and tan, says he’d always envied actors who got the chance to play parts that required intense research in order to portray a real person. “I always got these scripts, not in a bad way, where it was right on the page,” he shrugs.

But in Middle Men, Wilson not only had the chance to bring a real man’s story to life but he had unfettered access to the script’s source since the movie was inspired by producer Christopher Mallick’s experiences during internet’s Wild West days in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“To get to meet the person [I was playing] and spend time around them, I felt so lucky to get to do that. It’s wasn’t like Johnny Depp playing Hunter S. Thompson. Chris wasn’t someone who walked funny or talked funny, he was more of a straight forward businessman, but you could ask him anything and just having him there was great.”

As for Gallo’s credo, Wilson laughs and nods his head. “That’s how the movie rocks along,” he smiles.

Middle Men opens August 6.