Miramax movie moment #3

Well, it looks like my heavy schedule is forcing a delay in this week’s weekend box office wrap until after the weekend is actually over. In the meantime, here’s a reminder that the studio which is widely believed near its doom wasn’t just a boys’ club for the likes of guys named Quentin and Kevin. Here’s a marvelous scene from Jane Campion’s “The Piano.”

I’d forgotten how great Holly Hunter and the very young Anna Pacquin were in this one. Harvey Weinstein is legendary for his ability to “work” the Oscars, but it’s hard to see how the two they won weren’t entirely deserved. Time to see it again, when I can.

  

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RIP Miramax

miramax

It’s always a tricky business to declare the death of any company before all the deals are really done, but if it’s final enough for Anne Thompson, I’m loathe to disagree that the studio founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and named after their parents, Mira and Max, is winding up on a financial ash-heap.

The Weinsteins are not just any producers and Miramax was not just any company. For good and for ill — not all their movies were great by any means, a few I even hated (don’t get me started on “Chocolate”)  — they were and are throwbacks to the moguls of the past. They make decisions in a mercurial, seat of the pants way that always seems to generally produce better material than the cool logic of an MBA, which may be safer but rarely produces the kind of movie that really blows anyone’s mind. You don’t produce a “Pulp Fiction” by thinking like a marketing major, you produce it by thinking like a showman.

As I understand it, Disney wanted a certain amount of cash for the 700 or so titles in the company’s library, and they got it from a construction magnate with apparent close ties to the least trusted and most widely disliked person in an industry with a high quotient of untrustworthy and unlikable people. Disney has done a lot of things right over the years and they’ve done a lot of things wrong, I make no claims to being able to really look inside this as a business decision, but this certainly feels wrong. The film studio that launched some of the greatest behind-the camera talents around, including Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne, Jane Campion, Anthony Minghella, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh and even (in the U.S. market) Hiyao Miyazaki, among many others, deserves better.

For more, I definitely suggest you read the Anne Thompson piece I linked to above, and check out her links as well. Wikipedia has a partial and awe-inspiring list of films made and released by the company.

And now, your moment of Miramax.

  

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DGA nominations: no surprises

If you’ve been following the various awards and awards nominations that have been coming out of the past several weeks, there’s a good chance you can guess exactly what the Directors’ Guild nominations are without me even telling you. But just for the sake of latecomers, the casual and those who can’t be bothered, they are:  Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker,” James Cameron for “Avatar,” Lee Daniels for “Precious,” Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air” and Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.” It would be a fairly big surprise if the Oscar’s nominees were a whole lot different.

Gregg Kilday at THR points out that Lee Daniels is the first African-American to be nominated (!!!!) and Kathryn Bigelow is joining the very small club of women to be nominated for the award. However, you can be sure that if she wasn’t nominated, her absence would have been the story, considering how her film has been received up to now. The same might have gone for Daniels, though perhaps to a lesser degree as he has more detractors.

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My hunch is that Bigelow also enjoys a somewhat better better chance to actually win than did such past female nominees as Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Copolla, and, yes, Barbara Streisand, though the competition is mighty stiff. Of course, there’s always some controversy, so now the question is, why leave out first-timer Tom Ford of “A Single Man”? And so, the Playlist asks  a related question: “Too Gay or Too Little Money?”

Fun fact time: This is also the first time, I’m pretty sure, a once-married coupled (Bigelow and James Cameron) have been nominated to oppose each other for the directors’ awards. Of course, once we succeed with overturning Proposition 8, that could get more common even if the DGA remains predominantly a boys’ club.

On a related note: The BAFTAS long list.

  

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Food to defeat flesh at the box office

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

It’s going to be a messy weekend at multiplexes this weekend. Raining food items in 3-D are likely to rule the weekend against a sex-heavy horror comedy with a literally man-eating lead, a food-industry investigation gone badly awry, and the semi-obligatory poorly reviewed rom-com and/or rom-drom.

Redefining the term “splatter” for an all-ages audience is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” The Sony-made entry looks to combine the proven appeal of family-friendly animated comedies, 3-D (and 3-D Imax), and adaptations of popular books to make what THR‘s Carl DiOrio guesses will be roughly $25-30 million. Add to that the film’s fairly stellar critical appeal, with most critics echoing the sunny assessment of our own David Medsker with an 89% Rotten Tomatoes “Fresh” rating, and you get a feature with extremely wide appeal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go well over the $30 million mark. (I should add, however, that the “Top Critics” rating is a considerably more modest, but still good, 71% as of this writing. However, with only seven reviews included, that seems like a less a fair sampling.)

Likely to come in a distant second is the R-rated, youth oriented sexy horror comedy from Fox, “Jennifer’s Body.” Variety doesn’t hazard a guess this week, but THR/DiOrio is saying to expect a gross in the “low-teen millions” and that seems reasonable. Though for whatever sick reason audiences have been turning up their noses even at very strong horror films inflected with humor like “Drag Me to Hell,” this film benefits from the current”Transformers”-based star power of flavor of the month Megan Fox. Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by the ballyhoed Diablo Cody, this mixture of blood, sex, and quips is generating little “Juno“-based critical afterglow and some anti-Cody backlash with a mere 33% “fresh” rating. That’s not so surprising given that a lot of critics already had mixed feelings about former exotic dancer’s sometimes cutesy dialogue in last year’s sleeper hit. Given the cussedness of young audiences lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if this would be the film to overcome the horror-comedy jinx and over-perform by a few million this weekend. I think the youngsters enjoy driving critics mad.

Matt Damon in
And then we have this week’s token major release for discerning grown-ups, “The Informant!“.  A fact-based comedy about a borderline delusional executive who threw a huge monkey wrench into an FBI price-fixing investigation of food giant Archer Daniels Midland, it’s the latest from the very prolific Steven Soderbergh. In the past, the onetime “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” wunderkind has had success with fact based material with the unassuming 2000 box office hit, “Erin Brockovich.” This film is similarly star-driven, though it remains to be seen if a pudged-up Matt Damon wearing a doofy mustache will have the same appeal as Julia Roberts in a push-up bra.

With an okay 67% RT rating, the critical chorus here is marked by notes of disharmony. Sometimes that’s actually the sign of a truly interesting movie, but rarely is it the mark of an instant hit, though the hope is still for a double-digit millions opening weekend and some “legs.” Damon is getting very good reviews for his lead performance, so a Best Actor Oscar nomination is definitely not out of the question, which could help this movie get some kind of second life if it does disappoint this weekend.

Bringing up the rear is “Love Happens,” which has one of those titles that pretty much dares critics to come up with clever and, in this case, potentially scatological, insults. I didn’t see anyone actually take the bait this time, though the film did receive a not unfecal 20% RT rating. Also, there seems to be some genuine disagreement about whether or not this film is really a comedy or more of a soapy drama, which is usually not a good sign. The appeal of Aaron Eckhardt — still an underrated actor — and Jennifer Aniston, not my choice for the actress of her generation, can only do so much. Fortunately for the producers, the film had a low enough budget that even a single digit opening weekend can mean they’ll eventually recoup their money and perhaps make a profit. Maybe.

Finally, as Oscar season approaches, we’re starting to see more limited releases of interest. This one to watch this week is the new film from writer-director Jane Campion of “The Piano.” Featuring Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw, “Bright Star” is a well-reviewed romantic period drama/biopic about poet John Keats and the literal girl next door. Not that it’s a huge category, but I’m betting this will be the big date movie for English majors of 2009. All that, and no naked Harvey Keitel. Yay.

  

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