Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Recapping the past few weeks

It's Thanksgiving weekend so I'm cleaning out my inbox as best as I can.

Kevin Smith thanks G-d for Judd Apatow.
Smith's predicament is just one part of a larger problem facing many comedy filmmakers in Hollywood: it is nearly impossible for them to make pot-smoking, breast-baring (but heartfelt!) movies without encroaching on the raunchy (yet tender!) turf already owned by Apatow.

That is the quandary facing Zack and Miri, directed by Smith, and Role Models, directed by David Wain, two upcoming comedies with very different pedigrees and different approaches to the question of how you avoid looking like imitations of Apatow's formidable achievements.

For Smith, it would be understandable if he held a grudge against Apatow; his directorial breakthrough, Clerks – a film so rude in places it was nearly rated NC-17 (unsuitable for anyone under 17) in the US solely because of its dialogue – predated The 40-Year-Old Virgin by 11 years.

And he has grown used to hearing that Zack and Miri, about two pitiful roommates who fall in love while making a pornographic movie, could have come straight from Apatow's slacker oeuvre.

Instead, Smith says he is grateful that Apatow has reinvigorated Hollywood's appetite for adult humour. "I thank God for Judd," he says, because he shattered what I assumed was a $30 million ceiling."

Smith says he had been kicking around the premise of Zack and Miri since at least 1997 but he was not sufficiently inspired to write the screenplay until he saw Rogen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

"The dude had come into his own, and he just sounded like one of my characters," Smith says. When the $148 million US box-office takings of Knocked Up made Rogen's stardom a foregone conclusion, getting the resources Smith needed for Zack and Miri – and casting Rogen – became easier.

"If I tried to make this movie ten years ago," Smith says, "I would have been making it for two million bucks, and maybe we'd get the standard release." Instead, the Weinstein Co opened the film, which cost $24m, in 2,800 cinemas across the US, backing it with a national print and television campaign.

For Smith, the challenge of working in a post-Apatow marketplace, and often the solution, is to come up with increasingly transgressive jokes.

"After 15 years, I've got a pretty good idea of what makes people – my people – squeamish," Smith says. "As time goes by, it gets harder and harder to find things that haven't been done a zillion times before."
Here's a preview of what movies to expect in 2009.

Ben Stiller got roasted recently.

Evan Bayh's office is busy with ticket requests.
Sen. Evan Bayh, a close friend and ally of Obama's, has received 6,000 ticket requests, said spokeswoman Marie Francis. Each U.S. senator typically is allotted 500 tickets. Bayh's office had not decided how it will dole out tickets, Francis said.

"Obviously, this is a unique situation," she said.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, has convinced eBay officials not to allow the sale of inauguration passes, and is working with other Web sites. She said she may introduce legislation in next week's lame duck session of Congress making it a crime to scalp inauguration tickets.

"These tickets are given for free to people. This is a major civic event of the time, and no one pays for their tickets and... no one should be required to pay for her tickets," she told The Associated Press.

For those who don't have tickets but still plan to head to D.C. on Jan. 20, no tickets are required to stand along the parade route. However, hotels in the city and surrounding areas are virtually booked.
I wish it had been Bayh's inauguration but that just wasn't meant to be this time around. Maybe in 2016 because I don't see Joe Biden running for President in 2016.

The Fix looks at the Senate races in 2010. I'm not making any endorsements quite yet.
Kentucky (R): For those Republican strategists hoping that Sen. Jim Bunning (R) would retire rather than seek a third term, think again. Sources close to Bunning insist the Kentucky Senator has made up his mind to run and is beginning to put the pieces into place to do just that. Bunning is absolutely certain to be one of Democrats' highest priorities in 2010 since he has never won with more than 51 percent of the vote. Democrats' strongest candidate would be Rep. Ben Chandler but the smart money seems to believe he will stay in the House. If Chandler does stay out, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who lost to Bunning by 23,000 votes in 2004, probably has the right of first refusal. State Auditor Crit Luallen and state Attorney General Jack Conway are also mentioned and would be serious and credible candidates.
Variety takes a look at their 2007 comedy impact honorees and what they have been up to in the past year.

Some of Variety's Big Shots for 2008 include Jason Segel:
A $63 million domestic gross may be small potatoes in Judd Apatow terms, but it's a nice start for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" writer-star Jason Segel, transforming the "How I Met Your Mother" cast member into leading-man material.

"It's funny how quickly things change, because now parts I couldn't even audition for, people are calling to see if I want them," says the actor, the latest "Freaks and Geeks" alum to graduate to bigscreen success.

It was on that show that Apatow offered Segel career-changing advice: "Judd told me, 'The only way you're going to make it is if you start writing your own material, because you are kind of a weird dude and you'll have to pave your own way.' It really turned out to be true."
Nicholas Stoller:
"I love the Muppets, but Jason's truly obsessed with them," reports Stoller, who was born in Britain to American parents and developed his sense of humor watching "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

Today, Stoller is working like crazy. Next up is "Sarah Marshall" spinoff "Get Him to the Greek" with Jonah Hill and Russell Brand (Stoller wrote and directed), followed by "Five-Year Engagement" with Segel.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg:
It might surprise some to know "Pineapple Express" was pretty much in the can when "Superbad" opened, test screening as early as August 2007 -- a sign producer Judd Apatow believed in screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg enough to enable the duo's next oddball idea before "Superbad" put them on the town's scribe shortlist.

Apatow even let the pair (who doubled as exec producers) handle "Pineapple" on their own while he tended to other projects. "'Walk Hard' and 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' were shooting at the exact same time (as "Pineapple"), so we were the only ones on set for a large part," Rogen recalls.
Of course, there's the new Mel Brooks himself, Judd Apatow:
Indeed, any association with Apatow virtually guarantees a greenlight. In 2008 alone, Apatow produced "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Drillbit Taylor," "Step Brothers," "Pineapple Express" and "Walk Hard." He took writing credits on the latter two films, along with Adam Sandler comedy "You Don't Mess With the Zohan."

With greater volume, Apatow's batting average han't been perfect, but with hits like "Step Brothers" (which grossed $100 million domestically) and "Pineapple Express" ($87 million), who's complaining, especially since Apatow consistently keeps his budgets low?

Going forward, Apatow takes his foot off the gas a bit. Having just wrapped "Year One" (which he produced), he's focused on his next directing outing, "Funny People."
There's probably others like Steve Carell and Ben Stiller to name a few.

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