A new Harvey Weinstein?


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Looking at the Weinstein Co.’s official fall slate, which landed in our in box a few hours ago, we were struck by just how art house it all felt.

To read the mini-major’s upcoming releases in succession is to read the program guide for the Sunset Laemmle -- a lot of very solid, but nonetheless small, movies. There’s a British biopic about the young John Lennon (“Nowhere Boy”). A Julian Schnabel Palestinian-themed historical drama (“Miral”). A Swedish-language thriller (“Snabba Cash”). A performance-driven romantic drama (“Blue Valentine”). An assassin movie set in ancient China (“Reign of Assassins”). A story about the reign and speech impediment of King George VI (“The King’s Speech”).


The most commercial release on the slate is “The Company Men,” the executive-layoff drama directed by John Wells and starring Ben Affleck. And that’s hardly a major work of populist entertainment -- it had a solid cast but sat for several months without a distributor after Sundance as buyers worried about its relatability.

(Notably not dated is “Shanghai,” the pricey John Cusack period war movie that was considered a high-profile release ... in 2008.)

The slate seems even more niche when read alongside the headlines about Ron Tutor and Colony Capital closing a deal with Disney to acquire the bigger-budget breakouts of years past.
With his fall lineup, Harvey has kept his word about returning to the movies he’s passionate about; of the roughly half we’ve seen, they’re all noble undertakings, and all of them radiate that air of accessible prestige he practically invented. Now that he’s been forced to cut costs, he can afford to distribute just these types of films, since there’s much less pressure for a big box-office return.

In fact, all but one of these films are movies he picked up after they were made, which means he had a lot less financial risk, if also a lot less control over how they turned out. (It should be noted that the Weinsteins have benefited from the closure of some of their competitors, who might have otherwise chased a “Miral” or a “Blue Valentine”; Harvey may have run short on cash, but so did a lot of other people, which has allowed him to buy some pretty good movies at pretty low prices).

But with all that cost-cutting, he’s also not able to make as many brash or bold statements. Compared to the bigger-budget Harvey of the immediate post-Disney days, the heyday Harvey of the “English Patient” days or even the 2009 Harvey, when the late summer and fall were filled with splashier movies such as “Inglourious Basterds” and “Nine,” this slate feels downright boutique. The strategy of the last few years -- put a lot of chips down on a few big productions -- seems to have given way to something different: Scatter one or two chips on a lot of small movies and hope one of them gets big.

Some of them indeed might (here’s hoping for “Blue Valentine,” an astoundingly well-made chronicle of a couple’s demise). But it’s no guarantee in this climate.
At the very least, these films will ride a wave of goodwill, since nearly all of them have come out of some festival buzz or early media interest, the kind of movies chased by the heat-seeking Harvey. Some things, we suppose, never change.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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