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Alan Arkin on Hollywood success: ‘I was miserable pretty much all of the time’ | Film

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Alan Arkin met his guru on a Hollywood film set in 1969. Arkin was the star and John was his stand-in, a lowly factotum, the id to his ego. At the time, Arkin was successful but unsatisfied, looking for meaning, craving some guidance. His encounter with John set him on a path towards enlightenment that continues to this day.

Arkin recently wrote a book, Out of My Mind, about his spiritual journey and the lessons he’s learned. He subheaded it “Not Quite a Memoir” because he worried that people might be expecting a tell-all autobiography, the sort of gossipy trash he’d never write. Damned if he’s going to dish the dirt on Audrey Hepburn, Al Pacino, Johnny Depp and all the others he’s worked with. He’d rather write about meditation, reincarnation and Tibetan Buddhism. He’d rather write about John – at least up to a point.

Arkin as Yossarian in Catch-22.



Hollywood star … Arkin as Yossarian in Catch-22. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

At the age of 86, he can look back on a powerhouse career that has carried him from Broadway to Hollywood, and from Catch 22 to an Oscar-winning role as the heroin-snorting grandad in Little Miss Sunshine. Arkin has always been such an authoritative actor – strong, warm and nuanced. But he insists that his skill was actually born out of weakness. He was a shy, anxious child: acting gave him strength.

“I had this sense that I didn’t exist. My parents were wonderful people in many ways, but they weren’t affectionate. I don’t remember ever being touched by either one. I felt ignored to the point where I didn’t even exist – so acting was my lifeline to not feeling like I was being obliterated. For many years, the only place I felt alive was on stage.”

Arkin was born on the east coast and raised on the west, a Brooklyn scrapper turned California seeker. His father worked as a teacher but lost his job during the Red Scare. The family went hungry and lived under a cloud. That was a terrible period, he recalls. The phony patriotism; the wilful cruelty. It slightly reminds him of today. “But I think it’s worse now. Back then it was just a small segment of the population that was affected at first hand. The rest of them didn’t give a damn. They were into Elvis Presley and Gidget Goes Hawaiian.”

As it happens, Arkin was once a pop sensation himself. Back in 1956 he sang in a folk band and scored a top five hit with The Banana Boat Song. After that, he switched music for theatre, then theatre for cinema – picking up an Oscar nomination for his screen debut as the stranded Soviet submariner in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. By his mid-30s the actor was living the dream, on top of the world. He snorts. “And I was miserable pretty much all of the time.”

He’s happier now, thanks to his meeting with John and the changes it brought. In his book he writes (always charmingly; sometimes convincingly) about past lives and faith healers and the tenets of eastern philosophy. He tells us about John, who he worked with for over 20 years and who became a central figure in his life. John led the way, Arkin gratefully followed. He writes: “My devotion to his teachings became virtually ironclad.”

In the book, Arkin mentions that the pair eventually drifted apart – but he doesn’t go into details or reveal John’s surname. It appears, though, that the actor’s mentor was John Battista (sometimes known as Batiste), a one-time Broadway actor who ran an Agni Yoga ashram in upstate New York. In 1993, Battista was charged with the sexual abuse of three women and a teenage girl whom he had reportedly put in a trance-like state and then molested. The tabloid press dubbed him The Creep Guru.

I ask Arkin if I have this right – if his John was that John – and he sighs. “Oh my God, that was a dark night of the soul if ever there was one. I can’t even begin to tell you what that meant, not just for me but for my family. I could hardly leave my room for about six months. I found myself saying, ‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.’ But I couldn’t work out what was the baby and what was the bathwater.”

Maybe it’s all dirty. Maybe chuck it all out. “Well no,” he says. “Because I was finally able to sort it out. I felt that I had grown so much. So much had borne fruit. Some miraculous things were going on as a direct result of meditation. It saved my life. I couldn’t throw it out. If I threw it out, then suicide would have been the only viable alternative. And for reasons which we’ll go into over a cup of tea one day, I knew that suicide was not the answer. I knew that suicide was not going to solve anything for me or my family or anybody I knew.”

I’ve read that Battista killed himself. “He did, yeah, that’s true,” Arkin says. “But I doggedly went on and I’m glad that I did.”

I can’t help feeling that Out of My Mind would have been a richer, darker book if it had focused more on the shifting relationship between the actor and his stand-in, the star and his shadow. But Arkin is determined to accentuate the positive. It’s part of his philosophy, the path that he’s chosen. The world is full of such storm-clouds, it’s best to limit your exposure. He explains that he and his wife lead a quiet life in California now. They rarely leave the house and avoid discussing politics, or the state of the environment. “I don’t want to live in a state of terror,” he says.

Arkin with Michael Douglas in The Kominsky Method.



Arkin with Michael Douglas in The Kominsky Method. Photograph: Mike Yarish/Netflix

In recent years, Arkin’s had a nice Netflix gig, playing a weathered Hollywood agent in The Kominsky Method. “Yeah, I still have threads that connect me,” he says. “I’m like a horse going down the trail. Acting is so ingrained in my physiognomy and the channels of my brain that I find myself missing aspects of the business. But I don’t need it any more. I should probably get over it.”

The older he gets, he says, the more he has come to appreciate silence and solitude. “Beethoven used to be a heroin injection for me. Jazz, the same. The great novels, the same. I could not conceive of going through a day without reading great literature or listening to great music. Now it’s mostly an assault. Living in silence. Looking at the garden. Having a relationship with trees and flowers and the sky. That’s what’s profound to me now.”

I tell him that it sounds as though he’s preparing for the end. But that’s a crass western notion. It risks missing the point of his book. “There is no end,” Arkin says. “There was no beginning and there is no end. We are all a part of that endless flow.”

Out of My Mind by Alan Arkin is published by Viva Editions.

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.


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Max Winslow and the House of Secrets review – lightweight Wonka-esque movie puzzle | Film

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Targeting the demographic intersection between geeky YA fiction readers, folks interested in psychology that doesn’t go much deeper than an internet quiz, and supermarket puzzle magazine fans, this sci-fi-inflected thriller is moderately satisfying as long as you don’t think about it too much.

In a bland Arkansas suburb that happens to have been the home town of tech billionaire inventor Atticus Virtue (Chad Michael Murray), five very different high-school kids are invited to take part in an exclusive competition at his secluded mansion. The prize is a lifetime supply of chocolate … oh, sorry, no … the prize is the mansion itself – but the Willy Wonka parallels are about as blatant as the nominative determinism of the mysterious benefactor’s surname. Only this time, given Mr Virtue has been detained, the role of maybe-malevolent host-guide is taken by the disembodied voice of the house’s sentient computer, Haven (voiced by Star Trek alumna Marina Sirtis), who sets the kids a series of problems to solve that may be more dangerous than just counting jelly beans.

The title character Max (Sydne Mikelle) is a shy-but-pretty-under-her-flannel-shirts coding champ with daddy issues; she pals up with Connor (Tanner Buchanan), the school star lacrosse player, who turns out to be a more sensitive soul than his jock reputation would suggest. A popular girl obsessed with her online image (Jade Chynoweth), a bully (Emery Kelly) and a gaming addict (Jason Genao) fill out the quintet. Before the night is over, all of them must confront their darkest fears, generated with simple effects and the magic wand that is a screenwriter’s “because tech” justification.

This is hardly profound stuff, although the most creepy and resonant aspect is arguably the plotline revolving around the popular girl who gets stuck in a bathroom staring into a mirror version of herself that’s much nastier than the real thing, a simple cinematic sleight-of-hand that depends entirely on Chynoweth’s skill in projecting bitchy malevolence. A darker, hipper version of this movie might have made her the protagonist and proved more amusing to watch than the simpering leads we have here.


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The Climb review – hilarious true-to-life bromance | Film

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I laughed hysterically during the first scene of The Climb, Michael Angelo Covino’s brilliantly original indie bromance. The setting is France, where two Americans – best friends since childhood – are on a cycling holiday. Mike (played by Covino) is head-to-toe in Lycra, obnoxiously spouting cycling terminology. His out-of-shape friend Kyle (co-writer Kyle Marvin), is trailing behind, puffing and panting. Mike waits for the start of a particularly tough climb to confess he’s been sleeping with Kyle’s fiancee. Kyle: “You’re like a real-life Judas!” Mike: “On the plus side, that makes you Jesus.” At one point, Kyle gets off his bike and carries it, running up the hill in pursuit of Mike. Tragedy and slapstick run through the film and it is very funny.

The Climb charts the ups and downs of Kyle and Mike’s toxic friendship over a dozen years or so – and I can’t think of a film about male friends told with such microscopic attention to detail.

It’s structured in seven chapters. Chapter two takes place at a funeral a few years later – the first time the men have clapped eyes on each other since the bike ride. The tables have turned. Mike is going to seed, drinking too much, disappointed by life – and it becomes apparent that he is a rampant narcissist. Meanwhile, nice-guy Kyle has lost weight and achieved minor success writing advert jingles. If he feels a flush of schadenfreude at seeing how ropey Mike looks, he’s disguising it. The chapter ends with a hilarious graveside altercation involving a shovel.

Co-writers Covino and Rankin are friends and observe their characters beautifully. They don’t ignore the female roles, either. Gayle Rankin is just as memorable as Kyle’s partner, Marissa – like everyone here, she feels like someone you might know. My only disappointment was that I had to watch it at home: I wanted to be in a cinema laughing at the inappropriately funny bits with other people.

The Climb is in cinemas from 23 October.


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Legally Blonde 3 Now Has A Release Date

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In these quarantined times, one delightful thing that’s emerged is movie and TV casts doing Zoom reunions. Legally Blonde is the latest one to get in on that action.

Tonight, Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Jennifer Coolidge, Ali Larter, Holland Taylor and more all got together to talk about the history and magic of Legally Blonde.

“Of all the movies that I’ve made, there is one that comes up more than any other and that is Legally Blonde,” Reese said. “And I think that’s because of Elle Woods. I think she just inspired people to believe in themselves. She just has a true sense of herself and she always wants to see the best in others.”

The film’s star went on to share that the iconic “Bend and Snap” scene was almost a “musical sequence,” but, in that version, it felt kind of “odd” so it ended up becoming what we know and love now.

“People always, always ask me to do the ‘Bend and Snap,'” Reese revealed. “That was a full musical sequence that we ended up cutting out of the movie. It was just so fun, but it felt so odd because it was only one sequence.”

For Reese, making Legally Blonde was her college experience. “This is where I went to college,” she said. “I didn’t finish college but I finished Legally Blonde and we all got together and made this movie together that has inspired so many young people and it’s just such a gift… Every time people come up to me and tell me they love this movie, I give it all to you. I share it all with you all.”

Thankfully, Reese and co. will be giving us all more Legally Blonde in the future. After the cast’s reunion, MGM Studios finally shared the Legally Blonde 3 release date. If only we could now fast forward to May 2022.

Elle Woods is back! Legally Blonde 3 coming May 2022. We rest our case.
#LegallyBlonde3
#ElleWoods
@ReeseW

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