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A chat with Joshua Leonard of “Humpday”

Joshua LeonardWhen you’re dealing with the press, what topic could possibly overshadow your new, Indie Spirit award-nominated and generally very well received comedy about two more or less ordinary straight dudes who decide to make a porno of themselves having sex…with each other? Well, “Humpday” star Joshua Leonard has had to deal with one of those “be careful what you wish you” show business situations in that the second film he was in about ten years back was an enormously profitable, zero-budget worldwide hit and horror pop-culture phenomenon – one that happens to be referenced in nearly every review of a certain recent zero-budget DIY horror hit.

Still, as one of the three actors/cum camera people/cum screenwriters who endured a deliberately scary and uncomfortable shoot in “The Blair Witch Project,” Leonard has leveraged his decade old flavor-of-the-month status into a solid career as a working actor with scores of credits ranging from the HBO movie “Live from Baghdad” to recent episodes of the new TV series, “Hung,” also on HBO. He’s also become a director. “Beautiful Losers,” a documentary he co-directed, is just hitting home video after a run on the festival circuit, and he recently completed shooting his dramatic feature debut as a writer-director, “The Lie.”

Still, he’s clearly very proud of his involvement in writer-director Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” alongside costar and previously interviewed fellow film-maker Mark Duplass – now a very close real-life buddy — and happy to have contributed to a new tightly-plotted but improvised movie where there was absolutely no attempt made to convince the world he was dead. His portrayal of Andrew – puppyish Peter Pan, would-be artiste and compulsive traveler/bohemian – remains the extremely funny heart of the film. He’s also, I was happy to find, a really fun guy to talk to. He’s obviously a lot more smarter and 10,000 times more mature than his movie alter-ego, but he’s every bit as easy to hang out with – even on a twenty-minute phone call set up by a publicist.

PH: I don’t always say this, but I really did like “Humpday.” I thought you guys were great.

JL: Thanks, man. What have you hated recently?

PH: [Laughs] I’m a critic, we could blow out entire time talking about that.

JL: [Laughs] That’s what I want to know.

PH: Fortunately, nothing of yours. Okay, so I’m going to ask everyone I talk to on the movie this question….

Just before I saw the movie at the L.A. Film Festival, I had reviewed the DVD for “The Odd Couple.” It was kind of interesting because it was sort of two of the poles of the male bonding thing and of course the whole idea of “bromance” has been  out now. I was just wondering how you thought “Humpday” fit in with all these movies that have been out there on this general topic.

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Harry takes $159.7 million to Gringott’s; Sacha Baron Cohen’s fans disapparate

The “box office gurus” who spoke to Nikki Finke of a $200 million five-day take for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” were, to employ a bit of British understatement, just a bit off. According to all the estimates, the David Yates-helmed picture netted a relatively earthbound but still terrific series-best $159.7 million since its release last Wednesday, with $79.5 million of it earned over the weekend. The film’s international take is said to be extremely good, but no numbers are available as of this writing.

Nikki Finke, however, has people whispering in her ear that it won’t get close to “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” take, and, realizing that the non-humanity driven franchise did break the $200 million mark on its opening five day take (albeit on a long holiday weekend), that seems reasonable enough to me. Let us do as Harry would and mutter a charming British curse under our breath. Still, it’s not a bad time for Warners, owner of DC Comics as well as Bugs and Daffy, et al, once again showing that it knows its way around a character-driven franchise. On the other hand, the semi-serial nature of the Potter films might be largely responsible here for the non-ultra-stratospheric take. Adults and others who’ve never gotten on the Potter bandwagon might be slower than ever to jump on it at this point.

Sacha Baron Cohen WAS BrunoAnd now for something completely differerent:  Based on the news of bad electronic word of mouth and the like — and knowing that the audience for comic male genitalia in a gay context might be limited, to say the least — I certainly expected a dip in the fortunes of “Brüno,” but not the humongous 81% drop that The Hollywood Reporter reports. Sacha Baron Cohen’s semi-reality comedy earned a sad estimated fifth place $2.8 million over the weekend, meaning that it likely won’t beat “Borat” and that Mr. Cohen’s future in more conventionally-made pure-fiction comedies might be somewhat assured — though it would be foolish in the extreme to count the comedian out (though some will, because some enjoy doing that).  Also, once again, my modest prognosticatory powers were proven even more more modest.

Just in case you were wondering, the #2 spot this week was taken by “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” with $17.7 million and “Transformers 2″ hanging in at #3 with $13.8 million, while I still wonder just what the attraction is. But, to paraphrase something someone brilliant once said, both in art and in movies, we are stunned by the choices of others.

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Harry Potter and the ginormous filmgoing hordes (updated)

We’ve got an early and rather light box office preview this week because only one new wide release is coming out. However, it’s already looking to be a doozy. Yes, it’s time for another highly profitable trip to Hogwarts with today’s (actually early as possible this morning’s) release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

Anyhow, word of highly boffo early ticket sales outpacing the midnight opening of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” has proven out. Estimates of the Wednesday morning midnight take are roughly $20 million, says Variety and Nikki Finke. THR‘s Carl DiOrio wrote yesterday of roughly a $140 million five day gross and $100 million weekend. However, perhaps taking the fact that the $20 million figure beats both the Wednesday midnight opening of “The Dark Knight” by $2 million and “Transformers” by $4 million, the diviners reporting to Finke are telling her to expect $175-190 million, but with a $90-$100 million weekend a la DiOrio.

[UPDATE: The midnight gross turned out to be an even more whopping, more record breaking $22.2 million. Nikki Finke is now talking about the possibility of the fantasy flick breaking the $200 million mark in its first five days.]

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Did Twitter kill Brüno?

I was looking forward to seeing “Brüno.” “Borat” was hilarious, and the scenes released by the studio for “Brüno” were funny. Unfortunately, the film fell a little flat. Some scenes were funny, but most were not, and too many of the scenes seemed staged this time around. I just started using Twitter so I sent out a note (I hate the word “Tweet”) about the film. Apparently I wasn’t the only one.

In the old days — like, until yesterday — movie studios judged the success of their big pictures by how much they grossed on the opening weekend. But in the age of Twitter, electronic word-of-mouth is immediate, as early moviegoers tweet their opinions on a film to millions of “followers.” Instant-messaging can make or break a film within 24 hours. Friday is the new weekend.

That appears to be the lesson from the studio estimates issued on July 13 for the weekend box office. Brüno, the Sacha Baron Cohen docu-comedy in which an Austrian fashion journalist shoves his flamboyant gayness in the faces and other body parts of unsuspecting Americans, won the weekend with $30.4 million, a bit above most industry expectations for an R-rated provocation whose star was unknown to the mass audience until his Borat became a surprise hit in 2006, earning more than $260 million at theaters worldwide on an $18 million budget. Yet Brüno’s box-office decline from Friday to Saturday indicates that the film’s brand of outrage was not the sort to please most moviegoers — and that their tut-tutting got around fast. Brüno could be the first movie defeated by the Twitter effect.

Ouch!

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“Maybe I’ve just gone gay all over a sudden!”

With “Brüno” #1 at the U.S. box office, it may be time to mention that probably the first use of the word “gay” in a mainstream American film to denote something other than happiness came from an unlikely source. Director Howard Hawks is best known for films celebrating traditional masculine values, populated by tough, lovable guys and emotionally strong, super sexy women. (My DVD review of “El Dorado” starring John Wayne and Robert Mitchum covers a late example.) Epitome of movie guyness that he was, Hawks nevertheless had no problem playing with sexuality/gender roles just a bit in the 1938 screwball romantic comedy classic, “Bringing Up Baby“.

Fifteen years later, making the iconic Marilyn Monroe musical, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Hawks, who had never made a musical, decided to have famed choreographer Jack Cole direct all the musical sequences. As far as I can tell, he was delighted to let Cole really gay it up in this famed scene featuring the ultra-hot brunette Jane Russell, who was an even bigger sex symbol at the time than Monroe and received top billing. It was a reasonably safe move because, in those very pre-gay liberation days, homosexual innuendo flew right by most audience members. Besides, with Russell around, few straight males of the time were going to notice much of anything else.

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Brüno earns his umlaut

On Friday I wrote the following:

There’s obviously general agreement about the numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this one proved the prognosticators wrong either by making a lot less or a lot more money than expected.

Well, the only person proved wrongish was me. The only surprise was that that there appear to be absolutely no surprises as Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles’s “Brüno” is projected to have made $30.4 million to top the weekend — just slightly exceeding the pre-opening estimates. The slightly bad news for Universal is that the film had a rather large drop off in its second day at the box office. Variety calculates it at 39%, Nikki Finke says 37%. (I can’t check who is right because Variety isn’t giving a complete breakdown of the daily performance, and may be working with slightly different numbers than Ms. Finke. I also suck at math.) In any case, it does show an increase over the “Borat” numbers. Also, this kind of film is a bit cheaper to make than some others, possible lawsuits notwithstanding.

Christian Bale, Public EnemiesNo big surprises further down the rankings either, with “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” breaking the $100 million mark with $28.5 million in its second “frame.” That’s an ice-cool $120.6 million so far for the family flick. If I may copy the Variety house style, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” made an automatic $24 million for a Gigantor-sized $339 domestic total, with THR/Reuters proclaiming it “easily the biggest movie of the year.” (Well, I’m still hoping for a surprise.) and “Public Enemies” knocked over the public to the tune of $14.1 million. Nikki Finke is reporting that competing studios are talking down the star-driven gangster movie’s chances of hitting the $100 million mark.

Critics and the public were, for a change, speaking with one voice and gave a box office D-grade to the week’s second wide release, the high school comedy, “I Love You, Beth Cooper.” The adaptation of a novel by original author Larry Doyle and director Chris Columbus matched its dismal critical performance with a seventh place showing, netting a paltry $5 million despite being in 1,858 theaters.

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Will “Brüno” stimulate hot moviegoer-on-box office action? (Updated)

Okay, so a lot of things have changed in this country with regards to attitudes towards gays, but just how will America deal with the envelope-pushing antics of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest creation? “Brüno” has already offended a few in the gay community, but is also certain to be utterly avoided by America’s sadly larger homophobic community. As far as I’m concerned, just how this obviously risky material will fare is anyone’s guess, since from all accounts “Brüno” is no cuddly “Will and Grace” or “The Birdcage” and really puts its confrontational money where it’s transgressive mouth is, however comically presented. It’s R-rating has been deemed by Roger Ebert and many others as “very, very hard.”

Reviews are positive, more or less, but critics are somewhat divided. Ebert liked it a lot. Owen Glieberman awarded it a fairly rare A-. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, however, was less amused and trotted out a variation of the “queerface” meme some were concerned with a few weeks back. On the other hand, as I’ve discussed at my other blog home in another context, Lane’s statements are often, to be extremely easy on him, ill-informed. Joe Morgenstern, on the other hand, makes his point simply enough: he doesn’t think it’s funny, just kind of gross.

Hollywood Reporter box office prognosticator Carl DiOrio is fairly high on the film regardless, calling about $30 million or more for the Larry Charles directed stunt comedy. Pamela McClintock, his opposite number at Variety is saying it should debut in vicinity of Baron Cohen’s prior out of the box hit, “Borat,” at somewhere near $28.5 million. Apparently, the logic here is that Cohen’s now far greater fame will be canceled out by subject matter/content that some audience members who liked the earlier film may just want to avoid this time around. There’s obviously general agreement about the numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this one proved the prognosticators wrong either by making a lot less or a lot more money than expected.

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What do Brüno and Barack Obama have in common?

If you’re answer is “personality to spare and a winning smile,” I guess the case could be made, but that’s not what I was going for. The thing is, all week both our president and Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest movie alter ego have probably been the two most criticized figures within America’s gay community. Now, if you want to get a bead on all the criticism Mr. Obama has taken for a series of out and out screw ups in regards to his relations with the increasingly powerful political block — all within days of a major fundraiser from LGBT groups — all you need do is google “Obama” and “fierce advocate” and read about 50,000 articles and blog posts/comments on the topic.

As for the Brüno controversy, we’ve got the following:

* Nikki Finke discusses charges that the character, and his upcoming film, amount to “queerface” (as in “blackface”). She’s got an update up, also.

* Anna Robinson at Alternative Film Guide Summarizes just a bit more of the controversy.

* Anne Thompson has a brief defense (and some photos of Brüno in rather brief dress).

* Very cool fellow cinephile blogger and out actressexual Nathaniel R. has an early, secret review from an anonymous source.

* And, from a few weeks back, our own Jeff Giles has the man’s green brand trailer. Probably NSFW, but from what I’m reading, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

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A Time for Quick Hits….

Things have been a bit crazy at Casa Westal, what with this new regular blog gig and attendant mishegas and other projects, plus this afternoon the kind folks at AT&T let my household Internet go bye-bye. (I’m writing this at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf nearest me, because the other guys’ “free” Internet deal sucks beyond all words, even if they’re egg sandwiches are good and I actually like very darkly roasted coffee.)

Nevertheless, there is stuff to tell you.

* I’ve been remiss in failing to mention that Sunday’s Bruno/Slim Shady rectal contretemps has been confirmed as a staged event, via the wondrous and personally very cool Anne Thompson. However, Sacha Baron Cohen has at least on potential serious problem — a lawsuit that is a lot more serious than the “Borat made me look stupid and racist, possibly because I really am stupid and racist” actions that were brought against him before. This time a woman alleges that Baron Cohen’s crew attacked her to get a reaction for the film and that she is disabled as a result. If true, I have to wonder why criminal charges weren’t filed, and as Matthew Belloni comments, the timing (just prior to the release of the “Bruno” movie) is worth noting.

* THR and Variety both have reviews of “Land of the Lost.” Neither cares for it. As for the original series, Variety‘s Brian Lowry refers to it as “campy” and Kirk Honeycutt refers to the show as being “fondly remembered (in some quarters).” Those quarters would belong to our own Ross Ruediger. Read on….

* And one more item from Anne Thompson. Something calling itself the Ultimate Movie Site is in beta. At first blush, I’m not feeling it. It’s definitely ambitious, but also strikes me as a little confusing and unfocused in its lay-out and in precisely what it’s trying to do. And, if something calling itself that doesn’t work for this mega-movie geek, will it work for others? Besides, I thought this was the ultimate movie site….

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The MTV Movie Awards…Bringing People Together

So, just to explain myself real briefly, for the time being you’re going to see the tiny little letters of my name a lot more often ’round these parts, as I’ll be blogging a couple of times a day, every day (or close to it), on movies and such. I’m going to try and keep things short and sweet but my record on those matters is a bit, er, mixed. It’s just very important to me that you know the whole story.

Anyhow, one interesting aspect of this gig is that I’ll be paying attention to things that before might have only gotten a cursory glance from me. Like the MTV Movie Awards.

Not surprisingly, as per Variety, Twilight” won the most awards and High School Musical 3: Senior Year” won stuff as well in the teeny-bopper friendly proceedings, while Andy Samberg and Will Ferrell performed a routine noting the ever increasing filmic phenomenon of movie tough guys who are so cool they refuse to look at explosions. (I haven’t seen the clip, which has already been pulled off YouTube, but that action film cliche goes back at least 13 years to “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn” and continues on into 2007′s “No Country for Old Men” and beyond I’m sure. Personally, I really would like to see Daniel Craig or Russell Crowe as a movie bomber pause to look at an explosion and go, “Wow…that’s so cool; I probably just incinerated a bunch of people, too. Sweet.”)

But none of that is the big news. That would be Sacha Baron Cohen, promoting his upcoming film starring his very, very gay character, Brüno, by doing what he always does — and his target was the rapper most frequently associated with the word “homophobia.” A video is worth a thousand words. (Via Nikki Finke.)

MTV Shows

So, the big question is: Was the event staged and, if so, to what degree? Eminem looked genuinely surprised and angry to me and Nikki Finke’s commenters (those elusive “industry insiders” perhaps?) have theories on how some, but not all of it, might have been spontaneous. He might be an okay actor, but I don’t think his reaction, though somewhat understandable if all is as it appears, does anything for the extremely talented but seriously messed up Shady’s image, so why would he fake that? Also, if a hand-puppet could get him angry, a real Anglo-Israeli’s buttocks and barely covered private parts should really do the trick. Via MTV, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, has already weighed in. (“I sat on Eminem’s face long before Brüno ever did.”) Any other thoughts?

Somewhat more “real” movie news coming later today.

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