A roundtable chat with Topher Grace and Teresa Palmer of “Take Me Home Tonight”

TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT

Usually, I start roundtable interview pieces with a rather large amount of biographical information about whoever’s involved. In the case of Topher Grace, former star of “That 70’s Show” as well as movies like “In Good Company” and “Predators,” I’ve already covered him pretty thoroughly in my one-on-one interview with him over at Bullz-Eye.com. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that as a hands-on executive producer and coauthor of the film’s story, he has a lot riding on the profitability of “Take Me Home Tonight,” a comedy about post-collegiate growing pains in the 1980s. Although I liked the film quite a bit, my review is but one, and to be honest, I appear to be something of an outlier. The good news for actor-producer Grace is that reviews mean next to nothing commercially for youth comedies, and people are laughing in screenings.

As for the striking, Australian-born Teresa Palmer, she’s still something of a newcomer to the American screen, having gotten good notices in the otherwise critically bashed, “I Am Number 4,” as well as Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Bedtime Stories.” She shows every sign of becoming a more familiar face to audiences — and her face is definitely one of the prettier ones you’re likely to see right now.

While one journo tried to use a then-upcoming holiday to pull some personal info out of Palmer and Grace — at more than one point in the past, the pair have been rumored to be dating — the business and pleasure of making a youth oriented comedy was the chief topic during this mass interview from the “Take Me Home Tonight” junket.

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Exclusive Clip — “Cemetery Junction”

It’s annoying but true: in the current blockbuster-driven film climate, an increasing number of films which are clearly worthy of a look are not even getting theatrical releases. You’d think that the directorial debut of the widely acclaimed team behind the original UK version of “The Office” and HBO’s outstanding “Extras,” not to mention “The Ricky Gervais Show,” would at least get a limited arthouse release in the good old U.S.A. The fact that Ricky Gervais has become a well-known figure here as a comic in his own right should help, even if his movies as a writer-actor have so far failed to set our world on fire. If even Gervais’s equally mirth-inducing but less well known professional partner, Stephen Merchant, were to wander into, say, a random Santa Monica or Hollywood-area coffee house, he might well be mobbed.

Nevertheless, the DVD of Gervais and Merchant’s cinematic directorial debut, “Cemetery Junction,” was released yesterday and we have, I’m told, an exclusive clip from the film. As you’ll see, this appears to be a slightly jaundiced coming-of-age comedy-drama in the mold of something like “Diner,” “American Graffiti,” Fellini’s “Il Vitelone,” and innumerable other nostalgic-yet-brittle films made in Britain and all over-the-world.  It stars young Christian Cooke as the requisite dissatisfied local, dividing his time between hanging out with his more complacent mates (Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan), a theoretically dead-end job selling life insurance (hey, that’s what my dad did!), and falling for the boss’s beautiful but engaged daughter (Felicity Jones). Supporting turns are filled by Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Matthew Goode and, of course, Ricky Gervais. He just happens to appear in the rather amusing clip below.

  

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The end-of-week movie news dump vs. the world

It’s been somewhat surprising, even given my own innate skepticism about practically everything, that for the last week or so there’s been very little compelling movie news — really very little that I could bring myself to even mention here. To be honest, I kind of liked that way. Much less time consuming and more fun to just throw trailers and stuff at you guys. The last 24 hours or so, however, have been a very different story.

* I often wonder where George Lucas went wrong in a number of departments. Today he’s King Midas in reverse with actors — who else could actually make Samuel L. Jackson boring? — but he directed the very well acted “American Graffitti.” His first two “Star Wars” movies were imperfect but great, great fun — and he had the great good sense to bring in the best writers available, and a very strong director, for the second one. He insisted on doing the three prequels himself, however, and in my opinion and lots of other people’s, showed how borderline unwatchable a space opera could be.

What went wrong? I don’t know but one thing that did happen to Lucas was the departure of producer Gary Kurtz, he of the Abe Lincoln beard who I honestly haven’t thought about in decades.

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“The Hangover” Needs No Box Office Cure (Updated)

The first sign I received was an e-mail from a friend (more of a civilian than a ravening cinephile like yours truly) raving about the “The Hangover.” After a response from me that I’d already written that the picture seemed like a possible sleeper, he mentioned that he saw it with a healthy sized crowd for a relatively early show, but by the time he exited at about 8:30 or so, the theater staff at the Northern California multiplex was announcing the comedy was sold out for the entire night.

Then, going on my morning blog/pub patrol, I found that Nikki Finke and THR (and I’m sure Variety too, but do you really need a third source for the same info?) are abuzz with reports that the modest, R-rated comedy earned a cool $16.5 million yesterday. It defeated not only “Land of the Lost,” which unsurprisingly ran a mediocre-at-best third in the wake of a lot of negative buzz, but far more surprisingly, the beloved (but perhaps a bit family friendly for a Friday night) “Up.” And it did it with a starless cast of actors, who would ordinarily be in supporting roles in a film like this.

Once upon a time, my friends, even the big studios occasionally lowered their financial risk for slightly off-kilter projects by populating them with relative unknowns. Major ensemble-comedy releases like “American Graffitti,” “M*A*S*H,” or “Animal House” could make superstars, rather than simply relying on already huge names to fill every seat on the very first night. Of course, this was back when movies initially opened in a small number of theaters in large cities, with gradually expanding releases that allowed time for word of mouth to spread. The meant that not every film was expected to be as pre-sold as a Big Mac.

It’s still possible that “Up” will stage a comeback with families hitting the screens today and tomorrow, but “The Hangover” is now a verifiable sleeper hit and concerns that the appearance of Mike Tyson might backfire because of his recent extremely sad family tragedy seem to be more or less baseless. (Eternal interest in gossip notwithstanding, maybe the general audience is a bit less emotionally wrapped up in the personal lives of celebrities than you’d think.)

It’s nice to see that, even in today’s truly hostile and originality-killing marketplace, Pixar isn’t the only place where filmmakers make a star-free killing by simply entertaining an audience. (And folks, if you can’t get in to see “The Hangover” tonight, consider another film that’s a bit of a throwback to a less calculating Hollywood, “Drag Me to Hell.”)

UPDATE: I forgot to add that my friend also mentioned something I’d somehow missed — that the early reaction to “The Hangover” was so strong that Warners was already publicly discussing a sequel even before the release of the film. I think it’s safe to say that there are some very happy agents in Hollywood right now. One thing is certain, “The Hangover II” will be more expensive than the first.

  

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