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What Just Happened(2008)
Two nail-biting, back-stabbing, roller-coaster weeks in the world of a middle-aged Hollywood producer as he tries to juggle an actual life with an outrageous series of crises in his day job. Ben is besieged by people who want him all to be sorts of things -- a money maker, an ego buster, a bad news breaker, an artistic champion, a loyal husband, an all-knowing father, not to mention sexy, youthful and tuned-in -- everything except for the one thing he and all the preposterously behaved people he's surrounded by really are: bumbling human beings just trying to survive by any means necessary.
For more about What Just Happened and the What Just Happened Blu-ray release, see What Just Happened Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 4, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, Sean Penn, John Turturro, Robin Wright Penn, Paul Herman (I)
Director: Barry Levinson
» See full cast & crew
What Just Happened Blu-ray Review
“They shot the dog in the head.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 4, 2009
Tinseltown, Hollywood, whatever you want to call it, the movie mecca of Los Angeles, despite its carefully cultivated appearance, is hardly a land of the free or home of the brave. Actors and anxious directors are bound by clauses and contracts, while hesitant studio execs play a cautious numbers game and put the kibosh on their artistic underlings. All the players, big fish and small fries alike, worry about sliding off the map of cultural relevancy and disappearing into oblivion. The film industry—or just the industry—is not always kind, and What Just Happened is a sad, reflective comedy that chronicles roughly one month in the career of Ben (Robert De Niro), a harried movie producer, as he tries in vain to keep all the cracked plates of his life spinning. Unfortunately, life imitates art imitating life and the producers of this film can't quite seem to balance everything out, eventually squandering their fantastic ensemble cast.
Robert De Niro carries the film as Ben, a middle-aged movie producer who finds himself in the studio's crosshairs when Jeremy Brunnel (Michael Wincott), the director of his latest picture, Fiercely, decides to the end the film with an ultra-violent shot of a dog catching a bullet through the skull. The scene proves deeply offensive to test audiences, and ice-cold studio queen Lou Tarnow (Catherine Keener) demands the ending be changed before the film debuts at Cannes. Meanwhile, production is ramping up on Ben's next movie, set to star Bruce Willis, but he faces some unique challenges on this front as well. Willis—playing himself—has been coming to rehearsal with an enormous, Grizzly Adams/Burt's Bees/Walt Whitman-ish beard, and he refuses to shave it, despite the studio threatening to shut down the picture. As if that weren't enough, Ben must deal with two ex-wives, Willis' timorous agent (John Turturro), and a female gold digger (Moon Bloodgood) who will do anything to get her hands in his pockets.
Based on a memoir by writer/producer Ari Linson, What Just Happened is not so much a satire as it is a meta-movie—a film about filmmaking. While there are some jabs at industry stereotypes—the coddled director, the steely studio exec, the cowardly agent, and the unreasonably demanding actor—these are presented in the film as realistic, only slightly hyperbolized portrayals. Even the huffing and puffing of Bruce Willis as he refuses, on artistic grounds, to shave his beard is based on Linson's real-life experience with Alec Baldwin on the set of The Edge. Calling a spade a spade is not satire, and What Just Happened doesn't set out to make a point or cut into the beating heart of Hollywood. It's a rather simple tragicomedy about a threadbare man who just happens to be a movie producer. And ultimately, this is the film's undoing. What Just Happened is too defanged and declawed to be a biting, scathing indictment, too dry to be a laugh-out-loud comedy, and dwells too much on surface psychology to be a convincing character study. It's the proverbial jack-of-all- trades and master of none.
That's not to say, however, that there isn't some good material here. Fiercely—starring Sean Penn—is a funny send-up of hardboiled, overcooked crime capers, and Penn plays it totally straight, even when a dog is in twitchy death throes next to him. Michael Wincott almost steals the show, and his mollycoddled director is one of the film's highlights and few sources of outright comedy. With his pill popping and fashion eccentricities, he comes off like a young Keith Richards channeling Johnny Depp channeling an old Keith Richards, if that makes sense. And there are plenty of other fantastic performances. Bruce Willis is a wild, menacing, parallel universe version of himself, Catherine Keener rules the studio roost with eyes that could cut diamond, and John Turturro is somehow nebbish and vain, with a wacko stomach condition that makes him wretch and moan horribly. Of course, Robert De Niro is the real star here, and he turns in one of his best performances in ages. With his Bluetooth earpiece a permanent fixture on the side of his face, Ben is perpetually on the go and one step removed from reality. His interactions with his ex-wives are sad displays of fronting and deflection, and he routinely parries emotional encounters by bringing up the materialistic and mundane. It's good to see De Niro back in action, but not even his performance can keep the film on track. With only intermittent comedy and barb-less hooks that fail to haul in any real satire, What Just Happened is ultimately a dull exercise in Hollywood self-reflection.
What Just Happened Blu-ray, Video Quality
Magnolia Pictures releases What Just Happened on Blu-ray with a 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer that's short on HD wow moments but otherwise suits the tone of the film. Overall clarity is average, with some nice sharp facial textures and decent background detail, but a far softer look than most modern cinematic outings. Grain levels hold steady through most of the film, in a thin but pervasive layer, although there are a few instances where analog noise spikes a bit. Blacks, however, are somewhat inconsistent, sometimes looking spot-on, other times seeming washed out, and occasionally crushing detail—like during the scene in the editing bay. Colors are strong and realistic, and skin tones are natural, except when strong lighting dictates otherwise. I did notice two strange transfer issues though. When De Niro walks into the bathroom at the beginning of the film, there's some bizarre contrast wavering on the tile flooring, and later, when he looks up at his ex- wife standing on the stairs, I noticed what appears to be a minor earthquake of telecine wobble.
What Just Happened Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As a character-driven comedy, What Just Happened sports a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is balanced to enhance and prioritize dialogue. Voices are clear and well mixed throughout, and while the film is expectedly light on surround use—offering up few discrete effects—the ambient activity that is present in the rears is fluid and never jarring. Thankfully, a fine score by Marcelo Zarvos fills out the sound field when necessary—especially when De Niro is tooling around town in his Ferrari SUV—and the bass in the incidental music gives the track its sole opportunity to rumble. While a bit on the thin side, this is a pleasant enough mix, and my only complaint is in regard to the overly brash sound design that pops up during the funeral scene.
What Just Happened Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary by writer/producer Art Linson and director/producer Barry Levinson
This is a reasonably enlightening commentary track, but those hoping for juicy details about celebrity tantrums or seedy stories of industry bigwigs may want to direct their attentions to the checkout line gossip rags instead. Linson and Levinson stick mostly to the story, discussing the minutiae of production and giving their insider's perspective on the events of the film. I found it interesting that they wanted to shoot the Vanity Fair "30 Power Producers" with real Hollywood honchos, but the big-shot producers really did quibble too much about who would be standing next to whom. With only a few patchy moments of silence, this is a decent track that sheds a little more light on the sometimes sad and often comical world of the Hollywood elite.
Making Of What Just Happened: From Book to Script to Screen (SD, 23:47)
"Making Of" documentaries usually bring to mind dull, EPK-style talking heads, but this one is actually entertaining and substantive, featuring interviews with writer/producer Art Linson, director/producer Barry Levinson, and the great Bob De Niro. The three discuss the film's origins as a memoir, talk a little about the independently funded, 33-day shoot, and comment on the absurd realities of working in Hollywood.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 7:07)
There are three deleted scenes here, the most interesting of which is an epilogue that tells what happens to each of the characters.
Behind the Scenes (SD, 2:47)
This brief segment just cobbles together a few behind-the-scenes clips, with no narration or explanation.
Casting Sessions (SD, 26:58)
Here we see the casting tapes for nearly every bit role in the film, including Moon Bloodgood as Laura, Ron Li-Paz as the Rabbi, Dey Young as Ben's first wife, Paul Herman as Jerry, Jean-Mitchell Richaud as the festival host, Brent Rose as First AD, Logan Grove as Max, Jonathan Kaplan as Suit #1, Katrina Buck as Verna, Peter Jacobson as Cal, Jason Kravits as Pollster, and Kate Burton as Dr. Randall. Each session is followed by a finished scene from the film that showcases that actor.
No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Movie (SD, 1:59)
In this throwaway segment, the dog from the movie "talks" to us, via narration, about his role in the film. Don't watch this unless you really want to be annoyed.
What Just Happened Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I think one of the secret aims of What Just Happened was to make "shot the dog" the new "jumped the shark." As in, "yeah man, The Office totally shot the dog with that last episode." I mean, it makes a bit more sense than shark jumping, whatever that is, but I don't think it'll catch on. Anyway, What Just Happened never grabbed me. It has a few fun moments, but the film as a whole seems somewhat unfocused. Add that to an acceptable, but never impressive AV offering, and you have a solid rental that will appease De Niro fans and anyone who wants to know exactly what it is that a producer does.
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What Just Happened Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Magnolia Announces What Just Happened for Blu-ray - December 8, 2008
Magnolia Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'What Just Happened' to Blu-ray on February 10th, day-and-date with the DVD release. The film stars Robert De Niro as middle-aged Hollywood producer as he tries to juggle an actual life with an outrageous ...
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