Any publicity is good publicity, right? Lots more photos of kittehs channeling Mr. Sheen here.
One of the movies I watched last week was Middle Men. ”Inspired by a true story,” it is the tale of Jack Harris, a seemingly incorruptible Texas business man who meets two idiots who have written a program that allows web sites to accept credit cards (this is back in the mid-90s) and are using this to make a fortune from porn. He creates and runs the business, makes millions and has an affair with a porn star, all the while dealing with Russian mobsters, drug addicts, crooked lawyers and idiots (oh, and helps the US government capture all sorts of Arab terrorists because, you see, they like porn). The film stars Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, James Caan, Kevin Pollack, Kelsey Grammar, Robert Forster and many undressed women. It’s very far from a great film but it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.
What I didn’t know was that this film was in fact produced by the real life Jack Harris, Chris Mallick. He spent $32 million of his own money making a film that has so far grossed $754,000. There’s a fascinating profile of him now in Details. The movie flopped, Visa ended its relationship with his payment brokering company and he’s got thousands of creditors banging down his door.
Wealthy men are lured to Hollywood all the time by the promise of becoming producers. But few have the audacity to make a movie about themselves. When Mallick embarked on Middle Men, he was a little-known businessman with a questionable reputation—the film wasn’t telling his story but rewriting it, scene by scene. If it was an effort at whitewashing, it backfired in grand fashion. Today, “Mallick” is slang for “swindle” in certain circles (Urban Dictionary’s sample usage: “I can’t believe my uncle fell for one of those Nigerian scams. They totally mallicked him out of $10,000″). A Google search for Chris Mallick returns page after page of accusations and vitriol—the link to the Wikipedia entry for his crowning achievement, Middle Men, is buried beneath a deluge of hate sites.
Middle Men tells the story of a straitlaced Texas businessman named Jack Harris, who makes a fast fortune in the Wild West of online porn. He teams up with two degenerate drug addicts who have just created an algorithm to enable credit-card transactions over the Internet but who desperately need our hero to rescue the business from their incompetence. And so he does, but he has to endure the sordid backwash of the porn world in the process, when all he wants is to get back to his wife and kids in Houston. He can’t leave because his partners—”a couple of idiots”—might run the business into the ground while he’s gone. So, trapped in Los Angeles, he uneasily keeps earning a fortune, has a brief affair with a porn star, regrets it deeply, and ultimately returns to his wife, lesson learned—a classic hero’s journey. His partners, meanwhile, get inadvertently mixed up in child pornography and cut him out of the company, out of sheer greed.
“It’s about 80 percent true,” Mallick says. “Luke Wilson’s character arc is very close to mine. He’s trying to do business in a sea full of truly crazy people.”
For instance, the company depicted in Middle Men—Paycom—wasn’t nearly the mess that the film suggests. When Mallick joined, in 1999 (according to him) or 2000 (according to the company), Paycom had some 170 employees and a 20,000-square-foot office and had been thriving for four years. The founders, Joel Hall and Clay Andrews, are neither degenerates nor child pornographers nor fools—Hall is a software engineer with an M.B.A. who continues to run the business today (it’s now called Epoch), and Andrews is a qualified website developer, though he struggles with alcohol abuse. Mallick was hired as a consultant, became CEO in short order, and had eventually accumulated enough shares to be considered a third partner by 2005, when, after mounting disputes, he was fired acrimoniously. Paycom alleges in a lengthy legal complaint filed that June that Mallick tried to take over the company by filling key positions with family members and cronies and plotted to oust Andrews by exploiting his drinking problem. It also charges Mallick with using company funds to shower “models” with gifts and take them on business trips on chartered jets.
Quite interesting stuff, whether you watch the movie or not.
What’s he doing now? He’s got a 3-D production studio.
I could probably write a book on this topic … and maybe one day I will. Anyone who has ever been in Wanchai will know what I mean, though almost anyone in Wanchai will disagree with me. And I’m probably not one to talk, as the woman I’ve been living with for the past two and a half years is 23 years younger than I am.
At any rate, words of wisdom from a letter written by Ben Franklin to an unnamed recipient, said letter to be found today on Letters of Note, provides 8 reasons why Ben thought older girlfriends are better. “You call this a Paradox, and demand my Reasons.” Which he then provides. And they make sense, as one would expect from the writer of Poor Richard’s Almanack. They include:
Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility.
Because there is no hazard of Children
Because thro’ more Experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation.
and of course
They are so grateful!!
Hit the link for the full letter.
Preface of a sort. I’m one of those nerds who knows who most of the character actors in films are. I don’t just recognize their faces, I know their names too. This goes back to when I was growing up. There was no cable TV back then, just broadcast. New York City, in the 50s and 60s, had just 7 stations. WOR-TV, Channel 9, had this thing on the weekend they’d call Million Dollar Movie. They’d take some old film and show it 5 or 6 times over the course of the weekend – cheap programming, but usually great films.
At an early age, I realized that most of my favorite films kicked off with the Warner Bros “WB” shield at the beginning. And as much as I loved actors like Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart (I named my second dog after him), I always got immense pleasure from the Warner Bros stock company – actors like Alan Hale, Sr., for example. Elisha Cook, Jr.! These guys were not stars and were never going to be stars. They came, they did their work, they were always recognizable no matter what the genre or costume, they delivered like professionals.
There’s still lots of great character actors working today. Some of them you probably know, like Steve Buscemi, who occasionally pulls down a lead role and has also directed. How many of you know Stephen Tobolowsky?
This guy is about as average looking as they come. Hell, he defines “average looking.” If you look up “average looking” in the dictionary, well, it’s not there, that’s a phrase and not a word. But this guy is the very definition of that phrase. And yet, this 60 year old guy from Dallas has acted in more than 200 films and TV shows.
Spaceballs, Seinfeld, Mississippi Burning, Great Balls of Fire, The Grifters, Groundhog Day, Thelma and Louise, Basic Instinct, Single White Female, Californication, Glee, Heroes, Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Memento … everywhere you look, that’s where he is. But did you know that he also wrote True Stories, the Talking Heads film? I didn’t. I didn’t know anything about him at all.
And then he turned up on an episode of the WTF with Marc Maron, the podcast that has been the soundtrack to my daily commute for the past several weeks. He’s on #147 which came out just three weeks ago. I enjoyed the interview a lot. I discovered that he played guitar with Stevie Ray Vaughan. He tells an extended story in this interview about the time he broke his neck, a tale of some amazing coincidences, a tale about “the other side of miracles.”
Each episode of this podcast runs for about an hour. Each episode starts with him chatting with Slashfilm editor Dan Chen, a chat that gradually leads into an extended monologue, a short story taken from Tobolowsky’s life. He talks a lot about “unintended consequences” and “the moment before zero.” He chooses his words with care and, as a trained actor, seems to effortlessly hold your attention.
I haven’t listened to too many of these yet, but after listening to the three most recent episodes, I’ve gone back and downloaded them all (44 so far). Listening to Maron every day is warping my little brain too much.
The most recent one, The Voice From Another Room, is a great one to start with. You’ll find out how he came to be involved with David Byrne and the True Stories film. It’s fascinating stuff.
You’ll also find out why the band Radiohead is basically named after him. No shit.
Wisdom and insight often come from unexpected sources. No one in their right mind would expect anything intelligent from Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day. But the actor who played him, that’s a different story indeed.
If you don’t believe me and don’t check this out, it’s your loss. It’s an hour, it’s free (stream via the web site or download from iTunes) and I think you’re gonna like this. I do. A lot.