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Taking 'Woodstock' out of the sweet spot, and the Weinsteins' wizardry

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Choosing the ideal release date for a movie is far from an exact science. In the case of certain films, though, a release date can become Taking-Woodstock-movie_la shrewdly publicized, locked-in no-brainer. The Saw films, for instance, always open around Halloween (generally the week before), and for a few years there, the notion that Will Smith “owned” July 4 was inflated into a clever “patriotic” marketing ploy. (That’s part of what made him the biggest movie star in the world.) Smaller films tend to be less holiday-based, but it certainly seemed a deft move when Focus Features announced that Taking Woodstock, Ang Lee’s offbeat dramatic comedy about the creation of those three days of peace, love, music, and mud, would be released on Friday, August 14, the weekend of the festival’s 40th anniversary. The timing was perfect, right?

Evidently not. About a month ago, Focus decided to push the release date of Taking Woodstock back two weeks. It’s now opening today, then going semi-wide this weekend, on August 28. (Here’s my review.)

I have great respect for the executives at Focus, so I hope they’ll forgive me if I ask: What were they smoking? I’m guessing that they thought they could “build” on the enthusiasm for the Woodstock anniversary, that coming out a bit later would only heighten the film’s presence, allowing it to stand apart from the rest of the Woodstock hoopla. But my sense is that this year’s attempt by the media to take stock of Woodstock barely lasted 72 hours — more like 72 minutes. There was an obligatory, faded-tie-dye roteness to much of the coverage, and my instinct is that Focus would have done better to strike a couple of weeks ago, while the 1969 boomer-nostalgia machine was still hot. This weekend, of course, will tell the tale.

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On another front, the Weinstein Company has done a spectacular job of releasing Inglourious Basterds, snatching itself from the jaws of financial calamity in the process. For the first time in a long time, everything has clicked in tandem for Harvey and Bob Weinstein: the film’s late-summer release date, the brilliant quasi-sleight-of-hand of deploying a 20-second clip of Brad Pitt to make it look as if he lords it over the entire movie (in all fairness, he sort of does — despite his moderate screen time), and Quentin Tarantino going on every talk show to wheel out that same, damn, market-tested anecdote about how he and Brad split five bottles of rosé from Brangelina’s French vineyard on the night that he convinced Pitt to do the film. Actually, Quentin was quite hilarious on The Tonight Show last night, where he explained to Conan that, since he makes a practice of addressing actors on the set by their character names, he had to give direction to the actor playing Hitler by politely calling him “Mein Führer.”

To top it all off for the Weinsteins, they very cannily scheduled the release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II for this Friday, just one week after Inglourious. If the Zombie film hits (and how could it really miss?), the company isn’t just making money. It’s making an announcement: that the Weinstein mojo is back.