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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Eddie Murphy

Word of Mouth: Eddie Murphy's not laughing on way to bank [video]

March 8, 2012 | 11:18 am

Eddie Murphy

Not that long ago, an Eddie Murphy was a box-office slam-dunk.

And then came "Meet Dave."

And "Imagine That."

DreamWorks' "A Thousand Words," which stars Murphy as a fast-talking book agent, is finally being released nearly four years after it was filmed. Paramount, which releases DreamWorks movies made at the studio before Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider's company moved to Disney, isn't expecting "A Thousand Words" to break any records.

Paramount initially hoped that "A Thousand Words" would benefit from Murphy's work in the ensemble caper comedy "A Tower Heist" and his hosting this year's Oscars. But "Tower Heist" fizzled fast, and Murphy quit as the Oscar MC when Brett Ratner (who directed "Tower Heist") was forced to resign as the Academy Awards' producer.

This week's Word of Mouth column looks at the film's troubled history, with this video preview:



'A Thousand Words': Can Eddie Murphy regain his voice?

Eddie Murphy Oscar kerfuffle won't affect 'Words'

Eddie Murphy out as host of the Oscars

Photo: Eddie Murphy. Credit: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

'A Thousand Words': Can Eddie Murphy regain his voice?

March 7, 2012 |  7:58 pm

When DreamWorks, the studio run by Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider, decided to begin shooting a movie with Eddie Murphy in 2008, it seemed like a good idea. Murphy was coming off a hit in “Norbit” and an Oscar nomination for “Dreamgirls.” He had a general cultural cachet thanks to “Shrek,” which was still going strong. “A Thousand Words,” as the DreamWorks movie was called, couldn’t miss.


Murphy soon came out with “Meet Dave” (a bomb) and “Imagine That” (a slightly smaller bomb, but still enough to cloud up the boys room). Then he was hosting the Oscars -- until he wasn’t. “Tower Heist” came and went. And in March 2012, Murphy is about as ice-cold as a onetime A-lister can get.

After numerous release changes and years on the shelf, Paramount is bringing out the film this weekend. (The studio landed “Words” after parting ways with former corporate spouse DreamWorks.) 

As my colleague Ben Fritz and I explore in a story about the film in tomorrow’s Times, the pre-release tracking is poor -- so poor, in fact, that pundits say the movie could open to under $10 million, which may be barely enough to top the wan $5 million of the first weekend of “Meet Dave.” Not helping: The star didn’t sit for any talk-show interviews.

So how is Paramount getting people to see the movie?

A high-concept comedy that evokes early Jim Carrey movies, “Thousand Words” focuses on a fast-talking book agent who learns he’ll die if he keeps speaking. So Murphy resorts to exaggerated gestures, leading Paramount to hope that the physical comedy will lure Murphy fans who haven’t seen him try that kind of thing in a while.

The studio is also targeting female and African American audiences, with marketing spots  on “The Bachelor,” “Khloe and Lamar” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”

A three-year wait between the end of production and a film’s release is a long time -- Paramount faced a similar lag with the Renee Zellweger thriller “Case 39,” and Relativity Media looked into the 36-month abyss with Topher Grace’s “Take Me Home Tonight.” Both those movies saw enough time go by for their stars to dim, too.

But both companies can take comfort knowing that they’ll never match the record of “Margaret,” which will likely stand, DiMaggio-like, for a long time: The Anna Paquin drama spent six years in the pantry before getting a release.


Word of Mouth: Eddie Murphy's 'A Thousand Words' set for release

Eddie Murphy Oscar kerfuffle won't affect 'Words'

Eddie Murphy out as host of the Oscars

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Cliff Curtis and Eddie Murphy in "A Thousand Words." Credit: Paramount

Eddie Murphy Oscar kerfuffle won't affect 'Words'

November 15, 2011 |  5:10 pm

The resignation of Eddie Murphy as Oscars host last week eliminated one way the A-lister might have returned to our good graces.

But another piece of the Murphy comeback puzzle remains intact: Paramount will still release “A Thousand Words,” his long-shelved comedy, on March 23.

The Oscars gig would have been a key element in helping bring luster back to Murphy’s career, not to mention attract some attention to the movie. Said appearance was always a bit of an X-factor — Murphy could have done something embarrassing, or worse, presided over a boring ceremony.

But his appearance in a venue we've always embraced him — on a live stage — was an important piece of the March rollout (especially after "Tower Heist," Murphy's most recent attempt to regain some cachet, failed this month.). In fact, the Oscars were part of the decision to release the movie on the March date in the first place, since it would have been less than a month after his scheduled appearance at the Kodak Theatre.

All isn't lost for the film: There are still other promotional possibilities, not the least of which is that Murphy returns to host his alma mater, "Saturday Night Live,” something Paramount is privately said to be interested in.

Murphy shot "A Thousand Words" in 2008, but a series of regime changes at Paramount as well as a number of Murphy flops kept the movie in limbo.

As for the film's plot, it's about a huckster Hollywood type (Murphy) who is cursed by a spiritual guru that he'll die after he speaks a thousand words. The comparison some bloggers have made is to "Liar Liar," another high-concept comedy from a versatile actor, with each containing its share of physical comedy. Judging by the trailer, which played in front of Adam Sandler’s “Jack & Jill” last weekend, it has at least some similarities to the Jim Carrey title. You can check it out below.



Eddie Murphy out as host of the Oscars

Week in Review: Academy Awards implosion [video]

Tower Heist: Is Eddie Murphy's tank finally on open?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Eddie Murphy in "A Thousand Words." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Week in review: Academy Awards implosion [video]

November 11, 2011 |  5:29 pm


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been in crisis management mode this week with the ousting of Brett Ratner, who had been set to produce the 2012 Oscar telecast with Don Mischer, and the subsequent departure of Ratner's handpicked host, Eddie Murphy. The academy leadership quickly replaced the duo with a much more conventional pairing: producer Brian Grazer and veteran host Billy Crystal.

The Times' Nicole Sperling and Steve Zeitchik discuss this week's turmoil at the academy and comment on what the new guard means for an organization that continually has tried to appeal to a younger demographic, only to see its attempts backfire.



Oscars not lacking for excitement

Billy Crystal steps in to host the 2012 Oscars show

Brett Ratner quits Oscars after using anti-gay slur

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Billy Crystal poses with the the iconic Oscar statues Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Academy president: 'I was appalled' hearing Ratner on Howard Stern

November 10, 2011 | 11:06 am

Cohen sherak mischer
A day after announcing that Brian Grazer would take over as co-producer of the Oscar show after Brett Ratner dropped out, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Tom Sherak answered questions about the debacle, the loss of Eddie Murphy as host, and efforts to get the broadcast back on track.

Was it the gay slur or the Howard Stern show that lost Ratner his job?

It was both. I had already said in a statement that I was going to give him another chance, but that he was not to do it again. The academy is a special place. It’s about integrity in every way, shape or form. It’s spent its entire eightysomething years trying to be above in what his mission is.

It was the accumulation. It wasn’t just one thing. He did everything he could. He apologized right away. I stood behind him. It was wrong, reckless, all those things. But I’ve been brought up that you give someone a second chance if they do not do it maliciously and he did not do that maliciously. I looked at it that way. When he looked at it the next day … he understood it. He got it. I appreciate that also. It had to happen. He went a step over the line in the accumulation of the things he did.

Did you receive a lot of pressure, phone calls from academy members upset with his behavior?

There was no question that a lot of people called and complained. The answer is yes. I got a lot of emails, 50 emails … People were upset. They had a right to be upset. It’s their organization, and people need to speak out when they are upset. They were upset by both things. Some by the first, some by the second. I think the first statement I made, don’t do it again, the bottom line is all those things came in,  but I didn’t look at as pressure, I looked at it as expressing how they felt. I didn’t look at it as pressure but people caring about the organization. The organization didn’t do this, he did this. Yes he worked for us.

He knew he crossed the line. He resigned because he didn’t want to hurt the academy or me. He knew he had gone too far. He was trying to protect us.

Do you regret hiring him?

Not at all. Not one bit. Would I do it again? The answer is, I would have done it again based on the interview I had. I knew a bit about him and his career and I’ve known him for a long time. Not close. I believed and so did [academy CEO] Dawn [Hudson] that he would give us a great show. That’s what we were looking for, a great show. He brought us someone who gave us a lot of press with Eddie. Think about that, we were talking about the Academy Awards in August. Everybody has an opinion. Based on him coming in and talking to us, I would have.

Continue reading »

With Eddie Murphy out of the Oscars, who should host?

November 9, 2011 | 12:12 pm

Billy crystal
With Eddie Murphy bowing out of Oscar hosting duties, the scramble is on for a new emcee.

Should the Motion Picture Academy go for a veteran, like Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres or Steve Martin? Or try some fresh blood?

No one seems eager for last year's pair, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, to return. But with the Feb. 26 show rapidly approaching, the academy is going to have to make a quick decision.

Whom do you want to see as Oscar host? Tell us in the poll below, or leave a comment.


Eddie Murphy out as host of the Oscars

Brett Ratner resigns as Oscar producer after gay slur

Brett Ratner's gay slur: Can the academy really be surprised?

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars in 2000. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

Eddie Murphy out as host of the Oscars

November 9, 2011 | 11:13 am

Less than 24 hours after Brett Ratner resigned as producer of the 2012 Oscars after making an anti-gay slur, his handpicked host Eddie Murphy has quit.

In a statement Wednesday morning Murphy said, "First and foremost I want to say I completely understand and support each party's decision with regard to a change of producers for this year's Academy Awards ceremony. I was truly looking forward to being a part of the show that our production team and writers were just starting to develop, but I'm sure that the new production team and host will do an equally great job."

Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak added, "I appreciate how Eddie feels about losing his creative partner, Brett Ratner, and we all wish him well." Murphy stars in Ratner's new film, "Tower Heist."

Sherak and his academy team, including recently appointed CEO Dawn Hudson, must now scramble to find both a new host and a new producer to help Don Mischer, who was to produce the show with Ratner and is staying on.

The Academy Awards ceremony will be held Feb. 26.


Poll: Should the Oscars have ditched Brett Ratner?

Brett Ratner resigns as Oscar producer after gay slur

With Eddie Murphy out of the Oscars, who should host?

--Nicole Sperling

Photo credit: Eddie Murphy at the premiere of 'Tower Heist'. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Ratnergate: Where do the Oscars go from here?

November 8, 2011 |  7:56 pm


Of all the scenarios the Oscars could have drawn up, the one it's currently in — losing a producer and, possibly, a host 15 weeks before the show — has to be near the bottom of the list, just ahead of the Kodak Theatre roof caving in.

On Tuesday, Brett Ratner resigned from the gig because of a gay slur (he noted in a post-screening question-and-answer session that "rehearsal is for fags"). Host Eddie Murphy's status, meanwhile, remains a question mark. He could remain on board, though Ratner, who collaborated with the actor on "Tower Heist," was a big reason Murphy was involved in the first place. (Don Mischer, the live-event veteran who was producing with Ratner, is staying, but it would be highly unusual not to pair him with a veteran filmmaker.)

So where does the academy of motion picture arts and sciences go from here?

The question is one of philosophy as much as personality. The academy brought on Ratner to shake things up. “ 'You love comedy. You love to laugh, and we want to bring entertainment value and comedy to this show,' " is what the academy's Tom Sherak told Ratner when he was coming aboard, according to the director. But shaking up is not what any group normally does after a scandal like this, let alone a conservative group like the academy.

But they also can't retreat too far. New academy chief Dawn Hudson has a mandate, and an intention, to spiff up the telecast. And there's the ever-present pressure to boost the ratings, which have been sag-sag-saggy in recent years. Conservative won't fly.

Back in the day, this might have been about the time that someone in the academy’s offices said to ring Gil Cates, the veteran producer who captained 14 telecasts. Cates, sadly, died last week.

If Murphy does bow out, there are options. Billy Crystal, always a sentimental favorite, has said he’s available. And if ever there was a time to call on Neil Patrick Harris, this is it. As Tony and Emmy viewers know, he’s the most capable award-show host who's never been offered the Oscar gig.

As for producers, wags and pundits were tossing out names as events unfolded Tuesday: Ryan Murphy, Brian Grazer (who's worked with Eddie Murphy before), Laurence Mark, Mark Burnett, Judd Apatow (hey, if it's comedy they want).

But there's an even peskier question: Who's to say that these producers, or any others, would want the job? Producing the Oscars is hard work, oft-scrutinized, rarely praised. And you'd be coming in after a scandal, and with just a few months to prepare.

In that regard, at least, Ratner may be right: There won't be a lot of time for rehearsal.


Brett Ratner resigns as Oscar producer after gay slur

Brett Ratner's gay slur: Can the academy really be surprised?

Brett Ratner: Oscar fan who recognizes his outsider status

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Brett Ratner. Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters.

Brett Ratner's gay slur: Can the academy really be surprised?

November 8, 2011 |  2:48 pm

Brett ratner
If the cloistered elders at the motion picture academy were shocked, surprised, appalled or dismayed to discover that Brett Ratner said that “rehearsal is for fags” in a Q&A session after a screening of his new film, “Tower Heist,” well, it just goes to show how little due diligence they did before they hired Ratner to produce next year's Oscars.

Ratner's remark, made in response to a question about his creative process, was actually, in terms of self-inflicted wounds, a two-for-one deal. Ratner not only embarrassed the academy by insulting legions of gay people (who are perhaps the Oscars’ last remaining loyal demographic), but he also made himself look like even more of an artistic featherweight by making it clear that he views the hard work and preparation that most filmmakers put into their craft -- i.e. rehearsal time -- as being for chumps, not fast-talking smoothies like himself.

Of course, this is standard operating procedure for Ratner. The same day he apologized, he went on Howard Stern's Sirius XM show -- another knuckleheaded move in itself -- and embarrassed himself further by discussing all sorts of topics you don't get to hear about during an Oscar telecast. These included masturbation, cunnilingus, pubic hair, the size of his testicles, his sexual encounter with Lindsay Lohan and, just to be extra classy, how he sends women to his doctor to make sure they don't have any sexually transmitted diseases “before I go all the way” with them.


If I didn't know academy President Tom Sherak well enough to know that when he's commuting to work he's listening to sports talk, not Stern, I probably would've called him to make sure he hadn't run his car into a divider on the 101.

My point: It's hardly a news flash that Ratner is a crass hustler who's spent his entire career in a Sammy Glick-like rush to get ahead, often behaving with all of the grace and elan of a character out of “Entourage.” Ratner is loyal to his friends and a big contributor to charity, but he often acts like an over-entitled bar-mitzvah boy, running amok at his afterparty.

If the academy had done any homework at all, it would've learned that when a woman reporter from the Jewish Journal interviewed Ratner for a cover story a few years ago, he managed to make a fool out of himself by repeatedly hitting on her, something she found so immature that she put it right in the lead of the story.

So what should the academy do? Ratner has profusely apologized and Sherak has equally profusely accepted the apology. Sherak made it clear that Ratner will be on a tight leash, saying: “This won't and can't happen again. It will not happen again.” In other words, don't expect to see any more Ratner interviews any time soon -- the muzzle is on. That puts the academy in something of a bind, since it now has an Oscar producer who won't be allowed to talk anymore and an Oscar host, Eddie Murphy, who gives print interviews about as often as the Cubs go to the World Series.

Mark Harris, the author of “Pictures at a Revolution” and a frequent Oscar pundit, recently posted a scathing indictment of Ratner on the website Grantland, mocking his apology and saying: “There's not really a long, nuanced debate to be had about this. If he had used an equivalent racial or religious slur, the discussion would go something like, 'You're fired.' Apology or not. The same rule applies here. You don't get a mulligan on homophobia.”

But sadly, performers do. It was all of five months ago that “30 Rock” costar Tracy Morgan, doing a stand-up routine in Nashville, made a series of inflammatory remarks about gay people, saying that if his son were gay, he would “pull out a knife and stab” him. Like Ratner, Morgan apologized. And like Sherak, who said Ratner has “many friends” in the gay and lesbian community, Tina Fey said that the Tracy Morgan she knew “is not a hateful man and would never hurt another person.”

And that was that. No suspension. No firing. No more fuss. We've all gone back to laughing at Morgan's less-scandalous “30 Rock” antics. I spoke to several old Oscar hands who said that, as long as Ratner stays out of more trouble, he'll keep his Oscar gig. From a pragmatic perspective, the academy would be in a huge bind if it had to replace him this late in the game, less than four months before the late February show.

That doesn't mean that Ratner is in the clear. Whatever goodwill he might have had for assuming the thankless job of producing the Oscars is now long gone. If things go wrong on Oscar night, the press customarily blames the host. This time, thanks to his oafishness, it will be Ratner who gets the blame.

When Herman Cain was first embroiled in his sexual harassment scandal, he described it as a media witch hunt, saying, “I told you this bull's-eye on my back has gotten bigger.” Well, Herman, meet Brett. When it comes to having a huge target on your back, you've got company.


Is Brett Ratner out of his Academy Awards producing gig?

Eddie Murphy to host Oscars and I'm not 'Delirious' about it

Brett Ratner on Michael Jackson: You felt like God was within him

-- Patrick Goldstein  

Photo: Brian Grazer, left, with Brett Ratner at the premiere of "J. Edgar" at the AFI Fest 2011.

Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press

Box Office: 'Puss in Boots' pounces on 'Tower Heist' [Video]

November 7, 2011 |  3:55 pm

Puss in Boots was the No 1 film for the second weekend in a row
Heading into the weekend, it was expected that "Tower Heist" would hijack the No. 1 spot at the box office from any rivals.

But the animated 3-D film "Puss in Boots," which debuted in the top position last weekend, maintained a far better than projected hold at the multiplex. Ticket sales for the film dropped only an unprecedented 3% to $33 million, bringing the film's total to $75.5 million in North America, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures.

That left the Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist" in second place with a soft $25.1 million. That was better than the soft $13.1 million "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" started off with. But the so-so results for "Tower Heist" may not be a good omen for Murphy, who is set to host the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony in February.

Could this weekend's results be a bellwether for the 2012 Oscar ratings? Watch this week's box office video report for more details.


A long-planned 'Heist'

'Puss in Boots' showcases work by India animators for DreamWorks

'Puss in Boots' steals No. 1 spot at the box office from 'Tower Heist'

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: A scene from "Puss in Boots." Credit: DreamWorks Animation


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