Sometime in the late 2020s, a canny producer will try to revive "The Hunger Games." He will graft on the technology of the moment (a smell-enhancing app for your next-generation Google Glasses, natch) and find a new narrative thread to bring back the duo of Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, now nearing 40 and hankering for their fifth collective Oscar.
Overcome with goodwill about the franchise of their formative years, a handful of thirtysomething moviegoers will rush out to see the "Hunger Games" reboot. But the teenagers that comprise the bulk of the filmgoing audience will be baffled by a franchise that reminds them of their parents and instead flock to a newer phenomenon (a superhero horror comedy starring the prepubescent son of Daniel Radcliffe and Rosie Coker, and costarring Justin Bieber, somehow still pre-pubescent in 2029).
OK, so that's as hard to imagine as, say, Tiger winning another major. Still "Hunger Games" did this weekend what, given the cyclical ways of pop culture, others may well one day do to it. In its third weekend of release, the Jennifer Lawrence film crushed not one but two '90s revivals,"Titanic" and "American Pie." Nirvana, indeed.
Few wallets were hurt in the making of "Titanic 3-D"; conversion costs for the reissue ran about $18 mil and were shouldered by two studios. But with barely $17 million in premium ticket prices collected over the three-day weekend, you wouldn't exactly call the James Cameron re-release popular. especially given how much love we had for it the first time around. (In contrast, a 3-D revival of "Beauty and the Beast," which upon initial release made only a fraction of "Titanic's" original $600 million, actually opened to higher numbers.)
Movies: Past, present and future
Mixing "The Hangover Part II" with the 2001 TIlda Swinton thriller "The Deep End" wouldn't seem like an obvious formula for a movie (or a good way to plan a vacation). But don't tell that to Kieran Darcy-Smith.
The Aussie writer-director of "Wish You Were Here" attempts pretty much that with his new film, which follows a group that returns home to Sydney after a vacation in Southeast Asia where one of them goe missing (and the others carry their share of secrets).
The dramatic thriller was one of several movies that opened the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Thursday night, and as the enthusiastic response at the festival's Library Theater underscored, it may be one of the more commercial pictures ever to kick off this art-house film gathering. (The movie is seeking U.S. distribution; it's hard to imagine a buyer won't take a flyer on it.)
Without giving too much away, it basically unfolds like this: Dave and Alice (Joel Edgerton and Felicity Price, the latter of whom is also Darcy-Smith's real-life wife and screenwriting partner) have an idyllic marriage--two cute kids and a third on the way. Steph (Teresa Palmer) is Alice's pretty and drifter-y younger sister who has begun to date Jeremy (Anthony Starr), a convivial if shady international businessman. All seems well for the foursome when they decide to travel to Cambodia, then embark on a night of drug-fueled partying.
But soon after Dave and Alice return home to their children, it becomes clear to us that Jeremy has disappeared. As he remains missing, the movie delves into how the other three deal with the fallout--"Hangover!" (minus the comedy)--in other words, how much to reveal to the police, and to each other. Before long, the secrets from that night start to tear at Dave and Alice's marriage. Their role as parents becomes trickier too.
Darcy-Smith doles out information in small, tantalizing chunks, mainly by periodically flashing back to the vacation. But it would be a simplification to describe "Wish You Were Here" only in mystery terms. How much each of the characters is morally responsible for what they're inflicting on the others is equally on the filmmakers' minds; Edgerton's Dave, a strong silent type who may know more than he's letting on, is perhaps the most ambiguous.
"What we found delicate," the actor said at a question-and-answer session after the film, "was to not push Dave too far from the audience's empathy, but also to allow us to mistrust him." Indeed, if "The Hangover" comes to mind, so does "The Deep End," another movie in which characters harbor a secret about a crime for the sake of--or is it at great cost to?--their family.
Dramatic thrillers can be tough terrain. Tilt things in a character direction and you lose the suspense; get too caught up in the mystery and you forget about the people. But the filmmakers said they consciously tried to make a movie that worked on both levels.
"I wanted to write a film about Gen-X growing up and having kids and having to deal with the drag of being responsible," Price said at the Q&A.
But, she added, she also was struck by a story from a mutual friend who went on a vacation that ended in similarly murky circumstances. "I was fascinated with what would happen to the other three people," she said.
Then Darcy-Smith, sharing an impulse that film buyers will surely appreciate, added that this didn't mean ignoring the thriller elements. "It's about kicking a ball up in the air and keeping the audience...caring."
Photo: Felicity Price and Teresa Palmer in "Wish You Were Here." Credit: Sundance Film Festival
Cicero and other ancients identified the eyes as the window to the soul. But they probably never spent much time looking at Israeli movie ads.
Driving around this coastal country for a few days this week, I spotted ads for numerous films and, more specifically, their translated titles -- the good, the bad and the wacky. I learned a little about how Hollywood is refracted through a foreign lens, and also got some more insight into this Middle Eastern nation where I once lived.
The idea of a hangover may not be as common here as it is elsewhere, or at least isn't as commonly acknowledged. How else to explain the translation of the title of a Todd Philips-Zach Galiafanakis comedy as "Before the Wedding We Stop in Vegas," a name that explains pretty much everything but the tiger scene?
Apparently the title worked so well that, for the sequel this year, marketers didn't mess with the formula. They named the follow-up "Before the Wedding We Stop in Bangkok." It's a wonder anyone in Israel ever gets married.
International titles for American films are frequently a source of amusement -- China retailed "Boogie Nights" under the name "His Great Device Makes Him Famous" -- but Israel is a unique case because it a) imports so much from Hollywood and b) couldn't be more different from it.
Military service, for instance, is mandatory here, which may be why the name for this year's Aaron Eckhart disaster movie, "Battle: Los Angeles," just didn't cut it; the stakes were too low for a country where so many citizens see action. So it was changed to "World Invasion: Los Angeles Battle." (That, or people in Israel don't especially worry about Los Angeles, or their relatives living in it.)
Beauty pageants, on the other hand, are a less familiar concept. So the distributor releasing "Miss Congeniality" deviated from the theme -- it gave the Sandra Bullock film the curiously generic name of "Some Kind of Policewoman." U.S. studio marketers spend months researching the perfect double entendre. But foreign marketers like to mash it up into something they understand.
Not that fancier wording is necessarily out of bounds. The blandly named and perhaps U.S.-specific "The Town" got a jazzy redo when it traveled to Tel Aviv: the movie, which was promoted with the requisite poster featuring Ben Affleck in a nun mask, was called "Ironic Thief."
It was indeed a catchier title, though it made you wonder about the implications. “Sure, he'll shoot you and steal your money, but don't worry, he's just being ironic.”
A title adjustment can also be prompted by social mores. Some Israelis like to tell you not to get all worked up -- it can be their second favorite pastime, right behind getting all worked up -- which is why "Due Date" here quickly became "Don't Stress, I'm On My Way." It may be the first movie title in history that you can repeat verbatim to the babysitter.
Yet Mediterranean movie marketers can and do improve on the original. They were clearly onto something when they renamed "Horrible Bosses," the Jason Bateman workplace comedy, "How to Be Rid of Your Bosses." Why just complain about a problem when you can solve it?
In the end, a foreign movie title is all about getting fans in seats, and it's this rule that prevails. "Puss in Boots" was fine when he was a character in a larger franchise. But would he stand on his own as the star of a spinoff? Marketers weren't taking any chances -- they renamed the animated film "The Cat From Shrek."
-- Steven Zeitchik in Tel Aviv
Photo: scene from "Before the Wedding We Stop in Vegas," also known as "The Hangover." Credit: Warner Bros.
The raised eyebrows started pretty much the moment the trailer hit the Web.
"The Hangover Part II," Todd Phillips' follow-up to his 2009 smash, wasn't just bringing back the same characters and actors as the R-rated original. It was returning the same structure and plot devices -- good friends lose track of someone from their group during a bachelor-party bender and must then piece together what happened. The pre-release line on "The Hangover" was "It's original and crazy." The pre-release line on "The Hangover 2" was: "Isn't this the same movie I saw two years ago?"
Critics didn't help as the reviews began to roll out: the Rotten Tomatoes score for the new Bradley Cooper-led ensemble comedy was a dismal 36%. (The original notched a respectable 79%.)
And yet when the movie opened this weekend, audiences devoured it. "The Hangover Part II" took in more than $86 million in the Friday-Sunday period alone, the biggest total for any 2-D offering this year. The film's five-day weekend haul of $137 million helped this Memorial Day weekend set an all-time record, downright stunning in a year when most weekends have seen drops over previous years.
Even more remarkable is that the comedy is on pace in the U.S. to outgross the original -- no mean feat when you consider the first film tallied $277 million to become the most lucrative R-rated comedy of all time. How did it manage all of this?
Comedy sequels are a strange bunch. Many of them don't get made in the first place (witness studios pulling the plug this year on new "Anchorman" and "Zoolander" films). And those that do often disappoint, both at the box office and with fans. Some are outright dogs -- hi, "Sex and the City 2." Others just peter out quietly. You can extend movies in genres such as science-fiction and horror with relative ease. Try to continue the funny and you frequently end up with yawns.
But if you start ticking off the successes and failures, a pattern begins to emerge: Those that succeed tend to hew very closely to their originals. Once they start departing from what got them laughs and dollars in the first place, their chances of success dip.
There are exceptions, of course. But the pattern holds up surprisingly often, as a quick look at the comedy sequels that tried to mix up the formula demonstrate. "Evan Almighty," the follow-up to Jim Carrey's God comedy "Bruce Almighty," made some notable switches when it came out in 2007. Gone was the lead actor, for instance, as was the premise of the divine in everyday life, replaced by politics and a biblical flood. The movie's global box office plummeted by $300 million from the original.
Then there was "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," which changed up much of its supporting cast and tweaked its concept from a science-based comedy to a historical one. It, too, grossed considerably less than its predecessor.
When filmmakers make even more radical changes, things can really get gummed up. A few years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen decided to take a different one of his clueless foreigner characters from cable television instead of continuing the antics of "Borat." The resulting film, "Bruno," took in less than half of the "Borat" total. Studio comedies are comfort food, and we generally don't want the same dishes made with new ingredients.
In contrast, the few comedy sequels that have worked in recent years rehashed the same shtick. "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," for instance, came back with an almost identical set of gags in 1999 and vastly outdid its first installment. Ditto for "Meet the Fockers" and "American Pie 2." Few would say filmmakers were doing anything dramatically different with these sequels. But the lack of chance-taking, paradoxically, paid off.
Phillips and the "Hangover" screenwriters have caught some heat for playing it safe. After a major blockbuster, Phillips had the clout to do pretty much whatever he liked with his characters in "The Hangover Part II." Why, after making such a bold movie, would he just try to do the same thing with a new backdrop? But while Phillips may have made a creatively questionable decision, he made a savvy financial move. Comedy sequels have a better shot at the dollars if they stick to what got them there.
If that sounds a little depressing, there is some solace in another fact. Once a movie generates this much money in a second installment, there's usually a third edition not far behind. But audiences tend to punish those movies no matter how safely they play it.
So there might yet be some karmic justice for those not enamored of "The Hangover Part II" -- in 2013.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: "The Hangover Part II." Credit: Warner Bros.
"The Hangover Part II" trailer, which premiered online last week, didn't seem too shocking, but evidently it gave at least a few people pause. Distributor Warner Bros. has requested that movie theaters yank the spot, which had been playing in front of the sci-fi thriller "Source Code," and destroy it.
The MPAA approves trailers before they are placed in front of particular movies. In this case, the trailer for the "Hangover" follow-up -- which, among other scenes, includes a visual gag involving a water bottle and a monkey performing a simulated sex act -- was approved to run only ahead of R-rated movies. It shouldn't have run before "Source Code," which is rated PG-13, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.
There were no known complaints from "Source Code" theatergoers about the trailer.
According to a document received by the blog /Film, a new trailer will appear in front of the R-rated horror film "Scream 4" when that movie opens April 15. While studios routinely release multiple trailers, it's unclear whether Warner Bros. planned to release a new trailer for the "Hangover" sequel so quickly or whether the "Source Code" incident prompted that decision.
The MPAA declined to comment, and a Warner Bros. spokesman did not immediately provide a comment. [Update, 12:37 p.m.: Warner Bros. has issued a statement, saying, "In our haste to meet the placement schedule for this trailer, we failed to properly vet the final version with the MPAA. We acted immediately to correct the mistake and removed the trailer from screens." The trailer preceding "Scream," meanwhile, will be a version of the original trailer instead of a new piece of material.] The Todd Phillips-directed comedy opens May 26.
For the record, 12:50 p.m.: An earlier version of this post referred to a moment in a film trailer involving monkey genitalia; in fact, the trailer makes a joke about a monkey performing a simulated sex act.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: "The Hangover: Part II." Credit: Warner Bros.
Mike Tyson doesn't appear in the trailer for "The Hangover Part II," but his tattoo does, materializing on the face of Ed Helms' Stu. It's one of a number of callbacks to the original movie in the first full trailer, which hit the Web late Thursday.
In Todd Phillips' new installment, the group again raises their glasses in the air before a night of drinking and wakes up the next morning in unfamiliar and messy surroundings. There's an animal lurking about, although this time it's a monkey instead of a tiger. A man goes missing, only this time it's the brother of Stu's fiancee, instead of Justin Bartha's Doug. A mystery is once again pieced together with items found in pockets. And Ken Jeong's Mr. Chow is back, still rhyming and laughing maniacally.
At least the setting is different, as the drunken night brings the group to Bangkok, where they take in some tuk tuk rides and meet the locals.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Twitter.com / ZeitchikLAT
EXCLUSIVE: With "The Hangover" a rare recent comedy blockbuster, it was only a matter of time before we saw the concept -- the raunchy antics of a disparate group -- refit and recast with women.
The upcoming "Bridesmaids" attempts one version of the premise, although in a more familiar matrimonial setting. Now "Desperados" looks to execute the concept in a more "Hangover"-appropriate environment: on an outrageous road trip.
The comedy, about a trio of women on a quixotic mission, is moving forward at Universal (which, incidentally, is also behind "Bridesmaids"). Betty Thomas, the director of "Private Parts" and "Dr. Dolittle," is set to be offered the director's chair and is planning on accepting the job, according to two people who were briefed on the project and were not authorized to speak about it publicly.
Isla Fisher was attached to "Desperados" last year, and the studio is currently seeking two other female leads.
Ellen Rapoport's script, which landed on Hollywood's esteemed Black List two years ago, has the women heading to Mexico to set right a situation that had one of the women leaving a scathing message for a man she actually likes.
Thomas will get behind the camera instead of Wayne McClammy, the filmmaker best known as the director of the Jimmy Kimmel-Matt Damon viral videos, who at one point was in negotiations to direct. Thomas last directed "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" but opted last year not to direct the third movie in the franchise.
Of course, those with a "Hangover" craving won't have to wait long for the male version: Todd Phillips' sequel comes out in May.
Photo: "The Hangover." Credit: Warner Bros.
With studio comedies one of the more inconsistent genres these days (quick, name a great one from the last year), fans could be forgiven for worrying whether "The Hangover Part II" will measure up to the original. After all, with its R-rated outrageousness and mysterio-comedy conceit, Todd Phillips' 2009 film became a pop-cultural sensation and minted a few new stars to boot.
But if moviegoers are a little concerned about the Memorial Day follow-up, they might be interested to know one of the franchise's stars is also anxious. "As we inch closer to release, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't trepidatious," Bradley Cooper told 24 Frames, referring to the sequel's commercial prospects. "The Hangover Part II" will have its work cut out for it as it tries to top, among other things, the $277 million in domestic box office of "The Hangover."
Cooper, who stars in this weekend's "Limitless," did go on to check off the reasons he felt the new movie -- which centers on the group's trip to Thailand for the wedding of Ed Helms' character, Stu -- merited all the accolades showered on the first film, and then some. It wasn't quite a Mark Messier-like guarantee, but he offered more than a few reasons why he thought Phillips and the cast (which also includes Justin Bartha, Zach Galifianakis and Mike Tyson) outdid themselves.
"The script was better than the first one. The scope is larger. [Shooting it] went smoother than it did the first time in terms of letting spontaneous moments happen," Cooper said. "And Bangkok is like Vegas on steroids."
Photo: "The Hangover Part II." Credit: Warner Bros.
Helms, who was first seen on TV for five years on “The Daily Show” and now is part of the ensemble cast of “The Office,” has been in films before –- most memorably as a guy who cowers before his girlfriend in “The Hangover.” But “Cedar Rapids” presents a new set of challenges for the actor, who is known mostly for playing the nice-guy sidekick.
This week at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Helms sat in a faux insurance office that Searchlight had set up on Main Street to replicate the building seen in the movie. Seeming almost as polite and earnest as his character in the movie, the wide-eyed Tim Lippe, Helms insisted he wasn’t worrying about the TV-to-film transition.
“Well, um, I don’t know what is ahead. But as long as I’m excited about what I’m working on, I’m not gonna get too hung up on the format,” the 37-year-old said. “ 'The Office' is in this really exciting transitional phase — it’s kind of awesome.”
The actor was referring, of course, to Steve Carell’s imminent departure from the sitcom. Carell is still filming his final episodes, and Helms on Sunday swore he has yet to discover who will be stepping into the show’s boss role. However, on Wednesday, it was reported that Will Ferrell will help ease the changeover, appearing on the show for four episodes.
Still, Helms was unsure of how the show will “find equilibrium in the long run. Like, who will be the boss? That question has, I think, 100 answers that will probably get explored. It’s basically like one of the biggest story lines in the history of the show, so it will get milked out over a long period of time and there won’t be, like, an easy, simple answer. But there will be a lot of us vying for the position.”
Helms is also a part of another project that many are anticipating: “Hangover Part II,” due out in May. Those hoping “The Hangover” sequel evolves into a full-blown franchise may be disappointed, the actor said, as he believes the second film will be the last in the comedy series.
“I doubt it,” he said, when asked if there would be a third installment. “I don’t think Todd [Phillips, the director] would let that happen.... I would hope that ‘The Hangover’ kind of has a dignified legacy, if that makes any sense.”
Look for more with Helms in the coming weeks.
-- Amy Kaufman in Park City, Utah
Photo: Ed Helms poses with a cutout of himself in Park City. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times.
EXCLUSIVE: If a Las Vegas bachelor party provided a colorful backdrop for the high jinks in "The Hangover," we can only imagine how ably an office holiday party will serve the purpose.
The quartet, who are developing the untitled movie at DreamWorks, plan on looking at one such party that goes horribly awry. It wouldn't be the first time the holidays would be the subject of comedy fodder for Moore and Lucas, who wrote the screwball film "Four Christmases."
The project -- which Scott Stuber, Guymon Cassady and Daniel Rappaport will produce -- not only piles on the filmmaking talent but also provides a nice complement, with the writers excelling in a certain kind of outrageousness and the directors lately showing a flair for the subtle and heartfelt. Speck-Gordon, who direct this weekend's Jennifer Aniston-Jason Bateman parenting dramedy "The Switch," are already picking up heat as the movie generates strong buzz.
Along with "Switch" producers Mandate Pictures, Speck-Gordon are also developing a new movie with a distinctly Southern California feel -- a "Down & Out in Beverly Hills"-style culture-clash film about a Persian family and an American family that live next door to each other. Speck-Gordon are teaming with Nasim Pedrad, the Iranian American "Saturday Night Live" cast member, who will write the script.
The directors are also connected with Moore-Lucas in a number of ways. Bateman, who just starred in their film, will also star in the upcoming "The Change-Up," which Lucas and Moore penned. And they're united in the way Hollywood likes: box-office clout.
With $119 million in domestic box office, "Blades of Glory" is the fourth-highest-grossing sports comedy of all time, according to Box Office Mojo. And "The Hangover"? It's the most successful R-rated comedy of all time. Let the holiday-party outrageousness begin.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: 'The Hangover.' Credit: Warner Bros.
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