In theory, the announcement Monday afternoon that Magnolia Pictures acquired rights to the dramatic competition entry "Humpday" should be a cause for celebration for movie lovers. Instead, it's the worst possible scenario for a movie that needed a creative mini-major behind it.
The Lynn Shelton comedy finds Joshua Leonard ("The Blair Witch Project") and Mark Duplass ("The Puffy Chair") as old college buddies who debate whether they should have sex for an art project. Of course, the fact they are straight has made the flick one of the most talked about and well received at the festival.
Magnolia, which is a sister company of Mark Cuban's HDNet, announced that they plan on releasing "Humpday" first on video on demand in July (cough) and then following with a theatrical release in August. They used the same rollout strategy for the Demi Moore and Michael Caine thriller "Flawless" last year. Of course, the dirty little secret on that one was a VOD release requires less marketing and therefore less publicity, which means a movie can come and go without so much as appearing as a blip on its audience's radar. And that's nothing new for Magnolia who appears to be a temporary shipping house for HDNET. "Flawless" received surprisingly excellent reviews and kudos for both actors performances. By going to VOD first, the indie studio severely limited the film's box office potential. Proponents of the VOD strategy say sales spur nationwide word of mouth, but they don't have much of a case with "Flawless" making only $1.2 million in its 65 theater release.
While Shelton and her producers are getting a mid-six figures deal from Magnolia for "Humpday," they are killing any chances of this movie having a theatrical shelf life and becoming the true breakout hit it has the potential to be. With four different buyers supposedly interested, wouldn't it have made more sense to take less upfront for a theatrical release with a better backend? Isn't getting your work to theaters still what it's about in 2009? Is Shelton, who has never had a film generate this much interest, truly excited about the VOD possibilities? Would you be after you've seen multiple audiences embrace your film over a single weekend?
Sadly, this is nothing new. In fact, there are two recent examples of films tragically picking the wrong distributor after great festival debuts, and bizarrely, they were both directed by Jonathan Levine.
In 2006, "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" became a Midnight sensation with the Weinstein's winning a bidding war where they announced intentions to do a major summer campaign. After contractual squabbles over re-cutting the film, which dragged out over months, the Weinsteins dropped the picture and it was acquired by a second company, Senator Entertainment, who still haven't released it.
Last year, eyebrows were raised when Levine's jury favorite "The Wackness" was snagged by Sony Pictures Classics, a company better known for dramas like "Junebug" and Pedro Almodovar movies. A young, hip coming of age story isn't SPC's style, and as I predicted in my MSN column at the time, this was going to end badly. Boy did it. The Sony division couldn't cut a trailer that correctly sold the film, the online efforts were god awful and the publicity efforts were seriously misplaced for a film that needed an intense campaign for moviegoers under 30 to know it was for them. So, a picture that should have at least bagged $8-10 million minimum barely made over $2 million. Here's hoping, six months later, Mr. Levine has stopped banging his head against a wall for making that mistake.
Now, "Humpday," is in the same boat, destined to be an anecdote to the 2009 festival and on the road to becoming just a cult classic.
Prove me wrong Magnolia. I dare you.
Good buddy Marc Malkin over at Eonline reveals that Eliza Dushku, "Buffy the Vampire" favorite and star of Joss Whedon's newest endeavor, "Dollhouse," is co-producing a new movie about the life of acclaimed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Dushku says her producing parters finalized a deal with the late artist's estate this week. Dushku's brother, Nate Dushku, will play Mapplethorpe and the actress told Malkin, "Nate physically has an uncanny resemblance to Robert. Some pictures are really eerie."
Mapplethorpe is most remembered for his homoerotic black and white portraits. Public displays of his work caused a number of first amendment controversies in the 1980s.
Dushku will also serve as an executive producer on "Dollhouse." Now, why she's actually in Park City? Your guess is as good as mine, but the paparazzi aren't complaining.
So, at 10 PM tonight, racing to the "Tyson" dinner party, I had a strange sense of deja vu. The traffic, the crowds, the noise. It felt like Main St. of old. Perhaps my observation from last night was wrong. Maybe the subdued Friday night crowd was a blip on the Festival's radar. Maybe.
Before we get to the midnight revelation, I should give kudos to the classy event 42 West held at the Bon Appetit Supper Club for the well received documentary "Tyson." The former World Champion was in attendance and a packed room of some of the more prominent journalists in town (many online) were in attendance. I was lucky enough to sit across from producer Albert Berger whose resume includes Sundance favorite "Little Miss Sunshine," "Little Children" and "Hamlet 2." He's returned to Park City just to check out new movies (i.e., new talent) but told me he has a few docs in post and two narrative films about to go into production. We waxed for a moment about "Election," one of the first films I worked on while at Paramount and how, sadly, the studio wasn't equipped to properly handle it at the time. Kindly, time has a way of giving a second life to great movies.
The next stop of the night was a packed opening night party for the Queer Lounge. A mainstay of the fest, the annual event space also hosts a number of major premiere parties and panels during the day (and is hardly exclusively gay). While going up to the bar, I saw that it wasn't an open bar (sigh) and tickets were needed for drinks. I asked a gentleman in a grey coat where he got them and he informed me there were available on the other side of the packed room. My reaction must have shown my annoyance, because he sarcastically added, "It's for charity, I know, can you believe it?" After acknowledging the ridiculousness of my reaction, he smiled and grabbed his drinks for his friends. Then it hit me. It was Nick Stahl. Who knew he was even at the festival?
Before we left, I ran into a second acquisition exec who called the one movie I wanted to see, directed by a well known TV comedy actor, one of the worst movies of the festival. We'll find out for sure tomorrow.
Stepping onto Main St. around 12:30, it was clear the early buzz was a mirage. In the past, at this time of night, this joint would still be jumping. 2009's Saturday night? The scene was akin to clearing out after last call.
And yet, while heading home for a good night sleep seemed like an excellent option, my buddies dragged me back to Park City's resident late night joint, the MySpace Party, for the second night in a row. And we'll be honest. It was a hell of a lot of fun and I'm paying for it today. The crowd was much more interesting besides the fact Julianna Margulies (seriously?) and, um, Danny Masterson were there. The DJ was also ten times better than the night before which coerced us into staying way to late. At 3 AM famed Hassidic Jewish rapper Matisyahu started a spirited set. To say my ears are still ringing from his performance, hours later, is an understatement.
Perhaps Sunday night should be low key...yeah, fine chance of that happening.
We thought we were safe, but no...
We thought in these difficult times, the C-listers would skip Sundance this year. We'd be sparred the racing throngs of paparazzi cramming Main St.
We were wrong.
Paris (expletive) Hilton has hit Park City.
(At least she isn't in Washington for the Inauguration right?)
So, things have been so busy in HitFix land (i.e., Sundance) that I've been negligent in getting back to what's really important in life: Oscar!
As you're reading this, the nomination votes are being tabulated and point nervous studio execs and awards season consultants are looking forward to a two-day delay in the announcements thanks to the Presidential Inauguration. Nominees will be announced on Thursday, Jan. 22, bright and early at 8:30 AM EST and the HitFix team will be there breaking it all down (those of us not in Park City it seems). With that in mind, here are my first set of nomination predictions I've already submitted as a participant in Movie City News' Gurus of Gold and The Envelope's Buzzmeter. I'll have more catgory pics in a few days.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
Lowdown: There's a chance either "Milk" or "Frost/Nixon" could get knocked out by "WALL-E" or "The Reader" (really), but it seems unlikely at this point.
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Gus Van Sant, " Milk"
Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Lowdown: Don't be surprised if Woody Allen sneaks in for his work in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," but who gets overlooked in his place remains a question mark.
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Lowdown: Richard Jenkins could bump Pitt for "Buttons," but Pitt is probably overdue for his first nomination (whoops, I mean second nomination) and should be rewarded this time around.
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"
Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You So Long"
Angelina Jolie, "Changling"
Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Lowdown: When I submitted my Gurus picks i went with Cate Blanchett in the final slot, but I think Hawkins may actually sneak in instead. I'm on the island not believing that "Frozen River's" Melissa Leo has a shot.
Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Robert Downey, Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Lowdown: Patel happily gets in on the "Slumdog" bandwagon.
Best Supporting Actress
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Lowdown: The final showdown between Winslet and Cruz begins. At least the Weinsteins will be able to claim one of their movies won an Oscar of some kind this year.
Best Original Screenplay
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Lowdown: I have the well-respected "The Visitor" getting some nomination love here, but "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Rachel Getting Married" are possible for the final slot as well.
Best Adapted Screenplay
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
Lowdown: "Revolutionary Road" has a very slim chance of jumping over "Doubt" for the final nod.
Best Visual Effects
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
""The Dark Knight"
Lowdown: It seems ludicrous that the CG-less "Knight" would make the field, but many voters of this branch are old school practical effects guys. "Knight" is exactly the sort of picture they'd like to reward.
Agree? Disagree? State your case pundits!
Look for part 2 of my stone cold nomination picks early next week.
This town is dead.
O.K., that might be overstating it a bit, but after trekking up and down Main st. last night -- officially the first major party night -- something seemed a bit off. In fact, it felt more like a Monday or Tuesday night at the festival after the traditional weekend crashers have split. The energy was less hectic and, in fact, there were actually fewer events going on than previous years.
Disturbingly for Party City businesses, numerous people I spoke to shared the same story of cab drivers telling them that business was down 30-40% (although city officials are claiming only 8%) and you can see it in the vehicle and foot traffic. I can't remember ever making it to Main St. (where all the major parties, restaurants and b.s. swag suites are) so quickly on the first weekend. Was this what it was like in...1994?
Make no doubt about it, the economy is to blame. When companies like Motorola are announcing 4,000 layoffs, it's understandable why they aren't shelling out mid-six figures to hold a late night networking bash. A publicist told me one unnamed corporate client started E-mailing her from their swag suite that day because they were...bored. On the first day of the fest? Yikes. And of course there is a strange irony in how well the movie business is doing at the moment. But back to the "fun"...
We started off at the Def Jam/"Push" premiere party at House of Hype and, for a moment, it seemed like old times. Nas (has a song in "Tyson"), Robin Thicke (performing later this weekend) and Kelis (no clue) stoled through the tight VIP area and the expected "why are you here?" celebs such as Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Jordana Brewster (skin baby, fix that skin!) were strutting around. And yes, the stars of the fantastic flick, Jay-Z and one of Def Jam's biggest artists, Ms. Mariah Carey, eventually showed up as well, but by then I'd been dragged by friends to...
The MySpace after hours party. And this is the notable difference from only a year ago. Perhaps the crowd got better at say, 3 or 4 AM, but by 1:30, the only notable attendee was Ashton Kutcher and they "said" he was there. I looked around and never spotted him (shoot, where are those happenin' and partying Fox Searchlight publicists?). And while the DJ was spinning like it was a 2001 rave in Amsterdam and that last shot of champagne did the trick, it felt more like a winding down Tuesday night fete than any thing else.
There were two other major parties my gang and I skipped.. "Spring Breakdown" had a pre-Midnight screening party at The Village at the Yard that was said to be fun, but the locale was off the beaten path and inconvenient for those on downtown. The Hollywood Life House, home of many dinner and movie premiere cocktail events this year, held a "7 Fresh Faces in Film" fete headlined by host...Virginia Madsen (soon to be heard as the voice of Hippolyta in the animated "Wonder Woman"!). We were on the list for this one, but we ran into two colleagues coming out who warned us of the cheesy crowd and, well, that was that.
Oh, woe are us attendees. I guess we'll just have to tragically enjoy the movies instead (or hope things get better by Sunday).
Probably the least important aspect of Lee Daniels' fantastic new drama "Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire" was still the biggest elephant in the room at the Racquet Club theater in Park City, Utah last night: Can Mariah Carey show any acting skills whatsoever? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. In a movie filled with unconventional casting, Carey goes plain jane (i.e, absolutely no makeup) as a social worker and has to participate in a number of intense scenes where her fans will be happy to learn she clearly does not embarrass herself. The bigger surprises, however, were provided by Mo'Nique and the film's star, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.
Set in late '80s Harlem, "Push" tells the harrowing story of Precious Jones (Sidibe), a teenager who is living through a private hell of incest and abuse from her family. Precious escapes from her troubles by fantasizing about being a star walking the red carpet, being a supermodel and, um, marrying her math teacher. Her true freedom comes, however, through a special city learning program administrated by a patient teacher (a fine Paula Patton) who sees the positive in her tough luck students.
In her feature film debut, Sidibe is impressive conveying how battered Precious is, but she also shows glimpses of an inner strength the character will need to escape her hellish prison. Time will tell whether the young actress has the range for other roles, but its an auspicious start for sure.
As her domineering mother, Mo'Nique, who has previously only ventured into comedic roles, is absolutely stunning. Most of the film requires her to display utter contempt for Precious, but as the story progresses, she adds a sympathy that is both unexpected and moving. Mo'Nique may not have thought she had a career as a serious actress, but that will completely change after "Push"
With the film not shying away from some truly horrendous events, Daniels provides much needed relief by making Precious' learning program classmates truly memorable characters and their energy and humor contrast with her horribly unpleasant life at home (don't be surprised if a number of catch phrases including "my favorite color is neon beige" become popular among the younger set after the film's release). More impressive is Daniels confident visual style that go beyond his spot on period references in the fantasy sequences. The filmmaker could have easily fallen into the melodramatic cliches of similar stories, but instead its the combination of superb performances, sharp production design and a keen eye that make "Push" so special.
"Push" is an inspiring and powerful film that will put Daniels on the map as one of cinema's emerging talents. Now, all he has to do is figure out how to pull off an equally rewarding encore.
It's been over a decade since Joshua Leonard made a splash along with a number of other unknown actors in "The Blair Witch Project." After the premiere of Lynn Shelton's new film "Humpday" at the Sundance Film Festival today, his career may finally get another big boost.
This buzzed about dramatic competition entry finds Leonard playing Andrew, a wandering jack kerouac-like thirtysomething who late one night shows up at the doorstep of his old college buddy Ben (Mark Duplass of "The Puffy Chair"). It's been years since they have seen each other and while Andrew has been working on art projects in Mexico, Ben has happily married Anna (Alycia Delmore) and settled into a conventional, but seemingly tame, young couple routine (as boring as you can get for Seattle, WA that is...which, um, actually might be boring).
An energetic free spirit, Andrew soon meets a group of area artists and introduces Ben into their open minded lifestyle. Wary at first, Ben spends a whole night drinking and smoking pot with Andrew's new friends. Randomly (or so it seems), the subject turns to Humpfest, an art film festival that seeks to bring the "art back into porn." Wasted, Ben and Andrew concoct that with so much already on the internet, the most daring piece you could come up with is to have two straight guys have sex together -- for art's sake of course.
What follows is a clever and, for some, sexy comedy that will having moviegoers second guessing Andrew, Ben and even Anna's perspective on life and sexuality. Is Andrew bisexual? Is Ben straight but in love with his former best friend? Or are they really two heterosexual men whose competitive machismo has convinced them this is an "art project" and nothing else? On a shoestring budget, Shelton masterfully handles a concept that could have easily become unbelievable, but instead seduces with its character's realistic reactions to the events at hand. And while the ending may not satisfy all, in hindsight it's actually somewhat poignant.
Before I was able to write up this review, I had mentioned to a friend that the film seemed "Apatowesque" to me. It was a scenario Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen could have devised amongst their laundry list of projects.. He asked, "Is that a good or a bad thing?" In this case, without the traditional Hollywood trappings, it's definitely a good thing.
As for Leonard, he and Duplass give fantastically charismatic performances, providing unexpected depth to the characters and no doubt, putting them back on filmmakers' radar.
Lastly, reaction to the film will be interesting to gauge amongst different genders and sexual orientations. While the audience at the Eccles seemed totally into it ("laugh out loud" may be appropriate), it was apparent that women really dug it the most. With the right studio, it could become a nice word-of-mouth hit.
Is there anything left to say about Mike Tyson? After Robin Givens, Desire Washington and the Evander Holyfield bouts, hasn't the train wreck of the former World Champion's life been dissected enough? Director James Toback ("Two Girls and a Guy") didn't think so and if you're a boxing aficionado or too young to remember Tyson's rise and fall first hand this documentary should be a compelling and entertaining portrait.
Told completely firsthand during sessions shot at a Hollywood Hills home, Tyson comes across as more at peace, mature and articulate than this writer can ever remember. He pointedly never apologizes for anything (including the bizarre moment where he bit Holyfield's ear twice in one fight), but certainly doesn't revel in his more controversial moments.
Told in a conventional linear style, Tyson starts off recalling how rough it was growing up in Brooklyn, and more specifically, Brownsville. It was after being pushed through the juvenile corrections system that his talent for fighting was first recognized and eventually put him under the guidance of legendary boxing trainer Cus D'Amato. As someone who lived just north of D'Amato's Catskill, NY boxing academy, I keenly remember the local news introducing the young Tyson and his harrowing story from skid row to possible champion boxer. And while the death of D'Amato has always been a touchstone for the beginning of Tyson's troubles, hearing the former boxer talk about his former mentor is quite moving. Tyson has discussed him in previous interviews, but it appears the depth of this discussion brings out a vulnerable and emotional side he hasn't really shown before. This is certainly one of the more compelling moments in the doc, but unfortunately it takes place very early on.
Consequently, the film's other intriguing portions are much less personal. Toback smartly has Tyson talk about his mental state and analyze himself over footage of a number of key fights. Thankfully, this commentary isn't overdone, but from a historical perspective it brings great insight into the sport and Tyson's place in it.
Beyond that, there are a few interesting anecdotes (Tyson claims he had gonorrhea during his first title fight vs. Trevor Berbick, but didn't want to tell anyone), and the rehashing of his relationship with Robin Givens isn't as fleshed out as it could have been, but with Tyson only 42-years-old, the film ending is somewhat anti-climatic. Is Tyson really going to be able to stay out of the limelight? This project might have made more sense a decade from now when the years had provided even more prospective.
Its also hard to see "Tyson" making it to theaters, but it is, ironically, classy entertaning fare that could find a home on Showtime or HBO. And as mentioned previously, probably a must for all boxing fans or historians.
How time flies. It's hard to believe I'm attending my fifth straight Sundance Film Festival. I'll admit, a bit of the thrill is gone, but I've always been partial to the euphoria of discovering a great movie for the first time in Park City than attending say, Toronto, where you've already been inundated with TV spots and trailers and the surprises come in smaller does (plus, I'll take the cold over the sweaty heat of an Ontario September any day).
My first festival in 2005 started off pretty dramatically. That year found Salt Lake City's airport inundated with fog and my plane had to turn back land in Vegas with no chance of getting to Utah till the next day. Like many, I was desperate not to miss Friday's screenings and met a stranger at a car rental counter and we ended up sharing the 8-hour drive to Park City together. Randomly, my traveling companion turned out to be Dave Kajganich, the screenwriter of the Nicole Kidman thriller "Invasion." You could tell he was pretty excited about the film as it was his first screenplay to go into production. Years later, I felt bad when I saw that the film had little of the political subtly he spoke about in his script. But, it was a great way to see the beautiful Utah landscapes.
Over the years I've been lucky enough to attend the premiere's of "Little Miss Sunshine," "An Inconvenient Truth" and The Squid and the Whale." And I've also sat through a slew of bad movies that could depress any film historian.
There was the great Beastie Boys performance in 2006. The star-filled "Black Snake Moan" and Motorola late night parties last year. The live set by Paul Oakenfold where myself and a buddy seemed to be the only people in Harry O's to realize it was Oakenfold (!). Great one on one interviews with Justin Timberlake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The most bizarre press conference around a fireplace with Catherine Keener and Jennifer Aniston. Sitting with Terrence Howard the day after the premiere of "Hustle & Flow" as his eyes were filled with a glassy realization that his life was never going to be the same.
What will this year bring? Your guess is as good as mine, but Dan, Drew and I are ready to bring you the good, the great and, heaven help us, the ugly.