Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Secret Leslie Nielsen Interview

Leslie Nielsen starred in two of my favorite movies of all-time, Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Sadly, he passed away this week. But I was lucky enough to have a fictional interview with him on September 31st. Here was the transcript:

ME: Welcome! Should I call you Leslie, Mr. Nielsen, Dr. Rumack?

LESLIE: I'm Lt. Frank Drebin! Police Squad!

ME: Thanks for coming. I hope you enjoyed the complimentary meal.

LESLIE: What was it we had for dinner tonight?

ME: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.

LESLIE: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.

ME: So what is your background? You’re American?

LESLIE: No, Dutch-Irish. My father was from Wales.

ME: Going from serious roles to playing Dr. Rumack in Airplane! was a big chance to take, right?

LESLIE: I know. You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street or sticking your face in a fan.

ME: But weren’t you afraid you would fail? I’d like to be a writer someday, but I’m afraid of rejection and sometimes I just want to give up.

LESLIE: Well, I don't have anything to say, you've done the best you could. You really have; the best you could. You can't expect to win ‘em all. But, I want to tell you something I've kept to myself through these years. I was in the war myself, medical corps. I was on late duty one night when they brought in a badly wounded pilot from one of the raids. He could barely talk. He looked at me and said, "The odds were against us up there, but we went in anyway, I'm glad the Captain made the right decision." The pilot's name was George Zip.

ME: George Zip said that?

LESLIE: The last thing he said to me, "Doc," he said, "some time when the crew is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to get out there and give it all they got and win just one for the Zipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Doc," he said, "but I won't smell too good, that's for sure."

ME: That's a great story. Speaking of stories, I’ve thought about selling out and writing a “Hollywood” script just to get my name out there. What do you think?

LESLIE: It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside.

ME: You've been in Hollywood for years, what is it like dealing with screenwriters and producers and directors on a day-to-day basis and how do you survive?

LESLIE: I've been swimming in raw sewage, and I love it! I love it!

ME: I’ve heard acting can be dangerous…

LESLIE: It is. That's why I carry a big gun.

ME: Aren't you afraid it might go off accidentally?

LESLIE: I used to have that problem.

ME: What did you do about it?

LESLIE: I just think about baseball.

ME: What was it like working with OJ Simpson?

LESLIE: Interesting... almost as interesting as the photographs I saw today.

ME: How did you meet your first love?

LESLIE: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.

ME: Goodyear?

LESLIE: No, the worst.

ME: But you settled down and eventually had a family...

LESLIE: I've finally found someone I can love - and good, clean love... without utensils. I've noticed things that I never knew were there before... birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights.

ME: But how did you know she was the “one?”

LESLIE: That delicately beautiful face. And a body that could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room. And breasts that seemed to say... "Hey! Look at these!" She was the kind of woman who made you want to drop to your knees and thank God you were a man! She reminded me of my mother, all right. No doubt about it.

ME: What should I say to a woman I’m interested in to get her attention?

LESLIE: It's a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans!
















ME: Surely, you can’t be serious.

LESLIE: I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

ME: You’re a big fan of my blog, The Corner. Do you have any final words of wisdom for me?

LESLIE: I just want to tell you good luck. We're all counting on you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Turkey Bowl

I have some great football memories from over the years. I never played organized football with helmets and pads (Mom wouldn’t sign the permission slip), but I played with friends growing up. I remember competing in brutal games during recess in elementary school. Despite wrecking each other, nobody ever really got hurt.

As we got older, games grew more intense. Things settled down after one of my friends, trying to catch a deep pass, lost his two front teeth running into a UPS truck.

In college, I had the worst injury of my pick-up football career. It was intramural football—my fraternity (the preppy Jews) versus the lacrosse fraternity (the big, strong guys.) Their captains asked if we would play tackle. My fraternity brothers whimpered and were adamantly against it. My manhood hung on the line, and I was not going to back down. We would play tackle.

I then played the game of my life. I weaved in and out of traffic. I escaped tackles. I could not be stopped. I was Barry sanders, Danny Woodhead, and Rudy all rolled into one. We were crushing them. And that’s when “the play” happened.

"THE PLAY"

It was a 4th down. I pulled a Keyshawn Johnson and said: “Just give me the damn ball!” And they did. I broke two tackles, sidestepped another one, and then I had to make a brave choice. To my left were four guys ready to destroy me. To the right was the sideline, and directly in front of me was Bluto. He was a large mammal who resembled a bigger, stronger (less drunk) version of John Belushi from Animal House. I weighed my decision and ran directly towards the monster.

My eyes lit up and so did his. It was like a punch buggy running into a mack truck at full speed. I didn’t care. I was going to take him down. We collided and our momentum pushed us out of bounds. Bluto collapsed on top of me, and my shoulder slammed into the ground. CRACK!

I quickly popped up to my feet in order to show off my toughness. I even helped Bluto up with my left hand. But when I got up, something seemed off. It felt like my right shoulder was hanging off of its socket. That’s when I felt it move.

My collar bone was shattered to pieces and I could actually feel it dangling inside of me. I turned white. People asked me if I was okay. Their voices faded from me. I walked across the street like a zombie to health services with mud smeared across my pale face, and my collar bone broken to pieces.

I went to the hospital, and it was confirmed that my collar bone had broken in three places. I slept sitting up for 6 weeks. Then I did physical therapy for 6 weeks. I still have shoulder issues. But the worst part of the experience is that we inexplicably lost the game.

Despite the setback, I still crave playing football. The last few years, I’ve been a member of the LES football game (now called the Goose League.) It’s a group of camp friends, college friends and friend’s friends. We don’t play tackle, and there’s still a fair share of injuries (I tore a ligament in my finger in one of the first games.) But I love the intensity, the competition, the storytelling during huddles, the complaining, the arguing, and the good natured trash talking. And I love how we all brag to our girlfriends, wives, and facebook friends about how many touchies we scored that day. I love that we now have a traditional game because it was something I always wanted. Because growing up, I desperately wanted to be a part of the greatest football tradition in America:


THE TURKEY BOWL

All over the country, old friends reunite for a game of football over Thanksgiving. Some play tackle, some have flags, some play two hand touch. Some have five Mississippi, some have six. Some have first downs, and some have score or you bust. Some have blockers and some have blitzes. But I don’t know how other games work, I only know about THE Turkey Bowl.

It all started in Sharon, MA sometime in the mid to late 1980’s, and I had nothing to do with it. In fact, my first appearance in The Turkey Bowl was not until a few years ago. It’s unclear how it started, and it was never initially intended to be an ongoing tradition. But each year, the event happened and it ultimately became more than just a football game.















My brother Jon and his friends started the game back when they were in junior high school. They played over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and whenever they could get enough people together. And over the course of time, Thanksgiving was the holiday when everyone was around.

I was always envious of my brother and his friends. They were six years older than me, and I looked up to them. Sometimes, they let me go bowling with them or to Burger King, but no way was I ever involved in the Turkey Bowl. I had my own friends, but there was something special about this group of guys. While my friends were scattered all over the place, these guys were one giant clique. It was really a remarkable thing.

As the years passed, the Turkey Bowl made a name for itself. While my Mom made sure the Thanksgiving feast was in place, my brother and his friends made sure The Turkey Bowl was ready to go as well.

There were two captains (usually the two QBs) chosen in October, and then the teams were picked from there. Once the teams were constructed, the trash talk began. Phone calls and letters (remember, this was well before e-mail) constituted for smack talk. It was rumored that teams would have secret meetings to set up trick plays, audibles, and touchdown dances.

The game was on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. A dozen guys showed up every year around 11 am. There were other games going on, but somehow the field always seemed reserved for this Turkey Bowl. As time passed, and one of the players became a cop, the field was officially reserved. When he flipped his siren and parked his cop car in front of the field, it was clear these guys should not be messed with.

Other evolutions included uniforms and touchdown dances. At first, guys donned random football jerseys including Brian Bosworth, Bubby Brister, and Drew Bledsoe. As the game became more traditional, players were given official, custom made, reversible black and white Turkey Bowl jerseys. And the touchdown celebrations were a product of the era—in the 80’s it was the Icky Shuffle; in the 90’s it was the Terrell Davis salute, and in the 2000’s it was something inspired by Ochocinco or T.O.
















As the game progressed so did the fans. Friends and families watched and cheered from the sidelines each year. People took pictures and stood patiently awaiting a triple-reverse lateral flea-flicker to finally work.

Like I said before, I never played in the game, I was only a fan. But when I was 15, I became a part of it. I was nominated to be the camera man. It didn’t take much arm pulling for me to volunteer. Heck, I wanted to be included in The Turkey Bowl since I was a little kid.

I stood in the freezing cold, rain, and wind and pulled off my best Scorsese/Spielberg impersonation for the next few years. I hoped my work would somehow end up on NFL Films. It didn’t, but Matt, one of the co-founders, cut/edited my work to create The Turkey Bowl Plays of the Decade set to the soundtrack of Rocky IV.

And after the game, that night, the guys threw some cash my way, introduced me to alcohol and older women, and even bought me my very own Turkey Bowl jersey. The after-Turkey Bowl parties were legendary at one point. Everyone showed up. As they complained about controversial calls and how sore they were, they watched The Turkey Bowl film footage, and also voted on the MVP. As the camera man, I got in on the action, and even garnered a few votes myself.

Over the years with technology, the games were a little easier to arrange. The Turkey Bowl could be organized through the internet, and the trash talking could be done online. The fan base grew—friends and family showed up in the freezing cold because after all, it was The Turkey Bowl. There was even an article published in the famous Sharon Advocate.

It was four years ago when I got the call. They finally needed me to play in The Turkey Bowl. I had been licking my chops for years to play in the game. I would officially be part of it in its 20th year.

In my four years of play, I’ve scored a few touchdowns and let up a few as well. Even though these guys were older than me, they could still play. My favorite personal memory was a 50 yard end around for a touchdown. My lead blocker, Lee (another little brother), paved the way for me, and I rumbled untouched along the right side of the field. We slapped five mid-run, and I smiled widely as I ran into the end zone. Touchdown! It was pure bliss.

The 24th year of the Turkey Bowl is in place for this Saturday. My jersey hangs in my closet at home ready to be worn. The same dozen or so guys will be ready as well. Everyone will be a little slower, a little fatter, and a little more out of shape. But we’ll all be ready to play.

And we’ll all be ready for the after game brunch which has taken the place of the Saturday night kegger. It’s a great time for friends and families to catch up, talk about football, and reminisce about tradition.

And even though the fan base is not as passionate as say ten years ago, it must be noted that the fan base has expanded. It’s not just parents, sibling, and old friends anymore. Now, it’s children too. They watch proudly and hope to one day follow in their Daddy’s footsteps and play in The Turkey Bowl. And if these guys can last another 10 years or so, that’s exactly what will happen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Michael J. Fox














About six months ago, my friend Jeff decided to run the NYC Marathon. He stopped drinking, joined a jogging group, and ate a pile of peanut butter sandwiches for some reason. He woke up early every morning and just felt like running. I thought he was crazy. I didn’t understand the appeal of running 26.2 miles just for the heck of it.


But then I saw the race.

Everyone in New York seemed to be outside on that sunny day. There was a unique positive energy in the air. I’d never seen New Yorkers be so nice to each other. There were no dirty looks, spitting, and a general disdain for one another. Instead, people were smiling, talking, and cheering on the runners (a hundred people even sang “Happy Birthday!” to a passenger on a packed bus.)

Jeff had his name printed on the front of his shirt. Strangers screamed “Go Jeff!” as he trotted through the boroughs of New York. At first, it was weird, but then he got used to it. When he heard his name, he pointed to his fans, and lived it up. He felt famous for a day.

I have to thank Jeff for inspiring me. His dedication and hard work really showed me something. But I also have to thank Jeff because if he hadn’t run, I never would have met Michael J. Fox.

In order to run, Jeff had to raise money for a charity. He chose the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. I happily donated money for three reasons: it would help my friend, it was a worthy cause, and I loved Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, and Family Ties.

On Marathon day, I stood amongst the members of Team Fox. Runners tumbled by, some in athletic gear, one as a fireman, a UPS worker, and Superman. But my attention was on the person in front of me: Michael J. Fox.

I patted him on the back and congratulated him on his cause. He thanked me, and then informed me it was time to walk his dog. A few minutes later, his dog Gus was by his side. A few people took pictures with him. I patted his dog and wondered if I should tell him that Back to the Future was my favorite movie of all-time, and how much I enjoyed his book “Lucky Man.” I decided against it. Instead, I scratched Gus’ ears, and let him lick my hand. Then Michael told me it was time to go. Gus had to pee.

On the surface, the conversation was not profound. It probably meant nothing to him, but to me it meant something. Here was a guy who bravely continued acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; a guy who spends his time and energy raising money for the cause; and here was a guy whose movies and TV shows made me want to be a writer. I will never forget the day I met Michael J. Fox and his dog licked my hand.

As a tribute to him, here are my favorite Michael J. Fox roles of all time:

Marty McFly (Back to the Future)




















Marty McFly will forever be one of my favorite characters in film history. How can you not like a kid who plays the guitar, skateboards, and can travel through time?! Thanks to amazing writing, creativity, and Fox’s performance, Back to the Future is one of the best movies ever made, and my favorite movie of all time (click here for my previous post.) The sequels were decent (the third being the weakest), but the original was a masterpiece.

Marty McFly was a perfect blend of insecurity and confidence. I could relate to his self-doubt, but also wished I could be as tough as him and stand up to bullies. His skateboard chase with Biff could go down as one of the best scenes ever.

You can try to call him Calvin Klein, but he goes by Marty. He likes Tab, Pepsi-Free, purple underwear, and rock n’ roll. His band name is the Pinheads, he fears rejection, and he loves to wear life preservers. His best friend is an odd scientist, he loves to use the term “heavy”, and he never backs down from a fight. He’s a philanthropist (donated money to save the clock tower), can drive a stick shift, and his family will always come first.

Marty McFly is as cool as they come.

Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties)

Family Ties is arguably one of the best family sitcoms of all time. And the star of the show was Michael J. Fox. He stole nearly every episode with his quick witted one-liners. He was a republican wise-ass who loved Nixon, Reagan, business, and money. His favorite show was Wall Street Week. He was so charming even my Mom, a staunch republican hater, loved him.

I’ll never forget the episode where he gets dumped at the dance by Ellen. Every time “At the Moment” comes on the easy listening station, I get a tear in my eye, and think of Alex P. Keaton.

Here’s the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-TFP14Z-P0&feature=related

And extra props to Alex for having a neighbor named Skippy, and dating Courtney Cox’s Lauren pre-Friends.

Scott Howard (Teen Wolf)

“I want a keg of beer.” Scott Howard wasn’t so intimidating, but when he wolfed out, he was unstoppable. The plot is laugh out loud ridiculous—a high school kid turns into a wolf, gets wicked popular, and becomes a basketball star—but because of Fox it works.

I love this movie! MJ Fox is charming as usual as the everyday high school kid. He has a crush on the school hottie, Pamela Wells, but you know his heart is with his next door neighbor Boof. He surrounds himself with good people: Styles, one of the best 80’s sidekicks of all time, and Chubbs, his fat basketball teammate.

Teen Wolf introduced me to the world of van surfing, kegs of beer, and wolf basketball. It will always be one of my favorite movies. The scene where Fox wolfs out and gets with Pamela Wells could go down as one of the best hook-ups in cinematic history.

Only Michael J. Fox could take such a goofy storyline and make it one of the best movies of the 80’s.

Dr. Benjamin Stone (Doc Hollywood)

Michael J. Fox plays Dr. Ben Stone, a smooth talking plastic surgeon on his way to Beverly Hills. After a car accident, he gets stuck in Grady, the squash capital of America. He falls in love with the beautiful Julie Warner, adopts a pig, and learns how charming small towns can be.

Michael J. Fox is as likable as ever as the wise-ass city kid. I love when he butts heads with old Dr. Hogue, bonds with his patients (especially when he passionately reads mail to an illiterate couple), and attempts to woo Julie Warner.

And although this post is about Michael J. Fox, the greatest moment in the film is when Julie Warner emerges from the lake buck naked, walks by Ben Stone, and sexily announces: “You can blink now.”

Lewis Rothschild (The American President)

In one of the more underrated movies of the last two decades, Michael J. Fox plays Lewis, the fast talking speech writer for the president. Lewis is witty, funny, and even challenges the president on various occasions. My favorite moment is during the president’s final impromptu speech, the camera pans over to Lewis who pumps his fist in approval. Then Michael Douglas says: “My name is Andrew Shepherd and I AM the president.” Love that scene!


Brantley Foster/Carlton Whitfield (The Secret of My Succe$s)

The Secret of My Succe$s was never a huge success, but I liked it. Michael J. plays Brantley the hard working mail boy who desperately wants to be a successful business man. So in classic 80’s/90’s fashion (see Working Girl), he conjures up a fake identity. As Carlton Whitfield, Fox gets to be calm, cool, and confident. In his alter ego, he climbs his way up the company ladder, sleeps with his Uncle’s cougar wife, and meets his dream girl. This is a classic early 90’s movie—it’s all over the place, a little absurd, but since Fox is so damn cool, I watch it whenever it’s on TV.


Scott Larson (Midnight Madness)

This was MJ Fox’s debut film. Although I can’t remember the whole movie, I do remember watching it with my brothers a bunch of times. It’s definitely one of those obscure movies with a cult following.

It’s about a group of college kids on an epic scavenger hunt (this definitely needs to be re-made.) Michael J. Fox plays somebody’s younger brother; he’s probably 18, but he looks like he’s 12. When he craftily uses his retainer to win one of the challenges, I knew he was headed towards a life of stardom. And what do you know…I was right!

Thanks for everything Michael. Keep up the good work!

Friday, November 5, 2010

BACK TO THE FUTURE

“Here’s a red letter date in the history of science, November 5th 1955…That was the day I invented time travel. I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the edge of the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation, a vision, a picture in my head, a picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible – the Flux Capacitor!”


I traveled through time last week and saw Back to the Future on the big screen. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Back to the Future has been popping up in theatres across the country.

Back to the Future has always been more than just a movie to me. I’ve seen in 88 times and confidently declare it my favorite movie of all time. It combines my favorite things: time travel, comedy, and true love.

I recalled the first time I saw it on the big screen with one of my best friends, Randy. After that we became movie nerds. We watched movies every week, and vowed to one day move to LA and make our own. We fulfilled our promise in the year 2000. In 2002, we saw Back to the Future in the theatre, and heard one of the writers, Bob Gale, speak. It was inspiring and unforgettable. And although I am now in New York, and Randy is still in LA, we often text random Back to the Future quotes to one another, and hope to one day have our names in the credits on the silver screen.

I often wonder if a movie like Back to the Future could ever come out today, and I sincerely doubt it. What makes it so unique is that it doesn’t fit into a single genre. It’s a coming-of-age, teen, sci-fi, action, period piece, romantic family comedy. It’s not like movie studios are lining up to make that kind of movie.

















But it was made. And it was amazing. Like Doc Brown always said: “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” In terms of box office success, Back to the Future accomplished more than anything. It grossed nearly 200 million dollars, and that was in 1985 money. But for me, I loved it because it made me laugh, cry, cheer, and dream at the same time. It was the ultimate underdog story, the nerd standing up to the bully. It was the first time I fell in love with the movies. So when I heard that I could see it again in the theatre, I jumped at the opportunity.

I got to the theatre on 11th and 3rd avenue, and a line ran down three New York City blocks. Geeks like me talked about jigowatts, flux capacitors, deloreans, Libyan vans, Einstein, life preservers, the clock tower, lightning storms, Old Man Peabody, Jackie Gleason, Mayor Goldie Wilson, Marvin Berry, and the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. They herded us into the theatre, and the lights went down. Great Scott! Marty McFly appeared before us.















I mouthed the lines like a lyric to a song. I knew every word of dialogue. “Why don’t you make like a tree, and get out of here!” Most would think this was weird, but I realized the people around me were doing the same thing. I laughed more than usual. Doc Brown’s eye popping facial expressions got me every time. The energy was infectious. Alan Silvestri’s beautiful score encompassed the entire theatre. The audience cheered and clapped as Marty maneuvered on his skateboard, George knocked out Biff, and Doc helped Marty get back to the future. And the big screen enhanced the action, the comedy, and excitement.

When the credits rolled, I sang along to Huey Lewis and the News. I grabbed my free poster which I hoped to frame and hang on one of my walls. Just like that, I was a kid again. That’s the thing about Back to the Future. No matter how many times I watch it, it makes me feel young again.

As I walked home from the movie, a brown penny caught my eye. I picked it up for good luck. When I turned it over, my eyes widened. The year: 1955. Maybe it was a message or a sign. Maybe I had traveled through time. Maybe I was safe and sound back in good old 1955. I scooped it up and placed it in my pocket. Back to the Future will always be a part of me. I walked down the road, and thought to myself: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”