Hot Button Archive for February, 1998

NEWS BY THE NUMBERS

10. Heading For The Hills: Daniel Day Lewis doesn’t feel like playing the movie star game anymore. The New York Daily News is reporting that he’s going to give up show business for the quiet hills of Ireland. My question: Hasn’t he already been gone for a few years?
9. New Woo For You: Tom Cruise is preparing once again to do double duty as producer/star in Mission: Impossible 2. But the news here is behind the camera. Oliver Stone dropped out as director and now Cruise is talking to John Woo as the replacement killer. Though Woo has helmed big-budget flicks before (like Face/Off), this would be his first studio-life-and-death summer tentpole. Expect a big body count.
8. Harry And David: The skirmish between sites took its toll this week as Harry Knowles beat David Poland in a Stupid Question poll of their fist fighting skills, about 75% to 25%. Good news though. TNT has purchased the rights for a WCW pay-per-view. Kevin Smith will be in Knowles’ corner, while Poland will fight in Arnold Schwarzenneger’s 70-pound costume from Batman and Robin as symbolic punishment for working for a multi-national. May the darkest haired man win! (Hey! It’s still my column.)
7. MS MIA: Microsoft decided to follow AOL’s dumping of Entertainment Asylum by dumping their entertainment sites, Cinemania Online and Music Central. Don’t worry. This setback hasn’t made Microsoft any less arrogant. They’ll be trying to get $19.95 a year from you for their not-too-popular on-line magazine Slate.
6. Direct To Video, If You’re Lucky: The American Film Market is back in L.A. The market, which despite their protests to the fact, is primarily for foreign buyers of independently produced crap. It ain’t no Cannes. But if you really have a yen to see over-the-hill action stars or lots of sexy but unsuccessful actresses who will take off their clothes for a part, this is the place for you.
5. Wag the Trailer Park: After the Clinton sex scandal hit, audiences decided that Wag the Dog was a little too real to be funny, so they stayed home. Universal Studios Florida suffered the same bad luck with their new ride based on the movie Twister. After 39 people were killed last week in tornadoes in Central Florida, the premiere of the ride was indefinitely postponed. Also knocked out of the box was Six Flags Over Texas’ planned “Spending Oprah’s Money.”
4. The Wrath of Mikey: Michael Eisner went to Tuesday’s annual shareholders meeting in Kansas City under pressure from institution investors who wanted more independent directors on the Disney board as a balance to the fact that Eisner has no clear successor and no plan to have one in sight. Despite Eisner’s protest, 35 percent of shareholders managed to cast their votes for the measure before actually getting hit by lightning bolts.
3. Oscar Hint Of The Week: The Writer’s Guild, whose membership closely shadows the Writer’s Branch of the Academy, gave their annual screenwriting awards to As Good As It Gets (Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen) and L.A. Confidential (Best Adaptation From Other Material). Will it matter Oscar night? Who knows? But remember, all Academy members vote in the finals, not just the writers.
2. Black Out: In much worse news at the Writers Guild America West, Black History Month came to a close with this admission from Guild rep Zara Buggs Taylor: “There is a dearth of African-American, Latino and Asian writers in the Guild and frankly, I don’t see it getting better.” The western half of the writer’s union boasts 8,700 members. Only 233 are Black, 93 are Latino, 44 are Asian members, 18 are Native American and five are Eskimo. No joke here. It isn’t funny.
1. Risk Free Business: Mel Gibson is preparing to direct his version of the Ray Bradbury classic Fahrenheit 451, but he may not play the lead as originally planned. If Mel gets his first choice for the lead, Warner Bros. could finance the film by selling tickets to the set. It’s Tom Cruise. Why is this news? It’s part of the return of Cruise to Hollywood life after being hijacked by Stanley Kubrick for over a year. As one of the few truly bankable leads in Hollywood, Cruise’s ambitious work schedule could actually save a lot of jobs in the executive ranks. And Warner Bros. execs need all the help they can get.
READER OF THE DAY: From Alex A: `You recently had someone send you an e-mail that said that Titanic would remain number one until Leonardo DiCaprio’s new movie The Man in the Iron Mask took its place. I think when ‘Man…’ is released, we’ll all get a good close look at why Leo didn’t get nominated for Best Actor.”

E-Me.
Tough room! But like it or not, the buzz on Leo’s next film has not been good. How much of The Man In The Iron Mask’s opening weekend do you think will be about Leo and how much of it will be the movie (preview, ads, etc)?

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the Good, Bad and the Ugly

Is it a coincidence that when you enter Dark City, you find a place with no water around? No water usually means no boats, but not this weekend. Titanic may actually dip below $20 million for the first time this week, but The Crow director Alex Proyas’ Dark City is unlikely to beat the boat. My estimate is that it will scare up $14 to $16 million. For any of you that were feeling the need for a new movie from the cast of “Friends,” David Schwimmer turns up in Kissing A Fool, which should have a hard time taking third place from The Wedding Singer, but could open in the $7 million range, beating out Good Will Hunting in its 13th week. Impressive. The wildcard this weekend is Krippendorf’s Tribe. As I reported earlier this week, sneak preview attendance was light in L.A., even in multi-plexes that normally sell out 80 percent of their screens on Saturday nights. But that may just be L.A. I like Jenna Elfman and Richard Dreyfuss a lot, but I’ll say Disney has a $5 million opening weekend stiff on its hands.
THE GOOD: Titanic‘s numbers are awesome across the globe. After six straight weeks of grossing at least $55 million outside of the U.S., Cameron’s revenge is number three of all-time in international gross with more than $460 million. Add in domestic totals and Titanic will pass the $900 million mark sometime this weekend.
THE BAD: It’s hard to imagine that everyone who wants to see The Full Monty has already seen it, but it can’t seem to break the $1 million weekend mark since its Oscar driven re-release. It’s experienced the smallest award boost of the five nominees.
THE UGLY: Dark City is the most beautiful movie of an ugly place you might ever see.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Senseless + Deep Rising = Deeply Senseless. Anthony Hopkins is Sigmund Freud. Jim Carrey is Kirkegaard. Hilarity ensues when this duo fights over the meaning of life. With Sharon Stone as Golda Meir and Carrot Top as himself.
JUST WONDERING: Did this column degenerate into a playground fight for a couple of days there or was it just me? (If your answer is yes, my apologies.)
BAD AD WATCH: Originally, Dangerous Beauty was maliciously destined for this slot, with glowing pull quotes from such major reviewers as the SSG Syndicate, GQ, Playboy and Dr. Joy Brown of WOR radio. But Siskel and Ebert came along and gave it “Two Thumbs Up.” I’ve already crowned this film my “Worst of 1998 To Date” and I know Gene Siskel will give a positive review to most films that get him aroused, but Roger, Roger, Roger. What were you thinking?
READER OF THE DAY: From Steve of Taipei: “You won’t believe this, but Burn Hollywood Burn already opened in Taiwan last week. Many people who bought tickets complained to the cinema manager and all of them got their money returned. Why? Because they thought it was a movie with Sly, Whoopie, and Jackie, but it turned out to be a silly movie. My opinion is that only entertainment news reporters can really know what the movie talks about.”

Last Word on Harry Knowles

Plenty of ink on this issue. One reader smacked me hard in a letter which was memorable for a subject line of “Go cry to momma” and a threat to dump my bookmark. After we exchanged less aggressive mail, I think his last letter summed up Harry (and me) almost perfectly. Sam S. gets the last word: “I think you are a little combative and defensive. Your points are well taken, but I disagree with the kernel of your problem with Harry. I read Harry for fun, not for the truth. I also read Variety and The Hollywood Reporter for the facts on the biz. If an insider does not supplement the trades with a daily dose of fan sites, they’ll never get the pulse of their audience. Harry, Corona, Dark Horizons, etc. are required reading, but complementary reading. You underestimate your readers if you think they go to fan sites for the definitive truth on the film world. They go for the excitement of a good rumor, or a humorous take on an insider event. They DO take it with a grain of salt. It’s insulting when you tell them how to read journalism. Give your readers some credit! And I’ll be reading again now, for a little while, at least ;-)”
HELL OF A LOT OF MONEY: Adam Sandler continues to focus on nontraditional families. After signing on at Sony to play a single father in Guy Gets Kid, New Line coughed up a mammoth $12.5 million contract for Adam to play the rebellious son of Satan in an untitled comedy. Turns out that Adam just doesn’t want to take over the family business. Obviously, the film is not set in L.A., where satanic lifestyles are a dime a dozen.
TAKE MY LIFE, PLEASE : Henny Youngman, king of the one liners, died at 91.
A STRONG VOICE: This week’s Village Voice offers up a couple of really interesting items. Check out The Return of the World’s Hardest Movie Quiz. It’s too hard for me, I’ll tell you that. And their review of Dark City is pretty much in agreement with my take. I may have liked the film a little bit better than the Voice, but their take on the unusual style of the film is dead on.
GLOVE AND MONEY: With the Muhammed Ali biopic in development hell waiting for a free moment in Will Smith‘s schedule, Denzel Washington is eyeing a two hour round in the ring for director Norman Jewison’s real-life story of middleweight Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. This project, if it comes together, will emerge from its own developmental troubles after more than five years of waiting around. Carter himself waited around for a long while after his fighting days, serving a long stretch in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Meanwhile, the women’s boxing biz is getting the big-screen treatment in Knockout, the story of Latina boxer Isabelle Alvarado. It’s in production already, so she will beat the boys easily. To the screen.
READER OF THE DAY: Trish The Dish wrote: “Wag the Dog is a great movie? Please. Hoffman should have confined his Evans impression to a 10-minute sketch on ‘SNL,’ and we all would have been happy. I’m sick of media-obsessed films about media-obsessed types made for media-obsessed types congratulating themselves about their omniscient Vision. NOTHING HAPPENED in this movie, and it wasn’t funny, except for Hoffman. Anne Heche is as big a zero as Woody Harrelson.”

Harry Knowles

Thank all of you who wrote in about my “biting” (sarcastic quotation marks by reader, Geoff W) commentary on Harry Knowles and Burn Hollywood Burn (click here to see yesterday’s column). Some of you were kinder than others about it, but all of you were accurate. Harry was improperly quoted by Disney and thus, this retraction of sorts.
But now I have something to rant about. Harry too. He wrote me to state his case and is certainly the Reader Of The Day. Harry Knowles wrote (in full):
“Hey Dave: Well, gosh. I see you can read the L.A. Times, but if you read the site, you would realize that there was an apostrophe after my name, which denoted a possessive. (editors note: The ad read: “An A+! It rocks! I can’t wait to take my girlfriend.” Harry Knowles‘ Ain’t It Cool Network”) You see, I never wrote those ‘Disney words.’ In fact, it’s from a review that appeared on my site on December 7 of 1997. If you read the site, you would see I took Burn Hollywood Burn to task for the blatantly misleading quote that was attributed, in a roundabout way, to me. If they were to quote that review they should have credited Agent Apple Crisp. Well, Disney contacted me yesterday, they said they were pulling the ads, and changing the credit to: Agent Apple Crisp, Ain’t It Cool News. There, now I don’t know about you, but the concept of Disney quoting a pastry which can be found across the street from Mann’s Village in Westwood in a Donut shop called Stan’s Donuts. Well, it’s hilarious.”
It’s not hilarious. It’s damage control on top of the damage control Disney is already exercising on a movie that they decided was all but unreleasable many months ago. And thanks for the lesson on possessives. The apostrophe doesn’t mean anything except to an equivocating Disney legal department trying to avoid a suit. I read your site after going to press. Thus, this retraction of sorts. And I prefer the banana and peanut butter donuts at Stan’s. They’ve been adding to my waistline for more than a decade.
Harry continues: “It also invalidates any criticism that Walt Disney Corporation could level about test screening reviews, and how they shouldn’t be allowed. Because now they themselves have quoted from them as if it were The Hollywood Reporter.”
Not quite, Harry. As I pointed out in my column, Ain’t It Cool was quoted in the company of Martin Grove, Stephen Farber, Charles Fleming and MPAA President Jack Valenti. Only Farber can be legitimately called a critic. If The Hollywood Reporter (or any other major outlet) had printed a decent review (as opposed to the pull from Groves’ butt-kissing column), Disney would be running that. However, you are right. Disney blinked by including your site and they should be embarrassed. They clearly meant it to be funny. It wasn’t.
And in closing: “15 minutes? Not hardly. I’ve been doing this in the limelight for a year now, and trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. P.S. Thanks for your concern though.”
Well, Harry, you are about to learn the harsh reality of show business. Things change. I’m not really concerned, one way or the other. You typify what is great about the Net, but you also prove out many of the fears people have about the Net. You have created a new form of covering the industry, running stories that major magazines wouldn’t even consider news. And at the same time, you are mostly running gossip, sent to you via e-mail from people who are, when you think about it, being disloyal to their employers for the sake of their own amusement, which also means that it’s all biased, naturally. And you don’t have any way of confirming it before it runs on your site. Sometimes it’s right and sometimes it’s wrong, but who will ever know because most of it is so premature that it’s going to change six times anyway simply as a matter of the way films are made.
Ultimately, it just doesn’t matter, as long as people take it with the grain of salt it deserves. It’s when people — and you — start to take yourself seriously that you could be considered a menace. That’s where Matt Drudge finds himself. His site has a lot of value, except when every “scoop” is about how Matt scooped everyone else and isn’t getting enough credit. All he really did in this Clinton mess was to print an e-mail from a pissed off Newsweek staffer. You aren’t in Drudge’s ego league. Not yet.
You know, I was part of the media rush that legitimized you a year ago. I wrote at least two articles about you for Entertainment Weekly. Got to chat with you. You seem like a very nice guy. But you don’t know much about what is really going on out here. You will be remembered in history books as a groundbreaker. I mean it. But you are no reporter. You are no insider. And you’ve already gotten more key strokes than you deserve in my column. Thanks for writing. Sorry about the mistake.

A Line of Bulworth

Fox has put the oft-delayed Warren Beatty film, Bulworth, right in the path of Godzilla, telling Beatty and the media that opening on the same day as the mega-monster-movie is a show of support for the film. It seems unlikely. Bulworth will get minimal attention from a press corps drawn to Godzilla like moths to a light bulb (or lemmings to a cliff). And history offers no more support. Last year, Warner Bros. pit Addicted to Love with Meg Ryan and ironically, Godzilla star Matthew Broderick, against The Lost World. It did draw $11.5 million, but much of that was probably dino-droppings from disappointed sell-out victims. Hardly a summer smash. Fox’s very own Out to Sea took on Men In Black and drew only $5.9 million. If Bulworth stiffs, the release date makes it Godzilla‘s fault. Not Fox’s and definitely not Beatty’s. If the movie is nearly that clever, it will be worth watching.
CHANGING FACES: Eddie Murphy will be putting the prosthetics back on for his next two films. The Nutty Professor II, a sort of Mr. Klump Goes To Washington, will start shooting in September. Before that, he’ll co-star with Martin Lawrence (no, he’s not in jail) in Life, a comedy about two lifers who break out of prison in their very old age. Eddie seems to have gotten the message: audiences like him a lot better when his ego is covered in latex.
CROSSING THE DIVIDE: Amistad, which chronicles one of the worst moral crises in American history, will serve as a unique export to other troubled countries, as the U.S. Information Agency is planning special screenings in 73 countries, including 18 African nations. Unfortunately, the screenings are meant for “high government officials in the host countries, intellectual and cultural leaders, journalists, members of the diplomatic community, resident Americans, and others.” That leaves, as usual, the real people out of the loop, some of whom may actually be descendants of those sold into slavery in the U.S.
KNOWLES KNOWS: Harry Knowles has gone from an underground net phenom to an Entertainment Weekly regular, but the first significant evidence of Hollywood’s success in its efforts to co-opt him turn up in the ads for the disastrous Burn Hollywood Burn. Knowles’ glowing review blurb, his first in a national campaign, is twice the size of those by the other hack reviewers Disney dug up for the ad. What makes this significant is that Disney and Burn Hollywood Burn was also the first paying advertiser, one of only two ever, on Knowles’ Ain’t It Cool Web site. Tick, tick, tick. (That’s the 15-minute stopwatch, Harry.)
READER OF THE DAY: From Nathan H: “In America, what sells a movie, first and foremost, is the advertising. Next comes the people in the movie, then word-of-mouth. The Lost World was a bad movie, but the promotional hype had you believing that it was the second coming of Jurassic Park. BANG! A $90-plus million opening, but a relatively quick fall after that. It wasn’t anything special, but the marketing had you believing it was, so you went.”

A Weekend of Surprises

A weekend of surprises. Titanic had its biggest weekly drop to date: just over 20 percent to $21 million. Could Titanic sail into the $20 million sunset next week? Could it actually lose first place? The Wedding Singer held onto second place with good word-of-mouth. Sphere remained in third, despite bad news all around and has underperformers Senseless ($5.7 million) and Palmetto ($2.8 million) to thank for that. Look for things to get worse for both films next week. I did, however, run into Elisabeth Shue this weekend and parenthood agrees with her. She looked sensational, and the kid was adorable, too. Dropping from the Top Ten were Blues Brothers 2000, Great Expectations and The Replacement Killers. Meanwhile, The Apostle moved up to 10 with a strong $2.3 million and a solid $3,402 per-screen average.
THE GOOD: Titanic edged E.T. by passing the $400 million mark to become the second-biggest film of all-time. Next up, Star Wars, which has a $58 million lead after this weekend.
THE BAD: Disney offered sneak previews of Krippendorf’s Tribe and they ran at about 40 percent capacity, at least here in L.A. Not a good sign. I won’t bother commenting on the quality of the film. I’ll leave that to our Reader Of The Day below.
THE UGLY: Dangerous Beauty opened in limited release and immediately lept to the front of the line as Worst Movie of 1998. Catherine McCormack proved, especially in one unintentionally hilarious scene, that her emotional range as an actress, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, runs the gamut from A to B. And Rufus Sewell plays the male lead in a style that could best be described as a cross between Marty Feldman and Eric Estrada. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would assume the film was a Mel Brooks parody. It’s a film that seems to believe that women’s liberation is best acquired on one’s knees. I actually walked out on the film (something I never do), but the next day I went back out of fairness and hoped to find something that might redeem this turkey. Nothing did.
JUST WONDERING: Do the comments above mean that I am a critic, even though I protest the title whenever anyone levels it at me?
BAD AD WATCH: Miramax offers just one pull quote for Senseless. “The Hippest, Most Outrageous Comedy Of The Year!” The scribe credited is from “Movie Reviews & More.” I, for one, have never heard of it. Miramax must have looked harder.
READER OF THE DAY: The reliably direct Erin P wrote: “I caught a sneak of Krippendorf’s Tribe last Thursday and was thoroughly sickened and saddened by every single player in this movie. Stupid, overdone comedies that rely alternately on sex jokes and dirty bathroom humor and depend on children for many of the laughs are wretched beasts that moronic studio execs should stop at the door. After I told my roommate about it, she said, “You know, you just described ‘South Park.'” And I said, “Yeah, but ‘South Park’ is funny.”

News By trhe Numbers

10. Son Of Seagal: Steven Seagal‘s long distended belly finally bore some fruit. His son, Kentaro (Japanese for “My Dad’s A Movie Star”), will star in Renegade Blade for former Cannon Films hacks Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Like his father, Little Seagal has earned his acting stripes after a sensational performance as a Tommy Hilfiger clothing model.
9. Downey And Out: Robert Downey Jr. got a day pass from jail to shoot an unspecified movie, ticking off the locals who feel that he’s getting “Movie Star Justice.” He was probably in a bed somewhere with Heather Graham reshooting a sex scene from Two Guys and a Girl that the MPAA just can’t grant an R-rating to since it involves a sexual act that would turn up in the SATs in the form: “As Monica does for Bill, Bill does for Monica.”
8. Soul TV: The surprise hit of fall 1997, Soul Food, will be coming to a TV near you in the form of a series next fall. The producer/director team of Robert Teitel and George Tillman made the deal as part of a long-term pact with 20th Century Fox. Personally, I think there should be a how-to cooking program a few hours before every episode so our show-inspired lust for great home cooking can be satisfied each week as we watch the family eat.
7. Legal Fecals: After Ah-nuld was run off the road by two out-of-control paparazzi and despite the fact that Princess Diana apparently was not, the Screen Actors Guild has proposed legislation called — take a deep breath — The Protection From Personal Intrusion for Commercial Purposes Act. The stated goal is to make it a federal crime to “harass a person in order to photograph or record them for commercial purposes when that harassment causes bodily injury or fear of bodily injury.” Seems reasonable, huh? Freedom From Fear: The Law.
6. Followed By Fear: The Mistake: Tom Cruise called 911 to report he was being followed by three paparazzi while he was driving with his daughter. Cruise took the license plates of the three cars which police say were probably not paparazzi at all. Guess they won’t be charged with a federal crime under Freedom of Fear: The Overtly Unconstitutional Law That Would Give Power To Celebrities That No One Else Gets.
5. Titanic numbers: Titanic is still big news, but why repeat myself? Check out Friday’s Weekend Preview for the story.
4. Stone Nailed: Sharon Stone has taken a vow to cross and uncross her legs for only one man for the rest of her life. A news editor at that! (Our own Andy Jones had his chance, but passed.) No truth to the rumor that the marital consummation was filmed when Stone didn’t notice the lighting, cameras or the crew focusing on her genitalia.
3. Auction Action: A Christies auction of Titanic memorabilia grossed about $2.5 million this week. Amongst the big-ticket sellers was a collection of 34 telegraph messages, including the historic, “We have struck an iceberg.” Price tag: $123,500. Next Up: A lock of hair from Kate Winslet‘s grandmother, who would have been on the boat if Rose wasn’t a fictional character and Winslet was really her granddaughter.
2. Editing For Arts Sakes: Warner Bros. will cut scenes out of the video release of Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate as part of a settlement with sculptor Frederick Hart who complained that the living sculpture in the the film was copied from his “Ex Nihilo.” Expected as a result of Hart’s legal success, which sets a new precedent for an industry that has always copied great art, are massive lawsuits from Michaelangelo, DiVinci, Rembrandt and Jerry Lewis.
1. Bond Bombshell: Sony has gone on the attack against longtime Bond producer United Artists. Not only does Sony claim that they have the right to produce their own Bond films, but they now claim that United Artists owes them a piece of the action from their entire Bond library. The legal battle is too complex to explain here, but Sony’s been developing this legal strategy for a full year before unleashing it and I’d bet on a settlement that at least allows Sony to proceed with the rumored Emmerich/Devlin (the guys from ID4 and Godzilla) Bond for 1999 or 2000.
READER OF THE DAY: From Brad D.: “I am going to see Palmetto this weekend. It’s been awhile since there has been a film like this. Elizabeth Shue and Gina Gershon. I am there.”

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Weekend Preview

You’re running a studio’s distribution department. It’s the second weekend after the Academy Award nominations. Titanic is breaking new records every week. What do you release to compete in this marketplace? Answer: Nothing much. Columbia is throwing the artsy Palmetto to the wolves. It may be a good movie, but people are likely to wait until video to find out. Likely to open stronger is Senseless (about $9 million), but go quickly because when word-of-mouth starts, things could get ugly in a hurry. This film stinks literally and figuratively (meaning that if you love flatulence jokes, this is your film). The only change in the Top Five that I foresee is Sphere dropping down from slot three to slot five behind Titanic, The Wedding Singer, Good Will Hunting and Senseless.
THE GOOD: Titanic takes the title of third-highest-grossing film of all time after passing Jurassic Park at $376 million. The only films left to overtake are E.T. and Star Wars, both of which benefited from highly successful re-releases. Paramount hopes to leave E.T. in the rearview mirror before the month ends.
THE BAD: An annonymous buyer bought 34 telegraph messages sent from the Titanic after it hit the iceberg for $123,500 — a little over $3,600 per message. The only film in wide release to match or surpass that figure per screen last weekend? Titanic.
THE UGLY: Desperate Measures and Deep Rising are averaging less than $250 a day per screen in just their third weekend in theaters. What was Deep Rising about again?
THE SEDUCTION OF VIDEO: Air Force One‘s home video debut last weekend generated about $65 million in rentals and purchases, almost twice as much as the film grossed in its opening weekend last July. This shows, once again, why studios are so easily seduced into the diminutive six-month video windows that are now the norm. Too much green to turn away.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Sphere + Zero Effect = “Sphero Effect”
It’s a high-priced saga of a multimillionaire novelist who suffers a crappy adaptation of one of his hit books, forcing him to cancel plans to purchase Guam and all its inhabitants. In the horrifying climax, he writes Jurassic Park 3.
JUST WONDERING: Krippendorf’s Tribe is sneaking into theaters this weekend and is beginning to look like a hit, but is a movie about white suburbanites putting on black face paint and mimicking Third World cultures hysterically funny or downright racist?
READER OF THE DAY: Sam S.: “People seem to think the Academy is one big collective that chooses nominees deliberately. Obviously, it is not. It’s a vast group of people who vote on the nominations, and there would be no possible way to impose or even encourage quotas.”

Readers Rant and Rave About Oscar

WRITER OF THE DAY: From David Poland: “There’s been some serious ranting and raving via e-mail lately, so I decided to let you, the readers, rant for yourselves this week. I stuck with letters on the Oscar nominations, so don’t feel bad if you were left out. And remember, just because I picked the letters doesn’t mean I agree with them all. It just means that they made me think or laugh or just shake my head in disbelief. I hope they do the same for you.”
From EIN Patron: “I am very upset by the fact that the film Eve’s Bayou and actors Djimon Hounsou and Rupert Everett did not receive Oscar nominations. It’s obvious that the Academy practices both sexism and racism. I’ve lost great respect for the Academy. I don’t even care who wins what. The whole thing is a joke.”
From Krillian: “Fire whoever that twit was on E! who said Amistad not getting a Best Picture nom was racist. I’ve seen all five nominated movies, and all five were better movies.”
From Andy W: “While I’m annoyed about Rupert Everett not getting a nomination, in retrospect, it’s obvious why he didn’t get one. The Academy can only nominate one actor playing a gay person per year or else it starts to get uncomfortable. And while Rupert Everett stole the show in My Best Friend’s Wedding, it was a light comedy, whereas Kinnear’s very good performance was in a more serious, dramatic comedy by James L. Brooks, who I would’ve said was an Academy darling until he failed to get nominated for Best Director. The Academy was obviously going to pick Kinnear.”
From Martin C: “I don’t think Leonardo DiCaprio deserves any kind of Oscar attention, and his acting peers thought so too. I think it’s hilarious that Titanic grabbed a nomination in all major categories except Best Actor. Too bad Leo, learn to act.”
From Ryan N: “I was upset that Djimon Honsou, Rupert Everett and Leonardo DiCaprio were passed up by Oscar. Anyone who bought into the love story aboard Titanic did so because of the chemistry between Winslet and DiCaprio. I fail to see how the film can get 14 nods without one for such an important part of the film. And Honsou — I mean, he learned Mende for God’s sake! All Hopkins did was put on an accent and give important-sounding speeches. And as for Everett — who could forget ‘I Say a Little Prayer for You?’ And Everett’s just as much of a comeback as Robert Forster or Peter Fonda.”
From Erin P: “Chant with me, Dave. ‘Leo didn’t get the nod, this proves that there is a God.’ Be advised that I’m your regular 19-year-old college girl. However, Leo just doesn’t do it for me. He’s a fine actor, but his performance in Titanic was a star turn, not an acting turn. He could have played Jack Dawson in his sleep. And, you know, Leo sometimes looks kind of like a girl. Witness The Man In The Iron Mask trailer. He screams girl. It’s a little scary. The travesty that we should all be crying about is Oscar’s snub of the fine performances in The Sweet Hereafter, especially Ian Holm. And don’t get me started on Gloria Stuart being nominated for sitting in a chair. That is just flat out WRONG. Alison Elliott, Christina Ricci, Joan Allen, Sarah Polley. Hell, I gave a better performance than Ms. Rocking Chair just by not throwing popcorn at the screen every time I saw one of those awful Hard Rain trailers. And Kim Basinger gets nominated because she looked good and was surrounded by great performances in a great movie. I feel sick.”

Weekend Review

As though Titanic needed any help, the combination of 14 Academy Award nominations and Valentine’s Day launched the film to its best yet one-day total of $13.05 million on Saturday, with a four-day holiday weekend total up about 15 percent in a $33 million weekend. Hearts and flowers also go to The Wedding Singer, which grabbed $22 million to take second. Sphere did about what I expected with $14.1 million, but it paled in comparison to the two top guns. And the other new kids movie on the block, The Borrowers, scraped by The Replacement Killers to take sixth place with $6.1 million.
The biggest winner in the business of converting Oscar nods into box office dollars was L.A. Confidential, which jumped from $422,308 last week to $2.5 million over three days and $3.3 million over four. But the other Best Picture contenders felt the heat too. Good Will Hunting jumped 17 percent compared to last Friday through Monday and As Good As It Gets jumped a whopping 27 percent as the film passed the $100 million mark.
THE GOOD: Sphere‘s first half hour.
THE BAD: Sphere‘s next hour and 45 minutes.
THE UGLY: That queasy feeling you get after seeing Sphere and realizing that gathering some of the best talent in Hollywood still doesn’t guarantee that a movie will be worth watching.
JUST WONDERING: Will The Borrowers be the next Mouse Hunt? I’ve seen nothing but good reviews so far. Maybe it will emulate DreamWorks’ most successful movie to date and overcome a slow start to become a hit.
READER OF THE DAY: From Greedo1469: “I’m thinking Titanic will get knocked out of the top spot in March with DiCaprio’s next film, The Man in the Iron Mask. What do you think?”

Not The Weekend Review

In a moment of history when presidents are held in questionable esteem, whatever their poll numbers, I forgot that this is a three-day weekend in Hollywood. So, tomorrow will be weekend review day. But here’s some sneak peak approximations. Titanic will do more than $25 million over three days and could get as high as $34 million over four. The Wedding Singer ($18m – $23m) should beat out Sphere ($16m – $20m) for second place. Good Will Hunting ($8m – $10m) and As Good As It Gets ($6.5m – $8m) will take fourth and fifth, while The Borrowers ($5m – $6.25m) should just edge out The Replacement Killers ($4.75 – $6m) for sixth.
OLD FACES IN NEW PLACES
Many of you have accused Hollywood of a lack of imagination in your letters to me. Well, today is the day The Hot Button proves your point. The following are all projects that heated up in the last week.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE: David Mamet is the writer. Al Pacino plays the man of two faces. Even director Harold Becker is kind of a retread. He’s the guy who put Pacino through his paces on the disastrous 1997 release City Hall. Maybe Julia Roberts will do a cameo as Mary Reilly. Let’s hope not.
UNTITLED SEQUEL TO THE MUPPET MOVIE: Henson Productions bought a pitch last week for a musical that finds the Muppets living the high life in Hollywood only to realize that they’ve lost their values, which sends them fleeing back to the swamps. Must be fictional. The Muppets haven’t had a hit since The Great Muppet Caper in 1981.

ADAM SANDLER
: THE MOVIE, PART 3: Adam and his writing-directing-producing pals are developing a fifth picture as a group. The new one, Guy Gets Kid, is about an immature 30-year-old whose life is changed when he adopts a six-year-old boy. He’s currently shooting The Water Boy, about an immature 29-year-old whose life is changed when he finds he has a knack for football. He’s in theaters now with The Wedding Singer as an immature 28-year-old whose life is changed when his fiancée dumps him. Or you can rent Billy Madison (immature 27-year-old turns elementary school student) or Happy Gilmore (immature 26-year-old turns golf pro).
MILDRED PIERCE: MGM is going to do a modern version of the Joan Crawford classic, Mildred Pierce. Execs are claiming that they won’t be remaking the movie so much as building a whole new movie from the original James M. Cain novel. Sure. Why not? Disney’s 1990 remake of Stella Dallas didn’t completely destroy Bette Midler‘s film career.
READER OF THE DAY: DCXU42B writes: “Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Honsou and Rupert Everett definitely gave three of the most memorable performances of the year. These performances touched and moved millions of people and will not be soon forgotten. And that’s a reward in itself — for them and for us.”

News By the Numbers

10. Burt’s Back: Oscar nominee Burt Reynolds will make a trio of cop movies for us here at TNT. Separate negotiations for Burt’s hair are ongoing.
9. Another Falling Star: Melanie Griffith is heading to TV in a new sitcom for CBS. Unlike ex-husbands Don Johnson (“Nash Bridges”) and Steven Bauer (“Wiseguy”), Melanie actually has a film career to lose by making the move.
8. Dead Dog: Buddy the Wonder Dog, better known to many of you as “Air Bud,” is dead. Wondrous to the end, Buddy’s last words were instructions to his owner to remove the stucco from his doghouse. To quote: “Ralph, rough roof.”
7. Comatose Web Site: Entertainment Asylum, a lavish Web site that tries too hard to be any good, is barely alive after AOL essentially pulled the plug less than six months after launching it. For any of you who have made the leap to rough cut, welcome.
6. Godzilla Takes Manhattan: Sony’s giant lizard in waiting was the hit of this week’s American International Toy Fair, but he kept a very low profile. If you weren’t buying, you weren’t seeing Big Green. The only hint Sony gave anxiously awaiting movie lovers? A giant banner proclaiming, “He’s as big as the Flatiron Building.” Well, duh!
5. Old Alliances: The team that ran Carolco Pictures into the ground, Andy Vanja and Mario Kassar, are planning a reunion tour. The dyspeptic duo, last seen together going bankrupt despite huge hits like Terminator 2 and Basic Instinct, have recently laid out $9.5 million individually for rights to projects that may never be made: Terminator 3 ($7.5 million) and a JoeShowgirlsEszterhas script that’s now in development hell at Paramount. Note to investors: Hide your checkbooks.
4. Scream Screwed: Someone is taking their boredom with making scary movies too far. Oh, well. She warned them. Neve Campbell told everyone who would listen that she would prefer something more challenging than Scream 3 as her summer hiatus project. She found it in Three to Tango, a comedy about a guy who pretends to be gay to win Neve’s heart. Now it’s Miramax’s turn to scream.
3. Settling’s Such Sweet Sorrow: DreamWorks and Barbara Chase-Riboud finally settled their copyright infringement case out of court with a tightly worded and information-free statement. But it was too late to help at the box office or at the Academy ballot box. Have I said that Djimon Hunsou was robbed yet?
2. Academy Awards: Leo, Djimon and Rupert weren’t nominated. Spike Lee is busy screaming that the Academy is racist even though his documentary, 4 Little Girls, was nominated. Meanwhile, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control was the latest documentary to be snubbed by the Academy for being too well-liked. Only one American was nominated as Best Actress. And Hillary Henkin got a screenwriting nod for a movie, Wag the Dog, that she didn’t write. Just another year at the Academy.
1. Titanic Suit: The latest explosion in the always tenuous relationship between Titanic co-producers 20th Century Fox and Paramount could get ugly. Turns out that the $30 million TV rights deal that Paramount made with NBC in December was a steal. Men In Black commanded $50 million and Fox paid $80 million for The Lost World. As a result, 20th Century may sue Paramount in an attempt to dump the now embarrassing deal. Gentlemen, start your lawyers.
Reader Of The Day: Rob S. on Leo: “Anybody who can make a line like ‘I guess you could call me a tumbleweed blowing in the wind.’ sound good and not laughable deserves to be at least nominated.”

Weekend Preview

The question of this weekend is whether 14 Academy Award nominations will mean anything to Titanic‘s box office when it’s already doing so well. It can. Look for around a 10 percent rise to bring it back over $25 million. In the second spot, Sphere seems like it has to do some kind of opening business, though the marketing has been pretty late in getting a head of steam. I’m thinking $13 million or so. A 15 percent Oscar jump for Good Will Hunting puts the film in the $8 million range where it will likely battle Adam Sandler‘s latest, The Wedding Singer, for third place. (Click to read my interview with Adam.) The Borrowers will be fortunate to pass the $5 million mark; after all, how much have you heard about it? Finally, can you all hear that giant sucking sound pulling The Replacement Killers, Blues Brothers 2000 and Great Expectations down the chart? I can and I don’t even have an intern.
THE GOOD: The Oscar bump may push As Good As It Gets over the $100 million mark this weekend. And Titanic will leave $350 million in the dust.
THE BAD: Say goodbye to Amistad. The film hit $40 million last weekend and got little help from the Academy. And just when they settled the lawsuit.
THE UGLY: Boogie Nights is still lingering under the $25 million mark.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: The Replacement Killers + Blues Brothers 2000 = “The Replacement Brothers.” Oops. That is Blues Brothers 2000.
TRACKING THE SOUNDS: Titanic isn’t the only movie with a hot record. Spice World has the third spot on Billboard, behind Celine Dion and top dog Titanic. Soul Food, surprisingly, continues to linger at 13. And Great Expectations: The Album is at 27 and heading up the charts. If things continue the way they have, the album will hit the Top Five around the same time the film hits the video stores.
JUST WONDERING: Why aren’t more people upset about Djimon Hunsou and Rupert Everett not getting Oscar nominations?
READERS OF THE DAY: There was so much Leo mail, I’m running comments from three of you:
Little Jeanne C. wrote: “He deserved the Oscar for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? It’s obvious Oscar folk just don’t like him.”
K. Talafuse wrote: “We believe (Leo) when he tells Rose, ‘The best thing that ever happened to me was winning those tickets. It brought me here to you…’ Yes, and the movie Titanic made us take more notice of you, Leo. I just wish the Academy had taken the hint and took notice too.”
And Gloria G wrote: Pass the word to Leo: he may not have gotten the nod from his peers but he certainly has the nod from his fans and one GRANDMA!

Oscar Nomination Special

As Hillary might say, it takes a village to guess all the Oscar nominations. The only person to get 19 of the 20 nominees in the top four categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor) was the lovely and talented Keith Collins. The only miss was the Best Director nod awarded to Peter Cattaneo for The Full Monty. But not a single person guessed that. Keith’s alternate guess was Jim Brooks for As Good As It Gets. It didn’t get that good.
Keith blew the supporting nominations, as did so many others. Robert Forster did in many of you who expected Rupert Everett from My Best Friend’s Wedding instead. And while every one of you guessed that Gloria Stuart and Kim Basinger would get nominated as Supporting Actress, you also thought Allison Elliott, Sigourney Weaver and Christina Ricci would get the nod. The only person to get both of the male and female supporting nods right was Jeffrey Paul Arthur Ellis, also talented and lovely, but tagged with an objectionably long name.
The screenplay nominations, which many of you skipped, left screenplay nominee of the future Marc Andreyko as the top dog with 80 percent correct. For him, Titanic was a better original screenplay than Deconstructing Harry, and Amistad was a better adaptation than The Sweet Hereafter, but not for the Academy. Screenplay wasn’t the only category to go without full-on competition. Very few of you put in your two cents for anything more than the top eight categories listed. But that’s no real surprise, especially in the documentary, shorts and foreign categories, in which most of the films nominated haven’t been available for viewing in this country. Even here in L.A.
A special nod to Kevin O, who offered up an opinion for every category the Academy offers. Kevin didn’t guess all the nominees, just a list of the people he thought should win. And now that the nominations are out, the only category in which his favorite isn’t nominated is Best Make-Up. Kevin wanted The Fifth Element to take the Oscar. Sorry, but it must be exciting to have a rooting interest in every other category on Oscar Night and during the tech awards the night before.
Thank you all for writing, and we’ll try to come up with a nice prize for your Oscar-night predictions in March.
READER OF THE DAY: Turns out that people really like the THX logo before movies, but reader Tony A may have lost his mind: “That slow THX build and crescendo really conveys a sense of power. In fact, I think the sound should be used in more everyday applications. How about a THX doorbell? Or alarm clock? The best would be a THX car alarm. ‘The Police are Listening.'”

Ranting and Raving – Mostly About Titanic

With 14 Oscar nominations for Titanic, I’ve begun to reflect on this rush of magazine pieces about how Titanic will change the movies you see. I’m pretty sure that I can sum up the answer in two words. It won’t. Teen romances were already relaunched by William Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet a year ago. And unless you’re going to remake The Hindenburg, there is no epic to be made that is in any way analogous to Titanic. There’s no trend for Titanic to set. It’s a singular event.
As far as Titanic launching more $250 million-plus budgets, fugeddaboudit. There’s only one director alive other than James Cameron who could have steered Titanic to the theaters, and his name is Steven Spielberg. That hasn’t changed. And don’t expect a guy like Spielberg, who is as image-sensitive as he is brilliant, to be going down into those murky waters. No. Titanic was made because Fox wanted Cameron to be in their stable. The same reason Paramount got involved. Now, everyone will make money and, as a result, Cameron won’t be jumping through hoops to get his next picture off the ground for Fox. So that might effect you. Cameron deprivation. Catch it!
The only real effect could be on the distribution side. Titanic may or may not pass Jurassic Park as the highest-grossing movie of all time, but it will certainly be the all-time biggest money-maker for theater owners. Normally, studios get between 60 and 70 percent on the take on opening weekends, with the percentage dropping to about 50 percent after a few weeks. But as Hollywood has gone into “All Blockbuster, All The Time” mode, the massive opening weekends have inspired studios to demand huge percentages of the opening-weekend gross, so a movie like The Lost World gobbles up 90 percent of all the revenue for the studio in Week One. Exhibitors enjoyed the massive $90 million Lost World opening in popcorn sales, but by the time they had a real stake in the financial bounty, three weekends later, the film managed only a $12.5 million weekend.
Titanic, on the other hand, has played right into exhibitors’ hands. The two films totaled almost the same over their first five weekends: The Lost World made $158 million, Titanic, $162 million). Yet Titanic, because of its consistent weekend pull of between $28 and $36 million, made exhibitors $63 million, while The Lost World was good for only about $39 million. On top of that, Titanic has played much better on weekdays, even on work days. Distribution chiefs at every studio are no doubt scrambling to figure out how to use this long run of Titanic success as an excuse to keep a higher percentage of revenue for a longer period of time. So, keep an eye out for the $5 tub of popcorn, coming soon to a theater near you. And thank Titanic.
READERS OF THE DAY: It took four readers to pick the Oscars. No one got everything. Everyone got the four Best Picture nods. And no one (no one!) got director Peter Cattaneo for The Full Monty. Check in tomorrow for the whole story.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott