There’s an expression a dog wears when it’s done something wrong that you haven’t found out about yet, as it slinks over to cower in its basket, hoping you won’t notice. For some reason, that’s kind of what it feels like when films like this week’s John Cusack-starrer “Shanghai,” or last month’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet-directed “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” limp into theaters after a long time out of sight, presumably spent chewing on your dress shoes upstairs. Both those titles were MIA for a long time after they’d been finished and even released in other territories; both come pre-infused with an almost palpable aura of defeat; and neither has received much in the way of a marketing push. And there’s one other thing both films share—they are being put out (in the sense of both “distributed” and “doused as one would a fire”) by The Weinstein Company.
Jeunet has already been outspoken about TWC’s mistreatment of his film (which to be fair, we didn’t think very much of), saying “Harvey Weinstein is still pissed off because I refused to reedit my film… I have the final cut. I always choose this specifically to avoid this kind of problem, but with Mr. Weinstein you never avoid this kind of problem, of course.” Mikael Håfström’s starrier “Shanghai,” which was a 2010 title in China, got a last-minute trailer a week ago and will be in select (i.e. not many) theaters this weekend. And the list of shelved, delayed and quietly put-in-a-sack-and-drowned movies that the Weinsteins have been responsible for does not end there. With the high-profile debacle of “Grace of Monaco” (review) eventually skulking onto the Lifetime Channel in May, and with the U.S. fate of one-time Oscar hopeful “Suite Francaise” starring Michelle Williams still unknown despite it having played overseas already, this year alone has seen its fair share of Weinstein doghousing.
It’s a fascinating phenomenon, especially because it is so handily ascribed to one of the most divisive, domineering and downright successful dog trainers in the business: Big Harvey himself. The larger-than-life ex-Miramax, now-Weinstein Company honcho is such a striking personality that he’s inspired nicknames (“Harvey Scissorhands”), lawsuits (from Michael Moore, among others) and even thinly veiled threats from mild-mannered Japanese animators (ok fine, Miyazaki sent him that Samurai sword, with the words “no cuts” on it as a joke, but still…). He is also endlessly entertaining and, seemingly lacking the diplomacy gene that makes so many studio heads sound so mealy-mouthed by comparison, he’s damn good copy. So because “Shanghai” got us thinking about the chilly place that his disfavor must be, here are the stories behind 16 of the Bad Dogs from Harvey Weinstein’s kennels.
What is it? Jim Jarmusch‘s twangy, elegiac black-and-white western about a man called William Blake (Johnny Depp) on a psycho-spiritual journey across the Old West accompanied by a Native American called Nobody (Gary Farmer).
What the hell went wrong? Since he’s the very rare filmmaker who insists on full ownership of his films, perhaps it’s strange that Jarmusch ever got into bed with Miramax. But then again, this was 1996, and Weinstein did not perhaps have the rep for meddling the way he now does —the gloss was still very much on the Miramax project at that point, and one can see why his apparent distribution Midas touch might have been tempting to a filmmaker who had just contended with his biggest-ever budget (pocket lint by Hollywood standards, but still). For Weinstein’s part, the appeal was obvious: massive indie credibility from Jarmusch + Johnny Depp at peak teen heartthrob status + classy arthouse black-and-white with impeccable behind-camera credentials = surely the kind of crossover, award-laden indie hit that Miramax was built on. And it surely would have been, had Jarmusch just been more reasonable about making the cuts that Weinstein, in his infinite wisdom, requested he make [sarcasm emoji —the film is fucking perfect as is and Jarmusch was right to not alter a single frame].
How did it all shake out? As punishment for not toeing the line, “Dead Man” was released as though “with tongs,” in the words of J.Hoberman, and limped into a halfhearted and largely unsupported limited release. Despite being the most expensive Jarmusch movie to that point ($9m budget), and starring an immensely bankable Johnny Depp, and indeed being one of his all-time greatest films (according to our retrospective anyway), the film only yielded just over $1m, making it the second-worst performing Jarmusch film ever.
Bitterness Level: 8/10. In a 2004 interview for The Guardian, the famously independent Jarmusch had this to say: “We had a problem because I sold him a finished film that was produced by my company, and then he wanted me to change it and I’d already signed a contract that he was distributing the film as is. He just bullied me, and I don’t like bullies…. [but then] he apologised and sent me a bottle of champagne and said “let’s not disrespect each other in print,” and I said, OK, let’s let it go now.” However, when asked if that means he disrespects Weinstein when he’s not speaking to the press, Jarmusch replied “Well, everyone disrespects him privately.”
What is it? The English-language debut of Korean genre-bending master Bong Joon-Ho (“Memories Of Murder,” “The Host”), this allegorical sci-fi saw the have-nots (Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell) attempting to overthrow the haves (represented by Tilda Swinton) on a train containing the last of humanity in a post-apocalyptic icy wilderness.
What the hell went wrong? Financed mostly with Korean money but with primarily an English-speaking cast, Bong’s big-scale sci-fi picture was a tantalizing proposition, and The Weinstein Company seemed to agree, picking up rights to the movie in November 2012 with the aim of a wide release in summer of 2013. The film went on release as planned in Korea at that time to rave reviews and strong box office, but soon word emerged that Weinstein, as is often the case, wanted to remove his magic 20 minutes from the movie, stripping out character detail, along with some additional voiceover. He has often pulled this trick with his Asian genre pick-ups, hoping to maximise their appeal and the amount of showings he could screen. Bong remained diplomatic, saying “Weinstein is actually being pretty soft about editing,” but other cast members like Swinton and John Hurt weighed in to support him.
How did it all shake out? Weinstein appeared to have been playing hardball, preventing the movie from playing at TIFF in its original form, and testing the shorter cut he favored. But his ammunition must have weakened somewhat when the film’s Korean producers tested the director’s cut and it received higher scores than the trimmed down version. In the end, Bong didn’t have final cut and the Weinsteins agreed to release the movie untouched, but plans for a wide release were scrapped, with the company’s subsidiary Radius-TWC putting it out in the summer of 2014, and in a pioneering move, released it on VOD a few weeks later. It made a decent $4.5 million domestically and twice as much on VOD, but it’s still less than the crossover hit that was hoped for.
Bitterness Level? For Bong? A low 2/10: he told us in an interview that stories of clashes were “exagerrated,” and that he would “jump at the chance” to work with Weinstein again. Whether the film’s smaller release reflected a degree of bitterness for Weinstein isn’t clear —to this day, the film’s never been released in the UK, where he also holds the rights.
“The Yards”/“The Immigrant”
What Are They? The second and fifth movies, respectively, from oft-underappreciated, adored-in-Europe auteur James Gray —the first a sophisticated crime tale with Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix and Charlize Theron, the second a lavish period love triangle with Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner.
What the hell went wrong? Hotly tipped after his debut “Little Odessa,” Gray was initially set to make “The Yards” at Fox Searchlight, but when that studio dropped it, Weinstein’s Miramax stepped in with a healthy $17 million budget. But according to Gray, the super-producer “made every major decision from beginning to end. It’s all top down, starting with him.” The film was completed in September 1998 but wasn’t test screened for months (Miramax alleged at the time that Gray was late in finishing his edit, and Gray said that Weinstein didn’t come to screenings of the film). Reshoots were eventually agreed upon, at the price of the director consenting to do an additional movie for the company, but the process continued to be tumultuous —the studio asked for an 83 minute streamlined version closer to a thriller, though it ended up testing worse than the original. Gray didn’t make another movie for seven years after the film finally hit theaters in 2000, but even then it was a surprise to see him six years later reteaming with Weinstein for period drama “The Immigrant,” bought after the film wrapped by The Weinstein Company on the strength of the all-star cast. Unlike with the earlier picture, Gray refused to change the film, saying “I learned my lesson after ‘The Yards.’”
How did it all shake out? Poorly —“The Yards” debuted at Cannes, but got mixed reviews, and Gray suggested that Weinstein abandoned the film after that: it was released in 150 theaters without street posters or TV ads, and the film’s official premiere wasn’t attended by anyone from Miramax, according to the director. It failed to make more than $1 million at the box office. “The Immigrant” suffered a similar fate: the Cannes notices were a little more positive, but it seemed clear that it was an awards-long shot, and the film was held up for nearly a year. It too never played in more than 150 theaters: (“[they] chose to release the movie in a particular way based on the fact that I was not going to change the film,” Gray told Hammer To Nail), and initially went without an awards campaign, until Weinstein belatedly launched one for Cotillard after a number of critics’ group wins.
Bitterness Level: 6/10. Gray told the LA Times after “The Yards” that he was “not bitter.” After “The Immigrant,” Gray was a little less positive, praising Weinstein’s love of cinema in an interview, but responding to the question “so you guys have a good working relationship then?” with a muted “Harvey and I know each other well.”
What is it? A broad comedy from writer-director Kyle Newman about twentysomething high-school friends, a nerdy crew (including Jay Baruchel) who reunite after one of their number (Chris Marquette) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and decide to break into Skywalker Ranch so they can screen “The Phantom Menace” before its release.
What the hell went wrong? Proof, if proof were needed, that Weinstein’s influence isn’t limited to prestige fare, “Fanboys” arrived just as the mainstreaming of geek culture a la “The Big Bang Theory” reached critical mass, and in the wake of the success of Apatow-coms like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Superbad.” Originally planned for release in August 2007, it was pushed back to 2008, and it soon emerged that Apatow’s producer Shauna Robertson had been brought on by the Weinsteins to retool the movie, with one possibility being that the cancer motivation for the movie would be removed entirely. Adam Sandler favorite Steve Brill (who Newman claimed had never seen “Star Wars”) was brought on to helm reshoots (winning even less goodwill from fans by calling one “a dumb cunt” in an email), and a new cut was test-screened alongside Newman’s original version. Eventually, in part thanks to support from producer Kevin Spacey, and an online petition from Star Wars fans to ‘Darth Weinstein’ threatening to boycott the studio’s spoof “Superhero Movie,” Newman won out, being allowed to, as he says, “retake their film and recut it as best I could into a version of mine,” and the film was eventually released, though not without further release date shifts: it initially hit limited release eighteen months later than planned, in February 2009, with the budget having doubled over time.
How did it all shake out? As ever, the controversy seemed to have taken The Weinstein Company’s faith out of the movie: it never played in more than 45 theaters, which is curious for a movie aiming at a wider audience, and took just $688,529. The film was clearly not Newman’s ideal version (producer Dana Brunetti would later agree that the Weinsteins “fucked it”), but got mostly poor reviews even in light of the cancer aspect of the story, though it apparently did better on home video.
Bitterness Level: 7/10. “They fucked up,” Dana Brunetti would later tell Collider of the Weinsteins, though he suggests that Harvey Weinstein originally loved the movie and changed his mind only when his employees got cold feet about the picture.
What is it? Celebrated Chinese director Zhang Yimou‘s sumptuous, thrilling wuxia epic (which made our list of the 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century), starring Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Chen Daoming, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi, which details assassination plots, rivalries and romances during the Warring States period of Chinese history.
What the hell went wrong? Very little, actually. Miramax was a backer of the production from the beginning and were always going to get the U.S. distribution rights for a market that, post “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” seemed primed to embrace its next wuxia epic. And so while “Hero” was one of the most expensive ever Chinese productions, it went on to smash all box office records when released in China in 2002. It was only afterwards that a few bumps in the road led to a 2-year delay before the film was put out in the States, during which time the rumor mill went into overdrive with stories of Weinstein not being happy with the cut and/or getting cold feet over critical evaluations of the film’s politics. There was added fractiousness because of DVD imports of the film from China that were available in the U.S. before the film had been properly released theatrically; Miramax ordered a cease-and-desist to those sites selling them. According to Weinstein himself in a guest post for Variety, the real reason the film didn’t make its first projected release date of 2002 was that it wasn’t delivered in time, but its micro-release, to qualify it for the 2002 Best Foreign Film Oscar (for which it was nominated), also meant he wouldn’t be able to campaign the film for the 2003 Oscars as he had intended. And then the date moved back again and again, for various reasons including wishing to stay clear of Jackie Chan‘s “The Medallion.” That said, Weinstein meantime was persuading Zhang to make significant cuts to render it more digestible to a U.S. audience.
How did it all shake out? Two years after its Chinese release, the U.S. version finally hit theaters… and pretty much vindicated whatever strategy Weinstein was pursuing by opening huge and going on to become the 3rd highest grossing Foreign Language film of all time in the U.S. Furthermore, an uncut version was released on DVD, having been championed by a post-“Kill Bill” Quentin Tarantino (he “presents” the film, allowing it to get the added kick from his name).
Bitterness Level: 0/10 non-existent. Not only was Weinstein at pains to point point out the reasonable, non-Scissorhandy reasons for the delayed release in his guest Variety post, Zhang himself stated that because he wanted “to get across themes that would be understood by a Western audience,” he was in fact grateful for Weinstein’s input on cuts for the U.S. He told the New York Times: “America is a big market, and I wanted it to succeed, so I agreed,” and even went on to endorse the use of Tarantino’s name, saying “”Making that association was very useful for getting the film out to an American audience.” Zhang and Weinstein, up a tree…
“The Lovers On The Bridge”
What is it? Long, long before the skullfuckery of the brilliant “Holy Motors,” French director/mad scientist Leos Carax made “Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf” (to give it its more evocative and precise French title). Starring Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant, it’s a delirious love story between an alcoholic street performer and a heartbroken painter who is slowly going blind, both of whom live rough on and around the eponymous Parisian bridge.
What the hell went wrong? To be perfectly fair, ‘Lovers’ was a colossal folly before Miramax got anywhere near it: production costs spiraled out of control due to the difficulties of filming in central Paris, star Lavant’s injury (in a shoelace-tying incident, no joke), and then because of delays as financiers balked and expensive sets suffered major weather damage during the many production hiatuses. When it was finally completed and released in its native land, the way-over-budget movie, one of the most expensive ever made in France at the time, was a box office flop and cleaved critical opinion too. This was in 1991, and apparently unable to think what to do with a sporadically brilliant, but unwieldy, self-indulgent, oddly paced, 2-hour-plus French oddity, Miramax simply buried the film deep in some oubliette. For eight years.
How did it all shake out? During that time, the cinephile world being the cracked place it is, ‘Lovers’ gained a kind of cult cachet in absentia, and became a cause celebre among the many critics who were on the more rapturous end of the spectrum. And it finally did see the light of day, albeit briefly, in a tiny theatrical run, but more importantly a home video release in 1999, after being championed by Martin Scorsese (it was a Martin Scorsese Presentation in the States) and finding a viable avenue in Miramax’s Zoe shingle, which was designed specifically for the release of French films into the U.S. market. It made less than $30k at the U.S. box office (Box Office Mojo records a 2-theater, 3-day release), but who’s to say that the strategy of sitting on it and letting buzz build did not, in this case, contribute to its reputation, and to its healthy repertory and home-media afterlife?
Bitterness Level: 3?/10 — difficult to tell as Carax is famously reticent in interview, and seeing as the entire endeavor seems like it was such an amour fou, its delayed Stateside release probably doesn’t register that high on his personal Richter scale. Indeed, as this rare (and kind of hilarious) Guardian interview suggests, perhaps it was just an extension of the state of aloneness in which he found himself after the film: “I was very lucky when I started to meet people I would work with for 10 years… Lavant, Escoffier, and then I made films with my girlfriend. But ‘Les Amants du Pont-Neuf’ ended all that. We spent three years working on it and everyone either died or separated or fought. After that I was left alone.”
What is it? An adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s seminal memoir about a bright, Harvard-educated girl who finds her life collapsing after mental health issues and substance abuse. Erik Skjoldbjærg, director of the original “Insomnia,” helmed the project, with Christina Ricci in the lead role (she also produced the film), and Jason Biggs, Anne Heche, Michelle Williams, and Jessica Lange in support.
What the hell went wrong? Released in 1994 when the author was just 27, “Prozac Nation” was a powerful look at clinical depression that became a touchstone for many across the 1990s. In the wake of the success of “Girl Interrupted,” a long-developing movie version from Millennium Films got the green light, wrapping up in 2000 and premiering at TIFF the following summer. Reviews were tepid (though they praised Ricci’s performance), but perhaps sensing awards potential, Miramax acquired the movie, setting it for a fall 2002 release. Then, in February 2002, Wurtzel found herself at the centre of a storm, giving an interview in which, talking about 9/11, she said, “I had not the slightest emotional reaction… I just felt, like, everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me.” With the media in an uproar, the studio delayed the movie, with Ricci telling the Calgary Sun, “We have to distance ourselves as far as possible from the controversy.” A New York Times piece suggested that the studio continued to be wary of Wurtzel, but other reasons may have been behind the ever-growing delays (it was still without a date in 2003, despite having opened in other territories), with an unnamed Miramax exec telling the Times, “A lot of distributors find themselves enamored of a movie. Then when they get down to the marketing and have test audiences screen it, the response is not what they hooped.”
How did all shake out? Not well for the movie: in a preview of what would eventually happen to another of Harvey’s lost darlings, “Grace Of Monaco,” the movie eventually received its U.S. premiere on cable, airing on Starz! in March 2005, three-and-a-half years after its TIFF screening, and hitting DVD later that year.
Bitterness Level: 9/10. The outspoken Wurtzel pulled few punches, telling the Times in 2003, when the film was still in purgatory, “As you should have figured out by now, it’s a horrible movie. It’s just awful. If they thought it was good, they’d have released it long ago.”
“The Quiet American”
What is it? A Phillip Noyce-directed, Christopher Doyle-shot adaptation of Graham Greene‘s famous espionage novel from a screenplay by Christopher Hampton, the film stars Michael Caine as a jaded expat reporter, Brendan Fraser as the mild-mannered American gradually revealed to be a ruthless CIA agent, and Do Thi Hai Yen as the Vietnamese woman they are both in love with, complicating political differences with romantic rivalry too.
What the hell went wrong? In a word, timing. What more do we need to say than that this handsomely mounted, well-acted prestige film that presents a scathing view of U.S. interventionist policies abroad and features a series of terrorist bombings, had its first preview screening on September 10th, 2001? In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Miramax got understandable, if not exactly admirable, cold feet about releasing a film whose central moral ran so precisely counter to the prevailing mood in George W. Bush‘s America, reeling after that epochal event, and teetering on the verge of a new international war. Ironically, one of the things that the film set out to do was redress the liberties taken with the source novel in the 1958 version, directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz. In that film, the attacks are wholly enacted by local communists, and are not carried out by the Americans to make it look like local communists, thus inverting the moral of Greene’s novel and turning it into, in the author’s own words “a real piece of political dishonesty.” Needless to say, that storyline would probably not have caused the same headaches for Miramax execs that Noyce and Hampton’s more faithful one did.
How did it all shake out? Essentially, Miramax sat on the film, which had not been cheap to make at about $30 million, for a year, and quietly let slip word that they were slating it for a 2003 release, presumably in the fallow early half of the year. However, following positive reviews out of its TIFF 2002 bow, Michael Caine stepped forward and forced Miramax’s hand. Wanting a release that would make the film, and therefore a performance of which he was justly proud, eligible for the 2003 Oscars, Caine threatened to pull out of promotional duties for his next Miramax film, “The Actors,” unless “The Quiet American” came out before the end of 2002. Miramax, for once, were the ones to blink and despite a crowded Oscar slate for them that year (“The Hours” and “Chicago” would go on to win big, while Noyce’s other 2002 title, “Rabbit Proof Fence,” was also in the awards frame at that point), they released the film in November. It grossed a little under $13 million nationally, and little more than that again worldwide, so it didn’t make back its production budget, but it did net Caine an Best Actor Oscar nomination. One that we bet you’ve forgotten all about (he lost to Adrien Brody).
Bitterness Level: 2/10, not a lot, as who is there to be bitter at? Al Qaeda? George W. Bush? The post 9/11 screening audiences whose reactions were so markedly different from the original ones? Everyone involved seems to have enough perspective to know that delay at least was probably inevitable, and it’s even a little surprising it wasn’t buried entirely. When the film finally got its release in November 2002, however, screenwriter Hampton told the Telegraph, “All the reasons Miramax were nervous about it are the very reasons it should be released now. It’s a way of saying, ‘Think twice before getting involved in a foreign country you know very little about.'”
“Tears Of The Black Tiger”
What is it? A completely bonkers, deeply retro, Thai western from debut director Wisi Sasanatieng, “Tears Of The Black Tiger,” an homage to the country’s classic action and melodrama films that simultaneously homaged Leone, Peckinpah, Sirk, Woo, and more, was the first Thai film ever to play Cannes. It tells the story of the romance between a poor outlaw and a wealthy woman betrothed to a police captain.
What the hell went wrong? In the early ’00s, in the wake of the success of Jackie Chan imports and “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” Asian action cinema was big news. Weinstein started putting a lot of faith in these pictures, and was often proved right (“Iron Monkey,” a Donnie Yen vehicle released in Hong Kong in 1993, was put out by Miramax eight whole years later and made $14 million). A beneficiary, it seemed to begin with at least, was “Tears Of The Black Tiger,” which the company picked up after it proved a smash in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2000, with Weinstein loudly proclaiming that it was, “the campiest thing you’ve ever seen.” “Everyone was excited,” Sasanatieng told the LA Times later. “It was the first time a Thai film had been sold to a big U.S. company.” Harvey’s reputation preceded him, but the director said, “We were too innocent. We believed that they would respect our work. They told us again and again that everybody at Miramax loved the film so much.” The director even gave them a shorter version of the movie, but Weinstein had his own plans, with the director saying, “They didn’t allow me to re-cut it at all. They did it by themselves and then sent me the tape. And they changed the ending from tragic to happy. They said that in the time after 9/11, nobody would like to see something sad.”
How did it all shake out? Miramax screened their re-cut version at Sundance in 2002, which Sasanatieng called “horrible,” but seemed to forget about the film after that, and it languished on a shelf for years without sign that it would see the light. But eventually, Magnolia, having managed to rescue Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Pulse” from the studio’s vaults in a similar manner, picked up the movie after the Weinsteins left Miramax, releasing it in theaters in March 2007, nearly seven years after the Cannes premiere, to rave reviews.
Bitterness Level: 2/10 Given the impact it arguably had on his career (he’s made three films since, none of which have had much interest outside Thailand), Sasanatieng is remarkably sanguine, probably because of Magnolia’s rescue of the film. “It’s strange to have people only now seeing and talking about my first film,” he told the LA Times in 2007, “but it also makes me happy. It’s like a rebirth.”
What is it? An adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Othello” relocated to a high school, Tim Blake Nelson’s “O” recasts the Moor as Mekhi Phifer’s star basketball player Odin, Iago as Josh Hartnett’s Hugo, jealous that his father/coach (Martin Sheen) pays Odin more attention, and Desdemona as Julia Stiles’ ill-fated Desi.
What the hell went wrong? Penned by young African-American writer Brad Kaaya, and directed by actor/director Tim Blake Nelson, who was coming off his directorial debut “Eye Of God,” the film was picked up by Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films two days before production began, production went smoothly, and the helmer was underway on the edit when the Columbine massacre took place in the spring of 1999. “It made me want to finish the movie more quickly,” Nelson would later tell the Hartford Courant. “The film is meant to be part of a dialogue about why this is happening.” But when he screened the film to executives a month later, it was clear they didn’t share his views, with Nelson later saying, “You could just tell in the room that they were thinking, ‘What are we going to do with this now?’ The company pushed the film back, saying “we felt the responsible thing was to postpone the release due to the sensitive events occurring at that time.” But a new release date never emerged, and in the Observer Nelson blamed the “facile rhetoric” that has sprung up in the aftermath of Columbine about the effect of movie imagery, rhetoric complicated by Harvey Weinstein’s backing for the presidential campaign of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, which was targeting on-screen violence. Producer Eric Gitter would later sue Miramax and the Weinsteins, saying that due to “potentially controversial” violence, Dimension wanted to offload the movie, and if Gitter didn’t agree, Harvey “would see to it that the film was released on 1,000 poorly venued screens at inopportune times with no public relations support.”
How did it all shake out? The lawsuit was reportedly settled, and Dimension found a suitor, with Lionsgate Films acquiring the movie, eventually putting it out at the end of August 2001, over two years after originally planned (and ironically, less than two weeks before 9/11). Reviews were mostly positive (“a serious and well-acted drama,” said the New York Daily News), though box office topped out at $16 million.
Bitterness Level: 4/10. For all the film’s problems, Nelson didn’t feel interfered with, telling The Observer, “The stories about the Weinsteins coming in and re-cutting a film never came true on this movie.” That said, he wasn’t delighted by the film’s treatment, either: asked if there was any lingering bitterness by the Hartford Courant, Nelson replied, “Certainly not that I want to talk about.”
What is it? A sort of baffling-from-the-outset biopic of Paul Potts (James Corden), the downtrodden shop assistant/amateur opera singer who became a minor celebrity after winning the “Britain’s Got Talent” TV contest show. Directed by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada“) written by Justin Zackham (“The Bucket List”), and co-starring Julie Walters and Colm Meaney.
What the hell went wrong? Not to belabor a point, but it’s possible to have lived through the entire “One Chance” ‘phenomenon’ — from hearing the project announced, through casting and financing and production, through to actually watching it and finding it a perfectly amiable, formulaic crowdpleaser — and still not really have any idea why on earth anyone made this movie, let alone why the Weinstein Company would throw their considerable clout behind it. But despite the constant feeling that someone somewhere was being punked, the film got itself made, Taylor Swift was even prevailed upon to add a song to the soundtrack, it debuted in a gala slot in TIFF to predictably moderate responses, and opened in the U.K. to an okayish total of just under $4 million. So, all this happened, and the whole package was ready to go for its February 2014 U.S. date before somebody experienced a sudden crisis of faith and the release was pushed back, first by a month, then to August, then finally to October.
How did it all shake out? It’s not the most dramatic delay in history, nor even on this list, but one thing makes the “One Chance” case unusual — in mid-2014, before the final date had even been settled on, TWC announced it would be partnering with Yahoo to make it available via their viewing platform before its theatrical release. In this way, it’s a more dramatic version of the “Snowpiercer” and “Margin Call” examples, with the former being successfully released VOD just weeks after its theatrical bow and the latter apparently profiting from a day-and-date schedule. “One Chance”‘s advance Yahoo deal, by contrast, feels distinctly tepid, and while we can’t know if it would have done better without it, the film only grossed $100k from its eventual 43-theater release.
Bitterness Level: Publicly? -20/10! Everyone’s just suuper delighted about this film! No one has a bad word to say about anyone, despite the fact that it didn’t break even, and even those people who liked it immediately forgot it existed. Why is that exactly? Here’s a potential reason, from this hard-hitting interview with director Frankel: “I’m hoping to do another movie with Harvey Weinstein. He’s a great collaborator, a remarkable man, and someone who is so important to the movie business worldwide. He has a great eye for storytelling and for talent. It’s been a great collaboration this past year and I’m hoping to repeat it.”
“All The Boys Love Mandy Lane”
What is it? An indie slasher throwback about a group of attractive high schoolers, including the titular former outcast-turned-hottie (Amber Heard, in a career-launching role), who find themselves stalked by a mysterious hooded figure who may be the reckoning for the accidental death of a classmate.
What the hell went wrong? Mostly the victim of circumstance and timing, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” began as an AFI thesis for writer Jacob Forman, before landing director Jonathan Levine (who’s gone on to make “50/50,” “Warm Bodies,” and the upcoming Seth Rogen comedy “The Night Before”). The film premiered to warm responses from horror fans at TIFF’s Midnight Madness in 2006, where it was picked up by Harvey Weinstein, for $3.5 million and eventually set for a July 2007 release by genre label Dimension. But there was a rare rift between the brothers, with Bob Weinstein (who hadn’t seen it before Harvey bought it) apparently believing that a wide release wasn’t a right move, backed up by some disastrous test screening results. Doubly nervous after “Grindhouse” flopped, the Weinstein Company sold the film to the movie’s German distributor, Senator Entertainment, who were in the process of setting up a U.S. division. They too, pushed the film back, and then folded after the disastrous 2009 release of Bret Easton Ellis adaptation “The Informers” (also starring Heard), leaving it in the posession of one of the company’s backers, hedge fund Cedar Lane. They too, went into liquidation, but producer Keith Calder managed to buy the film back for low six-figures, returning the film to square one.
How did it all shake out? In a twist worthy of the one that ends ‘Mandy Lane’: by the Weinsteins releasing the film in the end. The film had been released in many territories around the world over the years (the U.K. were the first to get it, early in 2008), but when Calder bought the rights back, Tom Quinn, who’d lost to TWC in the initial bidding war when he was head of Magnolia, had become the head of Harvey & Bob’s VOD label Radius-TWC. Always a fan, he bought the film back with the approval of the brothers, and the film was finally released in theaters and on VOD on October 11th, 2013, over seven years after its premiere.
Bitterness Level: 0/10. The lack of U.S. release certainly never hurt the filmmakers’ careers, it seems (Levine was recently in the running for Marvel’s “Spider-Man”), and they even turned a profit, it seems, “The cray thing is that I’ve had movies make money, but this was the only time I’ve ever made money on my points,” Levine would tell the Wall Street Journal.
“Gangs of New York”
What is it? Martin Scorsese‘s historical drama set in the notorious Five Points district of Manhattan in the mid-19th century starring Daniel Day Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cameron Diaz, about the violent turf wars waged in the immigrant-heavy, poverty-stricken district by rival criminal gangs.
What the hell went wrong? According to Harvey Weinstein, in peculiarly chatty mood at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, even on set, “Gangs of New York” was a pissing contest, mostly due to the clashing of its two male stars. But difficulties with egos and elephants that turned out to be tigers aside, the real battle was yet to come when Scorsese, in his first film with Miramax, delivered his initial cut. Already late after production had run on, and out of the frame for the original mooted December 2001 slot, perhaps if anyone could have got away with delivering a three-hour-36-minute film to Harvey Scissorhands it would have been Scorsese, but he didn’t, and so began the arduous process of whittling down to an acceptable length.
How did it all shake out? They got there eventually, with a film that Scorsese has said on the commentary track to be his preferred, definitive version, but is about an hour shorter than that first cut he delivered. And despite some of the more lukewarm reviews of Scorsese’s career, the expensive film made money, becoming his biggest worldwide hit to that point and garnering a massive haul of 10 Oscar nominations. Indeed, even now remains his fifth highest-grossing film overall (all five of his top earners star Leonardo DiCaprio, incidentally). The issue now really is, that despite all that, and despite even what Scorsese says, “Gangs’ is regarded as such an inexplicably disappointing Scorsese film that for a certain type of cinephile the assumption has to be that the director’s original cut is some sort of lost masterpiece white whale, done in by a Weinstein hatchet job. Indeed, some who’ve seen an alternate cut, like David Poland, have indeed hailed it as a huge improvement — Poland calls it “an opera” (though it should be noted that he says the superior October 2001 cut he saw is only about 20 minutes longer than the theatrical release, so presumably it’s an interim version between the original 3h 36m and the final 2h 40m versions).
Bitterness Level: 3/10. Scorsese’s way too class an act and way too savvy an operator to publicly lambast or even challenge Weinstein, but it does say something that aside from co-production “The Aviator,” which he was locked into before the full ‘Gangs’ saga played out, he has not worked with Weinstein as a producer since. And to read between the lines of a typically blustery quote from that TIFF interview with Weinstein, it seems there might be a little lingering animosity, even if Harv is making light of it here. When asked if there was a chance the long cut of ‘Gangs’ might surface (something Scorsese has already denied), Weinstein quipped that Scorsese wouldn’t do so because, “He says, ‘You think I’m that fucking stupid that I’m gonna put out the director’s cut at three hours and 36 minutes? That would prove Harvey’s a genius!’”
What is it? An adaptation of the 1989 novel by “Out Of Sight” and “Jackie Brown” author Elmore Leonard, “Killshot” was a hard-boiled crime tale about a couple (Diane Lane and Thomas Jane) sent into witness protection after witnessing a crime by a part-Native American hitman (Mickey Rourke) and his protege (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), becoming targets for the pair.
What the hell went wrong? Over a decade in the works and languishing on the shelf for several years, “Killshot” was undoubtedly a disappointment given the glittering array of creatives who worked on it, including some of the people behind some of the best crime movies ever. “Killshot” was one of several Leonard novels bought by Miramax for Quentin Tarantino after the success of “Pulp Fiction” (“Jackie Brown,” adapted from “Rum Punch,” was the only film to result), and was originally intended to reteam Tarantino with “True Romance” helmer Tony Scott, with Robert De Niro and the writer/director as the bad guys, and Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman as the heroes. That version never materialized, but it eventually ended up with another, more unlikely Weinstein favorite, John Madden, becoming one of the brothers’s first projects after they left Miramax, and with Tarantino ‘presenting’ the film as an executive producer. With a script by Hossein Amini (who’d go on to write “Drive”), the film got underway in 2005, with release set for March 2006. But it was pushed back repeatedly after disastrous test screenings, and eventually reshoots of as much as a third of the film were commissioned, with new material written by Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, who would both pass away before the film saw the light of day. There were further re-edits (Johnny Knoxville was cut from the film entirely), but even a late 2008 release date came and went without the movie hitting theaters.
How did it all shake out? The last delay meant that the film outlived the Weinstein Company’s distribution deal with Miramax, but the company finally slated it for release in the dead zone of January 2009, hoping to cash in on Mickey Rourke’s Oscar nod for “The Wrestler.” Interestingly, despite early trailers from 2006 having touted his name, the film was eventually released with Tarantino’s name nowhere to be found, suggesting he took it off (though the iTunes synopsis for the film still includes it). Release is still a rather grand word for it: it landed in just five theaters, and took just $18,643.
Bitterness Level: Madden seems prosaic, telling Cinemablend that the delay “had to do with the Weinstein Company, where they were and what they were.” Rourke sounds like a solid 8/10, though, throwing the filmmakers (and, presumably, Knoxville) under the bus in a 2008 interview, “I think somehow they fucked up the ending. They hired an actor at the beginning who really sucked and they started cutting his part out. Then when they cut it out completely, the ending didn’t make any sense. So they ended up with their finger up their ass.”
Outro: Aside from those recent examples we mentioned earlier, with “Shanghai,” “T.S. Spivet,” “Grace Of Monaco,” and the as-yet-unreleased “Suite Francaise,” there’s plenty more that sat on a Weinstein shelf for many years. Kiarostami’s “Through The Olive Trees” went several years before seeing a release, while the company bought Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Pulse” for the remake rights (surprise: it was terrible), before offloading the original to Magnolia five years later. Gallic action-thriller “Dobermann,” starring Vincent Cassel, was picked up in the U.S. by Miramax, but never saw the light of day there, while it took two years for Daniel Espinosa’s “Easy Money,” which starred Joel Kinnaman, to hit U.S. theaters.
Gwyneth Paltrow‘s flight attendant rom-com, “View From The Top,” was delayed nearly 18 months after 9/11, and it took three years for John Dahl’s WW2 film, “The Great Raid,” starring James Franco, to hit theaters, and Renny Harlin’s “Mindhunters” nearly the same amount of time. Finally, the company picked up Black List-approved indies “The Details,” with Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks, and “Butter,” with Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Garner — the former took nearly two years before it was released, the latter a year.