FUNNY PEOPLE NO LAUGHING MATTER
Monday actuals (including Sunday’s real box office and not just estimates) show that Funny People directed by Judd Apatow and starring Adam Sandler made just $22.6 million its opening weekend. The studio all along tried to lower expectations by predicting an opening weekend of $25 million. But the pic couldn’t even get there.
The reason is clear: Moviegoers puzzled whether this was a comedy or dramedy (more the latter), and then had to sit through a movie that went on and on.
I heard that Universal execs wanted Apatow to shorten the two-hour, 25-minute movie — especially the last half-hour starring his wife, Leslie Mann. But an Apatow insider told me that, “Despite what anyone at Universal is saying now — trying to cover their asses — I can 100 percent assure you: Universal execs never begged or pleaded with Judd to shorten his movie. Not one of them would have had the balls to. They never would have done anything to piss Judd off . . Better or worse, it was Judd’s show and he delivered to them the movie he wanted and they smiled and said ‘Thank you.’ ”
But get this: Apatow’s rough cut of Funny People was three hours, 45 minutes long, so he shortened it. But Judd has made so much money for so many studios — and especially Universal — as a writer, director and producer that he’s earned the right to take more creative license than to just make another big commercial hit that the suits would have liked better. (Indeed, top critics gave the film only 47 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.) No matter: Apatow will direct his next three films at Universal.
NY TIMES' INEXPLICABLE NORA EPHRON COVERAGE
Everyone in Hollywood is talking about how The New York Times at last count had published 15 mentions, articles and magazine stories about Nora Ephron and her upcoming Julie & Julia foodie film.
I recall that, when critics savaged Ephron’s last directorial effort, Bewitched, Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal told journalists that “the media hate Nora.”
As if. I wish The Hurt Locker was receiving this much attention.
In the weeks preceding the release of Ephron’s new film about Julia Child, there has been a continuous parade of NYT articles about the movie, the director and the movie’s subject.
On Sunday, August 2, alone, the paper published a front-page article on television reality cooking shows, gave the front of the Arts & Leisure section to Ephron’s depictions of happy marriages in her movies, gave the front of The New York Times Magazine to an article on Julia Child’s influence on American cooking, and published a Maureen Dowd interview with Ephron on the Op-Ed page. Last week the paper ran an article about the movie’s food stylist, and published an Ephron recipe in The New York Times Magazine.
As one of my readers notes, “Okay, she’s a hometown girl. But let’s face it: Nora Ephron directs pathetic, little romantic comedies that are successful at the box office about one-third of the time. Her last movie, Bewitched, was exceptionally bad. You wouldn’t think any newspaper would devote any coverage to anyone guilty of that atrocity. Does she really deserve all this coverage?
“Last year, Steven Soderbergh released a two-part, four-hour-plus epic about the military life of Che Guevara. Apart from reviewing the films, The New York Times published [very few] articles about the work, the director, or the films’ subjects. While the Times published six articles about Nora Ephron in the space of a single week, including a fucking recipe for meat loaf.”
It sure looked as if the NYT’s coverage was bought and paid for by Sony Pictures’ PR machine. Or was it?
Ephron was on The New York Times payroll from 2006-2008 as a contributing columnist — but was not identified as such in any of the Julia articles. The paper’s TV critic, Alessandra Stanley, threw Ephron and the movie a promotional party. Food critic Frank Bruni has a cameo in the movie. Freelance Times food writer (and former staffer) Amanda Hesser has a speaking role. And there are high expectations for the film’s Times review, considering that Culture Editor Sam Sifton (whose department overseas the movie critics) wrote an article about cooking for Ephron.
BASTERDS COMES ON TRACKING VERY STRONG
Since its much-criticized debut at the Cannes Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds has been Hollywood’s obsession. Will it succeed or will it tank? That’s what everyone wants to know.
Well, The Weinstein Company/Universal pic came on tracking and it’s getting 50s in “definite interest” from men. In fact, the only competing movie tracking higher with young guys right now is G.I. Joe, another much-maligned pic whose score with males is in the 90s (just to give you a relative comparison).
Now for the bad news: Since most marketing gurus say “unaided awareness” is a more important data point (that’s when you tell the pollster that you are aware of a certain film coming out without being given the title), Basterds’ is very low.
Meanwhile, I’ve confirmed that InglouriousBasterds, to be released on August 21, is still the same length it was when it screened disastrously at Cannes. (Well, technically, it’s one minute longer now.) This was also confirmed when Basterds was shown as the closing film at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival.
One of the stars, Eli Roth, presented the film and addressed the various rumors about Tarantino’s edit, saying that Quentin had re-cut the version shown at Cannes. But during the six weeks, he’d also added various scenes.
FAN SHIT-STORM OVER ECLIPSE RECAST
Well, well, well ... Summit Entertainment thought it could get one over on the Twilight fans. After all, one red-headed actress is interchangeable with another, right?
But the studio’s gambit failed when Rachelle Lefevre, who was recast after starring in the franchise’s first two films, enlisted fan support against Summit when the studio hired Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter) for the role ... ouch!
Here’s the problem: Once a studio lets the fans into the filmmaking process, it’s impossible to keep them out.
The studio has courted the Twilight fans ever since Summit saw 1,500 Twilight-ers lined up to meet Stephenie Meyer at a book-signing in Pasadena. It’s why Summit made the vampire romance into a movie when Paramount passed. It’s why the first film in what was to become the studio’s uber-valuable franchise succeeded.
But then things got hinky. When I broke the news that director Catherine Hardwicke was being replaced on the sequel, New Moon, fans were in an uproar. Eventually, they calmed down — but only because new pick Chris Weitz began talking directly to the Twilighters. And kept talking, ad nauseum. Few directors do that. Either they’re too arrogant to care, or they don’t want pander (which it is). But now Summit is stuck with a bunch of buttinskis who feel as if they have ownership in the franchise. They expect to be consulted about every decision.
There had been talk about recasting Taylor Lautner for New Moon because the part was brawnier and, by comparison, the actor was a pip-squeak. (He plays a 7-foot-tall werewolf.) But the fans rebelled. So, helped by a growth spurt and intensive training, Lautner held on to the role.
Now, like Hardwicke’s replacement, Lefevre’s ouster is a fait accompli without any fan input. And with the actress pushing back about being pushed out, it’s a PR nightmare for the studio.