Will Ferrell Tube

The story behind the Web site FunnyorDie.com.

New School: “The Landlord,” a hot new video on the new Web site FunnyorDie.com, features no less a talent than Will Ferrell. The short ersatz-amateur video depicts the A-list comedian as a slacker behind on his rent, confronting his angry landlord Pearl, an adorable toddler who obviously doesn’t quite talk yet but can parrot lines that some, uh, adult, has fed her.

Somehow we are not amused by a tiny child who utters such lines as “A——!” and “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!” while pretending to be drunk, beer bottle in hand. (At the end, she utters a rather plaintive, “Mommy.”)

The Funny or Die Web site is all about the money, honey. According to the Hollywood Reporter, it’s a collaboration hatched by Sequoia Capital and Gary Sanchez Productions, which is Will Ferrell’s company with partner Adam McKay. CAA had a hand in brokering the deal, as did Ferrell’s manager-on-steroids, Jimmy Miller. Sequoia has delivered a lot of early funding to big players, including YouTube.

The video may be a giant hit, but it seems to us, in our tragic humorlessness, that it’s another depressing instance in which a child is exploited rather than protected. We’ve written about this kind of thing before: Dakota Fanning, playing a rape scene at 12 in a movie that was critically reviled when it screened at Sundance. Eight-year-old Bindi Sue Irwin, who—a mere four months after her father was killed—was on tour promoting her fitness video and television series.

The greed or desperation that draws many adult outsiders to show business is sad enough. When those adults have a child they can put to use, it’s worse than sad. The state of child actors from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan to Danny Bonaduce to Mary-Kate Olsen makes it pretty obvious that Hollywood can be very bad for kids. In this case, McKay volunteered his own child to play Pearl. He seems pretty successful, so why he finds it amusing or necessary to exploit his daughter eludes us. (link)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Shia LaBeouf

Told you: We are not ones to gloat, but we did report on March 7 that Shia LaBeouf will be in the new Indiana Jones film. Some of you gave us static because the new It Boy made a number of statements that he knew nothing about being in the movie right up until the deal was announced. These Hollywood types, they learn to prevaricate young.

Shia is hotter than ever now that Disturbia opened well, and he may be all that Steven Spielberg thinks—but he should keep an eye on his image. Obviously, he didn’t have a choice if George Lucas and/or Spielberg inexplicably made him go out there and deny that he had the Indiana Jones role sewn up, but he might have been a tad less vehement: Once the news was announced, an editor at a Hollywood Web site sent us an e-mail with a subject line that read: “He’s a liar!”

In a recent interview with the Austin-American Statesman, LaBeouf not only denied knowing whether an Indiana Jones project existed but then, as he expressed an interest in playing Holden Caulfield some day, argued energetically that J.D. Salinger is dead. “Clearly the young actor relies too much on Wikipedia,” the reporter observed tartly.

We can’t expect a 20-year-old who grew up inside the child-mauling Hollywood machine to know that much—but again, a little less certitude might have been in order.

Another journalist from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram described LaBeouf as unsmiling, “intense,” and “ready to bite your head off.” Whew—don’t mess with Texas.

If the folks at DreamWorks see him in the Tom Hanks or Jimmy Stewart tradition, as they do, projecting a nice-guy image might be important. No one needs a hostile press these days, when the level of scrutiny far exceeds what Stewart or even Hanks had to withstand as young men. Sure, all those snarky reporters can drive you potty. But act, Shia, act!

LaBeouf has segued from Bobby to Disturbia to Transformers without a break, so perhaps it’s understandable that he’s cranky. But clearly Spielberg can’t be too thrilled when LaBeouf says he doesn’t care about the box office for the $200-million-plus Transformers because he’s doing it “for the exposure.”

On a related note, we hear that Spielberg and director Michael Bay are having what our parents used to call “discussions” about the amount of big noise in Transformers. So, while we’re dispensing free and unsolicited advice, we urge Bay to listen to Spielberg. As for LaBeouf, more will be revealed. A veteran who’s worked with the young man says he’s talented, yes, but the movie-star quotient is not yet quantified. “Whether he’s Tom Hanks remains to be seen,” he says. “He might end up being John Cusack.” (link)

Friday, April 6, 2007

Cold Turkey: The Motion Picture Association of America has gotten caught up in a web of its own devising when it comes to the issue of smoking in movies.

The MPAA has a relatively new boss—Dan Glickman—and as we reported earlier this week, he’s making some moves.

The organization has come down on revolting ads for the horror film Captivity, perhaps hoping to impress the government with its responsiveness on the issue of Hollywood selling violence in a manner that reaches children. With the Federal Trade Commission about to release a report on that issue, Glickman’s actions may be too little, too late. And the MPAA could have similar problems when it comes to smoking.

Powerful anti-smoking groups have been pushing the MPAA to slap any movie that shows smoking with an automatic R rating, unless that movie deals with a historical figure who actually smoked (think Good Night and Good Luck) or shows people suffering hideous consequences as a result of their folly. According to the research of a group called Smoke Free Movies, most PG-13 movies depict smoking, and that contributes to hundreds of thousands of kids taking up cigarettes.

Last October, Glickman sent a letter to 40 attorneys general addressing the MPAA’s concerns about smoking in movies. He said that the MPAA was turning to the Harvard School of Public Health for guidance. “My objective is to gain consensus among the member companies of MPAA on Harvard’s pending recommendations, and then begin implementation,” he said.

Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at U.C. San Francisco and creator of the Smoke Free Movies campaign, says Glickman probably expected Harvard to come up with a limp education campaign and leave it at that. But Harvard got tough. In recommendations presented to the industry last month and made public this week, Harvard said the studios should eliminate smoking altogether from films “accessible to children and youth.”

Harvard didn’t mention specific ratings, but the dean of the school offers this statement to us: “We’re suggesting that they take smoking out of youth accessible films: G, PG and PG-13, which make up 85% of all movies.” (From where we sit, Harvard could just as well throw in the R movies because so many parents bring their kids to them as if they were Sunday-school picnics.)

According to Glantz, Glickman’s letter to the attorneys general now looms large: “We think the MPAA is in some state of disarray because this commitment has been made.” The MPAA has not acted, but apparently it is pressing the studios to take a position. Warner is said to be among the most sympathetic, but it’s doubtful even that studio will go with an automatic R for smoking.

As things stand now, studios have individual policies on smoking in their films. But one top executive acknowledges that at her studio that policy is “very, very vague” and generally has been applied to family movies (presumably G and PG) only.

The studios are an unwieldy group. Some think the industry needs at least to appear responsible on this issue. Others are concerned that Glickman’s handling of the situation may suggest that he’s not attuned to the needs of the town. If the MPAA imposes a policy on smoking, they reason, can pressure to ban depictions of unhealthy eating be far behind? (Glantz says if science proves that trans fat is as lethal as tobacco, that argument could be made.)

But executives have their questions. What if there’s a Marlboro billboard in the background during a scene on the street? If a film is shooting in Europe, does that mean that no one in a cafe can be seen with a Gaulois? What if the movie is a period piece? What if a big-deal director wants a character to smoke and gets pissy if he doesn’t get his way?

Still, as one executive put it, “We either have to come up with a policy or a policy is going to be shoved down our throats.”

Glantz doesn’t care how it happens as long as it happens. “There’s nothing you could do that would have so big an effect on public health so fast,” he says. “All we’re asking them to do is to treat smoking in the movies the same way they treat fuck.” A single utterance of that word in a sexual context in a movie is enough to get an R.

On another matter, we thought we’d follow up on the story of Peaceful Warrior, the film that Universal released experimentally last week by offering to give away millions of dollars’ worth of free tickets through Best Buy. The idea was to see whether a movie that was hard to sell through conventional methods would catch on through word of mouth.

Universal is calling the experiment a success, but those free tickets weren’t redeemed quite at the level the studio had hoped. More than 300,000 people went to see the movie for free, but that’s less than a quarter of the number that could have taken advantage of the offer. So the movie has died once again—down to only 143 screens this weekend. Still, Universal felt that the exercise proved that the giveaway worked logistically and that it might be worth trying again with a quirky film that presents a marketing challenge. Warrior, rest in peace. (link)