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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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