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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Judd Apatow

Tribeca 2012: Jason Segel’s ‘Five-Year Engagement’ seeks a ring

April 19, 2012 |  6:08 pm

 

Fiveyeareng
Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller conjured up a little box office magic -- or at least some midbudget box-office respectability -- with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.” Can they make it a three-peat with “The Five-Year Engagement,” which opens April 27?

The pair took the first step toward that goal when they world-premiered their new comedy as part of the opening-night ceremonies at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday.

As they did with “Sarah Marshall,” Stoller and Segel (the latter stars, the former directs, they both wrote) again tackle relationship problems from a slightly more adult perspective than do most R-rated comedies, though this time with less frontal nudity.

Tom (Segel) is a chef; Violet (Emily Blunt) is a psychology grad student. They seem to be in love, but life circumstances force them to postpone the wedding. As they move from San Francisco to Ann Arbor, Mich., so she can pursue her degree, they begin to grow apart. As with most movies produced or godfathered by Judd Apatow, jokes about Chewbacca's anatomy sit alongside more honest discussions of relationships.

The issues of 30-ish couples were on the minds of the filmmakers, even if you couldn’t always tell from their comments Wednesday. “Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering,” Stoller said before the premiere, doing his best Henny Youngman.

Many of the hallmarks of “Sarah Marshall” pop up here too: the girl who almost gets away, the bad-idea relationship soon made abundantly clear.  Goofy sidekicks and Elmo-impersonating women are also present, so it’s not as if this is Bergman or Truffaut. Still, the movie can have the real problems of real adults on its mind, particularly in an intense bedroom argument that many afterward agreed was the film’s linchpin.

Of course, that also raises the specter of the box-office tweener -- that is, not enough of a drama  to get the “(500) Days of Summer” crowd but also not enough of a romp to lure the young male Apatowians?

Tribeca has been a launching pad for comedies before, particularly when it comes to Universal, where the production company run by festival co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal have their deal. The last Universal comedy to open Tribeca, the Tina Fey pregnancy pic “Baby Mama,” was in 2008. There’s a kind of commercial reliability to all these films; "Baby Mama" and the two Stoller movies each took in about the same amount, roughly $60 million.

Possibly bolstering expectations here is that Segel’s profile is higher than ever.The film also features Blunt, the rare BAFTA   nominee to appear in a film from the Apatow clan.

The post-screening party, a wedding-themed affair at the twee Museum of Modern Art, was a who’s who of film types -- in addition to De Niro, occupying a center table and holding court, it featured Michelle Williams palling around with some girlfriends and filmmakers such as Jim Sheridan. Measured by star power, the party was a decisive hit. We'll see if that's true of the film.

RELATED:

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Jason Segel's 'Engagement' will open Tribeca Film Festival

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Emily Blunt, Jason Segel and Bill Hader at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images


SXSW 2012: Lena Dunham returns as one of the 'Girls'

March 13, 2012 | 12:17 pm

The cast of "Girls"

Writer-director-performer Lena Dunham is one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the South by Southwest film festival. She first came to Austin, Texas, in 2009 — also the first year for current festival producer Janet Pierson — with the short feature "Creative Nonfiction." Dunham met a number of people who would become key collaborators on her breakthrough film, "Tiny Furniture," which won multiple awards at SXSW in 2010, and she was back in Austin on Monday to premiere the first three episodes of her HBO series "Girls."

The show centers on Dunham's character, two years out of college and recently cut off financially by her parents, struggling to make a go of things in New York City surrounded by a circle of friends. The show has Dunham's signature blend of incisively urbane wit and wince-inducing self-involvement, such as when her character rebuffs her parents with, "I have a dinner thing and then I am busy, trying to become who I am."

Dunham was joined onstage at the Paramount Theatre by the show's executive producers, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner. Moderating the event, Pierson chuckled at a question regarding the inspiration for the show, as Dunham simply pointed to herself.

"I made this film 'Tiny Furniture,' " explained Dunham, "which was about this sort of moment immediately after college that I had experienced as extremely confusing.... Historically I have been interested in the female experience — that's a ridiculous thing to say out loud — but there was stuff that I wanted to continue to explore."

Apatow compared "Girls" to previous projects he has been involved with, the film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and the television show "Freaks and Geeks," both for the way it turned out better than he expected and how the cast — which includes Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky — seems made up of many potential stars. He also acknowledged how much of his previous work is seen as dude-centric.

"I've never been around so many women before," said Apatow of his involvement in the production. "That was a new thing. No bongs, no penises, and they don't really like pornography. It was all very new for me in this collaboration."

"For me it's been low-stress," he added. "I'm like, it's Lena's show."

While it might seem unusual for a film festival to air episodes of a television show, the decision was motivated partly by the desire to continue to showcase Dunham and also as a way to include a medium where many currently find vibrant narrative storytelling.

"That's intentional," said Pierson in a phone interview before the start of the festival. "I think there's a lot of talent working in television, and we've been trying to figure out how to celebrate that kind of great filmmaking even if you're watching it on HBO or Showtime or AMC. It's great entertainment that you see on a screen. We've been trying to figure out for a number of years how to spotlight it, and the program with 'Girls' came together perfectly."

RELATED:

SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas

twitter.com/indiefocus

Photo: Jemima Kirk, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet in "Girls." Credit: HBO.


'Bridesmaids': Maya Rudolph, filmmakers on the art of the improv

November 19, 2011 | 11:45 am

It's a dream come true for a comedic actress when she's asked to come to rehearsal ready to improvise. Maya Rudolph, costar of the summer blockbuster "Bridesmaids," was just the lucky lady who got to play with her close friend Kristen Wiig and a cast of talented comedic friends. The result was the "comic gold" that you get to see in the diner scene when the two pals are rehashing Wiig's character Annie's tragic love life.

In this snippet from the Envelope Screening Series, check out Rudolph discussing the improv process, what director Paul Feig got to work with and how producer Judd Apatow reminds audiences that improv only really works when you've got a strong script to serve as your road map.

RELATED:

'Bridesmaids': How they orchestrated the bridal shop scene

'Bridesmaids' filmmakers: Who says actresses aren't funny?

— Nicole Sperling


'Bridesmaids': Judd Apatow wants an Oscar comedy category

November 18, 2011 |  2:01 pm

According to "Bridesmaids" producer Judd Apatow, a comedy has won at the Oscars only five times in "a zillion years." He might be exaggerating a touch, but his point is apt that comedies are rarely thought of in the same category as the prestige dramas that usually rack up awards from the motion picture academy.

Apatow has a solution. He suggests the kind folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences consider establishing a comedy category in similar fashion to the animation category that began in 2001.

Check out this snippet from our Envelope screening series in which Apatow rants about the lack of respect given to today's Hollywood comedies.

RELATED:

'Bridesmaids': Who says women aren't funny?

'Bridesmaids': How they orchestrated the bridal shop scene

— Nicole Sperling


'Bridesmaids': How they orchestrated the bridal shop scene [video]

November 17, 2011 |  5:42 pm

Your 20s are not an easy decade to navigate when your friends have begun moving on with their lives yet you're left adrift.  "Bridesmaids" co-writer Annie Mumolo used those emotions as the core for her blockbuster comedy, which she co-wrote with the film's star, Kristen Wiig, over several years.

Mumolo and producer Judd Apatow discuss how in serving that emotional turmoil, they felt they needed to orchestrate a big transgression in order to splinter the deep friendship at the core of the film. That event? The now-iconic bridal shop scene.

In this clip from The Envelope Screening Series with the cast of "Bridesmaids," Apatow and Mumolo reveal the various versions of that scene that had been considered -- from an "explosive" ending to a slow slide of disgrace.

RELATED:

'Bridesmaids' filmmakers: Who says women aren't funny?

'The Descendants': George Clooney on the first day of filming

--Nicole Sperling


Around Town: Lena Dunham and Claudia Weill become 'Girlfriends'

October 12, 2011 |  5:23 pm

Girlfriends movie posterA young woman involved in New York City's arts community navigates her way through a complicated web of female friendships and male romantic entanglements, a story told with a sharp eye to comedy and a finger-on-the-pulse feel for contemporary style. While that seems like an adequate enough description of Lena Dunham's recent indie success story "Tiny Furniture," it is in fact also an apt summary of director Claudia Weill's 1978 film "Girlfriends."

On Friday night, the film will screen at the Human Resources art space in L.A.'s Chinatown followed by a conversation between Weill and Dunham.

Starring Melanie Mayron and Anita Skinner with Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest and Eli Wallach, "Girlfriends" won prizes at the Toronto and Locarno film festivals in its day, was nominated for a Golden Globe and was praised by no less an authority than Stanley Kubrick, who in an interview called the film "one of the very rare American films that I would compare with the serious, intelligent, sensitive writing and filmmaking that you find in the best directors in Europe."

"I first saw 'Girlfriends' this past winter at the 92YTrBeCa in NYC. Several friends had alerted me to the film and its parallels to my work and I found it utterly stunning," wrote Dunham in an email. "It felt eerie, in the true sense of the word, how familiar this film was to me even though I had never actually seen it," added Dunham, who has parlayed the acclaim of "Tiny Furniture" into an upcoming HBO television show "Girls," with Judd Apatow as executive producer. "I almost thought, 'Have I see this and been gently ripping it off for the last five years?' Claudia was in-house and I bum-rushed her afterward, basically shouting, 'I feel your feelings!' "

Friday's event is the first film screening put on at Human Resources by organizer Kate Wolf, who heard Dunham was a fan of the film and went from there.

"I was really interested to hear her take on Claudia's movie," said Wolf, "as a fellow independent filmmaker, woman, New Yorker and master of a type of naturalistic comedy that comes from precision and nuance as opposed to satire or raunch."

After "Girlfriends," Weill made 1980's "It's My Turn," starring Jill Clayburgh, Charles Grodin and Michael Douglas. In the years since, Weill has also directed for theater and television and taught at a number of institutions, including USC.

For a young filmmaker like Dunham, Weill's long career can provide something of a road map for the long-term, instructive in how to navigate Hollywood's periodic infatuations with female-focused material.

"Much like the girls in 'Girlfriends,' I'm not quite ready to picture my future," said Dunham of Weill's example, "but she's definitely a comfort and an inspiration."

Friday's screening is free, and seating is first come, first served. High-waisted jeans, whether worn as a retro tribute to the film or in the contemporary style, are entirely optional.

"It still feels very timely in terms of its humor," noted Wolf of the film's surprisingly on-trend look and feel. "As well, its portrayal  of the difficulties and subsequent humiliations that come from growing up and going against a certain social norm — trying to live a life that is both self-truthful and gratifying — is something Claudia captured so well and I think still very relevant."

RELATED:

Movie review: 'Tiny Furniture'

Lena Dunham: The non-slacker

— Mark Olsen

twitter.com/indiefocus

Photo: A 1978 poster for the release of the Warner Bros. movie "Girlfriends."


What tone will Judd Apatow’s 'Knocked Up' spinoff take?

August 8, 2011 |  5:31 pm

Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd in 'Knocked Up.' Credit: Universal Pictures

Few comedies are as shrouded in secrecy as the films of Judd Apatow, who tends not to reveal plot lines or even titles until a movie is deep into production.

Apatow’s latest film –- his fourth as a director –- is no exception. He's shooting the film now in Los Angeles, with Universal planning a release next June. 

What is known: The picture picks up on the characters and  story line of Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s married couple from “Knocked Up” without really being a sequel (it's more of a spinoff; Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl aren’t starring). School and the kids are involved -- Melissa McCarthy has joined the cast as a mom at the school attended by Rudd/Mann's daughters and “Super 8” star Ryan Lee plays McCarthy's son. And the film involves three generations: Albert Brooks plays Rudd’s father.

But there’s no title (it was originally called “This Is Forty” but that’s not likely to stick) and the main drama in their marriage (in "Knocked Up" it was larger identity/autonomy issues) remains elusive.

Yet those wondering if the tone will follow in the path of a “Knocked Up” -- that is, a comedy with occasional serious moments -- or more along the lines of a dramatic comedy like “Funny People” may have some resolution: Brooks tells 24 Frames that he sees the drama and comedy  getting equal weight.

"That’s where Judd’s going as he gets older, melding [drama and comedy],” Brooks said, agreeing when a reporter asks him if it was in the vein of "Funny People." “He’s developing that [balance] more as more things happen to him; he’s kicking that into his work.” (Mann is, of course, Apatow's real-life wife.)

Brooks, who starred in one of the quintessential dramatic comedies in 1987's "Broadcast News," said the balance in the new Apatow movie is often struck within a matter of seconds. “There are quite a few scenes where something very funny comes, and immediately there’s a dramatic moment that’s more ‘Isn’t that what life is?’”

Brooks is poised for a career reinvention with a turn as a ruthless gangster –- think forks in eyeballs --  opposite Ryan Gosling in the upcoming “Drive” (more on that one shortly). But the 64-year-old said this movie may pose an even greater acting challenge for him.

“Here I am playing a father of Paul Rudd, someone who's 40 years old," he quipped. "That's just really weird to me. For me that feels a lot more different than killing someone."

RELATED:

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Comedy: How deep will the R-rated renaissance run?

Judd Apatow on Jim Carrey, the 'Knocked Up' sequel and loving the Real Housewives

--Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd in "Knocked Up." Credit: Universal Pictures


Comedy: How deep will the R-rated renaissance run?

July 11, 2011 | 10:48 am

Bos
There have been very few surprise hits in this year of modest box office and relentless sequels. Topping the short list is "Bridesmaids," which has stormed its way to nearly $160 million in domestic receipts. While not nearly the same sort of phenomenon, "Bad Teacher" has been a sleeper in its own right, garnering $79 million to date. And this weekend, "Horrible Bosses" got off to a solid start, taking in a higher-than-expected $28 million to beat out Kevin James' "Zookeeper" as the weekend's biggest new release.

What these three films have in common is not only that they're comedies but that they also are, of course, bawdy and R-rated.  If "Bosses"  is able to hits the $75-million mark, it will make 2011 the first year ever that at least four R-rated comedies have topped that number (joining "The Hangover: Part 2").

All three of 2011's racy originals, it should be said, were jump-started and greenlighted after "The Hangover" became the most successful R-rated comedy of all time in 2009, and all three are, in a sense, the first fruits of the post-"Hangover" boom.

My colleague Ben Fritz wrote recently about the changing economics for Hollywood comedies. Studios are less willing to greenlight comedies at bigger budgets, he wrote -- a function, in part, of the growing power of the international box office, where American comedies typically don't play as well. But  this globalization may paradoxically be helping R-rated comedies. Movies in this genre are often made for a price and seen as a more niche play so don't need the same kind of worldwide receipts; it's the bigger budget, all-ages comedies that are taking a beating.

There's also an argument to be made that R-rated comedies are where much of the filmmaking talent has now gravitated. From a quality standpoint, "Bridesmaids," "Bad Teacher" and "Bosses" more than hold their own against the high-profile PG-13 comedies of 2011, "Just Go With It" and "Arthur" (although the R-rated comedy camp will have to live with "Hall Pass" and "Your Highness").

But if this trio of summer originals is born of the "The Hangover," what will these movies in turn generate in the next few years? Success tends to attract a crowd, which sometimes means pale knockoffs. "I think the quality will go down for a little while, because studios will be jumping all over these things, and that may just mean going as dirty as possible without actually making it original or comedic," "Horrible Bosses" co-writer Jonathan Goldstein told 24 Frames.

When you look at the history of the genre, he may have a point. The modern R-rated comedy was essentially born in 1978 with National Lampoon's "Animal House." John Landis' frat-house film became the second highest-grossing movie of that year and yielded a fertile period. In the four years that followed, we got a slew of R-rated classics: "Porky's," "Caddyshack," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

But the period proved to be short-lived. Hollywood did turn out "Revenge of the Nerds" in 1984, but the R-rated comedy soon got bogged down in sequels and poor imitations like "Spring Break." The category then went into a lull before being reborn with "American Pie" more than a decade later (and then nearly disappeared again before the Apatow boom of the latter 2000s).

This all may seem like the normal cycle of the movie business, but R-rated comedies tend to move in periods of sharper boom and bust: filmmakers figure out how to break a taboo, then that gets tired, so they need to wait a few years for new taboos, and new ways to break them.

This year has seen new elements, such as the workplace and women, tossed into the mix, and it's given the R-rated comedy a certain freshness. We may yet see a few more movies cleverly riffing off these ideas. (Even before the release, there had already been some discussions of a "Horrible Bosses" sequel, Goldstein said.) And then, like any dirty prank, we may find that it just gets a little  old.

RELATED:

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Studio comedies are a tough sell in Hollywood

Horrible Bosses: The Freaks and Geeks connection

— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Horrible Bosses." Credit: Warner Bros.


'Horrible Bosses': The 'Freaks and Geeks' connection

July 8, 2011 |  5:06 pm

  Geeks
Screenwriter John Francis Daley finds that he elicits a certain reaction when he walks into a Hollywood meeting.

"I don't think anyone associates me with acting until I go into the room, and then their eyes light up and they say, 'Wait, you're that guy from 'Freaks and Geeks,' " Daley recalled over iced tea this week.

"And I roll my eyes," adds his writing partner, Jonathan Goldstein.

Daley is indeed that guy -- the one given a kind of sideways pop-culture immortality as Sam Weir, the likably normal kid at the center of Judd Apatow's misfit TV constellation more than a decade ago.

Daley still acts -- he has a supporting part on the TV procedural "Bones" -- but he has moved beyond fictitious high school to a career as a screenwriter. He slides over the tassel on his cap this weekend, when his first produced script, the R-rated comedy "Horrible Bosses," opens across the country.

Goldstein has his own unusual backstory. A Harvard-educated attorney, he decided a few years into practicing law that he'd had enough of the legal life and moved to Los Angeles to pursue television and film writing. "I always had this comedic sensibility that I didn't knew what to do with, "he said.

Dale It was Goldstein's time at a large New York law firm that actually inspired  "Bosses."  "It was a generally miserable environment," Goldstein said of the job. "There are always people just around the corner who can ruin your day, or your weekend, or your month. It was the kind of thing that felt like it wasn't there to serve the client but someone's own desire for power."

The movie's bosses -- Kevin Spacey's cold, cruel bigwig, Jennifer Aniston's sexually predatory dentist and Colin Farrell's obnoxious, cokehead entrepreneur  -- go deep into abuser territory, prompting three friends (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) to hatch a plan to murder one anothers' employers. The tone veers between absurdist and natural as the three banter, often crudely, and start tentatively down a criminal path.

"This is something of a black comedy, which is a tough thing to pull off. You have to walk the line between the characters being sympathetic but also not chickening out from your premise," Goldstein said. Added Daley: "We need to see someone die at some point."

Daley said he knows Apatow a little from his time on "Freaks and Geeks." And it was the success of Todd Phillips' "The Hangover" that jump-started development on "Horrible Bosses." But with "Bosses," Daley and his partner have the distinction of getting an R-rated comedy made without an assist from the two dominant R-rated comedy mafias run by Apatow and Phillips. ("That's not by choice," Goldstein said dryly.)

Daley, who came to Hollywood with his family from suburban Chicago while still a teenager, met Goldstein working on the short-lived "The Geena Davis Show" 10 years ago. (Goldstein was writing; Daley acting.) They paired up to sell a spec script, and eventually went on to land writing gigs on several high-profile Hollywood projects, including development titles such as a reboot of National Lampoon's "Vacation" and the Steve Carell magician comedy "Burt Wonderstone," as well as "Bosses," which they overhauled from an early draft by a writer named Michael Markowitz.

Many writing duos are contemporaries who met in a school or other social environment. Goldstein, quietly sardonic, and Daley, dorkily effervescent, met professionally across the actor-screenwriter divide. "When we're writing, John sees things a little more as an actor would," Goldstein said. They also have sought to bridge the generational divide -- at 42, Goldstein is 17 years older than Daley.

While some might view Daley's past as something that shadows him uncomfortably -- he is, after all, No. 94 on VH1's "Greatest Teen Stars," which is a little like being popular in Canada -- the former child actor said his life has worked out pretty much as he planned it.

"I always wanted to write at the same time I wanted to act," he said. "There just aren't many 9-year-old screenwriters out there."

RELATED:

Movie review: 'Horrible Bosses'

Photo gallery: 'Horrible Bosses' premiere

Charlie Day is good at playing the fool

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photos: John Francis Daley on "Freaks and Geeks" (top) and last week at the "Horrible Bosses" premiere. Credits: 20th Century Fox; Nina Prommer/EPA


Judd Apatow on Jim Carrey, the 'Knocked Up' sequel and loving 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills'

March 2, 2011 |  9:00 am

Nearly a decade before he became Hollywood’s go-to producer and director for comedies such as “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Judd Apatow cut his teeth as a producer on the dark Jim Carrey vehicle “The Cable Guy,” which is out on Blu-ray this week with 20 minutes of deleted scenes restored. Apatow talked with 24 Frames writer Rebecca Keegan about Carrey's sinister turn, why he's revisiting “Knocked Up” and what his kids learn from reality TV.

  Apatow

"The Cable Guy" took a drubbing from critics when it came out, but it’s gotten a cult status over the years. Were you surprised by the reaction to it at the time?

I thought people would be so excited to see Jim break new ground. I thought the critical response would be really positive and encouraging. It was an odd time, and the movie was stranger and darker and weirder than anyone expected. Some people were thrown that it wasn’t something they were used to. One of the issues has always been, when you see the movie for the first time, you actually think Jim Carrey is going to kill somebody. The second time you get all the jokes, and you’re no longer too nervous to laugh.

Didn’t you meet your wife on the "Cable Guy" set?

 I met Leslie [Mann] for the first time at her audition. On the Blu-ray, we have the audition. It’s actually the first time we ever spoke, but I am speaking in the character of the Cable Guy because I’m reading with her. You can feel her lack of interest. I don’t think she walked out of that room feeling what I felt.

 

You're writing a “Knocked Up” spinoff based on Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd's characters from that film. Why are you revisiting them?

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