SXSW 2011: Turkey Bowl

On paper, Kyle P. Smith’s “Turkey Bowl” sounds like the kind of film that the Duplass brothers might have made – a real-time comedy about a group of friends gathering to play their annual game of touch football. It all takes place at a local park in the middle of July (for no apparent reason other than to make a joke about it not being Thanksgiving), with a Butterball turkey as the prize. Despite its promising setup, however, the film never manages to be as funny as it probably could have been in the hands of a more talented, improv-savvy cast. And by choosing to focus more on the game rather than the strained relationships between the longtime friends, Smith makes it difficult for the audience to become invested in the story.

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It doesn’t help that none of the characters are very likeable, particularly Sergio Villarreal as a hot-headed stranger invited to join the game, who acts like such a dick to his gracious hosts that it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have kicked him out in real life. Smith certainly raises a few interesting questions about the vitality of friendship and the primal competitive nature of men, but a lot of the conflict that is born out of that falls flat due to the lack of any background information. We never really know why everyone is acting so uptight, and just when it looks like they’re about to start strangling one another, they suddenly begin high-fiving and joking around again. It doesn’t feel very authentic, and it’s surprising that Smith wouldn’t want to further explore the relationships between his characters considering the movie is only a meager 62 minutes long. It’s the Thanksgiving equivalent of serving a turkey without any stuffing or gravy, especially when your guests were expecting a heaping plateful of both.

  

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Hey, I’m back, sort of, with weekend box office results

I’m still keeping busy and enjoying the tail end of the Los Angeles Film Festival, which wraps in just a couple of hours, but I thought I’d see how quickly I can give you all at least some of this weekend’s genuinely fascinating box office results as gleaned from both Anne Thompson and Nikki Finke.

Toy Story 3

Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Pixar formula — i.e., dollops of laughter and heart (what a concept!) and now a dash of 3-D ticket prices — has once again worked wonders and “Toy Story 3” took on all comers, earning an estimated $59 million for Disney in its second weekend. Meanwhile, it was also a good weekend for the eternal appeal of low humor and, it seems Adam Sandler, at least when accompanied by four other comic known quantities of varying degrees of box office hotness. It was clear that the scatological-joke loving masses were only encouraged by, I’m guessing, entirely correct godawful reviews of Sony’s “Grown-Ups.”

Perhaps also reflecting a dearth of comedy right now, the film actually was a personal box office best — not adjusted for inflation — for Sandler, earning $41 million. Personally, though I like him in actual quality films like the, I think, severely underrated “Funny People” and the brilliant “Punch Drunk Love,” I’ve never gotten the comic appeal of Sandler, going back to his SNL days, and can’t even remember gong through a phase where I found farts inherently hysterical, so I can only throw up my hands here.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in
On the other hand, there is little joy in the five or six buildings the Church of Scientology owns on Hollywood Blvd, as the Tom Cruise (and Cameron Diaz) action comedy vehicle, “Knight and Day” earned an estimated $27.7 million. Not bad, actually, except considering Cruise’s far better past performances back in the day when stars like him could routinely “open” a film and, according to Finke, the budget for the film was either roughly $117 or $107 million, depending on whether you calculate tax breaks. In other words, Cruise’s thetans might take longer to clear.

In other news, I’m happy to say, that things are hopping on the indie scene. The new wartime documentary “Restrepo” and the Duplass Brother’s enjoyable entry into the semi-mainstream, “Cyrus,” are both doing quite well, as are other newish films.

On the other hand, the controversially violent “The Killer Inside Me” appears to be suffering, perhaps, from an older indie audience that might be turned off by the fuss, which some say has been exaggerated to a certain degree and appears to have surprised its skilled, if highly uneven, director Michael Winterbottom. Interesting how an adaptation of a once obscure fifty-eight year old pulp novel can still raise hackles. Also shows that while a perception of too-little blood and guts can harm a horror film, a perception of too much can perhaps harm even a “hard R” thriller/drama. Advice to the suits: know your audience.

As usual, Indiewire has the indie scoop.

  

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Met Them at the Greek — a press day chat with Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Stoller of “Get Him to the Greek”

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If you saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — and I hope you have as its one of the stronger comedies to be made over the last several years — you’ll likely have noticed the strong comic chemistry between British comedy sensation Russell Brand as three-quarters insane, recovering addict rock star Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill (“Superbad“) as a resort waiter and somewhat overly devoted fan of Snow’s. Well, you’re not the only one, and so we have the somewhat slapdash, sometimes brilliant, and ultimately winning new comedy, “Get Him to the Greek,” which once again brings us Brand as Aldous Snow, who, since the events of “Sarah Marshall” has suffered a failed marriage to rocker Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), had a seven-year old son, and removed the “recovering” from his addiction — kind of impressive since “Sarah Marshall” was only two years ago.

Nevertheless, having fallen headlong off the wagon, Snow needs help arriving on-time and semi-cognizant for an important TV appearance, a sound check, and a special comeback performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The task falls to ambitious young record company assistant Aaron Green (Hill, playing a different character than in “Sarah Marshall”), a huge fan of Snow’s in a sweet but rocky relationship with his improbably adorable doctor girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men“). Frequently vomit-stained hijinks ensue as Green and Snow barely survive a number of unfortunate events, including a nearly apocalyptic visit to the set of “The Today Show,” one of the most truly mad Las Vegas sequences in film history, and the kind of freaky three-ways that would make most porn producers blanch. It’s all wrapped up with the sort of good-hearted traditional morality which reminds us that the producer is the Walt Disney of male-centric, R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow.

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SXSW 2010: Cyrus

As perhaps the most recognizable names behind the mumblecore movement, directors Mark and Jay Duplass have earned a small following over the years with festival favorites like “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead.” Their newest film is a minor departure from the genre that put them on the map, but even though it has the backing of a major studio and features an A-list cast, “Cyrus retains the low-budget, independent spirit of their other movies. Mostly unscripted but not quite mumblecore, “Cyrus” may drive some longtime fans away, but this darkly comical look at the human condition is guaranteed to earn the Duplass brothers an entirely new audience.

John C. Reilly stars as John, a freelance editor who’s still getting over the divorce from his first wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), even though it’s been seven years since they separated. Jamie is now engaged to her new boyfriend (Matt Walsh), but she’s remained friends with John over the years and invites him to a party one night in order to meet someone new. John begrudgingly agrees, and though the night doesn’t get off to a great start, he’s eventually approached by Molly (Marisa Tomei), a beautiful single who’s totally out of his league. Nevertheless, the two hit it off immediately and start a romance, but when John worries that Molly is hiding something from him, he follows her back home to find that there’s another man in her life – her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Though Cyrus appears friendly enough at first, John soon realizes that the overly-attached mama’s body will do whatever it takes to break them up and keep Molly all to himself.

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It’s a relationship that could have easily come across as creepy if the material didn’t have such a genuine quality to it. Granted, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hard to swallow at times, but the cast does a pretty good job of not focusing too much on the somewhat taboo nature of their bond by keeping the story flowing – particularly since all the dialogue is improvised. Marisa Tomei is easily the best actor of the bunch, but she’s a little out of her element here, relying mostly on her co-stars to guide her through each scene. John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill, on the other hand, have a real knack for comic improvisation, and it shows in their ability to constantly up the ante. Reilly is solid in his best role in years, delivering a performance that’s both funny and sweet, but it’s Hill’s semi-serious turn as the title character that will likely steal most of the limelight. It’s hardly worth all the fuss (he’s good, but not that good), but it’s still an interesting career move for an actor best known for comedies like “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.”

Even with its marquee talent, “Cyrus” is still very much a Duplass brothers film. Though it’s difficult to gauge how much they actually contributed to the story apart from writing the outline, their fingerprints are all over the final product – particularly the way in which it was shot, as if some of the more intimate moments are being recorded by a third party for some kind of bizarre documentary on Oedipus complex. These dramatic scenes are handled nicely by all involved, but without its dark, comedic undercurrent, “Cyrus” wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable. And if the Duplass brothers can figure out a way to strike this perfect balance between drama and comedy (and to a lesser note, indie and mainstream) in every one of their films, their futures are going to be bright.

  

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Mid-week movie blips and bleeps

Another night under the Klieg lights.

* Nikki Finke is obviously in a nasty mood over it, but Rachel Abramowitz at the L.A. Times has a fairly interesting piece on Angelina Jolie‘s upcoming portrayal of best-selling mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta. Even though this will be character’s first appearance on film, they’ve decided to preboot the character by starting with an new “origins” story for the medical examiner character. (Was she bitten by a radioactive pathologist, perhaps?)

* You may think Sundance has been over for a few weeks now, but Anne Thompson details hows it’s not even close to being so simple as she describes how the indie film world is doing its business. One takeaway point: though indie filmmakers are making the most of new media with VOD and slightly older media with DVD, you still need “robust” theatrical to be in the mix if you’re hoping for significant bucks. (H/t Mr. Ebert’s Amazing Twitter feed.)

* The Coen’s have found the young, female lead to play opposite Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn in their sure-to-be interesting nouveau “True Grit,” and it’s 13 year-old Hailee Steinfeld. Mike Fleming has the scoop.

* Pulp loving writer-director Shane Black of “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is going to be helming a new cinematic take on Doc Savage writes Renn Brown of CHUD, via Variety. Brown admits to not knowing his Doc Savage, but I myself went through a pulp phase and read several of the good doctor’s adventures as a youth. I can tell you that “Scooby Doo” is not really the first thing that comes to mind. He’s really more of a non-superpowered Superman, or a much more clean living and nonviolent James Bond, but with the mental faculties of an Indiana Jones and a touch of Jesus Christ. (He has hangs out with a bunch of somewhat more flawed guys who help him to do his various earth-shattering good deeds. He’s so tough, however, he only needs five of them.) Buckaroo Banzai owes his very existence to Doc. Pretty much the only thing Doc couldn’t do was to get through a day’s work without ripping his shirt into shreds. In the world of pulp heroes, he was definitely the daylight yin to the dark yang of “The Shadow.” The character has foiled filmmakers before, but I think Black may be the man for the job.

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