It’s your Yom Kippur Friday movie news dump

Yom Kippur is the holiday where one abstains from worldly pleasures of all kinds, including eating and drinking, and reflects on spiritual and moral values, atoning for one’s sins, and becoming a better person. In other words, just another day in Hollywood!

*  The big news right now is the bombshell, but not unexpected, admission to the New York Times by Casey Affleck that “I’m Still Here” is a fictional film. Moreover, Affleck still may not have come completely clean because he stated that David Letterman wasn’t in on the truth during the notorious interview with star/co-conspirator Joaquin Phoenix. Via Company Town, we learn that Letterman writer Bill Scheft is comparing what went on to Andy Kaufman stunts and even took credit for one of the lines.

Joaquin Phoenix in A lot of people apparently think that Affleck, perhaps more than Phoenix, has some atoning to do, including Anne Thompson. I guess I can understand her frustration at being manipulated and lied to, but ultimately, it’s only a movie and we in the show biz press have all the credibility of car salesmen. Also it is, after all, a movie. From everything I’ve heard about the film, the far greater sin would have been if it had actually been real.

* Orthodox Jewish-bred Israeli-Brit Sacha Baron Cohen seems to be well on his way to a Shana Tova (good year). He’ll be moving into the world of “serious” acting in a planned biopic about the late multitalented Queen singer/songwriter/pianist Freddie Mercury to be written by the exceedingly busy docu-drama specialist Peter Morgan. I’ve read some ethnic quibbles somewhere (sorry, lost the link) since Mercury’s family hailed from parts of Asia. It seems to me the physical resemblance tells the tale and is no more offensive than the multi-ethnic Asian-Caucasian-Native American Lou Diamond Phillips playing a Mexican-American teen in “Stand and Deliver,” despite having not a drop of Latino blood in his veins. All ethnicities are really ethnic mixes anyhow. I can’t count the number of times I assumed someone was Jewish only to find out they were actually a mix of other groups that just came out looking all Jewy or people who look Latino who are actually Eurasian, etc.

No one seems to know whether Cohen, who can sing a little, will sing his own part. Considering Mercury’s remarkable voice, I wouldn’t complain if they simply used the old recordings. If it was good enough for “The Jolson Story” it’s good enough for this.

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Press Conference for “Schmucks”

For those of us who enjoy contemplating the historical and political currents that run through film history, it’s tempting to look at the latest comedy from director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents,” “Recount”) as a possible reflection of American discomfort at the brutal nature of business and the growing disparities between the wealthy and the increasingly lumpen middle-class. However, when you’re talking about a movie that ends with a confrontation between a good idiot (Steve Carell) who designs amazing dioramas using dead mice and an evil idiot (Zach Galifianakis) with the power of mind control, but only over other idiots, that may be taking things a little seriously.

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Opening this Friday, “Dinner for Schmucks” borrows its premise and some of its plot from Frances Veber’s 1998 “The Dinner Game.” Paul Rudd co-stars as Barry, a rising L.A. executive who finds that entering his company’s upper echelon will mean participating in a competitive Dinner for Winners. All the guests are to bring an extraordinary person who has been unrecognized by society — in other words, a dithering idiot. The winner of the nasty game is the one whose guest is the most amusingly stupid.

Barry is initially appalled by the idea and assures Julie (Stephanie Szostak), his horrified art curator girlfriend, he’ll have nothing to do with it. On the other hand, he needs to pay for his Porsche and his absurdly large apartment at West Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel (in real life, you’d need a billionaire’s wealth to afford that). It’s a choice between being nice and being unemployed and in debt. Then the fates seem to reward him when, driving through a quainted-up version of Westwood Village, he nearly runs over Tim Wagner (Carell), a clueless IRS employee and ultra-naive artist committed to his “mousterpieces.” Wagner, of course, turns out to be a goodhearted type whose attempts to help his new friend backfire in increasingly absurd ways. Fortunately, most of them are funny, particularly thanks to some outstanding and often completely unhinged supporting performances from Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” as an absurdly pretentious and untalented, but hugely successful, artist on the make for Barry’s increasingly angry girlfriend and all other attractive women on the planet.

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“Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t going to electrify cinephiles or become a staple of screenwriting seminars, but a couple of weeks back it had proven itself to be a very effective laugh-getting machine at a West L.A. screening. Therefore, full of a free breakfast, a selection of journos were in a pretty good mood for a morning press conference at the Beverly Hilton with a number of funny and/or talented people, including stars Carell and Rudd, supporting bad guys Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek“) and Ron Livingston (“Office Space“) as well as director Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman, who are about to become directors themselves with the film version of the BBC comedy, “Cruise of the Gods.”

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Weekend box office: “Alice” will be in the zone and out of everyone’s league

Johnny Depp is the Mad HatterYes, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason at all to think any of the four new major releases this weekend will come anywhere remotely near the grosses for the latest tentpole flick from Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and company. That’s because last weekend saw the 3-D “Alice in Wonderland” earn an enormous $116 million, so even a gigantic drop would mean a rather huge second weekend by normal standards. And, as both Anne Thompson and Jolly Carl DiOrio seem to agree, the new competition isn’t incredibly strong.

The leading contender of those, however, appears to be the new movie from director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon, “Green Zone.” The publicity is doing everything it can to remind the audience that both of them worked on the last two Jason Bourne films. However, the film itself is a political thriller — never, I’m sorry to say, the strongest genre commercially. Oh, and it’s about the Iraq war, not a favorite topic of escape-seeking audiences, it appears. Indeed, the only thing worse commercially than a political thriller about an unpopular and still ongoing war is one with mediocre reviews.

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Still, the Bourne connection, Damon’s appeal, and a bit of topicality may be good for something. About $14-16 million says Carl DiOrio, which may not be enough to support the film’s hefty price tag, he warns. Anne Thompson, also has some hints about what went might have gone wrong with the film. (Hint: Except perhaps on documentaries, it’s rarely a good thing when a director has to “find” the story in the editing room. It’s nice to have it in the screenplay, but I’m old fashioned that way.)

Like “Green Zone,” the primary commercial asset of “Remember Me” is its male lead. To a certain segment of the market, Robert Pattinson certainly kicks Damon’s box office keister, even if the “Twilight” pasty-factor is out of this picture. On the other hand, if a single unaccompanied male sees the weepy romantic/emotional drama which also features Emile de Raven and Pierce Brosnan, it’ll be a shock. Pretty much detested by David Medsker, this one didn’t exactly wow the mass of critics either. There’s also the matter of its ending, which has been leaked on the web and many find a kind of insult.

Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve in Under those circumstances, you might expect the seemingly Apatow-esque (but not Apatow-associated) guy-friendly romantic comedy, “She’s Out of My League” to do rather well. Like Apatow’s break-through film, “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” it benefits from a premise, fully explained in the title, that plays to the kind of universal male insecurities that seem to make for commercial comedy gold. Still, though our own David Medsker found the film quite likable, the overall reviews are middling and the level of interest out in the world appears to be low.

So low is the interest in the comedy, in fact, that Carl DiOrio actually expects the abysmally reviewed comedy, “Our Family Wedding,” to make about $3 million more dollars than “League,” even though it’s in nearly thirteen hundred fewer theaters. Featuring actors who I’m sure deserve better, including Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera and Taye Diggs, as well as comedian Carlos Mencia (who absolutely does not deserve better), I’m not sure why people would want to see this. On the other hand, since when am I “people”?

  

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