A Party for Green Book — The Best Movie of the Year

It’s very rare that I go back and write again about a movie I’ve already reviewed on various radio and TV stations. Yet it bummed me out to see that Green Book isn’t doing much at the box office, when it’s the best movie of the year. And I’m saying that as someone that’s seen every movie that’s come out this year (even some of the artsy ones that aren’t out yet but getting Oscar buzz). My friends all loved A Star is Born and Crazy Rich Asians. Both of those were okay. My friends all loved Bohemian Rhapsody. Well, great songs and a great performance by Rami Malek — don’t necessarily make a great movie.

I’m going to tell you how great a movie Green Book is. Each year, the studios have various luncheons and dinners, where some of us lucky critics are invited to join the cast and crew. Nothing like enjoying free food and drink while hobnobbing with the biggest stars in Hollywood. I never go to these. I can name on one hand, the amount of times I’ve driven up to L.A. just to meet someone I admired. Once it was Paul McCartney. The other time it was Patti Smith, who was doing a concert at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip. It’s just a coincidence that yesterday when I decided to make the trip up there, it was also on Sunset. And who would make me want to drive in 3 hours of traffic? The cast of Green Book. Now, it took some convincing of the wife, who already had a meeting with one of her clients and other work to get done…but off we went, heading to the Sunset Tower Hotel.

We got there with 15 minutes to spare, so as we lounged in the Tower Bar, the concierge was asking us about the event. He said, “Oh wow. I wanted to see Green Book, but when my girlfriend and I got to the theatre, we ended up seeing ‘Beautiful Boy’.” I replied, “An okay movie.  All these movies you’ve been hearing about are merely okay. Green Book…is great. Go see it.” He replied, “Oh yeah, I will. I still want to.”

As we walked into the event, we were handed a glass of wine. We walked over to the terrace area, that had a breathtaking view of the City of Lights.

The wait staff walked around with delicious appetizers. Now, at this point in the story, my mom would be hounding me about all the details on the food. Yes, it was all delicious, but I want to spend this time praising Green Book, and the cast of the film.

As we were walking over to grab a table, I said “Hey…there’s the guy that played Oleg, the cello player.”

My wife, making a joke based on something in the movie, said to him, “So we have to know…are you German or Russian?”

Actor Dimiter Marinov smiled and said, “Actually, neither. I’m Bulgarian.”

As we talked about how great he was in the movie and how much we loved it, I mentioned that we drove all the way from San Diego. He excitedly said, “I live in Carlsbad!”

He’s lived here for decades, and told us he’s done shows at the Old Globe, North County Repertory, and San Diego Repertory Theatre, including their production of the Tracy Letts play Superior Donuts.

He said, “Everyone tells me I should move to L.A. for the work, but I always say ‘Nope’. There are so many wonderful things in Carlsbad and San Diego.”

I asked him if he had to learn how to play cello for his role and he said, “Yes, and in only five days. I’m a classically trained violinist.”

I went to the bar to get another glass of wine and my wife said, “I think that’s Nick Vallelonga at the bar.”

He’s the guy that co-wrote this story, based on his father’s experience. My wife congratulated him on a great script and he thanked her. I said, “I’m one of those cynical critics, that people think hate every movie. I saw the commercials for this and cringed. I thought it would be another Driving Miss Daisy. I was surprised that I loved it.”

He laughed and said, “I was working on this story when I was 15, and then Driving Miss Daisy came out. I immediately thought…oh no, everyone is going to say my story is like theirs. But this is my dad’s story and it really happened. So I just kept plugging away.”

I told him I was glad he did.

My wife and I grabbed some food and sat down. She was enjoying a lamb chop, and I was eating some beef and mac and cheese. Then I saw Peter Farrelly walk in. I told my wife we had to go over and tell him what a masterpiece he created. Since I made my wife watch his movie Dumb and Dumber a year ago (after finding out she had never seen it), I told her not to mention that she didn’t care for it. She said, “Why would I say that? I should be the one telling you, not to say anything inappropriate.”

I asked what would be deemed “inappropriate” and she said, “Telling him things you didn’t like about any of his movies. You always do that!”

I loved this movie, so I figured that wouldn’t be a problem. But of course, I couldn’t control myself. After telling him how I voted Green Book the best of the year, and my wife saying, “He never gives anything 5 stars, and he gave your movie 5 stars,” he jokingly said, “Thank you. Can we spend the weekend together?” I smiled and said, “When ‘Hell or High Water’ came out, it was my favorite movie of the year. And everyone gave me crap because I only gave it 4 stars out of 5, but…it was still flawed in a lot of places. Your movie is flawless. It’s brilliantly conceived in every possible way.”

He then said, “I have to give you a hug. Thank you so much.” And as we hugged I said, “There was only one flaw in your movie.”

He said, “Really? What?”

I started to tell him about an edit in one scene and he said, “Oh man, I know! I didn’t realize that at first, but when I watched it the first time, I noticed that. And every time I’ve seen it, I cringe when that scene comes up. I just want that scene to end quickly and move on.”

Farrelly then was asked to take a picture with Mahershala Ali, who had just walked in. He told me not to go anywhere, because he wanted to talk more about that. So, the photo was snapped, with my wife worrying “I hope it doesn’t look like I’m photo-bombing Mahershala Ali.”

Farrelly  quickly came back over and said, “You’re the only one that’s brought that scene up to me, and I totally agree with you.”

I said that nobody would notice it, and he added, “Yeah, well…those characters are talking about the few months they have off, so I hope it’s clear what’s happening at that point.”

I assured him it was clear, and nobody will notice it. I also told him I made a mistake in putting my voting and ballots in with the Critics’ Choice awards. I said I put Green Book in the “best adapted screenplay” because I thought Nick had written the book that was turned into a movie. I said, “I need to have them switch it, so it’s in the “best original screenplay.” He smiled and said, “Yes, change that. Let’s do it right away.” He pulled out his phone and said, “Here, we can call them right now!”

We both laughed. I then thanked him again for a great movie before moving on. One of the things I do when I’m at an event where other actors or famous people are, is break away so others can talk to them. At one film festival I was at, a critic was hounding Warren Beatty and it was hard for anybody else to talk to him. You could also tell by the look on Beatty’s face, that he was a bit bored. Things like that made me realize…I can say a few things, thank them, and move along so others get their moment with these folks.

That’s why when we went to talk to Ali, who won the Oscar for Moonlight (which wasn’t half as good as Green Book is), we decided we’d just ask him one question. My wife loved the scene in which their Cadillac breaks down. Viggo Mortensen is fixing it, and Ali gets out of the back seat, as African-American sharecroppers notice them. They stop working, with eyes transfixed on this well-dressed man that’s standing there while the white guy fixes the car. She asked him if the point of that was for Dr. Shirley to show these guys that anything is possible in life. He smiled and said, “Well…I think it was just hot in the car and he wanted to get out and stretch his legs.”

I laughed, and he went on to explain why Shirley went to tour these cities in the Deep South. We thanked him for a terrific performance, which is Oscar-worthy, and moved on.

I saw actor Joe Cortese and went up to him and said, “Hey…I’ve got a question for you. Did they let you keep the hat from the movie?”

It’s a scene where a mobster is freaking out, threatening to burn the Copa down if he doesn’t get his hat back. He grabbed my arm and said, “I have a story about that hat! We shot that scene, and wrapped at around 2 a.m. I go back to the hotel and I’m sleeping, and at 6 a.m. I get a knock on the door. I open it up, and Viggo, Peter, and the guys are all there. They have the hat. They said ‘What’s right is right. This is your hat.’ And they gave it to me.”

I thought he was in the movie American History X (Edward Norton), but wasn’t positive (he was). So I didn’t bring that up. He brought up one of his movies, though. After we were talking for a few minutes he said, “What are you doing later tonight?”

Now, the few other times I’ve heard this phrase from famous people…included Connie Stevens, Macy Gray, and Joe Walsh…it always meant fun was in store. My eyes lit up, thinking we were going to go to an after-party in the Hollywood Hills or something. He said, “You know Quentin Tarantino’s movie theatre, the Beverly Cinema? It’s showing my first movie, The Death Collector at 9:30. It’s one of Tarantino’s favorite films.”

I said, “I think Tarantino likes everything from the ‘70s. Who else is in it?”

“Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, and me.”

As I was debating whether or not to go, I realize the guy standing next to Cortese is Sebastian Maniscalco. Now, this is going to sound embarrassing but…I was more excited to see him than when McCartney walked into the room at the event I was at years ago. I wanted to scream out his name in excitement, but I thought I would butcher his last name. So instead, sounding like a complete idiot, I merely said “You’re that loud comedian! We love you. I mentioned in my review how great it was to see you in the film.”

He thanked me, and my wife said, “We saw you perform in Del Mar on the 4th of July.” He said, “Really, wow!”

I told him I also saw him perform in Chula Vista. I said, “I had never seen you live before. You started out loud, and I thought…every time I see a loud comedian, they’re never funny, just yelling and loud. You’re actually funny.”

I realized…I am continuing on this path about him being loud. I think he’s one of the top five stand-ups working today, and all I keep talking about is how loud he is. So, as my wife was telling him about a bit he does that she loved (it involved how in the old days you were excited when the doorbell rang, because it could be someone showing up, there might be apple pie and treats; now when you hear the doorbell, everyone gets nervous, thinking they’re going to be murdered, and talking about places to hide). As she’s telling him how much she loves that, I thought of something to say to try and redeem myself from the “loud” comments. I said, “In the movie The House [Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler], you have that great scene where you’re doing stand-up in one of the rooms in the house. It was great seeing you in that, but I wondered…did they use you because of the scene they originally had with Mariah Carey?”

I looked at my wife and explained, “Mariah got fired from the movie for being a diva, and they had a scene where the house that’s turned into a casino, was going to have her performing in one of the rooms.”

Maniscalco said, “Ya know, I don’t know. Maybe. I was just called to do that scene and never really thought about it.”

As desserts were brought around, and I scarfed down 3 chocolate chip cookies (which surprisingly pair nicely with red wine), I gave my wife a hard time for interpreting that scene differently than Ali did. I then said, “Well, nobody says he’s right, just because he played that part. He’s an actor. We should talk to one of the writers.”

I saw Farrelly engaged in conversation, and we walked over to him. We hung back about 20 feet, as he seemed to be enjoying the conversations he was having with a few of the other actors from the movie. At one point, they took photos with him.

We continued to eat chocolate chip cookies, and watch as Farrelly talked with various people. After 15 minutes, and hours after this incredible reception first started, we figured we’d take the two hour drive back home. I assured my wife that she was probably right and Ali was wrong.

And during our wait for the valet to get the car, the concierge we met when we first showed up, came over. He asked how the evening was, and offered to get us some bottled waters if we wanted. I told him we were fine, and he asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

I smiled and said, “Yeah, go see Green Book.”

As I got into our car he yelled, “I will. I promise.”