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What Just Happened?
What Just Happened
Actors: Robert De Niro, Stanley Tucci
Genres: Comedy, Drama
R     2009     1hr 44min

A winningly sharp comedy about two nail-biting, back-stabbing, roller-coaster weeks in the world of a middle-aged Hollywood producer.

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Movie Details

Actors: Robert De Niro, Stanley Tucci
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Drama
Studio: Magnolia
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 02/24/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2009
Theatrical Release Date: 10/31/2008
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 1hr 44min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 5
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: Spanish
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Movie Reviews

Entertaining and Satirical Look at Hollywood
Justin Heath | Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada | 10/11/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Director Barry Levinson hasn't had much luck lately - after Bandits, which was a good though not anything very noteworthy comedy caper, he had two colossal duds in a row- Envy and Man of the Year- which, despite an otherwise impressive host of films (i.e. Diner, Rainman, Sleepers, even Toys) could have threatened to throw him off track ala Rob Reiner. But in a way What Just Happened was relatable for Levinson, despite it being the stories of Art Linson, semi-famous producer who's had hits and misses throughout his career, and at the same time gave him some ample material for some sardonic, spot-on satire of the industry. It's not the Player, don't get me wrong, but it gives its winks and nods to the egomania, the preciousness of directors and stars, and how personal lives get caught up in the mix without getting too smug with us common moviegoers.

Probably the funniest, as sort of a near running gag, is the latest film that producer Ben (De Niro) is being test-screened for audiences; a rough cut of "Fiercly" starring Sean Penn (who, as with Bruce Willis, plays "Himself" in the film) disturbs the audience because, on top of a bleak end for its hero, a dog is killed on screen (this, for all the wrong reasons, is hysterical funny, if only for the deadpan reaction from DeNiro to the insanely negative response cards). The director, however, a British hipster (brilliantly played by Michael Wincott), doesn't take it lightly that he doesn't have final cut. This brings around what seems like a moment of levity midway... and then back to the start when it comes time for Cannes. On top of this is Willis's 'plot-line' involving a beard he won't shave off. It's almost like a slight reprisal of his part in Four Rooms, only put to a much bigger, aggrandizing maximum. Both of these, much like seeing certain characters in a Christopher Guest movie, elicit laughs anytime they're on screen.

And the rest of the movie is... still very good. Aside from some scenes where Levinson decides to rush things along via the speedy transitions, he provides a style that suits the feel of the material, of Ben trying to balance his personal struggles (an ex-wife he can't totally let go of, and his rebellious teen daughter with a secret) with the eternal BS of getting work done in an industry concerned, a lot more often than not, with the final dollar over artistic integrity. It's not quite reality TV, but it has that unpredictable, on-the-fly hand-held feeling all the same, which is a method much more effective used here than in Man of the Year. And De Niro is also surprisingly good (maybe not a surprise to some, but considering some of his hit-or-miss turns in recent fare), as he doesn't lay too low-key in the part. One can probably see De Niro having studied producers - not just Linson himself but others- for long stretches to get the right steps for each deliberate step in ego-maniacal Hollywood.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy some near classic self-conscious satire on an industry that deserves anything those in it can dish back out."
An Inside Look at Hollywood - If You Care | Venice, CA United States | 11/12/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Film Producer Ben (Robert DeNiro) is having a bad week. His latest film, directed by a mercurial, temperamental, egotistical British director (Michael Wincott) and starring Sean Penn has a disastrous test screening. The next morning, Lou (Catherine Keener), the studio head, calls Ben and his director for a meeting. When the director throws a tantrum, Ben assures Lou they will make the requested changes in time for the Cannes Film Festival. His wife (Robin Wright Penn) is happy to continue going to a therapist, to help make it easier for them to break up. But Ben thinks she might be sleeping with a writer (Stanley Tucci) he knows. Then, Bruce Willis reports to work for Ben's next film overweight and wearing a beard he refuses to shave. Throw in Willis' scared agent (John Turturro) and you have an eclectic cast of characters.

Directed by Barry Levinson ("Wag The Dog", "Diner", "Babylon"), "What Just Happened?" written by producer Art Linson and based on a book he wrote, is very funny. But it is also way too 'inside' to make inroads to multiplexes across the country. I am pretty positive most people will end up seeing this film on DVD or cable. Most people aren't familiar with a lot of the inner workings of Hollywood. Most people won't like this film. Because they don't care.

If you have any connection to Hollywood, you will probably find "Happened?" to be as funny as I did.

Robert DeNiro and Barry Levinson have traveled this path before with the superior "Wag The Dog", a better, more insightful political satire that also starred Dustin Hoffman, among many others. I think the key difference between the two films is that "Dog" was a political satire, something everyone could care about. When Hollywood makes films about itself, they generally are received well in Los Angeles and New York, maybe San Francisco and Toronto. That's about it. That's about the extent of the audience for these films, the extent of the people who will care, understand and laugh at a film poking fun at Hollywood.

Hollywood is certainly an industry rife for ridicule, but most people simply want to go to a film and forget. They don't care about temperamental producers who struggle to hold on to their Vanity Fair power ranking, actor outbursts beyond the various tabloids and entertainment news programs, or studio bosses concerned about how a film plays in the flyover. The majority of the country is the "flyover", so why would they bother?

"What Just Happened?" is based on a book by Art Linson, who writes about his own travails working in the industry. Linson is a respected producer and has made more than his share of good films, memorable films, so he clearly has insight into this industry. And this comes across throughout the film.

Ben attends a test screening of his new film, starring Sean Penn, in a suburb of Los Angeles. We see snippets of the film and get to watch the reactions of the people recruited for the screening. As the various people react poorly to the increasingly horrific film, Ben winces and tries to make the best of it. When he receives the response cards, he stashes them on the passenger seat of his luxury SUV and heads home, determined not to look at them. But his curiosity gets the better of him and he pulls over, leafing through the written reactions and threatening drawings. Both of these scenes are very funny, because they appear real. I have been to bad test screenings, I know people who hang on every word of the reactions of these recruited audiences. The situation is funny and true.

But does the public care? No. They simply want to see the next "Iron Man" or "The Dark Knight" or "Tell No One". They don't care about the inner workings of the machine creating these fantasies, these illusions.

As Ben rushes through his day, you get a picture that this powerful producer spends little time in the office. He travels from one meeting to the next, meets with both of his ex-wives, takes kids from both marriages to school, chats with associates and more. The Bluetooth in his ear isn't just an accessory. It is a necessity. He is always connected and when an Assistant tells him he has to go to the set, he rushes over.

Bruce Willis and Sean Penn both play themselves and seem to have fun poking fun at the very industry that keeps both very rich. Willis appears on set overweight, sporting a Grizzly Adams beard, both of which will do nothing for his image as the hero in Ben's new action film. Ben pleads with him and finally loses his temper. Willis throws some things around, scaring everyone and they come to an impasse. Penn appears in Ben's just completed film and the director stands by his guns, refusing to change anything, because Penn will be upset. He only agreed to be in the film because it was going to be edgy and controversial.

But Ben is, above all, a problem solver. When he recognizes Lou isn't going to budge, he realizes he has to talk the director into making the changes, to appease the studio boss and ensure his continued career. When a studio worker shows up to measure his office, an Assistant claims it is for the rug he requested, but Ben recognizes the signs and gets scared. Besides, he requested the rug more than nine months ago, so it seems suspicious that after a bad screening they are suddenly measuring his office for the new rug.

When he finally gets through to the temperamental director, he seems satisfied and reports to Lou who extends an invitation for Ben to accompany them to Cannes on the company plane. Of course, the trip doesn't go as planned.

These sequences help to paint an interesting, knowing portrait of the inner workings of Hollywood. Linson has clearly had or seen these types of problems and dealings and makes them believable for us. Ben's every minute seems to be a new choice, some of the choices he is able to make, others are made for him and he either has to accept them or attempt to change them. But with every minute comes the possibility that Ben's life could be changed for the better or the worse. Which might explain why he is always nervous and on edge.

The performances in "Happened" are good and add to the overall fabric of the story. But I have to ask again; will most people even care about this film? Will they flock to a theater to see it? Will they even enjoy it when they have the opportunity to watch it on DVD or cable? I don't think so. For this reason, "Happened" falls short of "Wag The Dog" and it's more universal message and story."
Hollywood insider satire - Poorly marketed as a hilarious co
Penumbra | Atlanta, GA USA | 02/25/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)

"The misleading ad campaign for "What Just Happened" is a problem. The trailers and blurbs promote it as a kind of laugh a minute comedy. Aside from a few brief moments, it's not funny. I understand satire and irony, but the marketing left me blindsided. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work as a drama either because it's not very interesting. These are unhappy people - greedy, desperate, ego-driven, neurotic, and/or substance abusing. It's hard to become involved with the characters or care what happens to them.

This is an "inside Hollywood" story, adapted from the autobiography of producer, Art Linson. It begins at a test screening of a new action movie, "Fiercely." In the film-within-the-film, the bad guys shoot the protagonist (Sean Penn) and then they shoot his the head. The audience, which seems to have been making an effort to get into the film up to this point, is totally turned off by the dead dog scene. The funniest thing in "What Just Happened" is the bit with comment cards filled in by the test audience, some illustrated with full page drawings of the finger and choice two word remarks indicating their displeasure. (One wonders if these were actual comment cards turned in after a screening of "What Just Happened.")

Robert DeNiro plays, Ben, a Hollywood producer struggling to save his current project so that the studio will allow it to be screened at Cannes. The studio insists that the dead dog scene has got to go, which causes untold angst for the director.

Ben is also trying to get his next project underway, an action picture starring Bruce Willis. Bruce shows up on the set overweight and with a full beard. When Ben asks him to shave the beard for his role, Bruce throws a violent, screaming tantrum about violations of his "artistic integrity". (Allegedly based on an experience Linson had with Alec Baldwin while filming "The Edge.")

He is a desperate man, wandering through the movie with a bluetooth device that seems to be surgically attached to his ear as he attempts to resolve two seemingly ridiculous issues. In between soothing overinflated egos, meeting with potential backers and negotiating with studio executives, we see vignettes of Ben interacting with three children he doesn't spend enough time with, an ex-wife, and a soon to be ex-wife for whom he still has feelings. He's also feeling a little sad and nostalgic - for the houses.

The movie is probably pretty accurate regarding Hollywood industry details and lifestyles but, for the most part, this just comes across as whiny and grossly self indulgent. I suspect this movie works best for those who work in the film industry, or those who just can't look away from a bad traffic accident. I'm giving it one and a half stars only because the dog looked good on the red carpet in Cannes.

The DVD offers a choice of English audio tracks in either 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Digital. Spanish subtitles are available. Special features include an audio commentary with Director/Producer, Barry Levinson and Writer/Producer, Art Linson; deleted scene; behind the scenes, casting sessions; "making of...." and "no animals were harmed..." .

Not recommended."
That Screwy, Ballyhoo-y Hollywood
Chris Pandolfi | Los Angeles, CA | 10/24/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Since most audiences are not part of the Hollywood system, it's difficult to say how effective "What Just Happened" really is. While it's generally entertaining as a brooding comedy, director Barry Levinson and writer Art Linson (who adapted his own novel) have made film that seems less like a satire and more like a commentary, painting a picture so unflattering that it's likely to frighten aspiring filmmakers. Those of us not in the film industry--myself included--essentially have to take their word for it, and I find that a little problematic. Still, I was intrigued by the story, despite the fact that it meandered a little too much. I also appreciated the film's sense of humor, with industry references that are nicely balanced between the obvious and the subtle. Finally, I was fascinated by Levinson's willingness to poke fun at the very system he's relied on for many years; he, of course, knows more about it than I do, meaning I have no reason to doubt his methods.

The plot is basically a series of interconnecting subplots, each revolving around a fading Hollywood producer named Ben (Robert De Niro), who's saddled with troubled film projects and a chaotic personal life. One of the subplots begins with Ben at a preview screening for a Sean Penn film called "Fiercely." It doesn't go very well; not only is the film too long, it also ends with a dog being shot in the head. The moody British director, Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott), defends his decision to include that final scene, claiming that the dog's death is artistic and appropriate given the context of the story. A studio chief working for Ben, Lou Tarnow (Catherine Keener), insists that the ending be changed: "I've lost twenty-five million before," she muses, "and I'll lose twenty-five million again. But if you change the ending, I'll probably lose ten to fifteen million less." Ben goes along with it, knowing that a box office bomb will push him that much closer to the end of his career. Brunell's reaction to this is natural, if a little melodramatic. It will ultimately take a boatload of prescription pills and a break from sobriety for him to even consider reediting "Fiercely."

In another subplot, Ben is set to produce a new film starring Bruce Willis. But there's a problem: Willis has grown a beard, and he's put on some weight. He no longer looks like a leading man. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Ben, who knows that the picture will be shut down if Willis doesn't get back in shape. This in turn puts pressure on Willis' agent, Dick Bell (John Turturro), so fearful of his client that he often has severe stomach spasms. Rightly so--Willis is obstinate and downright hostile, pushing over wardrobe racks, knocking down tables, and pounding on doors at the slightest mention of his beard. I have no way of knowing how accurately this represents the real Bruce Willis, but I'll take it as an item of faith that he's playing a caricature of himself. I certainly hope this is the case; in the film, it eventually becomes clear that he's being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. There's really no point to what he's doing other than behaving like a prima donna.

The third subplot focuses on Ben's personal life, which involves two ex-wives, two young children, and an older daughter with problems most can't relate to. It's the weakest subplot because it's the least developed; we only meet his first ex-wife once, and her teenage daughter, Zoe (Kristen Stewart) appears so infrequently that I'm surprised she was included at all. Apparently, she had an encounter with an agent that committed suicide, which is a strange plot device in and of itself. We do, however, get a better idea of Ben's second wife, Kelly (Robin Wright Penn). Despite the fact that she and Ben are divorced, and despite the fact that they have unfinished business, they still have feelings for one another. Both immerse themselves in a special kind of couple's therapy, the kind that will hopefully allow them to separate as civilly as possible. But then Ben finds a man's sock under Kelly's bed, and he suspects it belongs to Scott Solomon (Stanley Tucci), who wrote the Bruce Willis film and is now working on a script that takes place in a flower shop. It seems it doesn't matter to Ben that he and Kelly are divorced; he still doesn't like the idea of her seeing another man.

Inevitably, there comes the climactic scene in which the final cut of "Fiercely" makes its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. Will Jeremy Brunell stick to his guns and release a sure-fire failure, or will he bow to the whims of powerful producers and release a blockbuster? I obviously can't answer that. I can say that the very idea plays into the notion that Hollywood is a shallow industry that cares more about money than it does about art. The joke, of course, comes from the fact that few will see art in a dog getting its brains blown out. Is there a message hiding somewhere in this? I'm really not sure. I've seen a lot of what Hollywood produces, but that doesn't mean I understand how the system works. Ultimately, I can only recommend "What Just Happened" for what it presents on the surface; it's occasionally funny, the performances were decent, and Linson's dialogue was clever. For those of us who aren't in show business, well, we can only hope that Levinson knew what he was doing by making this movie."