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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Todd Phillips

'The Hangover,' 'Puss in Boots': Hollywood gets Israeli makeover

December 16, 2011 |  7:00 am

Hangover1
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."

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-- Steven Zeitchik in Tel Aviv

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: scene from "Before the Wedding We Stop in Vegas," also known as "The Hangover." Credit: Warner Bros.


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.

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— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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


Did a lack of originality help 'The Hangover Part II' this weekend?

May 30, 2011 |  1:00 pm

Hangov
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.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "The Hangover Part II." Credit: Warner Bros.

 


Bradley Cooper: I'm worried about the 'Hangover' sequel too

March 15, 2011 |  8:31 pm

Hangov
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."

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Photo: "The Hangover Part II." Credit: Warner Bros.


Mel Gibson is still persona non grata in Hollywood

October 21, 2010 |  3:54 pm

1
Just three days after word leaked out that Mel Gibson would enjoy a cameo in "The Hangover 2" as a tattoo artist in Thailand, the troubled actor has been told his services will not be needed after members of the production rebelled.

In a statement released Thursday by Warner Bros. and producing partner Legendary Pictures, the backers of "Hangover 2" said that director Todd Phillips had decided that the "Braveheart" star wouldn't be appearing in the sequel to last year's comedy blockbuster.

“I thought Mel would have been great in the movie and I had the full backing of Jeff Robinov and his team," Phillips said in a statement, referring to the Warner Bros. production chief. "But I realize filmmaking is a collaborative effort and this decision ultimately did not have the full support of my entire cast and crew.”

Gibson has been missing from the movies since audio recordings apparently capturing his violent and racist rants against ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva surfaced this summer. In one of the recorded calls, Gibson apparently says, "You look like a ... pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of ..., it will be your fault."

Gibson also is said to have threatened her, saying "I am going to come and burn the ... house down," adding, "but you will [perform oral sex on] me first."

Four years ago, when Gibson was arrested for driving under the influence, he unleashed an anti-Semitic tirade against the police.

"Hangover 2" would have been the actor's first movie since "The Beaver," a Jodie Foster-directed comic drama that has been sitting on the shelf and has no announced release date.

-- John Horn

Photo: Mel Gibson: Credit: Charles Platiau/Reuters

 

 

 


Preview review: 'Hangover' director Todd Phillips births 'Due Date'

July 15, 2010 | 10:51 am

14cskde Ever since the runaway success of "The Hangover," audiences have eagerly awaited a sequel to the breakout Todd Phillips comedy. While they'll have to wait until next year for "The Hangover 2," the director's new "Due Date" might tide over many of that movie's fans.

A trailer for the film, which stars Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis and is out in November, hit the Web on Wednesday, and its tone is reminiscent of the wacky Vegas comedy. Downey  plays Peter Highman, a buttoned-down type who, just before the birth of his first child, is forced into a frantic cross-country road trip with slacker Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) after Tremblay gets them both kicked off an airplane.

Judging by the trailer, the road trip produces all kinds of high jinks, as Ethan continually annoys Peter with his eccentricities. We're especially fond of the preview's opening, which starts as a serious moment between the two men, with Peter telling Ethan about how his dad left him as a young boy. That's until Ethan finds humor in the anecdote, breaking out into hysterical laughter and offering up this zinger: "Oh my gosh, my dad would never do that. He loved me!"

Ethan is the type of character Galifianakis excels at playing -- the clueless immature type who takes himself really seriously. Meanwhile, it's nice to see Downey back in a more straitlaced role after his action-hero parts in "Iron Man 2" and "Sherlock Holmes." With Phillips leading them, the movie looks like it will have the kind of manic hysteria that made "The Hangover" so hilarious. And if our expectations weren't lofty enough, during an "Iron Man 2" press junket earlier this year, Downey raised the bar by referring to "Due Date" with this high praise: "It's like the second greatest movie I've ever done."

--Amy Kaufman

Twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifanakis in "Due Date." Credit: Warner Bros.

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2010 MTV Movie Awards: Director Todd Phillips talks 'Hangover' sequel (VIDEO)

June 7, 2010 |  6:26 am

It's hard to believe it's been a year since "The Hangover" premiered in theaters -- and at the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday, director Todd Phillips already was talking about the comedy's sequel.

"We start shooting in the middle of October, and it's coming along great," said the director, dressed in an all-white ensemble. "There's no real movement except we're doing it."

In the meantime, Phillips and cast members such as Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms all keep in touch, the director said.

"Yeah, we've become really close," he said. "We've all gone through this together."

-- Amy Kaufman (Twitter.com/AmyKinLA)


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