Hot Button Archive for April, 1998

Readers Week

I’m not here. I’m in Puerto Vallarta, but I wrote this last week after seeing The Big Hit. I couldn’t help myself. So, indulge in my ranting, then there will be some more from actual readers.
From David P: “I love movies. I don’t love every movie, but I love the art form. It speaks to my heart. Conversely, it can depress and enrage me. Which brings me to The Big Hit. I didn’t dislike the film. I was psychologically scarred by it. Now, I’m sure there are those of you who have seen the film by now and loved it. That’s OK by me, but you may want to stop reading this column now, as you might find it a bit insulting.
The Big Hit is an incredibly well-made movie. Mark Wahlberg is great. Lou Diamond Phillips is great. It introduces one of the sexiest intelligent young actresses that I’ve seen in a long, long time (China Chow.) It looks good. The director can shoot action beautifully. There are lots of funny things in the film. The story is good, even if it’s the 3,000th kidnapping love story of the last year. Great. So why did The Big Hit make me want to vomit blood? Well, in no small part because I knew I would have to write this column. There aren’t many films that make me want to start yelling out the jokes 30 seconds before they happen so I don’t have to listen to people laugh at the most obvious of gags. There aren’t many movies that beat gags so far into the ground that they become embarrassingly self-aware. And there aren’t many movies that I find so painfully hard to watch while I know in my gut a lot of people will love it. I don’t want to be insulting to any of you. It’s bad business and worse, those of you who choose to spend a few minutes a day with me are like a circle of friends. I don’t smack my friends around. Except about movies.
“First, I felt like I was watching yet another tired Tarantino rip-off. Then, it seemed to be a combination of QT and John Woo and some sort of broad farce. But it wasn’t clever enough to be Tarantino. The violence had no heart, so it couldn’t be Woo (even though he executive produced it.) And while farce has rules, The Big Hit didn’t follow any. It went wherever the joke was and then pounded away at it for as long as it could. The jokes were not only predictable, they were telegraphed. You can’t telegraph a joke by mistake in a movie, which is one of the reasons I found the film contemptuous. It said, ‘Here comes the joke. Here it comes!’ Then it told the joke and begged you to laugh at it because you saw it coming. It reminded me of a 4-year-old telling the same knock-knock joke over and over and laughing at it every time. The animal, vegetable or mineral most enamored of The Big Hit is The Big Hit.
“Sometimes people in this business lose perspective and get into that ‘the more, the merrier’ mind set where they just keep piling on the crap, thinking that it will add up in the end. Or as one guy said to me after the screening, ‘The geeks will love it. All those explosions.’ Well, geeks love explosions, but they also love movies and, more to the point, understand movies. If you have a good story to tell, good actors and some clever writing, let it sit there and pull the audience in instead of trying to reach off the screen and into our popcorn to pull us into the movie. Good is good. Hyperactive is hyperactive. And precious slickness will give us all a stomach ache by the third act. In other words, next time, trust your movie enough to let it play instead of feeding it steroids.”
And now, some further desperation from the readers…
From Killcows: “I am desperate to see a film based on Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities. That novel features drama and violence combined in a way modern books never try for. I would like to see an accurate version of Jurassic Park, with the villainous Hammond, unedited gore, extra characters and a good ending. But they could keep the raptor nest and techno-babble out, and keep in the moral questions and sense of wonder.”
From Ryan N.: “Recently, there was a rumor of a film version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying with Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio. To my knowledge, this casting was just a ‘great notion’ to someone involved. Still, Sean? Jack? Leo? Three of the most talented actors of their respective generations? I’m there. I hope they make this one — I’d be curious as to how they do it. I’ve read the book, doesn’t look like it would be easy.
“Also, I’m a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’d love to see decent movies made of some of his books, like This Side of Paradise, Tender is the Night, and a REALLY GOOD movie based on The Great Gatsby. Matt, Leo, Ben, Tobey (Maguire)…Any one of them would make an excellent Fitzgerald hero. As for heroine, I’d pay to see Kate, Minnie, or Christina (Ricci) in just about anything.”
From Bradshaw D: “I am dying to see Spiderman get made. Cameron is the man, and if it is made, it will be the best comic-to-movie transition ever. There are two reasons why Spidey wouldn’t fail at the box office…1.) Cameron’s the name, and making kick ass movies is his game. 2.) It’s a Spiderman movie. ‘Nuff said. Everybody else who wants to see this give me a hell, yeah.”
From Mike G: “The movie I wished would be made would be the movie adaptation of The Dreyfus Affair, based on Peter Lefcourt’s novel. This story of two ballplayers (no pun intended) who fall in love would have fit right in with such movies as In & Out and The Birdcage, but from what I read in EW, the rights to the movie are being held by Disney, and they currently have no plans to film it. What a waste of a terrific story just waiting for the big screen.”

Readers Week

Well, everyone, about now I’m out on the open Pacific, headed toward Puerto Vallarta. I’m probably about 2.3 pounds heavier already and I have a slight burn on my nose. My “King of The World” camera has picked up 89 guys trying to pick up women by hanging off the front of the cruise ship and screaming the phrase that pays. And now, day one of you and you alone. Let the ranting begin.
That Stuff We Watch by killcows
“Movies are lost. Why do I say this, you ask? As with any legitimate art form, movies should come from the artist’s soul. But looking at the majority of films out there, especially the big-budget summer films that everyone sees, you’ll notice that they’ve become simple money-making machines for rich guys sitting in a mansion in L.A. that people like me only dream about.
Look at Godzilla. Do you think that someone said ‘I have this great idea that needs to be made into a movie because it is so powerful and entertaining,’ or ‘I have an idea that’s gonna get us a couple hundred million dollars and will be tied-in with every T-shirt, Happy Meal and action figure made next summer, and if we hurry production, we can have a sequel that makes twice as much the next year and gives us summer control for two years?’ Do you think Mortal Kombat was as cared about by its creators as Sling Blade or Citizen Kane?
It seems the only films that are really great these days are indies and the occasional accidental big-budget film on which somebody mistakenly installed an intelligent director and great writer set on making a classic. Steven Speilberg’s early stuff and the Star Wars movies, and a few other sci-fi and fantasy movies are the only films like that. Movies these days usually fall into clearly distinguishable categories: Sci-fi films usually are the best big-budget film type, since they require vision to create a completely different world. Action movies always seem to follow a simple formula and have little plot strung together by great explosions and fights.
Thrillers can be the worst, since they can be incredibly fake and stereotypical with bad plots. Comedy seems to all involve sex jokes and sight gags these days. Romance is usually boring and stupid, and stereotyped characters get into stereotypical situations that bring them together and then there are stereotypical relationship problems. Drama is almost non-existent. It exists in disaster and romance movies or sci-fi. Real drama, just drama is like Citizen Kane or It’s a Wonderful Life or period novel adaptations or Sling Blade or Rain Man. Most drama films are the indie films, and that’s why the industry is bad. It’s uninspired, rehashing the same stories and formulas.”
And now for something completely different…
My Rants by Annie Larsen
Primary Colors was a mediocre movie, but I’m sure it’ll be up for some statues next year because all the political aspects were there. But come on, folks, doesn’t anyone agree with me that 1. it wasn’t THAT funny, 2. it was, at times, about as interesting as a REAL political campaign and 3. it had some seriously nasty stereotypes going on? Regarding No. 3, I’m not usually terribly offended by stuff in movies. But when I first saw that there was a strong woman in the movie (Kathy Bates) and two women with short hair, I was pleasantly surprised. Too often Hollywood says, ‘Longer is more beautiful’ in regards to how much hair a woman should have. But then, of course, the strong woman (who had short hair) and the other short-haired women were… lesbians! Of course! How else could a woman in a movie be allowed to be pretty without long, flowing strands of hair, or be allowed to be strong without needing a guy? Ugh!
Other rants: Could somebody please set up a charity fund to give to any athletes who are considering a career in acting in the near future? We need some way to persuade them out of it. Think of the horror we could have saved some people if we’d had this for Dennis Rodman and Shaq.
I really wish somebody would make a movie about a strong woman who has her own life and career, is satisfied with that and is not considered a bitch. She wouldn’t need a lover, in fact, she wouldn’t even talk about sex or her lack of a man in the entire movie. She could be funny and have a personality without needing a guy. This is my dream. Can you do it, Hollywood? You failed miserably with Contact, so I’m beginning to have my doubts.
We need more action movies that contain actual plots. The Rock was the only example I’ve found so far in this genre.
And please can we lay off the disaster movies? How many do we need? How many more will people sit through? Twister had more errors than you can shake a stick at.
The typical box office today will give you: one romantic comedy, one action/monster flick with no plot, one disaster movie with no plot, one sad movie with a plot (usually about the disease of the week), one kids’ movie that makes you want to puke and one movie starring a cast member from ‘Friends.’ Take your pick.”
BOX OFFICE CONTEST WINNERS: With Dave out sailing the blue waters of the Pacific, I had the great honor of tabulating box office winners, and boy was I impressed. While not a single person picked the surprise Paulie to jump into fifth place, a whopping 20 contestants picked the top four right on target. I went ahead and based your score on what you gave the fifth place film, even though most of you chose Lost in Space. Coming in at first, with almost spotless numbers (he missed three by only $100,000) was Brian Greene from Florida. Impressive! Enrique Ortiz also strutted some serious knowledge by missing by a mere $700,000. Hey, Enrique, send Dave a shout-out because you didn’t leave any info for me to contact you. Great job all! We’re starting to get all set for this upcoming weekend, so start studying.

Weekend Wrap Up

This weekend was pretty predictable, all things considered. The Big Hit was a moderate hit with $11 million. City of Angels ($9 million, second place) continues to drop slowly, which is good news for Warner Bros., as Tarzan and the Lost City didn’t even hit the Top 10. (Sources at Village Roadshow, which co-financed the deal for the film with the WB, claim they put up almost all the prints and advertising money, explaining Warner’s surprisingly low-key sales job. The studio must not have wanted to release it at all.) The Object of My Affection dropped faster than I thought it would (to $5 million, losing almost 50 percent), and Titanic actually took a fall of 32 percent. Shocking! Almost as shocking as Scream 2 grabbing $1.8 million for 10th place as it chugs towards $100 million.
THE GOOD: Species II dropped even faster than I expected.
THE BAD: In God’s Hands got dumped onto the market quietly by Sony. My question: Why would anyone pay to see a Zalman King movie without a whole lot of naked people in it, which the PG-13 rating for IGH assures there will not be. Or this: Why would anyone pay money for a Zalman King movie at all?
THE UGLY: I’m trying to take a positive attitude to my vacation, so no ugly today.
THE CONTEST: Jennifer Nowitzky will be compiling the entries and will let you know who won later this week. And there will be a contest next week even without me to promote it, so motivate yourself.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Sliding Doors + The Big Hit = Sliding Hits. What would happen if Marky Mark really did have a Dirk Diggler and Gwyneth’s alter ego could replace Brad Pitt with him? What would happen if Lou Diamond Phillips were six inches taller? What would happen if Christine Applegate were shot for her incredibly offensive (because it is so bad!) Jew imitation? What would happen if Antonio Sabato Jr. could act 10 percent as well as he can pose? And what if America liked itself enough to make movies like Sliding Doors without all the Brits?
JUST WONDERING: Doesn’t the little girl in the Deep Impact previews look an awful lot like a midget Helen Hunt?
BAD AD WATCH: Scream 2′s re-release campaign runs such a butt-kissing pull quote (by an unnamed ABC-TV reporter from God knows where) that they hide the ABC-TV in the credits, inches away from the quote. What up with that? Did they think that we would assume the comment came from Martin Scorsese?
LOOSE NEWS STORIES: Rebecca Hughes sold her first script, The Mile High Club, to Working Title Films last week. It’s a comedy about an airport security guard who goes undercover to bust (no pun intended) an in-flight prostitution ring. Naturally, Propaganda Films hired her to write yet another version (number 27 and counting) of Pamela Des Barres‘ rock ‘n’ roll groupie epic, I’m With The Band. Hughes is hoping to some day write a movie in which most of the cast won’t be wearing kneepads. On the other hand, writing a biopic about President Clinton may not be all that bad.
LOOSE NEWS STORY 2, THE SEQUEL: The Spice Girls’ upcoming Madison Square Garden concert sold out so quickly this week (12 minutes) that New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco is looking into possible illegal block sales to scalpers from out of state. New York State Surgeon General Joe Nonexistent is looking into evidence of the statewide brain damage that would be required for 13,000 people to shell out $35-$50 each to see the Spice Girls perform live.
READER OF THE DAY: You guys have all week to talk. Reader’s Week starts tomorrow.

News By The Numbers

10. The Roar Store: Did you think that Disney and Warner Bros. stores were enough already? Paramount parent Viacom tried its hand at The Viacom Store (which also encompasses Nickelodeon, Nick at Night and TV Land) on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, and word has it that the store will soon close. In other words, the franchises you are selling had better be damned strong and clear-cut if you want to make it in that racket. Disney and Warner animation are. Is the MGM brand strong enough? The studio apparently thinks so, as it announced plans to open studio brand outlets in department and specialty stores around the U.S., and you can look for the 50 percent off liquidation sales sometime next February.
9. The Cannes Con: It’s Cannes time again! Once again the festival of glitz, glamour and overstuffed film critics hits the south of France. It’s the perfect place to be if you are a salesman, whether of a movie, your body or your soul. About the only legitimate work that goes on there seems to be by Roger Ebert, which is kind of scary when you think about it. One good thing: The bimbo population of L.A. drops by 30 percent as girlfriends, wannabes and wannabe girlfriends head for the topless beaches and drunken cocktail parties that would make Michael DeLuca blush.
8. Glub, Glub Glub: The Soundtrack — Titanic: The movie may be finally sailing into the sunset, but the soundtrack is still number one with a bullet after a record-breaking (for soundtracks) 15 consecutive weeks on top. The previous record holder was the score for Exodus, which featured the Celine Dion hit, “I’m a Jew On a Boat and I’m in Love.” (Just kidding.)
7. That’s A Rap!: Sean “Puffy” Combs and Mariah Carey both set their debuts in starring movie roles this week. Carey will play the pouty-lipped, tight-skirted love interest of Chris Tucker in Double-O-Soul, while Puff Daddy will be toiling for Oliver Stone in the Warner Bros. football drama, On Any Given Sunday. Puffy, in accordance with his practice in the video world, insisted as part of his deal that he be allowed to make a cameo in every single movie, TV show and animated program the studio makes and that the WB logo would be replaced by a picture of The Notorious B.I.G.
6. George W. Bush, Texas governor and likely presidential candidate in 2000, hit Hollywood this week. A crowd of 300 industry-ites showed up to a breakfast to listen to the son of George and Barbara. Bush avoided any overt attacks on Hollywood, but did say, amongst other things, “The culture can be changed, one act of compassion at a time.” At that point, singer George Michael excused himself from the room and headed to the nearest park.
5. The Black Is Back: The much-discussed, much-debated, much-wanted home video release of The Black Cauldron is on its way. The only PG-rated, fully-animated Disney feature will hit shelves August 4. I don’t know if that’s really a good thing, but lots of you seem to think so, so enjoy.
4. The Studio Follies: There’s an old elementary school joke about dirty laundry, with a recurring punchline of “Awash-a, wash-a, wash, arinse-a, rinse-a, rinse, you put it to your nose and it smells just like a rose.” I am reminded of that joke every time another Warner Bros. or Universal exec is dumped. That means I’ve been thinking about that stupid joke way too much this last couple of weeks. This week’s victim: Warner Bros.’ Bill Gerber, who “resigned” Tuesday from his co-presidency of the studio with Lorenzo di Bonaventura. And you know what? Things still stink.
3. Anime I, Mickey?: Disney has become the first Hollywood studio to invest in original Japanese animation (aka anime), coughing up $1.23 million for a 10 percent stake in the film, securing domestic and European rights. The film should be sweeter and less violent than the most popular Japanese anime product since it’s based on a family comic from the national daily Asahi Shimbun. Look for it next summer.
2. The Amazing Cameronman: Investment maven Carl Icahn is leading a group that is trying to buy the long-bankrupt Marvel Comics Group for $475 million. The company certainly has value, but could it be that Icahn is really investing in the potential Jim Cameron‘s Spiderman. After all, Marvel sued to regain exclusive rights to their character, and if that happens and Cameron finally does make the most-anticipated movie not-to-be-made of the last few years, the payoff could be worth billions. Certainly more than $475 million.
1. And Last But Not Least, ARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!: Godzilla will close the aforementioned Cannes film festival. It’s not clear whether Mr. Zilla will be in attendance, but the French are preparing hundreds of 300-foot platforms so they can be sure to be looking down at him if he shows.
THE BOX OFFICE CHALLENGE: Hurry up and enter before the coach turns into a pumpkin. The winner will choose from the Paramount stash of The Truman Show and Deep Impact product.
READER OF THE DAY: From Larry: “I went to see Homegrown twice. Once on opening night and then I caught a Saturday matinee with friends. I loved it both times and highly recommend it (no pun intended.) At both screenings, the theater was near capacity. Those who came for a drug comedy, a la Half-Baked or Up in Smoke, were in for a pleasant surprise in that they got a “funny-drama” instead. Tri Star really needs to change their ad campaign for this film. It is unfortunate that Homegrown, as did The Big Lebowski — the greatest film of the 1990s! — came out so early in the year that they will be overlooked by the Academy during next year’s Oscar nominations.

The Big Hit

It looks like The Big Hit will be the big hit of the weekend. It’s one of only two films hitting screens in wide distribution this weekend, the other being Warner Bros.’ Tarzan and The Lost City, which has been lost in the shuffle. Tarzan (Casper Van Dien) was on the “next male star” train c/o Starship Troopers when Leo and Matt derailed him. He sure is pretty, though. The Big Hit is full of beautiful men, beautiful women and enough clichés to choke a horse but the performances are good across the board, and a lot of you are going to love this film. (Almost as many of you will hate it.) Look at about $15 million this weekend as teenage girls switch from The Object of My Affection (dropping about 25 percent to third place with $7.3 million) to the objects of erection (Mark, Lou, Antonio and Bokeem are all butt-naked, literally, just minutes after the picture starts). City of Angels should fall just below the $10 million mark in its third weekend. Titanic dazzled us all with a dozen straight weeks over $20 million, but three weeks around $10 million for anything else is big news anytime outside of summer.
The Big Boat should pass up The Big Spaceship this weekend as Titanic continues sailing with just a 20 percent drop to $5.9 million and Lost In Space takes what has become its traditional 45 percent drop to $4.1 million and fifth place. Paulie will probably drop about 25 percent to $4 million and sixth place, though if it follows in Mouse Hunt‘s footsteps, it would actually go up in its second weekend. I’m pretty sure that Tarzan can manage about $3.5 million to open in seventh place, even without Warner Bros.’ full support. Things should be tight the rest of the way with The Odd Couple II dropping about 30 percent to $2.6 million, Mercury Rising dropping 35 percent to $2.4 million and The Players Club and Species 2 sharing tenth with about $2.2 million apiece. And it’s back to the minors for Major League 3 dropping out of the Top 10 line-up altogether.
THE GOOD: Almost no one got sucked into Nightwatch ($585,733) or Suicide Kings ($558,081) last weekend.
THE BAD: Even fewer people got to the quality art house films, The Spanish Prisoner ($316,653) and The Butcher Boy ($224,386).
THE UGLY: Have I mentioned Tarzan and The Lost City yet? Nothing is uglier than when a studio abandons what was meant to be a high-profile project.
THE CONTEST : First, I want to apologize to a few of you who haven’t gotten your prizes yet. Studios are more efficient prize senders than I. All the outstanding stuff went out Thursday. This week, the prizes will come from the Hot Button treasure trove of Deep Impact and The Truman Show stuff. So, click here, enter the contest and win, win, win!
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Two Girls and a Guy + Suicide Kings = Two Girls and a Suicide King. Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner are driven to suicide after having to watch Denis Leary attempt to act for two hours. Among the horrible moments, Leary repeatedly insists that Wagner’s mother’s (Natalie Wood) last words were, “I hear you screaming, and I think I’m jumping in.”
JUST WONDERING: I caught Lés Miserables Wednesday night. Lots of good to say about it, but shouldn’t Claire Danes make at least one movie in her career where she doesn’t cry? Tears are becoming to Danes what accents were to Meryl Streep a few years ago. Normally, I pray for young actresses to get past the tight-T-shirted-girlfriend parts, but maybe Danes should be looking to intercept the next screenplay that’s headed to Jennifer Love Hewitt and just have a good time for a change. Or maybe a guest spot on the last episode on “Seinfeld” as the Easy Crier to make the transition to comedy easier?
BAD AD WATCH: I don’t think Two Girls and a Guy is the worst film ever, but writer-director James Toback couldn’t shoot his way out of a paper bag, and whatever part of the film is worth watching (mostly Robert Downey Jr. being his hyperkinetic drug-frenzied self) covers about 10 minutes out of a 90 minute film. Owen Gleiberman‘s pull quote is a good indication of just how out of touch with reality a critic can get. Second place goes to Jeffrey Lyons, whose name seems to be popping up in more and more ads for bad films, for calling Mercury Rising, “Bruce Willis’ Best Film Yet.”
READER OF THE DAY: From The Lady E: “After seeing The Sweet Hereafter for the third time last night, I still think that it’s the best film to come out in the last five years. Not a flaw to be seen. And I’m rankled anew that Jack Nicholson won the Oscar when Ian Holm did such incredible work in this little film. (‘Something has taken our children away from us.’) Arg. I’m also sad that I’m going to have to miss seeing it again Thursday Night (only playing twice this week, suck), but the sacrifice is worth it — test screening of The Truman Show with Peter Weir in attendance. This movie looks awesome from everything that I’ve seen and heard, and I have high hopes that Jim Carrey will prove that he can do a role that doesn’t endlessly irritate me.”

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More Blood

If last week’s exit parade from Universal wasn’t enough for you, take a trip over the hill (isn’t that an ironic turn of phrase?) to Warner Bros., where Bill Gerber has now followed Chris Pula out the door. Was the two-headed President-of-Production post that Gerber shared with DiLorenzo a good idea in the first place? No. Was it responsible for the disaster year of 1997? No. But dumping Pula didn’t stop the media scrutiny, so the second goat was served up. Uneasy lies the head, baby.
LOVING ANDY KAUFMAN: It appears that Courtney Love will play the small role of Andy Kaufman‘s romantic interest in the upcoming Man on the Moon, opposite Jim Carrey. OK. But my question is, who will play groundbreaking female comic Elayne Boosler, who was one of Kaufman’s very best friends? How about Boosler, who has never been able to break through to TV or movie stardom? (Elayne has also long been rumored to be the real-life Elaine from “Seinfeld” long before Carol Leifer took credit for it and Entertainment Weekly propagated the myth, which Larry David vehemently denies.)
BACK TO PASS, AGAIN: Dennis Quaid has had a hard run of it since Hollywood pronounced him “the next big thing” over a decade ago. One of the films he made that went nowhere was Everybody’s All-American, which happens to be one of my very favorite forgotten films which he played a top college QB from his glory days to his old age. Well, he’s putting on the pads again. This time, it’s with Oliver Stone directing and with Al Pacino and Puff Daddy as his acting accomplices. He plays only one gridiron age in this film, but it’s about a decade younger than his actual one (44). It’s easy to forget that a grizzled 13-year-veteran football player is still likely to be under 35.
PUFF MOMMY: While we are on the subject of singing-sensations-
turned-actors, Mariah Carey is about to sign on the line that is dotted to appear opposite Chris Tucker in Double-O-Soul. Carey would be the bad girl stepdaughter of the super villain. Think she’ll be falling for Tucker? I’d say that’s a sure a bet, as is whether Tucker will bug his eyes out more than a dozen times in the film.
COMING SOON! MESSY DIVORCE!: Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and his wife of 32 years, Anna, are splitting up. But that’s not the news. The news is that it was announced in Liz Smith‘s column, which runs in the Murdoch-owned New York Post. Sick.
CAN’T WE ALL JUST MOVE ALONG?: O.J. Simpson continues to be shorthand for evil. The latest off-handed slap at the former non-target came from Disney chief M-i-c-h-a-e-l Eisner, who upon being asked about the ongoing investigation of animal death’s at Disney’s new attraction, Animal Kingdom, said, “I think the word investigation probably is more pejorative and probably should refer to O.J. Simpson than it would to this kind of a situation.” Freedom’s just another word for hounded-til-the-end.
BREAKING THE WIND: Lars von Trier, who was last seen in this country peddling a film called Breaking the Waves that apparently thought degrading a woman was the same as emancipating her, now offers The Idiots. As described by The Hollywood Reporter, it’s a “satire about a grieving young woman who finds a home with a group of young people who confront societal norms by posing as idiots.” To me that sounds like a woman who proves she is an idiot by joining a group of idiots who prove that they are idiots by pretending they are idiots. Guess the joke’s on them. At least he got the title right.
READER OF THE DAY: From Ryan: “About Maria’s comment (in Tuesday’s ROTD)… Ben is too good for Matt. He’s also too good for Gwyneth, but that’s another story. Although, Matt and Ben with their pants down would explain why Matt dumped someone as luscious as Minnie Driver. Because otherwise, there’s just no excuse for it.”
And Gaby, on Harmony (Wednesday’s Hot Button): “Harmony could be an idiot savant. He has this incredible capacity to make films and write novels, yet he can’t get a decent sentence to come out of his mouth. I can’t believe that someone gave him over a million dollars to play with for his last film. Why was he trusted with all that money? On ‘Letterman’ the other night he couldn’t tell his ass from his elbow.”

Ranting and Raving

A few months ago, I made fun of Mouse Hunt before it even hit theaters. All the standard rules pointed toward a failure, but the standard rules (and I with them) were wrong about Mouse Hunt. I only found out I was wrong because one of The Hot Button regulars, Alex, wrote and bugged me about ripping the film before checking it out for myself. I went and I was charmed. So were audiences, who kept coming for weeks, making it one of the few films that did business in the same waters as Titanic (perhaps the only one that didn’t end up with a bunch of Academy Award nominations).
Now, Alex is a publicist by trade, and as a journalist, we are natural adversaries. Publicists are there to tell me how great things are, and I am here to tell them they are probably full of excrement. (I should note here that Alex is not a full-time DreamWorks employee, but he is definitely an enthusiast). One must always keep in mind that the proof is in the movies, not the words. After DreamWorks SKG made The Peacemaker, Mouse Hunt and Amistad, the first three films of their new studio, the doubters started coming out of the woodwork. The Peacemaker was a boilerplate movie at best. Mouse Hunt started slowly and still isn’t recognized as the surprise hit it became. And Amistad was mired in legal entanglements, historical question marks and the uneasy feeling that there was something intangible missing from the film.
By March of this year, when DreamWorks landed in Las Vegas for ShoWest (The Hot Button report on DreamWorks is here), the studio lacked some of the glitz that a bunch of Amistad Oscar nods were supposed to have brought. And the studio did nothing to fight against that lackluster tide in the low-key presentation of its reel which was followed by a sales-pitch-free party.
But the proof is in the movies, not the words. And the proof about DreamWorks has started coming into focus.
ITEM: Prince of Egypt was shifted into a December slot that seemed to suggest that the film was running from the annual Disney November rampage. But then word came that Prince of Egypt wouldn’t be marketed like a Disney movie. The voice emanating from the Burning Bush wouldn’t be a funny asp who would end up being Moses’ sidekick. There wouldn’t be a Burning Bush action figure, Red Sea Bubble Bath or a hyped-up tape recorder that lets your child sound like the voice of God. Jeffrey Katzenberg wasn’t just recreating his work at Disney by animating a fairy tale with a funny rug, monkey or gargoyle. He was making a film that wouldn’t make any apologies.
ITEM: Paulie hits theaters. DreamWorks undercut the real values of this film by giving it a Babe-like ad campaign, but like Mouse Hunt, the movie is better than the ads. It’s not a perfect film, not by a long shot, but it’s a good film. And like Mouse Hunt, it doesn’t talk down to children. It is dark and light and smart and stupid and real. It’s a kids movie that will actually entertain parents, and, even more important, it won’t be making Mom and Dad squirm in their seats, anticipating questions after the movie they don’t want to answer. It could be more commercial. They could have gotten bigger stars. But DreamWorks chose to just make the movie, again, without apologies.
A pattern starts to emerge. The pattern of a new studio. A special studio. When Warner Bros. made A Little Princess and Paramount made Fairytale: A True Story and New Line made Corrina, Corrina, they had almost no chance of success. These were wonderful, specialized films in a crass, uncaring market. When one gem shows up, audiences have a hard time finding it in the mad rush to get to another weekend of three or four major releases. DreamWorks, in offering Mouse Hunt, Paulie and Prince of Egypt, is setting the foundation for a golden age of children’s filmmaking. And until they prove otherwise, those are the lenses I’ll be seeing their kids’ films through.
But, it’s not just the kids. The theme of putting movies first continues when you look at the rest of their line-up. Steven Spielberg is making back-to back “serious” films (Amistad/Saving Private Ryan) for the first time in his career. Small Soldiers takes advantage of the unique talents of Joe Dante, a highly-skilled filmmaker who has gone without a major project since Gremlins 2: The New Batch disappointed at the box office. Blue Vision (aka In Dreams) gives one of the very best directors in the world, Neil Jordan, a chance to work in the darkest colors possible without being forced to use major movie stars as a safety net. And that’s the entire DreamWorks line-up for 1998. And that’s a big part of this story, too. Instead of rushing to make enough movies to be seen as a major, the studio is just making the movies it really wants to make. Really good filmmakers making the films that they really want to make. Wouldn’t it be great if every studio was like that? Just four films in, DreamWorks is already coming into focus. Meanwhile, the other studios, most notably Universal and Paramount (ironically Spielberg’s former home and the releasing studio for the DreamWorks co-produced Deep Impact, respectively) struggle for an identity.
Now, I don’t know whether any of the upcoming movies will be great. Who knows? They may be hideous. But in this city of competition and daily box office numbers DreamWorks is laying a foundation in a way that no one else ever has. And that’s something to rant and rave about any day.
READER OF THE DAY: From Erin: “I happened to catch Harmony Korine (Kids/Gummo) on ‘Letterman’ Tuesday. This has got to be the funniest thing I’ve seen in months. Like… since Farrah Fawcett. Perhaps more so. If you missed Korine’s wonderful showing (defining Letterman quip of the evening: ‘This is the reason why they invented child-proof caps’), I highly recommend finding somebody, anybody, in the city with a tape of the show. It’s worth watching just to ask yourself why this guy is so highly regarded by some in the business. And why he seems adverse to showering. And just what pharmaceutical(s) he indulged in before his moment on the Letterman couch.”

Next Week at the Hot Button

Next week, I’m going on a cruise ship and I’m leaving the Hot Button Asylum to the inmates. That’s you, gang! You want a chance to be Dave for a day? Here it is. But I need your comments, thoughts, rants or just plain insults about Hollywood this week, so I can package them for next week. Topics that are already on the table are Favorite Movies, The Worst Movie of 1998 To Date, Movie Ideas You Are Desperate To See Made and Racism (Perceived or Real) in The Movie Business. But the topic list is wide open. It’s up to you! So, write, right now.
CONTEST WINNERS: As long as I’m doing housekeeping at the top of the page today, let me be the first to congratulate Mario, aka mar1679. He’s the contest winner this week, just barely nosing out Sam H. Ironically, neither gave an address. I hope they’ll read this and correct that. Mario didn’t even give a last name. In any case, they were the only two who actually got the Top Five right. Only two others got the Top Four in order and they were Jennifer J and Deidre C. When asked about sex in the entry form, Jennifer responded “yes,” so she’ll be getting a special Hot Button Smart-Ass prize. Thanks to all of you who entered and keep trying. So far, no one has made the Top Five twice, so there is hope. And keep an eye out for this week’s prize sponsor on Thursday.
STEPPING ON MICHAEL DOUGLAS’ HEAD: Warner Bros. is apparently high on The Perfect Murder, the Michael Douglas/Gwyneth Paltrow murder mystery from director Andy The FugitiveDavis. So high that they may movie the film to the June 5 slot that has sent everyone else running because of its proximity to Godzilla. I, for one, am hoping they’ll make the move. That way the studios can junket Godzilla and Gwyneth all in one glorious New York weekend.
SKEET IN RETREAT: After Skeet Ulrich took the role in Ang Lee‘s To Live On that Matt Damon was supposed to take before he took the role that Leonardo DiCaprio was supposed to take in All the Pretty Horses, he started telling people he would be ready to retire from the film business after another five or six films. Why? Because his wife, Georgina Cates, retired from acting to live on a farm in Virginia, and says Skeet, “I was so proud of her when she quit the business.” Now, I’m not one to mock those lost in the self-delusion of intense romance (Skeet has her name tattoed on his left pec and she has his on her right buttock), but these two are both under 30 and in show business. They have violated the Eleventh Commandment 1998: Thou Shall Not Have An Actor’s Name Tattooed On Your Body, No Matter How Good The Sex!
ORSON WELLES, THE MOTION PICTURE: It looks like director Tim Robbins is finally going to get into production with his long-talked-about period drama about the fight over Marc Blitzstein‘s The Cradle Will Rock. The little-known (outside of the theater world) Blitzstein will be played by Hank Azaria, who will next be seen in Godzilla. But the real fun, besides what I’m sure will be a great movie in its own right, will be current actors playing well-known figures form the past. John Cusack will play Nelson Rockefeller, Cary Elwes will play the young John Houseman and as Orson Welles, is Angus McFadden, who you will remember from Braveheart and who is currently playing another dead guy, Peter Lawford, in HBO’s movie about the Rat Pack. Also on board are some little-known actors: Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon and John Turturro. I’ll definitely be looking forward to this one.
ADVENTURES IN IRONY: Castle Rock has bought William Prochnau‘s Vanity Fair article, “Adventures in the Ransom Trade.” Where did they come up with that catchy title? No doubt it was inspired from screenwriter William Goldman‘s classic show biz book Adventures in the Screen Trade. Where does Goldman call home these days? Castle Rock. Maybe he’ll end up writing the screenplay.
READER OF THE DAY: Maria responds, rather viciously, to my question about who would be next to be caught with their pants down in Hollywood: “It is so obvious the next to be caught in an awkward position will be those two pretty boys who think they can act, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. They will probably be caught in the back of a brand new car they buy with the $5.5 million Mattie will get for doing that movie that was first offered to Leo!”

Weekend Wrap Up

The story of this weekend at the box office was the same story as last weekend: City of Angels. It dropped only 15 percent (to $13 million), which is really quite remarkable for a film that got mixed reviews and that deals with some difficult subject matter for the word-of-mouthers, but it stayed on top, because, to quote some guy somewhere, “chicks dig it.” Chicks also seem to dig The Object of My Affection ($10 million, second place) which, like City of Angels, offers up an unusual on-screen love relationship. The theater I saw it in was filled with teenaged girls. Now they all want gay apparitions of their very own. Speaking of gay apparitions, Lost in Space (haunted by Jonathan Harris, the original Dr. Smith, nowhere to be found in the new film) falls 43 percent to $7.7 million and third place, followed by Titanic (10 percent of the post-iceberg apparitions are likely to be gay), which fell only 14 percent to fourth place with $7.3 million. Paulie did better than expected, and the word-of-mouth (it’s not just “Babe with a Bird”) is good, so the $5.4 million fifth place start could be just the beginning, much as with DreamWorks’ last animal dramedy, Mouse Hunt. (I saw the film out of deference to reader Alex. W and was pleasantly surprised. More on this in Wednesday’s rant).
The Second Five starts with Species II, which dropped a surprisingly modest 47 percent (OK, it’s not modest, but try finding someone who likes this movie!) to sixth place and $3.9 million. The Odd Couple II fell only 23 percent (any more and someone would have broken a hip), staying in seventh place, but dropping to $3.7 million. Mercury Rising fell 35 percent for eighth with $3.6 million, tied with The Players Club, which dropped only 22 percent. Don’t be surprised if Ice Cube‘s directorial debut ends up outgrossing Bruce, Alec and the stupid title. Finally Major League: Back to the Minors was sent to the showers, with only $2.1 million in its debut.
THE GOOD: Our own Veronica Mixon so amused Mark Ramsey with her comments on Jennifer Aniston that he quoted her in his Movie Juice review of The Object of My Affection. So, they both get a plug. Click here to read Ms. Mixon’s interview with Jen and here to find Ramsey’s RC-referential review.
THE BAD: Nightwatch crashed and burned, hopefully never to be seen again. Is that bad?
THE UGLY: I caught Shirley MacLaine on Bravo’s award-winning “Inside The Actors Studio” talk show this weekend. The entire show was aired in soft focus with Vaseline on the lenses. I’m all for aging, but please do it with grace. After people spend a half hour trying to tune their sets, they are going to figure out that you are in your 60s, Shirl. It’s OK. You’re coming back as someone younger.
THE CONTEST: Results are on their way…
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Nightwatch + Major League 3 = Nightwatch: Back to the Minors. Three short films by three horny old directors. First, Roman Polanski follows his next girlfriend through the birth canal to his arms in Umbilical Love. Then, Peter Bogdanovich obsesses about the young girl who was of legal age before seducing her underage sister in Not Star 80. Finally, Woody Allen offers his light comic touch to Hanging Mia By Her Neck Until Dead. He insists it’s not autobiographical, and so does his lawyer.
JUST WONDERING: Is Warner Bros. dumping its new Casper Van Dien Tarzan movie? It’s coming to a theater near you next week, but Warner Bros. won’t tell anyone if you won’t.
BAD AD WATCH: That would have to be Juliette Hohnen promoting the TV version of our site on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” Juliette is a lovely, sweet woman, but her pathetic plea to watch RCTV couldn’t even get me to watch.
READER OF THE DAY: From Tommy G. Kendrick: “Here is a film that might get overlooked if TriStar doesn’t start doing a better (adequate) job of promoting it. Dancer, Texas Pop. 18 got incredibly positive audience and critical reaction (including Emanuel Levy’s review in Variety) at the recent SXSW film festival in Austin. The film is set to open wide in Texas and in select theaters in L.A., New York City, Chicago and Toronto on May 1. Dancer stars Ethan Embry, Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli and Eddie Mills as four life-long friends in the tiny Texas town of Dancer. The friends have a long-standing pledge to leave town together on the first bus to L.A. following their high school graduation. It’s that weekend, and the entire town gets involved in their decisions to stay or go. This is a very funny and poignant film with a wonderful script by Tim McCanlies (upcoming Iron Giant) who also directed. Full reviews, interviews, etc. are archived at the Unofficial Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 site.”

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News By The Numbers

10. Another Dog Movie: Just when you thought it was safe to go to the multiplex, incredibly-talented cinematographer Dean Cundey is about to direct his first feature, Top Dog. It’s the story of a dog who takes a bullet for the president and then comes back to Earth as a Secret Service agent. Start thinking of snide remarks now before the release-time rush begins.
9. The Phantom Star: While Leo is reportedly being offered $25 million a picture and Matt “I Broke Minnie’s Heart” Damon is grabbing $5.5 million for All The Pretty Horses, Titanic’s villain, Billy Zane, is starting his next film. It’s for Kushner-Locke (a primarily TV-based studio that can’t get a film into theaters) and director John Landis (who nobody wants to work with) in a film called Susan’s Plan. Zane’s character was certainly over-the-top in Titanic, but doesn’t he deserve better than being sent back into the world of direct-to-video movies for a six-figure payday?
8. Pay To Play: Even as Universal chief Edgar Bronfman was taking a lot of heat for suggesting premium prices for premium movies, General Cinema premiered their “Premium Cinema” concept in a Chicago suburb last week. The theater offers a separate entrance, valet parking, leather chairs, free popcorn and table service for appetizers, full meals and cocktails, including wine and $75 a bottle champagne. All that for only $15. Of course, you need the very best movie to draw these premium customers. The first feature? Mercury Rising.
7. Mad (Max’s) Money: Mel grossed more than any one Australian show business personality last year, with a reported $40.9 million take. In pursuit of the “Lethal Weapon” are kiddie TV show, “Bananas In Pajamas” ($6.7 million), Shine star Geoffrey Rush ($3.8 million), Nicole Kidman ($3 million) and Anthony LaPaglia ($1.6 million).
6. Sex-Free: No good stories about anyone pleasuring themselves in a park, getting pleasured in a parked car or getting porked by a woman named Carl. All bad things in time, I guess. Who do you think is next to be caught and in what position?
5. The Money Squad: Some movies have to actually become hits before the legal vultures gather around the fattened calf, but the heat around The Mod Squad movie already has the son of Mod Squad creator Buddy Ruskin suing Spelling Entertainment. He claims Spelling didn’t have movie rights as producers of the TV show and that they duped him into giving up rights to the feature film version of the “Three Delinquents Turned Cops” saga. Of course, any fool knows you don’t file the nuisance suit until after the film is in production. Ruskin’s 3-foot-high `fro and 6-inch platform Nikes must be distracting him from his game.
4. Another Week Of Leo: Even as The Big Boat is running out of steam, the Leo business is going as strong as ever. A day without Leo news is like a day without publicists. There’s the lawsuit over Don’s Plum, the ultra-low-budget movie Leo made a few years ago that he is accused of trying to squelch. Then, there’s The Role That Got Away, as Leo took a pass (or at least delayed so long that Miramax moved on to their Leo-hype-wannabe Matt Damon) in All the Pretty Horses. (Both stories are covered in Thursday’s Hot Button). And this Friday morning, as I made the once-a-month mistake of allowing Geraldo Rivera on my TV, there were a hoard of gossip reporters fighting to expose the juiciest story of Leo and The Sexy Woman, along with the threat from his publicists that Leo might give up show biz if they kept running their terrible stories about him and his sex life. Many of you have written and asked about Leo’s sexuality. I’ve taken no position and I don’t really care much about that subject, but this sure feels like a publicity effort to secure Leo’s heterosexuality, which is more often than not a sign that the story being told is false.
3. Godzilla Droppings: This was the week that the master plan for Godzilla to take over the world started taking shape. Sony is looking to open their ultimate monster movie (at least, ultimate this year) on more screens than any film ever (hoping to surpass The Lost World’s 6,190 screen record) at a higher rate of return from the theater owners (90 percent flat) than any film ever. Sony’s quest has led to theater owners breathing flames even though Dean Devlin promises the monster will not. (P.S. They’ll pay the money and cough up the screens. After all, business is business.)
2. Superman ReShelved: You can read about the latest delay on Superman Lives (aka Superman Reborn, aka Can’t You People Make Up your Mind?!) but the story of interest to me here is the scam Warner Bros. is now running that they are bailing on these projects because they are hovering around the $100 million mark. No one is scuttling a Superman movie or for that matter Schwarzenegger in I Am Legend for $100 million budgets. Try $150 million or more. You can’t make these movies at a major studio for less than $100 million anymore. This is PR that is starting even before production to keep the budget stories from starting. You were worried that Titanic would send budgets out-of-control? If it does, no one will ever admit it until after the film is a mega-hit.
1. Armageddon Opens Early: When Universal parted ways with strategic legal beagle Howard Weitzman last week after a 22-year relationship, you could choose to believe that the parting was amicable. They never are, but you could choose to believe the lie. When the studio’s President of Production, Marc Platt, was shown the door a few days later, you could stick your head in the dirt and try to ignore Universal Chairman Casey Silver when he said with a straight face, “It’s based largely on differences in working styles and is not related to performance.” But when marketing chiefs Buffy Shutt and Kathy Jones got knocked out of the box a few days later, the appearance of Pol Pot in the news seemed like a Hollywood irony. This story will continue, with theories as to the Universal game plan including a takeover by Imagine producer Brian Grazer (which would fit — Imagine already runs the studio) or Barry Diller, who bought the TV operations of the media giant, taking over the whole place. We’ll see. Good thing Bronfman owns Seagrams. The studio liquor store is probably doing record business.
BOX OFFICE CHALLENGE: Sour Grapes is our prize sponsor this week. You have until Saturday afternoon to enter, but I would love to get those of you who are coming to the site too late to enter involved. Please let me know how I can make this work for you. Maybe an entry blank via e-mail on Thursday or Friday? Let me hear your ideas.
READER OF THE DAY: From Samuel S., regarding Friday’s ROTD: “I’m surprised Ryan is down on 1998 already. Every movie he cited as being good in 1997 was made AFTER this time last year. Late January through late April is always a big dumping grounds for bad movies — most of what people see is the Oscar-caliber December movies of the previous year. Don’t give up on 1998 yet — it hasn’t even started!”

Weekend Preview

The door should be open for newcomers this weekend, but the question is whether any of them can come into the top slot. I expect City of Angels to drop by about 35 percent to $10 million, so the apex of Box Office Mountain is as low as it’s been in months. But all three wide releases, Major League: Back to the Minors, The Object of My Affection, Nightwatch and Paulie are all carrying baggage and it’s not Louis Vuitton. The first Major League grossed $50 million domestically, the sequel $30 million, so this one should do what, about $18 million total? “Friends” stars have not been the object of moviegoer’s affection. Will a comedy about a woman in love with a gay man play in Peoria? Even if it’s actually worth watching?
Jennifer Aniston opened Picture Perfect, which did have some critical praise (which I couldn’t understand), to only $7.8 million last summer, though that was against much stiffer competition. Maybe. Nightwatch is essentially a low-profile release of a film that went through a series of aborted low-profile releases last year after sitting in the can since the summer of 1996). The Force is not with Ewan McGregor this time.
Last, but perhaps loudest, is Paulie. (“Paulie! Dey took my tumb!”) This one is for the birds as best I can tell. I don’t imagine your kids are clamoring to get to the theater. The sad part is that it could be quite good. (Or not.) But DreamWorks has shown a lack of aggression in pushing their product and that has meant comparatively slow starts for all their films and underdog status for films that people really like, such as Mouse Hunt. (I have a feeling that the media blitz for Small Soldiers, Saving Private Ryan and Prince of Egypt will turn this trend around.) What it means for now is no $10 million start for Paulie.
So, I think City of Angels and The Object of My Affection will duke it out for the top slot right around that $10 million mark. Lost in Space drops 40 percent but passes the $50 million mark as it takes in $8 million for third place. Titanic stays in the Top Five but continues its slow fade, dropping 30 percent to $6 million and fourth place. Major League: Back to the Minors should manage about $5.5 million for fifth and let’s give Paulie the benefit of the doubt with a $5 million, sixth place opening weekend for “the bird that talks.” (Note to DreamWorks: It’s not all that surprising that a bird talks. When pigs talk, THAT’S a surprise!) Then, Species II in seventh with a 45 percent drop to $4 million, The Players Club dropping just 35 percent to $3.8 million and eighth, Mercury Rising falling 50 percent to $2.7 million, and closing out the Top 10 is The Odd Couple II, dropping 35 percent to $3.1 million. Nightwatch is out of the money as will be last week’s Top 10 members My Giant (“A Giant Flop! – Not Ron Brewington”) and the John Travolta double feature, Grease and Primary Colors.
THE GOOD: The Summer Movie Season is coming.
THE BAD: It’s more than a month before it gets here and we’ll have to eat a lot of junk until then.
THE UGLY: Unless there is a serious surprise at the bottom of the weekly chart, there will be only one film in the Top 10 this weekend that’s been in theaters for more than three weekends. There are some films that I feel were underappreciated (like Primary Colors or Wild Things) and those that are just under the wire after exceptionally long runs (As Good as/Good Will Hunting and L.A. Confidential.) But mostly, it means that there have been some really ugly movies in the last couple of months.
THE CONTEST: This week’s Box Office Challenge is sponsored by Castle Rock’s Sour Grapes. No, I don’t expect the film to break out in a three-city release (NYC/LA/CHI) to beat the wide releases, but as yesterday’s Reader of The Day pointed out, the film isn’t getting as much of a media push as Larry David fans would like, so The Hot Button is ready to lead the charge. (Click on the movie’s link when you get to the Box Office Challenge page and make sure to roll your pointer over the grape.)
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: My Giant + Forget Paris = My Giant Ego. A short man with receding hair and a tendency to make really funny faces (Billy Crystal) keeps making movies even though most people would rather just see him every year as a stand-up at the Academy Awards and Comic Relief. After six years of hitting the wall with movie after movie (Mr. Saturday Night, City Slickers II, Forget Paris, Fathers’ Day, My Giant) he doesn’t get the lack-of-a-joke. If the De Niro movie Analyze This doesn’t work, he might actually get the hint and do a sitcom.
JUST WONDERING: If you were Uma Thurman wouldn’t you be nervous about marrying Ethan Hawke if there was a remote possibility that anyone would refer to you as Uma Hawke? (Better than Tomma, I guess.)
BAD AD WATCH: Two faves today. One is Rex Reed calling The Object of My Affection “one of the happiest, most intelligent American films in years.” Most intelligent? How would Rex know? The other is the tag for limited release Suicide Kings, which features seven men, including tough guys Denis Leary and Chris Walken, in its ad. “A brilliant, twisting plot that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.” The author of the pull quote? Mademoiselle. Isn’t that kind of like Guns & Ammo being quoted in The Object of My Affection ad?
READER OF THE DAY: From Ryan N: “With Titanic, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, As Good as It Gets, Boogie Nights, The Ice Storm, Gattaca, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Amistad — 1997 was a year I felt lucky to be in the audience. With U.S. Marshals, Lost in Space, Spice World, Great Expectations, City of Angels — 1998 is a year when I wish it were still 1997. Thank God for Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Velvet Goldmine, The Truman Show, and (yes, I admit I’m looking forward to these), Armageddon and The Avengers — I still have hope that 1998 will get better.”

They Call It Matt Damon

Matt Damon is reportedly grabbing only $5.5 million to star in the long-delayed All the Pretty Horses, which is now being directed by Billy Bob Thornton. I take that as a good sign. Perhaps it means that Damon’s ego is in check and that he will aspire to make better, rather than bigger, movies. Or perhaps Hollywood isn’t throwing eight-figure offers at the pretty young stud du jour. Damon jumped on the highly-coveted role almost immediately after it was offered, taking advantage of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s unwillingness to sign on the dotted line.
NEO LEO: Speaking of Leo, the battle over the tiny, almost homemade movie, Don’s Plum continues. A first time director, R.D. Robb, who was buddies with DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and some other young up-and-comers shot the film in six days in 1995 and 1996, and it is basically a bunch of kids sitting around talking. No one was interested in distributing the film. Until now. But not the right people, so the filmmaker and his backers are suing, claiming that DiCaprio and Maguire don’t want the film distributed and are using their clout to keep it from being seen. The truth is probably more like, the film sucks, but some cheesy video company will exploit Leo’s face if they have a chance. Miramax and other mini-majors won’t because they want Leo to be their friend. Unlike the Kevin Costner or Sly Stallone “lost classics,” this one doesn’t involve sex as a sales tool. It’s more like the story from a few years ago when Jim Carrey hit it big and a small film called High Strung suddenly found a video distribution deal. Of course, High Strung was directed by a friend, Roger Nygard, so I can’t say it sucked, but, well, uh, OK, yeah, right.
PLATT, AS IN SPLAT: If the most predictable things about Hollywood are the weather and the use of hair bleach, the third most is the inevitable claim made by every studio chief after he’s fired an underling that, “This is a mutual decision based largely on differences in working styles and is not related to performance.” It’s in quotes because this time it came out of the mouth of Universal chairman Casey Silver about the exit of now-former Universal President of Production Marc Platt. Uh-huh. Platt was on the job at the studio for a year-and-a-half. A year-and-a-half that produced such classics as Blues Brothers 2000, the much unanticipated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Mercury Rising.
MONSTER OPENING: Sony is aiming its Memorial Day opening weekend strategy right at Jurassic Park: The Lost World’s massive $90 million opening from last Memorial Day. Sony Distribution chief Jeff Blake is shooting for a first weekend run at 3,300 theaters, with more than 6,000 screens. The Lost World was at a measly 3,281 theaters last year. One word of caution, Jeff. Lost World shot its wad in those first few days and never even got close to the magical $300 million mega-movie mark. You had better have a really good movie if you expect to be competing with Armageddon for the No. 1 slot on the July 1 weekend.
THE COLOR OF CASTING: Laurence “Don’t Call Me Larry” Fishburne is helping to push the boundaries of non-traditional casting, heading for the Broadway stage as Henry II of France in a revival of The Lion In Winter. It’s been 30 years since the hit film version of the historically-based play, which starred Peter O’Toole in the Henry II role, with Katherine Hepburn in an Oscar-winning performance as his duplicitous wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. No definitive word on the rest of the casting, but it will likely be multi-racial. Things have really changed in France. Actually, I’m all for the choice and have no objections to creative casting, but it’s curious that none of the stories I’ve read to date have mentioned the racial anomaly. Should they have? Or is show business ready to truly become color blind?
READER OF THE DAY: From Matt B: “You know, I am looking forward to Sour Grapes. I really want to see it. The sad thing is that I don’t even know when it opens, and this is not my fault. Castle Rock has done nothing, NOTHING on this film. Is this one of those films where they’ll blow their whole advertising budget on one ad during ‘Seinfeld,’ hoping people will make the connection? Despite the presence of that ‘Wings’ guy with the surgically-enhanced smirk, this promises to be one funny film, but only ‘Seinfeld’ addicts realize that now because only they know who Larry David is. My guess is that it will be a modest sleeper hit, ending up with somewhere around $30 mil.”

Ranting and Raving: Taxes

Beware the Ides of April. Brutus and Cassius had nothing on the Internal Revenue Service. If the IRS had gotten to Caesar, they would have gutted him alive with a lien, a claim of a false deductions for slaves and wine as business expenses, and demanded back taxes all the way back to 1. (That’s 1 A.D., folks) Hollywood has its own kinds of taxes. Rejection is like the sales tax. People pay that every single day. And you can’t avoid it no matter how successful you get. And like sales tax, the rules are usually unclear and indiscriminate. Actors pay the price for being too tall, too short, too blonde, too brunette or too nice (amongst a million other specific “flaws”) before even getting a chance to show whether they have talent or not. Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of actors don’t get to pay any actual IRS taxes for their paid employment as actors in any given year. Most are just paying on their salaries as temps, waitstaff or cab drivers. Of course, there is some return for the most attractive of this suffering group. Producers who are trying to score (and not just men anymore) will buy dinners and plane tickets to Vegas for these wannabes and that never shows up on the IRS scope, except for on the producer’s Hollywood 1040. That’s their “Looks-Like-I-Can-Still-Get-It-Up,-But-What-I-Really- Want-Is-Some-Mylanta” tax.
Writers must pay the “reader” tax (more like a toll, with the readers as the Billygoat’s Gruff), which happens every time they submit a script to a studio and have to get a positive reaction from underpaid, over-rejected-themselves readers in order to get to the people who might actually influence the purchase of a screenplay, the Development Execs. The “D”-people who fall in love with a script then have to pay the “I- Hate-This-Job” tax, which comes when the boss of the “D”-people, the producer, laughs the script-lover out of the office because that producer “Doesn’t make that kind of movie.” That’s the Hack Tax. The script-loving “D”-person then gets another job and once again has the script they love covered by the reader (though the “D”-person now knows enough to choose a reader that will like the script as much as they do: “The-Better-Agree-With-The-‘D’-Reader” tax) and presents the beloved script to a producer who makes the film. If the film hits, the former boss/producer who passed on the script pays the “That’s-Just-The-Way-Things-Work-In-Hollywood-Schmuck” tax, which he or she pays everyday as they walk around the lot and people whisper and giggle as they pass. On the other hand, if the film flops, the new boss/producer pays the “They’re-Going-To-Dump-His-Deal-And-Bring-In- Name-Any-Hot-Producer-With-A-Deal-That’s-Ending” tax.
Then, of course, the studio chief who has a series of hits pays the “Why- Are-We-Paying-Him-So-Much-Money-Even-Though-He-Just-Made-Us-All-Rich-By- Making-The-Stock-Skyrocket” tax, a.k.a. the Michael Eisner tax. The failing studio chief suffers the “I-Hear-He’s-Going-To-Be-Replaced-By-Barry-Diller” tax. And Barry Diller suffers the “Geez,-Ain’t-He- Actually-Gonna-Make-Something-Happen-With-All-That-Money” tax because the poor guy only has a couple of billion in the bank. And while no one says no to Steven Spielberg or, these days, to Jim Cameron, they pay their dues in the form of “King-of The World” tax and “The Real King Of The World” tax. You can decide which one gets which tag because you always do anyway. Because in Hollywood, the only governing body is the buzz. And the buzz can either be completely free or the most onerous tax anyone should ever have to pay. Just ask Warner Bros., who paid a huge “Those-Movies-Should-Have-Done-Better” tax last year. (For more on that, check out the letters page in this week’s The Whole Picture. That’s the “David-Poland-Self-Promotion” tax.)
CONTEST RESULTS: Well, contest-prize sponsor Species II killed more of you than any other film. Less than a dozen of you managed to place Species II in fourth place. Only four of you managed to get the City of Angels, Lost In Space, Titanic, Species II finish in order. And only one of you, John English, got all four and the correct fifth place finisher, The Players Club. So I didn’t even have to figure on dollar guesses. The other three to get the Top Four (Pat, Donna and Jennifer) will also get prizes for their good work. The contest will continue to evolve as the weeks go on, so please feel free to send your suggestions to be by e-mail. And congratulations to all the winners.
READER OF THE DAY: Chomp71 offers up this career map for Jim Cameron: “Tackle Planet of the Apes, then True Lies 2, then Spiderman, then in 2004, do T3 along with a re-release of Terminator that year.”

Weekend Wrap-Up

Which blonde would you take in a fight? Natasha Henstridge or Meg Ryan? This weekend it was Meg Ryan kicking ass and taking names with a strong $16.1 million opening. I guess that it shouldn’t have been a surprise given that she had Superman working with her. (That would be Nicolas Cage, who is already making Superman talk-show chat with the story of how his son demanded he wear the trademark red underwear on the outside, after Cage’s new costume lost the classic look.) What’s surprising is that Species II couldn’t even manage a II-nd place finish. It was all the way down at fourth with $7.4 million and a miserable $2,948 per screen average, less than half the original’s $17.2 million start. That left Lost in Space dropping by a third, which in many camps will be considered a huge victory, to take second place with $13.6 million. And Titanic, which took another human-like 25 percent drop to $8.7 million, in the three spot. (If things keep going like this, Titanic will never hit $2 billion!) If you’re looking for a surprise to match Species II’s failure, it would be the relatively big number for…
THE GOOD: The Players Club opened in less than 600 theaters and still managed $5.6 million. That may not seem huge, but the film is already assured of making money with this launch. The film scored the best per-screen average ($9,444) in the Top 10 by more than 23 percent, beating out City of Angels’ $7,278 per, making it, as usual, the second city.
THE BAD: Lemmon and Matthau became hot for a while with Grumpy Old Men and its progeny, but their on-screen numbers are now declining faster than their jowls, and the return of Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple II proved just that with a weak $5 million opening. Maybe for The Odd Couple III they should reunite Lemmon, Matthau, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman for the first time and have them duke it out. If he’s still standing, Matthau can take on Don Rickles, who took the role of Mr. Wilson for Dennis The Menace II. And while we’re on the subject (kind of), I’d take Kate Mulgrew over Bill Shatner in a fistfight any day of the week.
THE UGLY: What could be uglier than My Giant? A $3.1 million opening for My Giant! Gheorghe Muresan earned more than $31 million in the NBA this year sitting on injured reserve, and I’m betting that he paid for at least half the tickets bought. Billy Crystal imported George’s mother from “Seinfeld” (Estelle Harris) to ask giant G about the size of his organ. If this opening doesn’t cause (to quote “Seinfeld'”s George) shrinkage, nothing will.
THE CONTEST: The rewards for the Hot Button Box Office Challenge winners will still look cool, even if Species II wasn’t top dog. Look for the complete list of winners on Wednesday this week. And thanks for playing!
JUST WONDERING: Are any of you looking forward to Sour Grapes? Do any of you care about what Larry David is up to besides the final “Seinfeld” episode? Is Castle Rock building enough awareness for this film?
BAD AD WATCH: I hate to beat two men when they’re down, especially when they are old men (whose work, coincidentally, I admire greatly), but the pull quote for The Odd Couple II (from Susan Granger‘s self-titled pull quote factory, the SSG Syndicate) personifies the likely reason people aren’t flocking to this film. “You’ll laugh, guffaw, giggle, chuckle and smile. It’s absolutely impossible not to enjoy this fun-filled comedy.” They might as well have run, “Your grandparents will love it!”
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Mercury Rising + The Odd Couple II = The Odd Couple Rising. Felix and Oscar take a trip to the urologist. Hilarity ensues when Oscar makes a date with the Pigeon Sisters and Oscar malfunctions, leading to the classic line, “It took me two hours to realize that F.U. meant Fill Up!”
READER OF THE DAY: From Tim T: “If you want to talk about mixed feelings about City of Angels, here are a few more… Wings of Desire (on which it’s based) is not only one of the greatest films ever created, but it is also about as far away from a Hollywood film as you can get. The first hour has no plot. No main character. It’s really not even a film. It’s more like a dream. Can you imagine what the story meetings were like as they tried to figure out how to make it appeal to a mass market? The cast looks great and Nicolas Cage rarely disappoints, but let’s look behind the camera… the director’s last film was Casper. I guess they figured a friendly ghost was as close as they could get to angels wandering around Berlin. On the other hand, I’m guessing that there’s a long list of directors who turned down this assignment with the realization that it could not be done. Of course, I’m taking this a little too personally because Wings of Desire is probably my favorite film. The best part about it is that I can’t even explain why I like it so much. It’s indescribable on so many levels and it just bothers me that an industry that thrives on high concept pitches and rehashing television shows has chosen to touch the untouchable.”

News By the Numbers

10. More Oscar: The Academy Awards has set a deal with ABC through 2008. What does that mean to you? Absolutely nothing. There is probably no other event for which the network of choice (or biggest greenback count) means less. The one real difference is the show will now start at 8:30 p.m. instead of 9:00 p.m., which is significant only in that it gives Barbara Walters 30 minutes less to try and make Matt Damon cry next year.
9. I Apologize In Advance: Carsey-Werner and the WB are teaming up to do an hour-long action pilot with Shannon Lee, the daughter of the late Bruce Lee. The producers will try to delay Ms. Lee’s mysterious death due to a firearm accident on the set until May sweeps. (I know, but it does seem like asking for trouble, doesn’t it?)
8. Sloppy Seconds: In the great tradition of classic re-releases like Star Wars, Grease and Lawrence of Arabia, Miramax is re-releasing Scream 2 on April 24. Thank God! Just when you thought you couldn’t stand the idea of a Scream 3 any more than Neve Campbell, Scream 2 is back to remind you why. Apparently, the film is $4 million shy of the magical $100 million domestic mark, so here it comes. In equally shoddy Miramax doings, they will try to release Nightwatch, starring Ewan McGregor, yet again. It didn’t take the first time and it’s now a two-year-old film. What’s next, the Mimic Special Edition?!?!
7. That’s Hedley! Hedley!: Why Corel feels compelled to have a picture of WWII-era movie star Hedy Lamarr on the cover of their software packages is beyond me. Why they didn’t pay her for using her image is even more questionable. Well, she’s had enough and she’s suing. But what makes this one of my favorite stories of the week is Blazing Saddles, featuring Harvey Korman as Hedley Lamar, who is always called Hedy. Mel Brooks, as the drunken, mysoginist, racist, very funny Governor finally says (paraphrased here), “She’s not even born yet. Then, you can sue her!” No suit is pending against Brooks.
6. He Left In A Bronco: Howard Weitzman has left his post as Executive VP Corporate Operations at Universal Studios. On his exit, Weitzman said he was considering going back into law (where he was once counsel to O.J. Simpson) but would like to stay in show business, commenting, “I like the action.” Indeed. What’s a double homicide when you could be doing a deal to make a Leave It To Beaver sequel?
5. The Phantom Of The Accent: The Phantom of the Opera is finally being made into a feature and it looks like Antonio Banderas will be in the title role after proving his musical skills in Evita. So will the dainty object of his passion be Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell or Mandy Patinkin in drag? Only one of the three can actually hit the notes and it isn’t the one with the ovaries.
4. “Pinky & The Brain,” Inc.: Every episode of the aforementioned “Anamaniacs” spin-off cartoon starts with the two title lab mice planning to take over the world. This week, Sony and Microsoft took a step in that direction by joining forces to make your household even more computer-filled than it is now. The two will make “smart” products designed to integrate themselves seamlessly into your lives. And then, you can’t stop watching the “Wheel of Fortune” Channel. Your pre-teen daughters tear down the Backstreet Boys posters for poster size print-outs of Bill Gates’ face. You start using the word “art” and Spice Girls in the same sentence. Run! Run for your lives! (This has been a message from your friendly employee of the Time Warner empire.)
3. Cruising For Trouble: George Michael may have been looking for a father figure in that Beverly Hills Park or maybe he just was going to do a re-mix called “I Want your Pants.” Either way, he’s now in movie star territory. Looking forward to his next national appearance with Eddie Murphy, Hugh Grant and Pee-Wee Herman: Hands Across America II.
2. Light For Lolita: After the controversial documentary, Kurt and Courtney, got distribution despite lots of legal threats from the surviving title character, I guess it was a matter of time before someone would finally get on the stick with Lolita. Canadian distributor Lions Gate Films is waiting to get a thumbs up on a deal with Pathe’, the French company that co-financed the film and controls the rights. I’ll give you the projected domestic gross now. A $3.5 million opening weekend in extremely limited distribution, inspiring delusions of hit status, causing a 750-print release that bombs. Final total: $13 million. But I’m glad the film will be seen.
1. Murder Most Mickey: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating a series of animal deaths at Walt Disney World’s latest family attraction, Animal Kingdom. It’s apparently too small a world, with four cheetah cubs dying of kidney failure likely to have occurred from mistakenly ingesting antifreeze, a white rhinoceros dying under anesthetic during a routine exam, two Asian small-clawed otters dying from eating non-indigenous fruit and two West African crowned cranes smushed by 32-passenger safari vehicles in two separate traffic accidents. But what would you expect from a company that makes animals wear pants and has a dog (Goofy) as the master of another dog (Pluto)?
BOX OFFICE CHALLENGE: Click here to enter. Entries will be officially accepted until noon on Saturday. If you’re too late, try it out anyway. If you enjoy it, maybe you’ll be on time next week. This week, stuff from Species II is up for grabs.
READER OF THE DAY: From Sam S, regarding the Hindenburg movie to come: “Hindenburg. I knew, months ago, that it would happen, but I didn’t know when. We’re going to see all kinds of fictional love stories set in human technological disasters now. Watch for Hindenburg, and then these: Moritania, Lusitania, Chernobyl, Challenger, Pisa. They’ll all be made in the next two or three years. Mark my words.”

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“It would be difficult to find something made by a human being that isn’t pregnant with a vision of the world. Likely impossible. It’s inherent to existence. It turns out that world visions can coincide with a certain hegemonic idea of what the world is —or not. It’s like when they say that “indie cinema” is intellectual, simply because it does not coincide with a narrative system the industry legitimates. But the industry is as intellectual as ‘indie’ movies. The difference is that one affirms reality, doesn’t call it into question. And not all ‘art movies’ are after that. You’ve got to call reality into doubt. Or better yet, I’d say you’ve got to be suspicious of reality. Because if you’re not, there’s no possible transformation. Every one of us who has done cinema —to speak just of moviemaking— has contributed our perspectives to a vision of the world. A community needs that —lots of perspectives. There will be times when some are valued more than others. But the really important thing is that a lot of different visions coexist. The big task is to facilitate that variety.”
~ Lucrecia Martel

“It’s a film festival’s job—and increasingly so—to create moments of recognition, of enjoyment, of shock, of learning. Not of consumerism. Not of implementing cultural policy. But moments without pretence, unclouded by vested interests, by intervention, by cynicism, by everyday business. Committed to nothing but the thing itself. Under obligation to nothing, to no one, not even to the filmmakers themselves. To basically seek access to a form that does not yet exist, a place no one has been to, a time that has not yet come. ’A form that thinks, and a thought that forms,’ as Jean-Luc Godard has it.”
~ Hans Hurch, late director of the Viennale