Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…
Many people know that Roger's book "Your Movie Sucks" got its title from a review he wrote of the Rob Schneider movie "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo." But Rob Schneider also reached out to Roger during his illness in a way that touched Roger deeply.
I sent Rob some questions:
1. First of all, how are you and what have you been up to?
2. Can we go to the past during the period when you and Roger had a bit of a dust-up over someone's review of "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo." I think a critic gave it a bad review and you took out an ad or letter saying he wasn't qualified to review it because he hadn't won any awards. And Roger jumped in and said he had a Pulitzer Prize which made him qualified to review it, and he ended it with a sentence that became the title of his next book, "Your Movie Sucks." How did you feel about that and what kind of ripples did it make in your life?
3. Roger and I were friends with Chas Edelstein who is also a friend of yours. Chas told us what a caring and smart and funny person you are. Roger expressed some misgivings at coming down so hard on you. And when Roger was in the hospital you sent a beautiful selection of flowers with a sweet note. That melted our hearts. Roger talked about that for a long time. Not just the flowers, but the very act, and what one act of kindness can do to transform human relationships. He said it gave him a glimpse into what kind of person you were and it was humbling. What was your thinking behind sending the flowers and the get well wishes?
4. Roger was so very touched by your act that he wrote about it. When it was made public how did people react to you?
5. What is your philosophy on forgiveness? Kindness?
6. Do you have an overall philosophy of life?
7. What would you like people to know about you?
8. What acts open your heart to receive the goodness of the Universe?
9. What is your outlook on where we are in the world today?
He responded with this note:
I am doing good, thank you! My wife and I have a new production we're very proud of. Her name is Miranda and she is 10 months old. She is an absolute joy! I am trying to stay home as much as possible so I don't miss anything as she grows up. My wife Patricia and Miranda are flying with me to New Zealand and Australia next week. I am performing my one man Stand Up show at Sydney Opera Hall. It's a real honor to perform at one of the most beautiful theaters in the world!
Regarding 'Roger and Me' and our infamous quarrel, respectfully, I think a few pieces of information were missing from Mr. Ebert's assessment of my 'other' infamous quarrel with the recently fired LA Times entertainment reporter and all-around malcontent, Patrick Goldstein.
First off, Mr. G. NEVER SAW THE MOVIE IN QUESTION! He trashed it before it was ever released and NOT in the entertainment section but on the Front page of the Times ABOVE THE FOLD. In the same article he also insulted me personally and professionally which I considered and still consider very unprofessional. He then used my before-mentioned and unseen film as an example of why Hollywood studios don't win more Academy Awards, as if that should be the 'be all end all' criteria for every movie made in Hollywood.
So I said to myself, "Now that doesn't seem very fair" and I decided to write an article in the paper myself, albeit a paid one, where I would make a similar assessment of Mr. Goldstein. Anyway, the end of 'my article' stated "the difference between me meeting 'his friends' for lunch and Mr. Goldstein going out to lunch with 'my friends' was 'his friends' would find me funny and entertaining and would want to have lunch with me again. Whereas, after having lunch with 'my friends,' Mr. Goldstein would be beaten beyond recognition." I was besieged with actors, producers, directors and studio people thanking me for making them laugh and for finally having someone throw a stone back at this tiny minded man.
Not knowing any of this back story, I'm sure Mr. Ebert felt obliged to come to the defense of a fellow colleague under fire (and hopefully ridicule!) and attacked me and my film, the review of which is now immortalized in his book, "Your Movie Sucks!"
I felt oddly flattered but at the same time it isn't what one hopes for when you make a motion picture. Namely that the most important reviewer in the country would write a book after the title of his review saying, "Your Movie Sucks!"
As far as the "ripples" it has had on my life, I think it made me reassess what pictures I really wanted to make and how I got to make a movie in the first place that even I wasn't happy with.
As Roger once said, "Nobody starts out to make a bad movie!" But it happens. I think every movie is difficult to make but a sequel even more so. The movie I made just ended up being a series of jokes that really didn't hold up as a story or a movie frankly and I have to live with that. Sometimes a movie actor falls for the studio notion of "Well, YOU can make it funny!" And the next thing you know you are standing in the middle of the street in Amsterdam with a bunch of male gigolos trying to figure out how the hell you got into this mess!
Mr. Ebert's review was mean but fair. Truthfully, it was not a good picture and the review and book made it easy for every other reviewer to dismiss every film I make in similar fashion. So large is Roger's impact on Cinema and cinema reviewing that he can set a trend that others will follow for years.
But as a Zen Buddhist I know there is no such thing as a one-sided coin. Every coin has two sides and it is our choice to decide if we only want to focus on one side or the other. Or we can choose to see that both sides are inseparable and part of the same coin. The other side for me was finally being free of the studio system and all its constraints and expectations. Now I had to ask myself, "what kind of movies do I really want to make?" I made a couple of independent films that I liked and was secretly hoping that Roger would like. One of which was a little movie called "The Chosen One." I actually tried to get the film to Mr. Ebert but it never happened. It is a movie about people who are stuck, each in there own way, trying to deal with their father's suicide. It was a personal story as my father had to live with the suicide of his father, the affects of which touched all of us. The last five minutes of that movie I'm more proud of than any picture I have made.
When Mr. Ebert's book, "Your Movie Sucks!" came out I admit to feeling sore about it. You have to build a somewhat thick body armor to survive in show business. But the strange thing was, when I heard Roger was sick I felt terrible and my heart ached. Whatever bad feelings that were leftover melted away and all I remembered was thinking about how much I really admired and loved Roger Ebert and his work and how grateful I felt to him for introducing me to countless films from all over the world that became such an important part of my life and of my work. Some of the best times I had as a kid were watching the films that he thought were great! When Roger and the late Gene Siskel loved or fought over a film, my friends and I would run out to see it and then decide who was right! More times than not we decided it was Roger that was right.
But for me, the most important part of Roger's legacy and the key to his genius was his absolute love of movies. His enthusiasm for film was contagious and his ability to articulate his excitement and his brilliant way of inviting every one of us to be a part of that same joy was truly unique. Roger Ebert never placed himself above us, he treated us as his equals as movie nuts. Even when he hated a picture, as was the case with mine, there was still a joy in dissecting it's faults. However, what separated Roger Ebert from so many in the cottage industry that followed in his wake, was Roger never rooted for a film to fail. And when he became a film's champion there was no bigger ally in the film community. I believe Mr. Ebert was personally responsible for Charlize Theron's Oscar win. Roger's praise for her performance as "one of the greatest acting achievements in motion picture history" made Ms. Theron that years instant Oscar favorite.
And she won by a landslide.
The day I heard Roger was sick, I decided that I would not be the person who thanked or remembered what someone meant to them only after they were gone.
I asked the florist to make the most beautiful arrangement possible and I wrote a note to Roger from a real fan and grateful admirer and I think most importantly for him, a fellow lover of world cinema in all it's varieties. I think I said simply,
"Roger, thank you for sharing your love of cinema with all of us. I hope you are back doing what you love most soon, watching movies from your La-Z-Boy chair! Signed, Rob Schneider, your least favorite movie star."
And I am so very glad I did.
When Roger wrote it about it on his blog I was very touched. Sometimes show business or any business can become impersonal and people can lose sight of what's most important. I think that's the temptation that befalls all of us from time to time.
That's why we love movies so much. Film has the ability to take us outside of ourselves and we have the chance to get a glimpse of humanity in all it's forms. And when the lights come back on we return to our own lives with a new insight that we can add to our own experience. And hopefully a few laughs.
As far as a philosophy of life, Zen Buddhism is not a philosophy or a religion. You have to describe it for what it isn't. Hindu children play a game of dice and learn all about life and the Universe from it. A roll of 4, the best role, is a square which represents perfection. All sides in balance reflecting off each other in harmony. The next best role is a 3 which is a triangle. Two positive sides and one negative side. The third best role is a 2. Two side parallel, one negative and one positive, in essence canceling each other out. The worst role is a 1. One negative line reflecting off nothing. If you add the positives lines and the negative lines it works out to roughly 2/3rds positive and 1/3rd negative. In other words, there's more good in the world than bad, but just enough bad to give good a run for it's money! To make the game of life worth the candle!
If we didn't have bad, we wouldn't know what good was. But it is not an even deal. There is always more good than bad! I like that game a lot.
There is never only light or never only dark. But light-dark and dark light. These shades are the universe's way of challenging us and testing us in this great game of life. Where hopefully we come to realize we are each a part of the whole, and the whole a part of each of us. In the big bang 14.5 billion years ago in some very real way, we were there.
That's pretty cool I think. Maybe someone could make a movie about that.
I think Roger might like that!
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