DEATH IN VENICE? Madonna Movie Bombs; Will Weinstein Still Give It An Oscar Push?

The signs are always the same when any studio knows it has a bomb. Executives won’t commit any opinion to email. Phone calls from them pledging to “explain everything” are promised but never come. The suits deny up and down any truth to the inevitable leaks about a troubled shoot or creative friction or bad buzz. But when the studio is financially on-the-fence like The Weinstein Co, and it acquired U.S. rights to Madonna’s first feature-length directorial effort W.E., and the subject matter is Wallis Simpson, and its debut is at the unforgiving Venice Film Festival, which has panned far bigger and more influential big names in filmdom — then not even the PR maestro Harvey Weinstein can downplay crushingly lousy reaction and reviews.

Fact is that the international press and its U.S. counterparts are having a field day killing Madonna’s movie in what can only be seen as the latest “Death In Venice”. Or maybe the more accurate way of saying this is “Death By Venice”. The Times of London claimed Madonna had made an inadvertent comedy “screamingly, inadvertently funny in parts [that] had ‘em rolling in the aisles at Venice” The Guardian review was truly vicious under the headline, “Madonna’s jaw-dropping take on the story of Wallis Simpson is a primped and simpering folly, preening and fatally mishandled”. Only the Daily Mail gave it a true thumbs-up. But my guess is that probably has more to do with that newspaper’s long and troubled history with Madonna, who in 2009 won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit again the Daily Mail and whose legal reps have been threatening the paper recently and repeatedly of more to come because of its nearly always negative coverage of her.

In fact, The Weinstein Co in June was strenuously denying the British tabloid’s article pronouncing W.E. a mess after detailing a secret NY test screening that reportedly left Harvey “thunderous and sour”. His minions claimed that the audience loved the picture and so did Weinstein, who had made Truth or Dare with Madonna and enjoyed a critical and financial success. The studio confirmed the pair had been working on W.E. for some time before that test screening, but wouldn’t confirm or deny reports that Harv was re-editing the picture to make it more commercially viable. That’s something he’s done to only mixed success in the past — earning him the nickname “Harvey Scissorhands”.

I do think The Weinstein Co was masochistic not only to send Madonna’s oeuvre to the film festival even if out of competition but also schedule it during the coming Oscar corridor. The good news is that Madonna’s movie cost less than $35M, and all of it shows on the big screen. Even Madonna’s many detractors said the film looks beautiful — even if its story is superficial. (As Bloomberg opined: “Madonna’s second stab at filmmaking is stylish but sophomoric. From a purely emotional standpoint, it’s barely more engaging than a fashion shoot, or a music video. Feelings — love, fear, betrayal, solitude — are expressed in their most elementary form. Actors get little direction.”)

The bad news is that The Weinstein Co already made a major distribution commitment to release W.E. on December 9th in NY and LA, then expand to additional markets in December, with wide release anticipated by mid-January. At the time of the announcement, Harvey gave the film a rave: “Madonna beautifully interweaves past and present in W.E. It’s a very smart film, and a stunning feature directorial debut. I’m incredibly excited about this movie and I wanted to give it a prominent release date.” It was Harv who decided not to show W.E. at the Cannes Film Festival and send it instead to Venice. This was after the film was previewed in Berlin back in February and sales agent IM Global screened clips to 200 invited guests. But it was Madonna’s agents CAA who held back the U.S. rights which went to Weinstein.

Now the terrible reviews for W.E. couldn’t be coming at a worse time for The Weinstein Co. It’s had two major box office disappointments in a row, and coming this weekend is Dimension Films’ Apollo 18. I don’t know how the studio is going to stay on track with its reorganized finances if Dimension films keep bombing like Spy Kids 4 (which opened to a weak $12M weekend from 3,295 theaters) or TWC pics underperforming like Our Idiot Brother (only $5.7M from 2,555 locations hurt by Hurricane Irene but dead last of the trio of new films).

As for Madonna’s narrative, it was co-written by her and her pal Alek Keshishian (In Bed With Madonna), produced by her and another of her pals Kris Thykier. This was only her second stab at filmmaking (after the 2008 Filth and Wisdom). No question this production was troubled: Among those who exited were producer David Parfitt (who’d been on Harv’s Shakespeare in Love, which stole the Best Picture Oscar from Steven Spielberg’s far more worthy Saving Private Ryan) and casting director Nina Gold and actor Ewan McGregor and actresses Vera Farmiga and Margo Stilley.

I predict that The Weinstein Co will wind up just dumping W.E. into North American theaters, put little marketing push behind it after the first weekend, and instead focus on the real Oscar possibles that the studio has this year. It’s more the rule than the exception for Harv to throw his Fall films against the wall, see which stick with critics and awards voting members, and then abandon those that don’t. Last year he whittled down his contenders early and wound up with many acting nominations and the Best Picture Oscar for The King’s Speech. This year potentially, he’s got Academy Award contenders in the black-and-white silent film The Artist that he bought right before the Cannes Film Festival and became a rave on the Croisette. He’s got Iron Lady with Meryl Streep playing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and also bought at Cannes. And the John Hillcoat-directed The Wettest County in the World expected to be platformed for Oscar and released in early 2012. The Weinstein Co also will push Michelle Williams for her turn as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. And so on. Here is Madonna talking about her film at the 68° Mostra del Cinema di Venezia:

  1. LOL…what egos these people have. Why would ANYONE think that Madonna could create ANYTHING, that someone would want to spend more than 4 minutes watching?

    And time has shown why Eisner should have kicked out the Winesteins years before he finally did. Those guys know how to burn money quicker than the Federal Government.

    1. Wanting to try something outside of your usual field makes you have an “ego”? Millions of people try a new career…nothing wrong with it.

      1. Nope….positioning a film for ‘awards consideration’ by someone who has proven for decades that commercial success has nothing to do with artistic success is not only egotistical, but also desperate. Its a waste of precious resources that (imo) could be better spent on many other quality films that might actually entertain people. Not to mention make $$ and help keep us employed….

    2. How dare you talk trash about Madonna! You sound like a total loser with nothing better to do with your time than make people feel less of themselves. Get a real hobby and leave the real work to the ambious!

      1. LOL! How DARE someone speak ill of Madonna??? Are you kidding? This isn’t about her music. It’s about her lack of ability in a genre she doesn’t get — and the subject matter…no way should there be a soft spot on Wallis Simpson. Do your homework. And by the way, Truthsayer can probably spell AMBITIOUS. If you’re going to jump into the cage with those in the know, bring a dictionary – – and thicker skin, Tracy.

        1. Now, Still Chuckling, you need to apologize: you made Tracy cry. She grew up on Madonna. Still growing up, but that’s okay.

      1. Exactly. Madonna has 12 US Billboard #1 Hits, spanning three decades. This movie may suck, but Madonna doesn’t lack creativity.

        Go back to playing slots with your wife.

        1. Making hit records has nothing to do with being able to make a film, much less a tasty quiche. Who said, “Madonna is going to direct?? I’m in!”

    3. Truthsayer – YOU NAILED IT! The truth hurts, that’s why these biatches on here are “how dare you” bitter. What jokes, let them go suck Madonna’s strap-on.

  2. how is her “second stab at filmmaking” allowed to be called her “debut” as a director? (and by “stab”, I take it to mean, attempting to murder cinema? thanks Madge. How many “debuts” does she get before they take the big expensive film toys away from her?)

      1. Well, an 81 minute run time certainly does not constitute a short.
        It may be “short” by feature length standards to be sure, but certainly a feature.
        This is nothing more than a sneaky move by the studio to try and make critics forget about the existence of “Filth and Wisdom”.

        1. 81 minutes is 9 minutes short of the required run time to deliver a feature to distributors.

          Madonna should give up a film career. She’s terrible.

          I love her music and her music videos but her films and acting are terrible.

          1. “The required run time to deliver a feature film to distributors”? Huh? Is this in the indie film distributors guidelines somewhere? I need a copy. Does the Producers Guild have one?

            The only place that has codified time restrictions is a film festival, and they vary from festival to festival, but at one of the majors, like Venice, 81 minutes is a feature, I believe, not a short.

            The story of that “short” is it started out as a major festival-qualifier at under 12 mins., but someone’s ego thought she was on a roll, and she escalated the production. Yes, hubris, but that has never stopped a director before; it might be a necessary trait.

            There are plenty of director’s who don’t hit it out of the ballpark the first time out. Don’t count Madonna out just yet. She has talent, and she is driven and tenacious, and in the end that’s all that counts, really.

          2. FYI- but the problem with so many recent films is that they’re much too long, meaning they cost much more so the studios make less of them, and the bloated running time(s) mean distributors can’t have as many showings on any given day, meaning they lose money on selling popcorn and sodas, which is their lifeblood. I recall the phenomenon started with SCENT OF A WOMAN (“HOO-WAH”) and it gets worse every year. I mean, I loved DARK KNIGHT, but don’t tell me they couldn’t have lost twenty minutes. Don’t even get me started on ANY Gore Verbinski film. And BTW, Soderburg’s THE LIMEY (one of the best films in recent memory) ran 88 minutes. Long, bloated films are quite literally strangling the film business.

    1. Horrible films win Oscars all the time (Alice In Wonderland, The Wolfman, U571, Pearl Harbor, How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

      1. Let’s not forget that Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is one of only 9 or 10 films that have made more than a billion dollars in ticket sales. I didn’t see it, and the reviews I read were not kind, but lots of people loved it!

        So who knows, lots of people could very well love Madonna’s new film. And, let’s not forget that even The Blind Side was nominated for best picture!

  3. I thought Cast-away was the end for Madonna in movies? And how did Abbie Cornish get involved in this? Does she have an agent or manager? Talk about playing with fire.

  4. Based on this scene alone, I’m in. Screw the haters.

    “…a royal dream sequence in which King Edward puts Benzedrine in the champagne glasses of his tedious entourage, and soon a drugged-up Wallis dirty dances with a large, black tribesman to the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant.”

    1. Now I’m looking forward to a release date at my nearest multiplex. Sounds like something totally off-the-wall and original that I would love.

    1. Word on that.

      As an actress she’s so self conscious in front of the camera. Behind it, well, I have yet to see this and doubt I will.

  5. Worked with her once on a Mark Romanek video.

    She’s truly a horrible, awful person… glad her film is getting such bad press.

      1. She was nominated for a GG for Evita. She has had good history with Hollywood and many people, including Scott Feinberg, were predicting great success for this film.

        1. The Golden Globe for Evita was for Best Musical and she did not direct Evita. Madonna won a Golden Globe for her acting in Evita, not directing. I did not see it becuase her past acting gigs were bad – I don’t want to desperately seek Susan.

          1. Well, you “sought Susan” enough to not only come to this article,
            but to even time the time to leave a comment. When you blather
            on about not caring much for this or that celebrity, yet follow
            behind every blog and post pertaining to said celebrity, its
            YOUR mental state that comes into question. If you don’t like
            Madonna, or any celebrity, fine, its your right, but why act
            happy or pleased that something they attempted, supposedly isn’t
            doing well? So many posting here claim not to care for her, or
            thought her career was over long ago, are apparently fascinated
            enough by her, and what she does, to make a conscious effort to
            be here reading about her, and commenting. Madonna’s stardom
            is established, and was quite some time ago. If she never has
            a big success again, she will still be Madonna, superstar, and
            you all will still be reading about her and commenting.

  6. I will never Understand how a hugely successful singer cannot enjoy her fame and millions and consider herself blessed instead of thinking she is entitled to be an ACTRESS and of all things a DIRECTOR………Her EGO knows no bounds and she obviously no longer has the good sense to be embarrassed ……

    1. I really don’t understand your comment at all. Basically you’re saying that if someone is successful in one field of work that they are somehow ego-driven if they ever decide to branch out and expand their horizons by trying their hand at something else. Or does this narrow-minded point of view only apply to celebrities?

    2. Stop being stupid. Every year, millions of people out there try a new career. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to try something new.

    3. That is because you don’t understand the negative effect of fame, fortune, and power on the human brain. Mother Nature did not give us the ability to manage fame fortune and power. Every now and then, a freak of nature distinguishes themselves as such by voluntarily giving one or more up (Mother Teresa, Pat Tillman, the superintendent from Ca who made the news last week) but true freaks of nature are incredibly rare. The rest of us simply can not become rich, famous, or powerful without becoming a self centered pigs. Madonna is no exception. She is the epitome.

  7. I don’t relly think Venice or Cannes can “kill” someone. Those are European festivals. They booed Tree of Life after all. And they usually have very opposite opinion then critics and viewers in US. They usually don’t match at all. And I have the feeling then those media just couln’t resist to jump on Madonna. If that movie would be directed by someone else then their opinion might be different.

    Oscar for Madonna is ridiculous thought from the beginning. But if Madonna really directed decent movie then it’s a huge win for her.

  8. The whole premise was ridiculous to begin with. The present Wally and past Wallis sounds like a rip off of the Julie and Julia idea. Plus, she is romanticizing Nazi-sympathizers. I don’t know how anyone ever thought this could be a good idea. The only way someone could approach it without infuriating people would be to address the Nazi issue straight on or make the film straight up camp. She does neither.

  9. Agreed. How can there be much of anything there when it’s about two of the most loathsome, privileged snobs ever. The country and his own royal family breathed a huge sigh of relief when he left them for the woman he loved.

  10. As long as we continue down the slippery slope of “opening weekend box office take” as the measure of a film’s success, we will see more bad films surface. Its assumed putting a celeb behind a camera is enough to make us put down $12 to see it.

    Hollywood is nothing more than a bunch of greedy ***s who are only interested in filling their pockets. They have lost ALL sense of craft and film making.

  11. Of course it’s crap. Just like Madonna’s bogus Raising Malawi charity. Nearly every word from Madonna and RM staff has been misleading from day one. Madonna did not donate ‘millions’. Her ‘match’ promises were limited to a TOTAL of $250,000 regardless of how many millions her fans donated. This amounted to less than one tenth of one percent of Madonna’s multi-hundred-million dollar fortune. There was no catch of any kind mentioned in the ‘Will you join me?’ video. The disclaimers were buried on the RM website. Madonna didn’t even donate enough to cover her own outragous travel/stay expenses. In addition, the ‘I am because we are’ DVD produced by Madonna was sold for profit from day one. None of the DVD money went to the charity. It was produced entirely for profit and sold on the RM website. The Aroura Lopez jewelry line was also plugged on the RM website. Only a portion of proceeds from only one piece went to chatity. Not the entire line which was sold on a page directly linked to the RM website. None of this has been reported by the press but its all true. Its also the real reason that Madonna fired her staff and requested that they all sign confidentiality agreements. Some of which are now suing her. Mark my words: When the details are disclosed in court, it will be revealed that Madonna herself was guilty of squandering RM funds on her own outrageous travel/stay/PR expenses. The entire operation would have been better off without her.

    The website was also used to promote Kabalah which has been exploited for personal gain by the RM cofounder and former political candidate Michael Berg. Charity just isn’t what it used to be. ‘Good will’ has become big business.

    1. And what YOU say is “all true” because… Why do you hate Madonna so much and why are making it so personal?

      1. You’re missing the point. If I did have a quarter of a quarter of a million to give to my own ‘charity’, I wouldn’t turn around and bill that same ‘charity’ $500,000 for my own private jet rides, super exclusive resort stays, camera crew, security, ect. I also wouldn’t schedule a fake ‘brick laying ceremony’ on the very same day that my latest commercial product hits the market. A ceremony for a promise that ultimately would not be kept in part because my ‘charity’ was run more like a travel/PR firm. The operation would have been better off without her.

  12. Mon dieu! Someone here is finally posting a comment that makes sense beyond a three day window and it sounds like you care about cinema! Are you sure you meant to post on deadline.com/hollywood?!

  13. It’s 2011 … and fools still think this wretched excuse for talent is going to do anything brilliant? After decades of absolute crap and folly only someone as degenerate as she would think anyone would give a moment’s reflection on this tripe.

  14. “…who’d been on Harv’s Shakespeare In Love which stole the Best Picture Oscar from Steven Spielberg’s far more worthy Saving Private Ryan…”

    Just can’t let it go, eh, Nikki?

  15. Harvey / Dimension is going to have 2 bombs this weekend. As of yesterday there were no reviews I could find online of APOLLO 18 (a Dimension release produced by the WANTED director, Timur something). That’s a bad sign, that means they didn’t screen it for critics because they know it’s bad.

    This morning there are a few reviews poppin’ up …. and they ain’t good. Check out the ‘F’ review at HitFix…yikes.

  16. Not sure what the expectations for this film were, but is is not surprising.

    What I wonder is why the less than overwhelming response to Clooney’s movie was not highlighted. It was not straight out trashed, but it did not get the response that Carnage got. I know most of Hollywood loves everything he does even when mediocre (The American–Clooney’s star power made it #1–a quote from the LA Times– even though it only made about $13 and for other films is a bomb). Expectations for Madonna wer pretty low to begin with, but Clooney came in with “Oscar” (again the LA Times who seem to think he walks on water).

    Not defending Madonna, just not sure why she gets the treatment and others don’t.

    1. “Not defending Madonna, just not sure why she gets the treatment and others don’t.”

      She is a successful and ambitious woman with a big ego.
      I bet 80% of the women hate her out there including Nikki.

      1. I admire Madonna and have throughout her career starting with the Blond Ambition tour forwards; she has constantly reinvented herself in a good way. Viva Madonna!

  17. like the fact that this movie takes place in the late ’90s. Does that mean the characters spend half of the film hoping their 56K modem can connect to AOL?

  18. Why would anyone let her make this movie in the first place?
    There are already about 30 pretty great TV movies on the subject!
    You can tell its absolutely awful from the way she talks about it in the video.

  19. This town needs more female filmmakers. So I’m gonna support. Plus I want to see that scene where she dirty dances with the Tribes dude. High of course.

  20. She hung out with English people and started talking with an English accent, she married a director so she thought she was a director- keep her away from Obama….

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