Friday, October 30, 2009

My first gala premiere

A couple years ago I experienced the twisted joy of getting to review Troy Duffy's The Boondock Saints, a truly wretched piece of filmmaking made all the more so by the circumstances of its origins.

Duffy was a Boston-born bartender/wannabe screenwriter living in Los Angeles -- and thanks, Troy, for giving Bostonians such a vicarious bad name. His script for The Boondock Saints, a crime movie about scripture-spouting Irish vigilante killers on a spree in Boston, found the right audience and won him a huge deal from Harvey Weinstein, who also agreed to help him buy the bar where he worked and become its co-owner. As he also bore ambitions as a musician and was planning to record the film's soundtrack, Duffy quickly became totally impossible to deal with, telling various execs to shove it and making ridiculous demands like "Get me Bob DeNiro!" Before long he had totally torpedoed his own career, and the completed version of The Boondock Saints screened in only five theaters, even though it featured a handful of recognizable names (Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Connolly, Willem Defoe). The whole nasty and protracted implosion was captured in a great documentary called Overnight, which was made by some of Duffy's former friends whose good will Duffy poisoned in the process of becoming a fascist dictator.

That should have been the end of that, but the legend of the film became so great that it developed a cult following on DVD. (Ironically, the film intended to bury Duffy -- Overnight -- probably contributed.) By hook or by crook, somehow, the giant turd Duffy shat out nine years ago was permitted to have a sequel.

Which directly led to my first gala premiere on Wednesday night.

About a week ago my editor asked me if I wanted to attend the Los Angeles premiere of The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, to write a review that would appear on the site's front page this Friday. Of course my answer was yes. Even though these reviews of new releases require a lot more words for the same fee, volume has never been a problem for me (you read my blog, you know), and these are some of the rare times when the company actually gives me an assignment -- the rest of the time I am simply requesting films to review and being approved to review them. Plus, it's kind of fun to go to these screenings, which usually involve small screening rooms in obscure skyscrapers scattered all over the greater Hollywood area.

Not this time. This time, I was being invited to "the Los Angeles premiere," which probably was also pretty close to the world premiere. Duffy probably had a screening in Boston before this, so this would probably be #2. And I wouldn't be surprised if there were no actual critic screening scheduled, since studios sometimes fail to screen movies prior to their release if they fear they have a turkey on their hands. Better no word of mouth on opening weekend than bad word of mouth. Then again, in the case of The Boondock Saints, isn't bad word of mouth part of the appeal? Still, if there had been a screening for critics, that's probably what I would have been invited to.

Instead, it was a red carpet affair at The Arclight in Hollywood, one of LA's most prestigious theaters.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I reluctantly pulled away from the World Series at about 6:20, somewhere in the fourth inning. The screening was scheduled for 7:30, so this should have been plenty of time to get there. And for the first half of the drive it seemed like it was, as I made good time on both freeways. But as I started to get stuck behind the dozens of traffic lights on La Brea Avenue, I was pretty glad I'd left when I did, and no longer expected to have much time to kill. I might sit and listen to a couple more batters on the radio, but that would be it.

Of course, when I made a left turn rather than a right turn on Sunset, that pretty much eliminated any margin I may have had. And a bit of panic set in.

You see, even having written over 1,000 reviews for this website, dating back to the year 2000, I still have a paranoia that any slip-up will cause them to rethink using me as a freelancer -- especially in this economy, when freelance dollars are tight. In fact, only earlier this week, when I was signing a new freelance agreement with the new parent company, it took great courage to summon the will to ask them for a $5 raise per review. My standard thinking on the subject is that if I ask for a raise, not only will they reject me, but they will decide they can do without my future contributions, thank you very much. Fortunately, my editor made an extremely nice comment about my work only a day before that, so I gave it a shot. Predictably, they told me that no raises are possible within a freelance budget that's already been scaled back. But at least they were very nice about it.

So missing a screening -- one of the few times I'm doing specific work that they've requested of me -- is just out of the question. At least that's what the paranoid Vance thinks.

So I come-on-come-on-come-on!'d my way down Sunset in the correct direction this time, figuring I'd lost at least five minutes, maybe more, on the mistake. As Murphy's Law states, the parking garage that serves The Arclight was also packed, forcing me all the way to the roof, where I've had to park only one time before. Plus, the duffers in the cars ahead of me had to stop at each level and ask the parking attendant some inane question, or examine the orange traffic cones blocking certain paths to see if they properly understood what these cones indicated.

When I finally secured a spot, I raced over to the elevator, which disgorged me on a ground level absolutely teeming with activity. If I weren't in my desperate "make the start time or bust" mindset, I would have instantly recognized this activity as stemming from the Boondock Saints premiere. I guess I wrongly assumed the hustle and bustle might have something to do with This Is It, the Michael Jackson documentary that was also opening today. So I pushed through these crowds and into the theater proper, at which point they directed me back outside, of course.

I didn't have much luck at the long table where five staffers were seated, each with placards reading things like A-F and L-O in front of them. Apparently, they were holding tickets only for special invited guests, not press like me. One of the women referred me to another woman named Sarah (I don't actually remember her name, but that was close enough) and pointed in the general direction where she expected Sarah to be. As there were a good 200 people out here, many of them gathered around the red carpet and brightly lit area where photographs were being taken, I laughed at the idea that I might be able to find one individual person named Sarah. So the woman described her as an Asian woman in a long jacket, and I found her on the red carpet itself.

It was kind of an absurd scene -- Sarah was involved in wrangling actual celebrities (I noticed Norman Reedus, one of the film's protagonists, with a beautiful woman on his arm), and here I was, a guy with wild hair, a slightly untacked dark green L.L. Bean shirt and khakis, trying to get her attention about a ticket held in my name. The funny thing is, I actually did get her attention without much difficulty, and she was actually rather nice. As is usually the case, however, she wasn't the correct person to talk to either, so she referred me back to the table. When I rejoined that they'd referred me to her, she said "Well then, just wait here for a second." When a second turned into a minute and she hadn't returned, I decided to give the long ticket table a second go-around.

This time I was referred to a guy named Paul (also not his name), who was standing much closer and didn't have anything to do with paparazzi or movie stars, at least not at this moment. He was described as the tall guy in the trenchcoat, and he turned out to be a priggish son of a bitch, though he did end up being the one holding the clipboard with my name on it. However, he wasn't going to admit me without some humiliation. "You're just getting here now?" he asked incredulously. "You've missed almost the whole red carpet." "And I'm very sorry about that," I said. "I had some traffic issues." He seemed to retract his judgmental stance toward me somewhat when I explained that I wasn't going to be interviewing anybody, only reviewing the film. But the attitude returned when I asked him if he had a press kit. "No, I don't, since press check-in is closed." Whatever, dude.

By now I knew this movie would not be starting at 7:30 -- it was already 7:32, and the stars were still having their pictures snapped -- but I was still in go-go-go mode, so I hustled into the theater as quickly as I could, leaving behind a scene that probably would have interested me under other circumstances. (Hey, I've been known to gawk from time to time, and Dexter's Julie Benz (Rita) is in this movie.) When they'd torn my ticket, I noticed that there were free sodas and small popcorns set up in rows outside the theater. Which was good, because I was wondering if I would survive the whole night on the boil-in-bag Indian dish I'd scarfed down before leaving the house.

The theater was less than half full, with those standard papers taped to the best seats, reading "Reserved," and in some cases the name of the person for whom they were reserved. I had to empty my bladder, and by this point realized it was something I could probably chance. I nonetheless asked the two female ushers on my way out if they had an estimated time for the start of the show. When they hemmed and hawed, I clarified that I needed to go to the bathroom, and they relaxed and told me I was fine on time.

Though I hate to do this, I brought my drink and popcorn in with me. There was no good waist-high surface on which to rest them, where I could also keep an eye on them, so I rested them on the floor. Ugh. At least the bathroom was immaculate.

Returning to the theater, I decided I had time to grab a couple salt packets for my popcorn. Standing next to me at the salt was legendary porn star Ron Jeremy. How perfect.

Of course it was still a full half-hour before the film actually started. People were milling about like milling about was going out of style. I caught glimpses of a few of the actors I'd been expecting see, including Billy Connolly and Clifton Collins Jr. In fact, I nodded at Clifton Collins Jr. on my way back from the bathroom, when I remembered to go up and get my parking validated. He didn't return the gesture, apparently considering a polite nod to be the early stages of stalking.

I grew bored very quickly and was on my blackberry in no time. Part of me was interested in spotting other celebrities, especially since the people around me were busy pointing them out. I tried really hard to see where Peter Fonda was, for example, but never spotted him, even though the guy behind me had described to his friend what Fonda was wearing. I posted a couple status updates about what was going on, and checked ESPN, glad to see the Phillies leading 4-0 in the 8th.

In fact, I started to get a little agitated by the conversations around me, as each snippet I could hear seemed to be somebody talking about some accomplishment they had made in the film industry. It really made me miss watching movies with normal people. In that moment I felt a real kinship with other critics, actually. Stereotypically, the critic is the slightly awkward shlub dressed in clothing that doesn't quite fit him right, and that's exactly how I felt tonight, two days unshaven (but not in a fashionable way), too-long hair windblown by the Santa Anas, and a wardrobe that wasn't the least bit flashy. Meanwhile, women with too much makeup and cleavage were all around me, not to mention uber-hip guys with perfect bedhead. I felt like I spoke for the common man in all of us, just sitting there in what I'd worn to work that day.

By about 8 o'clock, the master of ceremonies (whoever he may have been) asked everyone to be seated, and handed the microphone over to Troy Duffy himself. Although Duffy kicked into at least ten minutes of thank yous, he was actually not as insufferable as I thought he'd be. He had a friendly crowd of fans and associates -- though I noticed the theater was not actually full -- and they seemed to eat up what he was saying. (Including one line when he thanked his wife, who appeared as just a blur of boobs and makeup from where I was sitting, and told the crowd that yes, he was "hitting that.") And even though he wasn't, as I said, particularly insufferable, I did refuse to applaud each and every cast and crew member he introduced, and sat on my hands especially hard when the audience gave one particular guy (I think it was his producer) a standing O. I do feel a little unusual not clapping along with everyone else -- I usually default to what everyone else is doing -- but I excused myself on the basis of my critical impartiality. Not to mention the fact that I saw The Boondock Saints, I saw Overnight, I know Troy Duffy sucks as both a filmmaker and a human being, and he'd have to do a lot to win me over.

And surprisingly, he sort of did.

Oh, I started with my arms crossed, and shook my head imperceptibly a couple times during the film's opening ten minutes. Those ten minutes were as bad as any ten-minute stretch of the original. But the film found its footing as it went along. I'm not going to say it's, you know, a good film -- it's still a guilty pleasure at best. But I did find myself laughing at some pretty funny lines. And the most encouraging thing was that Duffy didn't take himself so seriously as he had nearly a decade ago when he made The Boondock Saints. There was plenty of winning self-parody embedded into the movie, even while there was also plenty of John Woo gunplay and labored attempts at seeming cool. Still, the movie worked for me.

I told my wife before leaving the house that I hoped it would be bad -- that I was so negatively disposed toward Troy Duffy that I wanted this film to continue his trajectory downward, perhaps with increasing speed. In fact, I hated The Boondock Saints so much, I was appalled that he had somehow transformed it into a success story, something that could spawn a sequel.

Yet I couldn't deny that I liked it. Liked it? Yes, that's an appropriate description to use. I liked The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. There, I said it. Can't take it back now. In fact, not only did I write the review when I got home -- a necessity of my deadline -- but I also tweaked it for at least an hour after I'd gotten a version that would have worked perfectly fine. A minor miracle, to be sure.

Now, will my newfound tolerance of Troy Duffy cause me to revisit The Boondock Saints?

That's one miracle I wouldn't wait on.

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