Hot Button Archive for June, 1998

The Junket Report

I write to you today (Monday) from The Greenbrier in lovely White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. You may wondering why 20th Century Fox decided to fly a bunch of journalists and movie stars to the middle of West Virginia for the junkets of Ever After: A Cinderella Story and There’s Something About Mary. Well, word has it that Fox had planned to have The X-Files junket here and had to change plans, leaving them a credit at this, one of the most exclusive golf resorts in America. So, why do The X-Files junket here? Is David Duchovny a golf nut? Is there a corn field nearby? Could they fit Cancer Man’s iron lung into the bar? None of the above. It turns out there’s a historic nuclear-safe bunker here that is supposedly where the U.S. government head honchos were headed in the event of a nuclear war. The perfectly paranoid location for The X-Files junket, right?
The morning started with a limited plate for Ever After. The film is a version of the Cinderella story with a decidedly modern twist. Cinderella (a name by which Drew Barrymore is never addressed in the film) is a self-tutored intellect who teaches the value of love to her Prince Charming. Unfortunately, Angelica Huston is in Europe, about to direct her second film. Well, unfortunate for us. Her first film, which ended up premiering on Showtime, Bastard Out Of Carolina, was quite good. So, we chatted with director Andy Tennant, who told us upon questioning, a rather dramatic tale about the day they shot the biggest scene in the film (the outdoor ball with 300 extras and lots of camera coverage). He not only had that pressure, but within a three-hour period, he found out his young daughter had been hospitalized, there was a potentially serious complication with his wife’s pregnancy and his father had had a heart attack. As it turned out, all ended up being OK health-wise and the scene, which they only had the one night to shoot, went just fine.
Next, it was Drew Barrymore. I am told that Drew was seen the evening before in the same blue shirt, roaming the halls of The Greenbrier (it’s awfully quiet around here). Nonetheless, she was, as always, a vision in blonde. And, as ever, she was upbeat, funny and a little goofy. (I mean that in the best way possible.) During the conversation, she insisted that she did not find herself sexy. Looked me right in the eye as she said it, so I guess she meant it. Like I said, goofy. She was exactly 36 hours from starting the first movie to be produced by her production company, and she was excited beyond belief. And she’s very proud of Ever After too, as a deconstructionist fairy tale in which the man learns and receives as much as the woman.
After lunch, the cast and directors of There’s Something About Mary hit the press room. As Cameron Diaz entered the room, I realized that I could never ask for a better double feature of blonde stars. One tall and lanky, the other small and curvy, both sexy as hell. And surprisingly, these two women are about as comfortable talking about themselves as any stars in Hollywood. Cameron talked about life in high school, blonde-haired, blue-eyed with a Hispanic name, her comfort with her naked body, but her insistence that it not be exploited and her complete lack of ego about magazine covers and screwy “awards” like being Entertainment Weekly‘s “It” Girl of 1998. Funny woman. A real charmer. Her beau and 20-year movie veteran, Matt Dillon talked about the teeth he wears in the movie (he kept them), the razor thin mustache (it was the key to his characterization) and his future (he hopes to direct a screenplay that he’s been writing for about two years). As it turns out, the two came to this project separately, though they were happy to be working together.
Chris Elliot was funny and surprisingly humble. People who know him from his brash appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” would have a hard time recognizing the soft-spoken family man who “only work[s] when [he] runs out of money.” Chris took shots at his own Cabin Boy and remembered his short-lived TV show, “Get A Life,” as a bit before its time. And Ben Stiller was to the point as he talked about putting his ego aside to play the butt of so many of the film’s jokes, balancing directing and acting (he has two more films due out this summer) and being the son of the great comedy team Stiller and Meara. Ben answered GreySeal’s question: “Your show on the Fox network ‘The Ben Stiller Show’ was absolutely brilliant! Is there any chance you might bring an incarnation of it back?” The answer: “No. It’s too hard to keep the quality of the writing up week after week.”
Finally, it was the writing/directing team of Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who also came up with Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin. The brothers answered a reader question from Jason LeBlanc, who asked, “What do they think of New Line hiring Trey Parker and Matt Stone to write the new Dumb & Dumber movie?” Bobby Farrelly started the answer, “Given that they were going to do it as a prequel, without Jim Carrey, we weren’t that interested in doing it anyway. I think that the guys that they got were the right guys.” And Peter finished, “If they’re going to do it, I’m glad they got them.” The brothers also explained what is “too far” for them (“Anything that doesn’t make the audience laugh.”) and expressed their intense displeasure with MGM’s distribution’s department for the bungled release of Kingpin. And, of course, how great the actors were and how great Fox is (Tom Sherak in particular) and yada yada.
And then it ended. There will be more on this junket. Lots more. Keep an eye out for an upcoming Working Hollywood with the whole story and all the interviews.
READER OF THE DAY: Cameron answered a question from reader Bradshaw Davis, who sent me a whole bunch of questions, each one ending with the phrase, “And by the way, you are so damn fine, Cameron.” This got a big laugh from Cameron, who added, “I like his choice of words.” Don’t get too excited, Brad. Competing with Matt Dillon is probably as hard for a guy as competing with Cameron for Matt’s affections would be for a woman. Cameron answered the question, “What do you find to be the hardest part about being famous?” The answer: “I can’t pick my nose in public anymore.” And then, she laughed at me as my jaw dropped to the ground. “You look like you’re taking me seriously,” she laughed before adding, “It takes a lot of getting used to knowing people are watching you.”

Weeken Review

Did Fox hold responsibility for knocking The X-Files out of the box (office) by scheduling a Dr. Dolittle appointment just a week after releasing the X? Could be. The X-Files‘ third place finish wasn’t a big surprise, but its 55 percent drop-off (to $13.5 million) was. On the sunny side for Fox, Dolittle’s $29 mllion start was surprisingly strong. When’s the last time Eddie Murphy held the top two spots on the box office chart? (Answer: Never, but this is quite an acheivement.) Perhaps The Nutty Professor goodwill held over, past Metro and to the Doctor. In any case, $29 million has got to be a victory for the Fox team. Mulan fell just 24 percent and should be around for the long run this summer. Another film that I expect to have legs for days is Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. It did just $12.9 million this weekend for fourth place, but look for the film to linger all the way to Labor Day as people discover it for themselves. In fifth, The Truman Show grabbed another $8.6 million, dropping 31 percent, leaving the film just a few hundred thousand from the $100 million mark. Look for that milestone on Monday, whether by earnings or an increase from the Sunday estimate.
The second five was pretty much standard issue, except for the fact that Gone With the Wind didn’t crack the Top 10. Six Days, Seven Nights took sixth with just a 29 percent drop and $7.6 million, which is a good drop for that film. A Perfect Murder stole another $5.4 million as it passed the $50 million mark. Hope Floats and Can’t Hardly Wait tied at eighth and ninth (as predicted) with $2.2 million ($200,000 better than I projected. My apologies.) And with Gone With the Wind caught in the jetstream, The Horse Whisperer stayed in the Top 10 (just barely), falling just 26 percent to $1.9 million in its seventh weekend on its way to about $75 million domestically.
THE GOOD: I can’t really say enough about Out of Sight. I saw Saving Private Ryan this weekend and as good as it is, I would say that Out of Sight is odds-on favorite to be the most important film of the summer of 1998. And when I say important, I don’t mean stodgy. I mean, this film could change the way we see cinema. Ironically, in some ways, it’s a step back to the ’70s, but Steven Soderbergh, a director who most film lovers expected a whole lot from since Sex, Lies and Videotape, just delivered on that promise. Much like Woody Allen finally put it all together with Crimes and Misdemeanors. More on this film on Wednesday as I Rant & Rave.
THE BAD: I hate to speak ill of Eddie Murphy when he’s having such a good week at the box office, so I’ll let the very funny Michael Musto of The Village Voice speak for me: “Speaking of dragging away, I love how Eddie Murphy‘s hoping to downplay that driving-the-drag-‘ho, I mean home, incident as he promotes various ‘family films,’ but in Mulan, aka Yentl Chow Mein, he’s the voice of the dragon (or is it draggin’?) whose main goal is to get the cross-dresser home!”
THE UGLY: Saving Private Ryan is every bit as violent as reports have said it is. The first WWII sequence is so violent that it’s real. It’s so violent that audiences won’t be able to stop squirming in their seats. It’s so violent that Tom Hanks told us that Spielberg was doing it on purpose so that after experiencing the sequence you couldn’t help but to see the rest of the film through different eyes than you walked into the theater with. It works. Brilliantly.
THE BEYOND CONTEST: Look for the winner’s entries on Thursday.
THIS WEEK’S SCHEDULE: I’m in West Virginia at the Fox junkets for Ever After and There’s Something About Mary. In order to give you the best coverage, The Hot Button will be updating by 12:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday. Wednesday, it’s back to the regular 5:00 a.m. EST update.
TWO MOVIES EQUAL: Out of Sight + Dr. Dolittle = Out of Dr. Dolittle. The lighthearted family comedy about what happens when a group of talking animals decides to make clothes out of a human doctor. Enjoy the hilarity as the animals finally get a little payback. With George Clooney as Dr. Doug (which would have made him next on the alphabetical list of victims). And a special appearance by Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen.
JUST WONDERING: Do divorces, sexual escapades and drug issues really effect how you see movie actors, or is it really just none of our business?
BAD AD WATCH: Did I mention that Armageddon is using Ron Brewington‘s “Wow!” as its lead quote? Maybe that’s why Demi left.
READER OF THE DAY: Ryan writes: “Do ‘they’ believe that people who appreciate films only live in New York or L.A.? I would have given anything to have seen James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause in 70 feet of living color. Or how about Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun? I just saw Gone With the Wind. At least that was a little wider of a release. I also got to see Grease on a big screen, and I saw a lot of things I never noticed on video. Movies were meant for the big screen. I wish there were more revival houses that showed classics the way they were meant to be seen. I would love to see stuff like The Godfather and The Sound of Music on a big screen. Can you really appreciate David Lean on anything less? What could be better than watching Chaplin, Keaton or Valentino the way audiences did over 70 years ago? And though I will buy Titanic on home video, it can never be the same as it was on a big screen. There’s something about a dark theater with a screen larger than life. Home video is distracting — it’s all too easy to wander away from what’s going on. In a theater, you’re compelled to watch what’s on the screen. In a theater, you’re pulled into the movie, and for a couple of hours there is nothing else. I wish there were theaters across the country that specialized in these things. I know I’m not the only one who would pay for this.”

News By the Numbers

10. I LOVE ME, YOU LOVE ME, I’M AS HAPPY AS CAN BE: There’s a guy named Dennis Woodruff who drives around L.A. in a car that he’s painted green and has him name all over it. Desperate for acting gigs, he has essentially become a town joke, unless you consider having his self-promotion car crushed in Volcano an honor. Going in that same direction is Tony Kaye, a multimedia artist turned movie director who directed American History X for New Line. The film, which I fondly anticipated after seeing some footage at ShoWest last March, is in editing hell. New Line wanted changes, made changes, tested changes and found out that audiences really preferred changes.

Tony Kaye,
first time director, threatened to strip his name from the film which would force New Line into using the dreaded Alan Smithee name in the director’s credit slot. I’d be happy to see both versions and access whether he’s a visionary or a crackpot who is acting like a 4-year-old (or a 20-year-old with a producing deal). But until then, I’m guessing crackpot. When a studio lets you make a drama about skinheads your first time out, you have to be willing to give a little. And it doesn’t help that Kaye has bad things to say about all the actors who were involved in the film, too. Apparently, only Tony Kaye knows anything. It’s one of those true clichés: Film is a collaborative medium. Get used to it or get out.
9. CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Warner Bros. is evolving. Some would say it’s desperation. Others that it’s just good management. You make the call. Just months ago, they greenlit their first low-budget film, Je’ Mappelle Crawford. Now, they are starting a new division of the company to get its 6000-title library of films (a great number of which came from merging with Turner) back into theatrical exhibition. The studio’s 75th Anniversary Festival of Classics did $96,000 a week at one L.A. theater, significantly more than a new blockbuster will tend to do. As a result, we get to see classics on screen around the country. Whatever the reasons, great idea.
EDITOR’S NOTE: TNT’s rough cut’s parent company is Time-Warner.
8. ITS A GREAT NIGHT FOR OSCAR, OSCAR, OSCAR…: Oscar’s officially moved to Sunday now. Not only has it moved, but it will now start on ABC at 8:00 EST/5:00 PST with an ABC pre-game show, which could well blow some of the syndicated pre-game shows out of the water since ABC will have access to more than anyone else. The Academy’s also been making deals with other TV outlets, such as “Entertainment Tonight,” for special access, which could be curtailed as ABC flexes its Disney-clad muscle. The big show will now starts at 8:30 EST/5:30 PST, so kids can go to sleep a little earlier on a school night, and the stars can go directly from lunch to the Oscars.
7. OLD MACDONALD HAD A FLOP: Norm MacDonald continues to bug people in high places. First, NBC’s Don Ohlmeyer personally pulled the plug on MacDonald’s Weekend Update career at “Saturday Night Live” and now MGM, gagging on the grosses of MacDonald’s movie star debut, Dirty Work, has pulled the plug on Ballbusted, his once-and-never next movie star turn. But being dragged down with the Canadian comic are Golden Globe-winning screenwriters of That Darn Cat (of course, they were awarded for The People vs. Larry Flynt) Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who were supposed to make their directing debut on Ballbusted. The project may well spring back to life as MGM has $5 million in pay-or-play deals attached to the film that was just five weeks from principal photography when the plug was pulled. Alexander and Karaszewski are going to stay in Vancouver with their crew and hope that their producer can turn the red light green again. The last time this happened to them as writers, it turned out OK. The film was the Oscar-winning Ed Wood.
6. WHO NOSE?: The answer to “Who Killed Coppola’s Pinnochio?” is in the hands of the jury now. In Thursday’s closing arguments, Coppola’s lawyer went right at Warner Bros. chairman Bob Daly. Even though Daly was relieved of testifying by the judge in the case, Coppola counsel Robert Chapman closed with “Where is Bob Daly? He wouldn’t talk to Mr. Coppola, and he wouldn’t talk to you.” Not exactly, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” but a clever ploy to attack the big, bad studio. Of course, Warner’s position is that Coppola double dealed them and Columbia trying to get the most money out of the follow-up to his smash with Dracula. The verdict may be in by the time you read this (I’m writing on Friday afternoon.) May the best really-rich entity win!
5. THE FALL OF THE FALL: The video shelves are getting awfully heavy withGodzilla product this fall. First, Titanic sails September 1. re-launches in a little plastic box about which size doesn’t matter at all (no, Sony will not release the film in Betamax) in early November. And now, Lost In Space, which I’m pretty sure will look better and be more palatable on video, has taken an October 6 date. New Line will spend $20 million in media for the launch. I will see none of it. Humph!
4. TIL MALIBU DO US PART: Don’t know what broke Bruce and Demi up. Maybe it was his inability to deliver that XY chromosome that is needed for an heir to the Die Hard throne. When the story broke, the wires ran it on top of their overall headlines, as though a world leader had been shot. That tells you how slow a news week it’s been. (I bet Bill Gates paid the world off to stop fighting, killing and dying so Windows 98 could launch properly.) In the end, who cares? They are both movie stars, but this is hardly the romance of Bogart and Bacall or Tracey and Hepburn. Heck, Tracey and Hepburn weren’t even married. (Well, he was. But his wife was just for show by the end.) Much more interesting back in the good old days.
3. GET FAT, GO BALD OR MAKE HUDSON HAWK 2: Now that he’s single, Bruce Willis may do what most married men do. Put on 40 pounds or so. He’s talking about doing Ump, a hot-and-cold-running project about a hitman who obsessively believes in a hitman code of conduct. The last guy to be close to making the film was Sylvester Stallone, coming off CopLand. But that fell apart when Stallone switched agents, and then switched agents again. While the weight was apparently an issue for Stallone, Willis may actually avoid the physical manifestation of the aging character as written because he has a sign of age that Stallone will likely never show. A bald head. (Maybe that was the problem with Demi. Three bald heads in the family was too many!)
2. MOVIN’ ON UP: For those of you worried about the paydays of female stars, Meg Ryan just signed a contract for $10.5 million against 10 percent of the gross to lead Columbia’s Hanging Up. But the estrogen power doesn’t stop there. The director is Diane Keaton (who I feel made one of the greatly underappreciated films ever with Unstrung Heroes), Lisa Kudrow is “in talks,” and the film, about three sisters and their dying, alcoholic, manic-depressive father, comes from the pens of the Ephron sisters. But what about Ginger Spice?
1. RUINING DISNEY’S PICNIC: Our friends at DreamWorks, innocent little “they’re going out of business because The Peacemaker and Amistad weren’t big hits” DreamWorks, pulled one of the great show biz switcheroos ever this week by moving Antz, their film previously announced for next Spring to October 2 (one day before my birthday, as though anyone cares). That puts them into theaters seven weeks ahead of Disney’s insect movie, A Bug’s Life. The truth is, Antz has been more promoted than any DreamWorks non-summer picture already, so the switch shouldn’t have really surprised us. But it did. In the end, the switch will avoid any “I’ve seen this before” attacks on Antz as DreamWork’s second animated release, while Disney is still Disney and should suffer no such fallout. Meanwhile, DreamWorks has got what looks like a hit parade of Mousehunt, Deep Impact, Small Soldiers, Saving Private Ryan and Antz. Anyone else in town go five for five lately?
THE EYEBALLS: Those of you who are “weekend only” readers, you are behind the The Beyond curve. Readers are sending in their grossest moviegoing experiences in chunks of no more than 100-words. The grossest of the gross will be published next week and the writers will receive their very own eyeballs from The Beyond. Eye know you want an eyeball, so write me now!
READER OF THE DAY: From Shawn H : “Sheesh, I can’t believe I’m doing this….but I’m actually ready to lay praise upon Bob Saget and Dirty Work. Why hasn’t anyone commented on its word-of-mouth success (is success REALLY the right word?)? I mean, it seems to hang in there, despite the terrible reviews and all. The theater I work at has actually seen the grosses for Dirty Work CLIMB following its opening weekend. And it constantly refuses to drop out of the Top 10 on the weekdays. What does all this mean? I don’t wanna know. I just hope I never have to see a skunk and a chihuahua tangled in the throes of passion EVER again.”

Weekend Preview

Well, the X-philes are going to be p(h)issed, but I think The X-Files is looking at a 40 percent drop this weekend to about $18 million. That should give the film about $60 million by the end of the weekend, but not first place. That should fall to Mulan, which I see as only a 20 percent dropper, given good word-of-mouth and a reasonably quiet start last weekend. So, $18.2 million and first place for Mulan. Right in the tails of X and M should be the debut of Doctor Dolittle. Everyone I talk to liked the preview, but there’s still not too much buzz. If it manages a $17 million opening, Fox should be happy under the circumstances. Less happy, but perhaps with a better movie (I haven’t seen either film yet), will be Universal with Out of Sight. Again, light buzz, terrific trailer. Hard to imagine more than $15 million and fourth for the Elmore Leonard-based film, but if it’s as good as some say, it could have legs to match Jennifer Lopez‘s. Rounding out the top five, The Truman Show should manage another $7.5 million as it gets real close to the $100 million mark.
The second five should be lead by Gone With the Wind, which should add $5 million to its $192 million total. Six Days, Seven Nights should do six million, four-hundred thousand with a 40 percent drop. A Perfect Murder passes the $50 million plateau, as it grabs another $4.8 million and eighth place. Can’t Hardly Wait and Hope Floats should fight for ninth and 10th with about $2 million apiece. Have you noticed? Someone is missing. He has scales and a tail. He’s bigger than a bakery. Godzilla passed the $130 million mark on Tuesday, but should drop from the Top 10 once and for all this weekend, giving us a full week to recover before we start fighting over whether Armageddon is the greatest film ever or the biggest disappointment since… well, Godzilla.

THE GOOD: Mulan and The X-Files have been doing exceptionally well during the week this week. But — surprise! — Mulan passed The X-Files up on Tuesday and did better than any movie has done on a Tuesday all year.
THE BAD: Want to read some really bad versions of Gone with the Wind? So bad that they’re good? Well, check out New Line’s GWTW website and make sure to check out David Lynch‘s version of the classic, Aaron Spelling‘s Tori-loaded version (“With Dad as my witness, I’ll never go Porscheless again!”) and recast the movie in New Line’s contest. You can win a trip to the heart of dixie. And even better, you can cast RuPaul in the role of Scarlett. (FYI, Tom Selleck and Harrison Ford lead Rhett voting, and Kate Winslet is ahead of Nicole Kidman and Demi Moore in the Scarlett voting.)
THE UGLY: Dirty Work will get near the $10 million mark at the box office. The Last Days of Disco, The Opposite of Sex and Wilde will not. Boo. Hissssss.
THE EYEBALLS: You can still enter your very grossest movie moment and win your very own eyeball from The Beyond. I’m looking for the best 100-word movie gross-out moment descriptions. And good news: You can choose the color of the eye I’ll be sending you.
TWO MOVIES EQUAL: Gone with the Wind + The X-Files = Gone With The X-Files. Mulder is the smoldering renegade who just knows the Yankees are being supported in their war effort by alien forces. Scully is the woman by his side who swears, “With God as my witness, I’ll never get-cancer-from-an-alien-life-force-
that-I-won’t-really-understand-until-I-see-the-movie again.” Non-X-philes complain they don’t understand why the government burns Atlanta, but the X-philes know that it’s to get rid of rough cut for not showing the movie on our live cybercast. The movie ends as Duchovny leaves for L.A. to see his wife (the other redhead), and Gillian Anderson, while eating a sandwich, says, “Frankly, Mul-dear, I don’t give a damn.”
JUST WONDERING: Which would you rather deal with on a closed set, Rex Harrison‘s infamous and chronic flatulence or Eddie Murphy‘s singing? I guess either way, it’s a toss-up.
BAD AD WATCH: I still can’t quite get over Armageddon‘s “Wow” ad (THB 6/22). But let’s rip on a small film. Henry Jaglom’s Deja Vu offers Tom Marshall from the Dallas Morning News screaming, “Deja Vu is daring — a blinding, dizzying fairy tale — like taking a magic carpet ride.” What Marshall doesn’t know is that Jaglom dropped acid in his Diet Coke at the screening and threw him into an empty theater showing Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. He was taking a magic carpet ride.
READER OF THE DAY: This was an easy choice today. I’ll let the reader sign in for herself: “Dear David, FYI, I am the producer-director of the film Exhausted. The correct name is Julia St. Vincent not Jesse St. James. Jessie St. James was a porn actress, and as far as I know never produced or directed any film. Would you please correct your Web page? By the way, if you found the movie Boogie Nights disturbing in a way, couldn’t get it off your mind….you should have lived it.”

THE OLD MAN & THE CARR-EY

Remaking Jerry Lewis movies has become a popular fad since the smashing success of The Nutty Professor. Films to come include The Nutty Professor 2, and remakes of Cinderfella, The Errand Boy, The Bell Boy and The Family Jewels. Of course, everyone is after Jim Carrey to “go Jerry,” but Lewis himself has said that he thinks Carrey, with all due respect, is too old for the job. Hold on! Jim Carrey is 36. Lewis was 38 and 39 when he made the multi-role comedy The Family Jewels. Oh, well, that’s why he’s The King of the French. Lewis did The Family Jewels with wigs and mustaches, but it would actually be really interesting to see Carrey do a Murphy-esque series of physical transformations given current make-up technology. Hmmm.
THE EDGAR WATCH: I’ve been pretty comfortable slamming Edgar Bronfman Jr. for his goofs, so I suppose he is due some praise when he does well. The positive story of the week is his skill in separating Alain Levy from PolyGram for only $10 million (about 7 percent of the Michael Ovitz separation fee) and also separating PolyGram from Phillips Electronics for $200 million less than they agreed on after the company had a weak second quarter showing. You know I hate to say it, but good job, Mr. B.
THE GRAVY BOAT SAILS: The Washington Post ran a story Tuesday about the current trend away from studio deals for stars. As usual, Alicia Silverstone takes the brunt of the abuse. Like her production deal, she earned it. Not surprisingly, the list of names losing deals is made up almost exclusively of actors who are experiencing dry spells. And while Universal Chairman Casey Silver talks tough about the “selective” stance at Universal, he forgets to mention Sylvester Stallone, who still owes Universal two pictures at $20 million apiece. That’s $13 million less than Daylight (the first film to come of the three-picture deal and Stallone’s most recent major studio release) grossed domestically.
AIR ERR: The globalization of the movie business hit a snag this week as KirchGruppe’s DF-1 satellite pay-TV business appeared to be on its last legs. Why does that matter? The satellite service was formed by two of the world’s richest brothers, Leo and Thomas (ranked 103 in the world by Forbes with $3 billion) to dominate the German market. The move meant bold deals with Hollywood studios for product. About $4 billion in deals with four majors that was signed just two years ago (That’s over $1 billion for Universal, $800 million for Warner Bros., $930 million for Sony and between $1.5 and $2 billion for Paramount.) Plus, Disney is signed to launch their German Disney Channel via Kirsch’s satellites. Most of the money committed will likely be matched by competing satellite nets if Kirch can’t survive. Most. (About 75 percent, it appears.) But with 21 million happily cable-running and 7.1 million satellite-running households, Kirch has only sold their Hollywood-driven dream to 160,000 folks. Now, THAT’S a small world.
MORE MULAN: Disney continues to break ground with their Web sites. Check out their Mulan site to see what I mean. Really neat stuff to play with. But I’ll warn you now. If you have less than 24 MB of RAM, beware. It’s a high-powered site.
SMALL INCONVENIENCE: I was supposed to see Small Soldiers last night, but the screening was canceled because the effects are still being laid in. Yet another effects film pushing their post schedule to the limit. But don’t worry, rough cut will be with all the Small Soldiers at the movie’s premiere on July 8. Keep an eye out for event promo. And also keep an eye out for regular chats with me. I know I’ve been promising this for a while, but it’s getting close.
JUNKET JUNK: Small Soldiers may be on hold, but I will be talking to the casts of Ever After: A Cinderella Story (the Drew Barrymore version of Cinderella) and There’s Something About Mary (the new film from Dumb & Dumber creators the Farrelly Brothers, starring Matt Dillon, his main squeeze, Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller). If you have questions that you want to me to ask, now is the time to send them to me. I’ll get you some answers next week.
THE BEYOND CONTEST: You ball, I ball, we all ball for eye ball! Still looking for 100 word descriptions of the most disgusting moments you’ve ever seen on film. Most of you who have sent stuff in so far have been a little shy about grossing me out. Cut it out, or I’ll cut you up! I want readers to flinch the same way you did when you experienced the terrifyingly queasy film moments. And if you make the Top 10, you’ll get a real eyeball for your trouble!
READER OF THE DAY: Krillian sent in his grossest. I won’t tell you the top entry, but he gave me more than one, so take a read: “The second grossest thing I’ve seen on film was watching Woody Allen kiss Juliette Lewis in Husbands and Wives right after the Soon-Yi story broke out. Third grossest: A 10-year-old boy carrying around a dead fetus which he thinks is his dead friend who has come back as an angel. How’d his friend die? By being gang-raped by teenagers. Never ever see The Reflective Skin? If you already have, I’m sorry. Fourth grossest: All those bees flying out of Tony Todd‘s mouth in Candyman. Fifth grossest: The little kid’s nose with the giant snot bubble in Little Giants. Sixth grossest: Thomas Haden Church falling face-first with his mouth open into a pile of elephant poop in George of the Jungle. Seventh grossest: That very skinny naked man in Schindler’s List. It was gross and very disturbing. And sad. Eighth grossest: Craig T. Nelson puking up a giant possessed tequila worm in Poltergeist 2. Ninth grossest: Linda Blair viciously masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Tenth grossest: The third-nipple woman from Mallrats.”

Ranting and Raving

For me, Mulan is the best film of the summer, so far. You may be asking yourself, why would a hardass like this Poland guy be getting sucked in by a Disney cartoon? Well, here is one secret. I’m not such a hardass. I love movies just like the rest of you. And a good story well told is rare enough. But one with a moral that it actually stays focused on and delivers on is rare, indeed. Hey, I enjoy seeing stuff blown up as much as the next guy (or gal). But the great moments in film are the ones that reach somewhere that isn’t rational. Even in an action movie like Die Hard, the great moments weren’t the explosions, but the real moments of pain and triumph that made the original great. Running through glass. Reginald VelJohnson‘s Al Powell — a Twinkie-gorger-turned-hero. And Hans Gruber’s face as he falls to his death.
But I digress.
I didn’t expect all that much from Mulan, but I got a surprise around every corner of the film. The film starts with a bang, focusing on the peril, not the hero. And that peril is a cultural clash, not just villain vs. hero or heroine. Of course, the central villain, Shan-Yu, is the strongest by Disney since Scar in The Lion King. His desires are simple, clear and unshakable. And he clearly has the power to deliver. If I have any complaint, it is that Shan-Yu and the other Huns borrow a little too liberally from Warner Bros. recent dark “Batman”/”Superman” television work. There are other WB echoes in the film. Mulan’s grandmother, for instance, who is actually voiced by WB regular, the great June Foray. And The Matchmaker (her character name) is a dead ringer for a Chuck Jones character, especially when she has a false mustache. But I’m willing to forgive these lapses. Balancing them is a sequence (during the song “A Girl Worth Fighting For”) that is animated in a way you’ve never seen in this country before that is quite beautiful.
As we go from the opening confrontation to meet Mulan, the unique style of the film continues to surprise. Mulan’s horse, Khan, is extraordinarily beautiful and sharp. And Mulan’s dog, Little Brother, is cute, but made up of all soft lines. Some may feel the design varies too much. But for me, the combinations of Chinese art, Disney history and other influences mesh perfectly. Balance is the central theme of Chinese spiritual culture. (Not political culture.) And Mulan walked the tightrope, occasionally leaning to a side, but never falling off through its 98-minute running time.
The film respects Chinese culture (pre-Mao and pre-Tienamen Square), but doesn’t get so lost in honoring it that it loses its sense of humor. Eddie Murphy‘s Mushu character adds to the film, but never tries to steal it. (In fact, I’m pretty sure they cut his song. There’s an R&B music cue when he introduces himself to Mulan that mysteriously fades. Good choice. It would have been a tone changer.) The other animal sidekick (a cricket named Cri-Kee) are always around, but never too cute or have to force their way into a scene. The three human sidekicks (Six sidekicks mean no waiting. And no movie stealing.) are also balanced. And no matter how broad they get, they always keep their eye on the central theme. Honor. (One of the great ironies of the film is that the two most macho characters in the film are voiced by gay men. There’s some balance for you. Don’t tell the Christian Coalition or there will be picketing.)
The music is somewhat unmemorable. Absolutely. But it fits. For me, that was a sign of sure-footed smarts. None of that sense of reaching out for the hit single. The music moved the story. Which brings up my favorite thing about this film. The silence. Mulan let the visuals tell the story. There are at least three long sequences of montage in Mulan that are accompanied by music or a song only. In the soldier-training sequence, the animators didn’t force the characters to sync with the song, “Be a Man.” The visual remained the first priority. And the film was stronger for it.
Finally, there is Mulan herself. There has never been a Disney heroine like her. She is not a woman looking for a man. Even the independent Pocahontas had that “all she needs is a good roll in the hay” thing happening. Mulan is more than her sexual identity. And the film doesn’t dwell on her sexuality. There was one somewhat coy bit, as Mulan is confronted with a platoon of naked men heading into her private section of a lake. But it just acknowledges the issue, gets its laugh and moves back to the theme. Honor. And at the end, Mulan reminds us that honor is not just about our own glory, but about our families. Whether our immediate family or family of friends, our ethnic identity or the family of men. A powerful message indeed.
ALTERNATE RANT: Check out this review of Mulan from Los Angeles’ New Times. I agree on some things and disagree on others, but it is mostly a fair and funny review.
READER OF THE DAY: From Steve: “I saw Mulan this afternoon in the screening room of Buena Vista, Taiwan Branch. As a Chinese person, it’s really interesting to see this movie. First, you can watch many Chinese traditions that you don’t use or know anymore only because you live in ’90s. Second, you watch this stuff through the eyes of modern Americans or Disney’s point of view, and it always makes you feel something different about the old story you had already known since you were a little kid. Beside the great story and wonderful art work, I knew very clearly why Disney wanted to make Mulan, it’s all about the monkey of the market of Mainland China. Michael Ovitz made his last public speech when he was still at Disney. He said China would be the major market before next century. He said he even sent his son to learn Chinese. I knew this theory was correct because the year Disney decided to make Mulan was the same year they opened their own branch in Taiwan. Once they get familiar with Taiwan, it will be much easier to get the market of China as soon as they can. After all, Toy Story was No.1 at the box office of China in 1997, not including the merchandise they sold over there. (Yes, I knew many toys were made in China, but Disney now sells them back to the people made them).”

The Return of Siskel

Gene Siskel finally returned to his balcony seat next to Roger Ebert this weekend, and they provided some on-screen tension that could match any of the movies they were covering. Siskel started to sound a little rusty for the wear when he started complaining that Mulan wasn’t the same, in elements, as Yentl or G.I. Jane. Ebert fought back with full force, all but saying, “Have you lost your mind?!” But as he was responding in his understandable rage, one could read the mixed emotions on his face, as he realized he was yelling at a guy who just got back from brain surgery. And Siskel, in defending his position, shot back, but not with the confident Roger-dismissive tone to which we’ve become familiar. He was almost like watching a guy caught with lipstick on his collar. He wanted to go on the attack, but one could see that he was questioning himself a little and worrying that he’d say the wrong thing and had really dug himself a hole. And he was also trying that slightly too nasty, too defensive, aggressive posture that raises the decibel level in hopes of shutting the other person down. Fascinating. Actually breathtaking. It reminded me (for any of you who know the show) of Pembleton coming back from his stroke on “Homicide.” Only this was real.
BROAD-WAY: Julie Taymor brought a jungle full of animals to life for Disney with The Lion King and won two Tony awards (and many millions for Disney) for her trouble. Now, she’s planning on bringing back the Richard Wagner opera, The Flying Dutchman to feature film for Fox 2000. I can hear the tag line now. “You will believe a Dutchman can fly!” Meanwhile, Jennifer Jason Leigh segues from being fired from Stanley Kubrick‘s Eyes Wide Shut to being in David Cronenberg‘s eXistenZ to Broadway, replacing Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, starting August 4. Anyone who saw Last Exit to Brooklyn knows how decadence fits Leigh to a T. Finally, the revival of Wait Until Dark is about to go dark. That’s right. Quentin Tarantino and Marisa Tomei are coming home. So watch what you say in restaurants (QT’s favorite place to brawl) and get ready for My Cousin Vinny 2, 3 and 4.
THE BEYOND CONTEST: It’s beyond me why you would want your very own The Beyond eyeball. (That’s a lie. I have one and it’s my favorite toy on my desk.) But if you do, we’re running a contest. (Another damned contest. Horse races. Weekend box office. Am I out of my mind coming up with another contest?) Send me your description of the most disgusting moment you’ve ever seen from any movie ever. (Was Angie Everhart more disgusting in Bordello of Blood when killing people or when trying to act?) One hundred words or less. (Like I’ve ever written anything 100 words or less in my life. But you guys better stay within those guidelines.) The 10 most-disgusting entries get an eyeball. (I’ll take them straight out of… Oops! Are my thoughts showing up on the page? Dammit! I hate this Microsoft telepathy! It’s great when you can’t afford a transcriber for interviews, but it gets me in such trouble. Just enter. OK?)
READER OF THE DAY: Two today. First, From Issac B: “As a fan of ‘The X-Files,’ I’d just like to say this about your opinion of the movie: If you do get strung up like a piñata, it won’t be by me. During a Sex Pistols’ concert, Johnny Rotten once asked, ‘Did you ever get the feeling you were being cheated?’ At the time he was posing it to himself and his band mates, and now I’d like to pose it to myself and the fans of the show. Watching the movie was like watching the show at home, except I couldn’t get up and go to the bathroom. At the time, I was afraid I’d miss some important revelation on the whole conspiracy. Silly me, there were no important revelations about the show. None whatsoever. If I’d known that, I would’ve walked into the projection booth and pissed on the celluloid. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a horrible film. The acting was top-notch, Rob Bowman did a great job of directing, and the added production values made for some beautiful scenes. No, my problem is with Chris Carter, who seems to get off on dangling ‘the truth’ over the heads of the fans, then yanking it away and laughing while everyone looks around wondering what the hell just happened. I know he can’t reveal everything about the show, but for seven bucks his fans deserved something. What a rip-off.”
And from Cooldaddy: “I don’t know about everyone else, but I found The X-Files movie to be the best movie this summer, other than The Truman Show. I watch the show, but I wouldn’t have had to to understand the plot very thoroughly. One, I haven’t seen a lot of the older episodes (I’m catching up with the F/X channel), but I was still able to follow the plot very easily, as did my mother. And if she can follow the plot with ease, anyone can. Everything in the movie was clever and a lot of it was just funny. I loved the fact that the filmmakers didn’t let the special effects take over the movie, which rarely ever happens. It would be wrong to turn the movie into big explosions and all, and there was only one. I think the people who have never seen the show will love it, particularly because of how cool and funny Mulder and Scully are. And the review I read in roughcut got it all wrong. By having all of the well-known reoccurring characters would have made the movie way too full. It was fine to just bring in a few old and new characters because the audience would really get confused. All I’m saying is this: This was the best episode of ‘The X-Files,’ and a damn good movie all by itself. Lots of suspense is much better than stupid overused special effects. The filmmakers made the right choice. And judging how the audience loved the movie at the screening I was in, it will do pretty well, as it should.”

Weekend Wrap-Up

The X-Files was Xcellent, but Xhibits early signs that it won’t be a mega-hit. The $31 million take was nothing to sneeze at, but it wasn’t a black, gooey substance that’s going to take over the planet. The box office take dipped from Friday to Saturday (from $12.6 million to $10.2 million) suggesting that many of the must-see viewers saw on Friday and that the overall market beyond that group is limited. The other summer hits to date, The Truman Show ($10.1m/$12.5m), Godzilla ($12.7m/$17.3m) and Deep Impact ($13.2m/$15.9m) all, as you can see, went up from Friday to Saturday, as does almost every single film every week. (The one recent anomaly is Can’t Hardly Wait, which did it for the second week in a row. Why? Could be showings lost to Mulan and The X-Files on Saturday this week. I’ll have to look further into it.) With this in mind, I’m eyeballing a big drop-off next weekend and a significant fight to pass the $100 million mark in the domestic future.
In second, it was Mulan, with a solid, maybe even surprising, $23 million. More on the movie below, but I got e-mail from a reader who reminded me (too late to print) that the last three “disappointing” Disney films all opened with more than $20 million. Mulan is no disappointment. Truman and his show dropped to third, falling almost exactly as hard as it did last week (38 percent to 37 percent), for a $12.2 million take. Six Days, Seven Nights (dubbed by one friend, Three Days Too Long) fell 36 percent to fourth place, with about $10.5 million. And A Perfect Murder fell by the six more percentage points than the difference in Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow‘s ages, 35 percent, to $7.3 million and fifth place. Can’t Hardly Wait couldn’t hardly hold onto its teen audience, dropping 51 percent to $3.9 million and sixth. In seventh, Hope Floats to seventh with $3.1 million while hopes for Godzilla to pass Deep Impact faded as El Lizardo dropped 52 percent (after falling only 37 percent last weekend) to add $3 million, only $300,000 more than Deep Impact’s $2.7 million ninth place showing. And The Horse Whisperer continues its soft ride downhill, adding another $2.4 million to its $60 million-plus total.
THE GOOD: Mulan shocked me. This film is easily the best traditional work out of Disney since The Lion King. (Toy Story has its own groundbreaking category.) And while it shares some of the same breathtaking elements of The Lion King (a unique culturally-based color palette, a powerful villain and a clear and heartfelt theme that doesn’t get lost in the sidekick merchandising), Mulan really creates its own place in Disney’s history. (And frankly, it really pisses me off to see so many critics complaining that “it’s just another Disney film.” I think they went in with blinders on and forgot to do their jobs. See the movie first, the history second.) I may be pushing it a bit, with The Truman Show in mind, but right now, Mulan is the best film of the summer of 1998 to date. Lots more on why this Wednesday.
THE BAD: The X-Files is not a bad film. In fact, it’s pretty damned good. But it does suffer from the Star Trek Syndrome. Protecting core characters, themes and setting up the future (they should have fought that!) hurt the film. And for me, the “opening up” of the series for film, did nothing but show us some big sets, bigger explosions and some fast helicopters. Smart characters talking to each other about ideas is what makes the show so good. Screen size doesn’t matter. In this case, the mob sentiment that “it was a great season ender/season opener” is dead on. I think that even X-philes will admit, they didn’t get much more from this film than they would have gotten from the same story being told on the TV series.
THE UGLY: I’ll admit it. I’m intimidated by the passion that people have for The X-Files. Hitting this film like a piñata makes me the next inanimate object to get strung up. So, no more specific descriptions, for better or worse, until more of the world, especially Australia, gets their chance to see the film.
THE BEYOND CONTEST: So, you checked out our The Beyond page and you want to see the film, but it’s not in your town yet. Well, I can’t distribute the film to your local bijou (though it’s done a fairly remarkable $33,975 in just 36 showings in its two weekends of Midnight showings so far), but I can get you your very own eyeball from the film. Here’s what you have to do. Send me your description of the most disgusting moment you’ve ever seen from any movie ever. One hundred words or less. The 10 most disgusting entries get an eyeball gorged directly out of the head of a The Beyond cast member. (Or something like that.)
TWO MOVIES EQUAL: Mulan + The Truman Show = The True Mulan Show. Jim Carrey stars as the fierce Asian girl who was adopted by The Disney Company at birth and whose every move is watched by a team of two million animators who animate her life as she lives it. The movie begins when Mulan gets a hold of a copy of GQ, realizes the animators aren’t nearly well-dressed enough to be gay and that she is not, in fact, in San Francisco at all, but on the Disney backlot. When Mulan finally makes contact with Michael Eisner, he convinces her, as he has most everyone else (especially himself), that he actually is God, and she returns to her unreal life.
JUST WONDERING: If Michael Eisner is God, why aren’t ABC’s ratings better? Likewise, if Chris Carter really knows the answer that’s out there, why did The X-Files end up on Fox?
BAD AD WATCH: Disney giveth and Disney taketh away. As much as I loved Mulan, Disney’s three page spread for Armageddon knocked me out. First, it has plenty of lightweight critics in its first page of all pull quotes. Why Disney would be trying to turn Armageddon into a critic’s movie is beyond me. Empowering critics to make their thumbs, up or down, of importance on a critic-proof film makes no sense. Then, they top it off with a two page spread with nothing but the title, the opening date and a word from the man who has become the ultimate “Blurb-O-Matic” for the ’90s, Ron “I loved having open heart surgery!” Brewington. He say’s “Wow.” I say, “Ugh!”
READER OF THE DAY: Chris (aka Maniac) writes: “The X-Files has a humongous advantage over Armageddon because if this movie is frightening enough, it could take the No. 1 crown this summer. I predict the top 10 May-August will look like this: 1. Small Soldiers $215m, 2. Armageddon $190m, 3. The X-Files $140m, 4. Lethal Weapon 4 $130m, 5. Deep Impact $129m, 6. Godzilla $128m, 7. Blade $115m, 8. The Mask of Zorro $110m, 9. Dr. Dolittle $104m, 10. The Truman Show $103m, with Saving Private Ryan and The Negotiator also ending up with a respectable $79 million apiece.”

News By The Numbers

10. AFI 100 FIN: Lists are a bitch. Can’t please all of the people all of the time. Can’t please me most of the time. But, however misguided in its selections, however blatantly commercial, however AFI, the list will, I hope, promote the viewing of films that most people have heard about but weren’t motivated to actually rent and see. Movies. Gotta love ’em.
9. TRU SUE: Mark Dunn sued everyone involved with The Truman Show for copyright infringement. He says they stole the idea and substantial specifics from an Off-Off-Broadway play he wrote. He wants $200 million. Besides the many other places where similar ideas have been bred and the singular honor of Peter Weir, Dunn missed one factor. Paramount has a lot better people to screw than him. They could have bought the play for $10,000 and made this guy disappear if they really had paid any attention to his play. The only way he could win this suit is if he were living in The Mark Dunn Show.
8. STUDIOS REPORT: John Krier, the founder of box-office numbers house Exhibitor Relations Co., died last Saturday at the ripe old age of 89. On Sunday, Paramount reported Krier as “having a cold,” while Miramax developed an Oscar campaign around his passing. Fox suggested it was actually an alien abduction related somehow to The X-Files opening. Premiere ran a flash edition suggesting that Krier died in a sexual tryst with New Line executives, quoting “an unnamed mortuary worker.” And Universal chief Edgar Bronfman Jr. said the coroner’s office was “stupid” for suggesting that Krier has actually died and that Krier was not only alive, but he was actually 45-years-old again. Sony’s Godzillas sent empathetic condolences, and Warner Bros. executives were overheard mumbling, “There but for the grace of a decent opening by The Avengers go I.”
7. FESTIVE FESTIVALS: In Russia, organizers of the the Sochi International Film Festival banned the jury from appearing at the award ceremony. Why? Because they wouldn’t give a grand prize, saying no film was worthy. Actual integrity in the arts?! Better re-hang the Iron Curtain before it spreads. Meanwhile the Seattle International Film Festival coughed up awards to God Said Ha!, Gods and Monsters, Wilde, Buffalo 66 and The Opposite of Sex. In other words, a batch of films that will barely find an audience beyond the Coffee Curtain. (I do want to see all five films, though.)
6. I LOVE THE DUQUE: He’s not exactly John Wayne, but I’m a Yankees fan (I can just hear thousands of Red Sox fans unbookmarking me), so he’s a hero to me. I’m talking about Yankees pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, a man who escaped Cuba on a raft just four months ago, almost dying in the process, and who is now 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA after three big league starts. (For the non-baseball fans, that’s pretty incredible.) Sounds like a movie to me! And not just a little movie. CAA has attached Cuba Gooding Jr. to play the pitcher and Antonio Banderas to play his agent. So, as a supporter of Hollywood, I’ll have to root for the Yanks to win the World Series with Hernandez pitching a perfect game four. The price of my work. Sigh.
5. THE AGONY OF DA FILM: There was a cyber-conference this week in L.A. and, once again, the scary idea of re-animating dead movie stars for fun and profit reared its ugly head. One loony offered, “The moment of death should not be the end of an actor’s career.” Oh. That loony just happens to represent the estates of Marlene Dietrich and Humphrey Bogart amongst others. Oh, the humanity!
4. WE PLEAD NOT GUILTY: Recently, Michael Laudor sold the movie rights to his still unwritten autobiography to Imagine Entertainment for a reported $1.5 million. His story was that of a lawyer who had to overcome schizophrenia to do his job, and the story was interesting enough to attract Brad Pitt to the role-to-be. He sold too early. On Thursday, he was arraigned on charges of stabbing his pregnant girlfriend to death. Now, if his lawyer could successfully defend his lunatic murderer personality against the charges, someone would be sure of winning an Academy Award.
3. TAKE THAT DATE AND SHOVE IT!: Harvey Weinstein said last week that MGM had better move their horror film Disturbing Behavior out of the way of the self-predicted H2O (the Halloween sequel) juggernaut. This week, MGM did. Up two weeks to July 22. The move will probably work for both pictures. DB will be counterprogramming against There’s Something About Mary, The Mask of Zorro and Saving Private Ryan, expected to be three of the top grossing summer films. (Talk about a car wreck. A reader sent in a stat that there have been only five weekends ever with two $20 million films. The second week of Zorro, a film I think will have great word-of-mouth and strong legs combined with the opening of Saving Private Ryan could be the sixth weekend to turn that double play.) H2O, based on Weinstein’s choice to move to August, is meant as a smaller, longer-running release, so being the second major teen horror movie since Scream 2 shouldn’t hurt. Weinstein really believes in his film.
2. SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE RACISTS: Bruce Willis decided to stick up for Louis Farrakhan in his Armageddon promo article in July’s George magazine. You’d think the Anti-Defamation League thought the world was going to end. Willis said, “A lot of people feel Louis Farrakhan stands for a lot of negative things, but he is raising his voice against inequality. Anybody who stands up against injustice is a hero of mine.” And, “I’ll tell you something, if I were black, I’d be with Farrakhan, too.” The ADL responded that Farrakhan’s “attitudes are not simply diversions from an otherwise positive program of standing up against injustices, but they are an integral part of a policy of hate, division and separation which lays at the very heart of Farrakhan’s ideology.” What do I think? I think Willis was sincere and meant to be supportive of what he thinks about the Farrakhan movement that makes sense. But I also think that Farrakhan, the ADL, whites, blacks, hispanics and every other group that sees themselves as victims (and every group does) looks to create enemies to help their group bond. Resistance = Unity. The Cold War, the tension in the Middle East, Nazi Germany and calling kids in the playground “fat” or “ugly,” simplified to the extreme, all come down to that. Why can’t we all just get along? Because it would require a lot more work for each of us.
1. TOMORROWLAND TODAY: The vice-like grip of Disney on the ‘Net is getting even tighter. Up until now, besides the highly popular and financially successful Disney site, it was “just” ABCnews.com, Mr. Showbiz, E! Online, ESPNet and a few other Starwave sites that were Mouse-owned-and-operated. Their “merger” with Infoseek could be the glue to Disney’s New Net Order. Disney gets 43 percent of Infoseek in exchange for Starwave and $70 million, which is estimated to add up to an effective cost of $370 million. As part of the deal, Disney has “agreed” to spend $165 million in promotion, but given that Disney can take a 51 percent stake in Infoseek within three years, that figure may end up being low. Disney will now be able to use the No. 3 search engine (according to traffic numbers this week) to hub the top family site (Disney), the top sports site (ESPNet), what should become the top entertainment site in terms of traffic (E! Online) and a network news site (ABCnews.com). It’s a small world after all.
READER OF THE DAY: Krillian writes: “A great date movie is one we both like that makes my wife want to snuggle with me, be it Titanic or Armageddon. If we go to a first-run night show it’s $6.50 each, and another $5 or so for the babysitter when we get back. So $18. If we get food or drink (which we usually sneak in) but if we get food or drink there, it’s another $5. So, OK, if I’m paying almost $25 when I could rent a video for $2, Movie Studios, your movies had better be dang good.”

Weekend Preview

It should be clear sailing for The X-Files this weekend. The Truman Show, in its third week, should drop by another 35 percent to third place with about $13 million. That will leave the second spot open for Mulan, which should do well despite the marked lack of buzz and the fact that its opening on even fewer screens (1,800) than Can’t Hardly Wait (1,987). But, it’s a Disney movie, right? $14 million. How much do I think The X-Files can do in its first weekend? Between $30 and $40 million. Any higher than that would be a real shock. Any less than that will be a disappointment. Based on what really works in the film, I would have spent a lot less than the reported $60 million budget, not worried so much about the marginalization issue and with what should be around a $100 million domestic box office take and had one of the most profitable films of 1998. In this film, it’s truly a case of size doesn’t matter. The weakest parts of the film are the ones where they try to “open up” the show for the big screen. Oops. I said I wouldn’t make any more comments until Monday. I’ll shut up about it now.
There are no other new competitors in the box office race outside of the art world. (More on some of those below.) Six Days, Seven Nights is still a nice traditional alternative in this summer’s high concept marketplace. Fourth place with $11.5 million. Fifth place should go to the very imperfect A Perfect Murder (with a first act as great as The Devil’s Advocate’s third act — If Warner Bros. could find a great second act, they’d finally have a watchable movie.). A 35 percent drop to $7.9 million should put the film close to the $50 million mark.
The second five should all be between $5 million and just under $3 million. Tight. Can’t Hardly Wait can’t hardly drop more than 40 percent this week, can it? Four-point-eight million for sixth. Godzilla will finally break the $130 million barrier (they’re going to be writing books about this one) with $4 million in a weak week four. Hope Floats to another $3.2 million and eighth place, while The Horse Whisperer continues steadily (again, as an alternative for the over-30 set) and should jump just ahead of Deep Impact to take ninth place with $3 million. Unlike Godzilla, Deep Impact ($2.9 million for 10th) will have already passed $130 million before the weekend, but not by much. And unlike previous predictions of mine, Godzilla may end up outgrossing Deep Impact domestically by the hair on his finnie fin fin.
THE GOOD: I was asked to take a look at High Art, an art film that is going as wide as most art films go this week. I saw it. It was OK. But the film, which last night opened the San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, wasn’t really in my range. So I asked my lesbian landlord, Maria, to take a look. Here’s a bit of what she had to say: “The more times you view the movie, the better the storyline gets. The lead character, Sid, would have been much better if they had cast a different actress. Greta’s lipstick actually got newer and shinier as the scenes progressed HOW many times? And too many shots of the women’s heads. You couldn’t see emotions that way! Overall, from a lesbian’s point of view, real life doesn’t happen like it happened in High Art. But good job, Ally. A great character, played very convincingly by Ally Sheedy. I was attracted to her very much.”
THE BAD: Lots of moaning over the AFI Top 100 American Films of All Time. (Check out roughcut’s answer — The 100 Worst Films.) As much as he can bug me, I thought Ken Turan of the L.A. Times did a pretty good job listing some of the complaints. (And by the way, AFI’s official definition of an American Film is “English language film with significant creative and/or financial production elements from the United States.” In other words, virtually every English language film with a budget over $10 million belongs to us. Screw the UK dwellers and the Aussies and the Kiwis. We should keep in mind that AFI’s 100 Best isn’t a real feat of judgement, but a clever marketing ploy by the American studios to sell more videos — an effort in which TNT is participating. Which I guess is OK on both counts. People who love films should see all of these titles.)
THE UGLY: The most disgusting Midnight movie ever is on screens in seven cities. It’s called The Beyond. Click here to see if you agree. (WARNING: TNT and Time Warner take no responsibility for any resulting psychotic medical conditions caused by viewing the page on The Beyond. If you are sensitive, pregnant or a really big fan of Michael Bolton, please consult a physician before viewing. In fact, even if you aren’t going to check the page out, if you are a fan of Michael Bolton, please seek help. A little penicillin should fix you right up.)
TWO MOVIES EQUAL: A Perfect Murder + Hope Floats = A Perfect Float. Michael Douglas, married to the young, vibrant Sandra Bullock, must drink ice cream floats and other soft foods since he has become so old he has no teeth left in his mouth. In fact, the impairment becomes his only viable tool in the bedroom with young Sandra. When Gwyneth Paltrow hears about his skills at the Beautiful-Young-Actresses-
Who-Better-Pick-Their-Movies-Better Convention, she tries him out, causing Brad Pitt to start dating Jennifer Aniston, who dumps Tate Donavan, who once broke Sandra Bullock‘s heart. Now, this upsets Winona Ryder, who used to date Christian Slater who also used to date Samantha Mathis, who is Sandra Bullock‘s best friend. Directed by Roman Polanski.
JUST WONDERING: Are Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich ever going to be free of abuse? As I’ve noted before, Armageddon takes its shot at Godzilla. And now, in The X-Files movie, there is a direct assault on ID4. Maybe this is the price of success followed by disappointment. But can’t we all just get along?
BAD AD WATCH: Dirty Work’s ad campaign seems to think that just using dirty words will make people over 17 laugh. “Put the ‘FU’ back in fun!” and “Tired of eating *#!@?” are the ingenious tag lines. (And I am quoting symbol for symbol here.) Perhaps Fox should be using this tact for The X-Files. “Hear Mulder say, ‘s–t!'” and “See Scully’s back naked!”
READER OF THE DAY: First, thank you all for responding to the Wednesday ROTD (THB 6/17) who was complaining about the amount of box office chat. I appreciate the support, even if I can’t print many of the letters due to language considerations. As you can see, things remain the same on your say so. And now, Aaron S: “Tell that goofball who ‘un-bookmarked’ you to go read People. A Hot Button without lots of box office news is like an AFI top 100 movies without The Shawshank Redemption. Errrr…OK, bad example.”

X Marks The Spot

I’ve been getting lots of e-mail asking for my take on The X-Files movie (not technically called Fight The Future. Just, apparently, a half-hearted attempt to differentiate the film from the TV show). The reason I haven’t said much is that I know X-philes are looking forward to this film like the second coming. I don’t want to fight that future. As I’ve said before, with movies I am really looking forward to, I won’t even read reviews ahead of time. I end up thinking about what the reviewer said during the movie and that’s no fun. So, I’ll just say this for now. It’s the best season ending and season opening TV show ever. I don’t know how much X-philes will love it. (Please let me know after you see it.) Probably a lot. If you have been a casual viewer of the show, you will get it, but I doubt you will be overwhelmed. And if you have never seen the show, this is not the best way to get started on the series. More on Monday, after the “must-see” viewers have seen the movie.
100 BALLOTS OF BILGE ON THE WALL: AFI’s “100 Greatest American Films” list hit CBS on Tuesday night. Citizen Kane was tops. Shocker. The list was way too conservative, and there were some gross miscalculations. Casablanca is the second-best American film of all time? I think not. I have great respect for Schindler’s List, but number nine? No. Godfather II at No. 32? Please! Birth of a Nation will certainly turn heads. An important film, but one of the 100 best? I would bet money that 75 percent of the voters have never seen Birth of a Nation. And Pulp Fiction doesn’t belong on the list. It isn’t even Tarantino’s best film (Reservoir Dogs was better, particularly as a director.) Oh, well. Such is the treachery of polls. (AFI polled 1,500 people.) At least there were no bad films on the list. My request for your choices of movies that would be missed produced these titles: A Midnight Clear, Broadcast News, House of Games, The Conversation, A Perfect World, Road to Morocco, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, The Shawshank Redemption, The Last Picture Show, Blue Velvet, Birdy, Harold and Maude, Risky Business, River’s Edge and Deliverance. Do the Right Thing got multiple entries with some detail about Spike Lee being dissed in general.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Vote for your 101st best movie, and win a USSB satellite system and free service for one year.
UN-TRU-MAN: A playwright who says he was wronged, Mark Dunn, has sued Paramount for $200 million claiming that The Truman Show was based on his play Frank’s Story. Dunn will also be suing The Twilight Zone, Paul Bartel for his Secret Cinema, MTV’s “The Real World,” “Cops,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” the FBI, the CIA, and HBO (and their “Taxicab Confessions”) just as soon as he files his claim against Nora Dunn for stealing his last name.
PASSING THE BUCKS: John Krier, a real sweet man who also happened to be the man who founded Exhibitor Relations, the company that gets everyone their box offices numbers each day, passed away over the weekend. The last time I saw him was at ShoWest at the DreamWorks event. Not a young man, he gamely hustled along with the crowd from buses to theaters to Gameworks, with a smile on his face, never complaining for a second. He always brought a certain humanity to a business that sometimes forgets the individual. He will be missed.
KING OF THE STARS: Jim Cameron told graduates of Carleton University that he wants to go to space and make a documentary about the building of the International Space Station. In fact, he’s put a call into NASA toward that end. Apparently, the space geeks want Cameron to stop stalling and make Spiderman (I made that up.). In deference to the Titanic titan, friends who saw Cameron at another honorary event, this time at UCLA, said that he was incredibly modest and genial toward the crowd. Good show.
HOLD THE HOISIN: The first global Happy Meal promotion project between Disney and McDonald’s started on Tuesday in 10 countries across the globe with Mulan characters. McDonald’s decided not to match the theme and financial expectations for Mulan by creating inedible Mushu Cheeseburgers and Soy Tofu McNuggets. (I hope the movie is great. And that it exceeds low expectations. Just for the record.)
READER OF THE DAY: A GREAT letter from Kathleen M. I don’t like to run reader gossip, but this kind of catch is just outstanding. “Just a little disillusioned here. I check the Turner Classic Movies monthly listings religiously to check for noir titles I haven’t seen yet. They put next month’s titles into the search engine before they are added to the calendar. So last week I punch in 193* (to get all the upcoming films for July from the 1930s) and one of the first listings is: ‘7/5/98 3:00 AM — Remember? (1939) A bickering couple takes an amnesia potion so they can re-discover each other. Robert Taylor, Greer Garson, Lew Ayres. D: Norman Z. McLeod. BW 84m.’ And I think, what a great idea! Somebody could update that. I confess to being a currently recovering aspiring screenwriter, so I let the idea just pass into the back of my mind. Imagine my surprise when I go to your column and read your story on Charlie Kaufman and his great pitch! (THB 06/16) This just all seems like a bit too much of a coincidence for me. The plot of an old ’30s movie, just after it is announced to play on cable, is pitched to the studios. Of course, it had to be a pitch, not a script, somebody might see Remember? when it shows in July and realize what is going on.”
And this from David: “And how on EARTH is A Clockwork Orange an American film????? It’s a British novel, by a British director, filmed in Britain with British actors!” Good point. I love Kubrick, but David’s right.

Premiere and New Line

Can you say “hatchet job?” I know for sure that Premiere magazine can. It had to be the phrase of the day when it decided to print its story, “Flirting With Disaster,” on alleged sexual and drug-related misconduct at New Line Cinema. I am often disgusted with the state of entertainment journalism, but usually it’s because we throw softballs in exchange for access to the talent that sells magazines, newspapers and TV shows. (And yes, some Web sites.) This time, it’s the opposite. What was Premiere thinking when it ran the results of John Connelly‘s eight-month “investigation” which added up to little more than a handful of gossipy accusations by unnamed sources that any reporter working this beat on a regular basis could have come up with over a three-day weekend? I can only guess they were thinking New Line wasn’t a major advertiser and that they were losing ground to Entertainment Weekly every month, so running an article that would get people talking about Premiere again was worth cheap-shotting the mini-major. Could that be it?
The funny thing is, I don’t even dispute the facts of the article. It could all be true. If it is, I feel terrible for the victims of sexual harrassment, but I’ve been doing this for a while, and I understand the subtlety of skewing an article that my editors might want to be negative. Premiere took every opportunity to increase the heat. Every turn of phrase that could tip the scales to the negative was made. The actual accusations were spread through story to make the events pervasive, rather than, even if they are true, isolated incidents, and the magazine quickly runs out of ways to tell the reader that the quotes are from unnamed sources. You have to ask yourself, “Why?”
The feature starts with the alleged story of a drunken 1992 party in Snowmass, Colo. A female executive of unknown name or rank, hanging out with a hard-drinking Michael Lynne through the night, says (through an alleged friend) that Lynne made an overly aggressive move on her, including an open-mouthed kiss. The way the story is written, it hints that more happened, describing it as “what she considered as one of the worst nightmares of her life,” but it doesn’t say that anymore than an unwanted kiss occurred. Not at all. It just lets the unspoken innuendo linger. The unnamed exec eventually, according to Premiere‘s eight-month investigation, “removed herself from Lynne’s inner corporate circle.” What does that mean? It sounds pretty damned bad for Lynne, but what is the specific accusation? What was the specific outcome? (The article doesn’t even make it clear whether she’s left the company.) And how much did that drunken night in Snowmass have to do with it? You can’t answer those questions from reading this article. You can guess at the answers, but that’s the evil of printed innuendo.
Premiere also tells the oft-told story about Michael DeLuca‘s semi-public sex act at Arnold Rifkin‘s Christmas party. While Premiere is covering its legal flanks by saying that DeLuca and his clearly consenting date didn’t know they were performing for a crowd, they print a comment from an unnamed producer who gets in the cheap shot that “maybe [DeLuca] thought it was a New Line party, not an Arnold Rifkin party.” Tee-hee. This would be called catty gossip, not journalism.
The other two specific claims of misconduct also happen in 1992. One has Robert Shaye found “passed out” on a couch. The quote from yet another unnamed source says Shaye was “sleeping off a drunk.” Yet Premiere chose to use the phrase “passed out,” which presumes a knowledge of the event that even their “source” doesn’t claim. The other follows “the incident at Snowmass,” and it again takes place on the road. This time at Cannes. Again, an accusation of a heavy come-on by Lynne, including a kiss (no tongue description on this one) and a rejection. Premiere leaves it with “although though no overt threat was made, the message became clear shortly thereafter that she should look for some other employment.” Are they accusing other New Line staffers of being complicitous in the illegal act of sexual harassment or not? These are the facts that these kinds of serious accusations demand, gang. Innuendoes don’t cut it when you are making these accusations. Premiere offers none.
In all, Premiere‘s eight-month investigation came up with two specific accusations of sexual harassment (both five-plus-years old and both within months of one another), one specific incident of dangerous drinking (falling asleep on a couch, also five years ago) and one mistakenly public act of consensual sex (not with an employee). Some story.
Of course, Premiere fills the pages with plenty more not-for-attribution shots at the New Line execs. A “former producing partner” who claims that he was mocked by New Line execs says, “I’ll never work with those bastards again.” Yet, he doesn’t have the cajones to use his name. Shaye is “his own worst enemy ” and “a tragic figure,” according to two other unnamed sources. Another person, identified only as “a former insider,” cleverly comments, “Women don’t leave New Line; they get carried out in body bags.” Is there any indication in this story that there is a real reason for this kind of extreme comment? No. In fact, right after Premiere quotes yet another unnamed former exec as saying, “There wasn’t a woman’s ass in my department that hadn’t been grabbed by Bob Shaye.” Premiere finally admits, “Not one of the women contacted by Premiere says she felt pressured to acquiesce or suffered any repercussions for turning down [Shaye’s] advances.” That must include the many unnamed sources. So why is Premiere burying that bit of reality, which must be a shock after reading the litany of accusations, after so much gossipy bile? Because they have no story and no controversy of they lead with it, I suppose.
There are more cheap shots, but that’s what they are. DeLuca supposedly giving out psychedelics to willing staffers on a retreat. Unnamed people “concerned” about DeLuca’s hard partying. (Concerned friends don’t go public to Premiere.) A producer complaining that Shaye was trying to have sex with Ruth Vitale with zero context, zero effort to prove the point and zero effort to get a denial from Vitale! It would be real journalism to find a studio or agency without a single exec against whom these kind of accusations cannot be made.
Premiere uses quotes from at least 24 unnamed sources in its story. There may be a dozen named sources in the story. None support any of the serious accusations. The worst of the attributed comments suggests a frat-like atmosphere. The horror. If there is a serious case of sexual harassment in the halls, offices or hotel suites of New Line, I would happily support any legitimate effort to expose and stop such behavior. But reading the Premiere piece is like reading a bit of red-baiting. If you have an Anita Hill or even a Paula Jones, run a story. If you have something on Michael DeLuca having a work problem because of his supposed partying or public sex acts, run a story. If you have a story on problems at a studio that is currently in trouble (take your pick!) due to drugs or sex instead of one escaping from trouble in the last year, run a story. But, if you spend eight months trying to gather dirt on a studio without regard to any of your sources’ willingness to go on the record and all you come up with are two five-year-old harassment accusations told by “a friend in whom the executive confided” and “a producer in whom this executive had confided at the time — and who spoke to Premiere with the executive’s approval,” hold the presses and stick to puff pieces on Uma Thurman and the close-up photos of Catherine Zeta Jones’ bare back and mouth. Some days I’m embarrassed to call myself an entertainment journalist.

Son of Spawn

Spike Lee is going to make a movie about New York’s Son of Sam whether we like it or not. After getting some attention with the “And Leo may do it” rumor, the film seems to be settling in with John Leguizamo and Patti LuPone. In addition, Spike is grabbing young Adrien Brody, who is the highest-ranking star in the “in alphabetical order” list of stars of The Thin Red Line. If Spike is lucky, he’ll be getting the same surprise benefit, that is to say above and beyond talent, that Saving Private Ryan is getting with a young, previously little-known actor named Matt Damon. Maybe you’ve heard of him.
THE EDGAR WATCH: Instead of selling off Tropicana, the orange juice giant, to cover the cost of PolyGram, Edgar Bronfman Jr. has decided to take the company public and to use the approximate $3.6 million in revenue created to help cover the cost of the purchase. So, while Bronfman continues to squeeze juice from the oranges, his efforts to make Universal work may be a little less like squeezing blood from a stone.
SPEC CHECK: He has never had a screenplay made (though one is heading toward production next month). He’s known for quirky off-beat material — his “go” project is called Being John Malkovich, and he wrote the screenplay for the Chuck Barris biopic. And he’s a millionaire. After a Thursday bidding war, Charlie Kaufman signed a million-dollar-plus deal for a pitch that is not only great, but had Nicolas Cage attached as the star-to-be. The idea? An unhappy couple goes to a fictional service that can erase portions of your memory and they erase each other and their relationship. Then, they fall in love all over again. Ain’t Hollywood grand?
BATMAN & RAMBO?: Another writer who is hot, hot, hot despite not having any of his movies released, J.D. Zeik, just got about three-quarters-of-a-million to write the next Rambo film. (Zeik’s further along than Kaufman. His Ronin had already been shot with Robert DeNiro starring and will hit screens in the fall.) This is all part of a Miramax gameplan that also has the studio prepping a Total Recall sequel and releasing a Halloween sequel this summer (THB 6/11). Soon, the Brothers Weinstein will be picking up the sequel rights to Piranha, Alligator and Walking Tall.
101 OVATIONS: OK, it’s really 100 even. The American Film Institute is premiering it’s “100 Greatest American Films” on CBS tonight. The list is based on a poll of 1,500 industry types. Is there anyone who doesn’t think that Citizen Kane will win? Tomorrow, rough cut will premiere its 100 Worst American Film list. I didn’t participate in voting for either list. I’m not a big fan of group thinking for better or for worse. I’d ask you to let me know what you think of the two lists, but history tells me that I don’t have to ask. (And by the way, TNT will be running a series based on the AFI list starting June 23. That’s not why I’m writing this, but it may interest you. I’ll probably tune in myself.)
SAVING PRIVATE’S RATING: Once again, Steven Spielberg is in the middle of a ratings brouhaha. First, the PG-13 rating was created as an “antidote” to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Schindler’s List was as harsh a depiction of the holocaust as has ever been put on screen and probably would have drawn the restrictive NC-17 had the film not been, one, Spielberg’s and two, understood to be extremely important. Now, Spielberg has brought such passion and realism to D-Day in Saving Private Ryan that the MPAA has once again toyed with the NC-17. They coughed up the R, but they added unusual language to the rating: “for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, and for language.” This has lead DreamWorks marketing topper Terry Press to clarify the studio’s position that they don’t want kids seeing the film. Another reason for me to fall in love with the fledgling studio. For years, I’ve been saying that NC-17 is a failure because there are some high-quality movies that are simply not for kids. Period. (The first film I thought this was excruciatingly obvious about was Jonathan Demme’s brilliant and incredibly realistically violent Something Wild.) But most studios would take their R and shut up. Not DreamWorks. The studio is respectful of their kids’ movies, clear about their adult movies being for adults and unwilling to cross-promote the meaning out of Prince of Egypt despite a lot of pressure from all sides. Shocking!
JUST WONDERING: He may have been a lover and not a fighter, but French superstar Yves Montand‘s remains have proven that he is not the father of paternity claimant Aurore Drossart. Yes, they dug the poor guy up just to prove that his DNA didn’t match his litigious, deluded faux-son. Will movie stars have to start writing buried wills to go with their living wills and their just plain wills?
RANTING & RAVING: When I wrote about the Premiere article on New Line Cinema over the weekend, my reportage was based on excerpts I had read. I read the whole thing this weekend. And I am still in shock. But probably not the way some people will expect. More tomorrow.
READER OF THE DAY: From Erin P: “I saw Mulan the other day. Is it just me, or does the Eddie Murphy-voiced dragon, while extremely funny with his one-liners, not really fit with the ambiance of the rest of the movie? Both emotionally and in the way Mushu is drawn and colored. It’s very incongruous and kind of jarring, although very necessary for Disney, controlling force in the lives of millions of brainwashed children across the nation. No wisecracking, cute little dragon, no happy meal deal of commercialization. Also, you left out Claire in your flat-chested actress rundown (THB 6/12). Sniff. She’s a role model for us all.”

The Weekend Wrap-Up

Hate to say I told you so, gang, but I got a lot of mail complaining when I suggested The Truman Show was a $120 million movie (domestically) at best. Welcome to reality. (Kinda like Truman, I guess.) Truman dropped 36 percent this week, three percent worse than this weekend’s drops by A Perfect Murder and Godzilla. Even if the outstanding weekday numbers continue, Truman won’t be hitting $100 million until the July 4 weekend. But keep perspective. A $120 million drama (my estimated total) is a rare and wonderful achievement indeed. Oh, yeah. Truman did $20.1 million this weekend.
Six Days, Seven Nights opened softly for a Harrison Ford movie. Sixteen million dollars isn’t chicken feed, but it will be pushing to pass the $50 million mark domestically… significantly less than its budget. As noted before, A Perfect Murder dropped by a third to $11.2 million. Can’t Hardly Wait, opening with $8.2 million, will have to fight to get into the black before hitting home video. The film actually had its gross drop from Friday to Saturday. A sign of serious word-of-mouth problems. Fortunately, Sony kept the film on a low budget and didn’t spend too much on TV ads. Godzilla dropped by a third, still just short of the $125 million mark. It doesn’t look like any of the summer films released so far will hit the $150 million mark domestically. Armageddon is probably the next best hope. (More on that film below.)
The second five is pretty much surprise-free. Hope Floats sunk 40 percent for the second straight week adding $5.1 million. Deep Impact takes a 33 percent hit (to $4.4 million) as it approaches $130 million. The Horse Whisperer falls just 27 percent, as it secures its title of the No. 2 non-monster movie of May, approaching $60 million. Dirty Work is hardly a world beater, but the film was not the worst embarrassment imaginable. It did only $3.6 million, but managed a $2,207 per screen average. In 10th, Bulworth breathes its last life, pulling in $1.2 million. Titanic, I Got the Hook Up and Quest For Camelot fell out of the Top 10, but don’t be surprised if Titanic returns to the list yet again sometime soon.
THE GOOD: Armageddon screened for the media this weekend. Ain’t-It-Cool-News offers a few extremely positive reviews from “spies” who were at the screening, not a big surprise given that the 18-25-year-old crowd was recruited to provide the screams and whistles that Disney wanted to set the tone. (Also, no surprise that Harry’s being flown to Cape Canaveral for the premiere of the film. The co-opting of Knowles continues.) But the geek buzz on the film seems pretty positive.
THE BAD: Canvassing the media that attended the Armageddon screening, the general tone was reserved. Yes, it was better than Deep Impact. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, the effects are very cool. No, it doesn’t make much sense. No, it isn’t all that different than Deep Impact in terms of story. No, you don’t really care about these characters. Armageddon is likely to be one of those critic-proof films. So, who cares what the media thinks, right? Disney does. The film can be a smash with the 18-25 crowd and succeed, but if it stiffs with the “over 30s” it will be a $150 million hit instead of a $250 million phenomena. We’ll see.
THE UGLY: Godzilla continues to take it in the chops. There is a billboard here in L.A. for a piece of miniature electronics that is in Godzilla green and screams “300,000,000 times smaller than the hype!” And in Armageddon, there is a rather deflating Godzilla joke. Of course, the most interesting part to me is how the joke, which was certainly there long before Godzilla opened, has changed meaning. When they wrote it and shot it, it was about one big movie wanting to top another. Clever. Now, it will be read as an attack on Godzilla‘s failure. And though it will get a big reaction from audiences this July, perhaps it’s a little unsportsmanlike to kick a movie when it’s down. Just a thought.
THE CONTEST: New odds for Dave’s Summer Race hit the site on Wednesday. If you are a player, check them out.Someone’s gonna win a DVD player.
TWO MOVIES EQUAL: Armageddon + Can’t Hardly Wait = Can’t Hardly Wait For Armageddon. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ben “Smirky” Affleck, Liv “Lanky” Tyler and Steve “Psycho” Buscemi sit around whining about the end of the world while calculating the money they may have made as movie stars had the world not come to an end. That is, until Christina “The Knife” Ricci comes in and slices their self-indulgent backsides to shreds with her sharp tongue. With a cameo by Bruce “Blonde Baldy” Willis as the guardian angel of smirky male actors who will lose their hair. Plus, Jenna “Wistful” Elfman as the chief of the drilling crew. Hilarity ensues each time she says her tag line, “Not that kind of drilling!”
JUST WONDERING: Did anyone even notice that Mulan is coming out next week? Maybe Disney got the hint. Let people get excited when the film exceeds low expectations instead of hyping it into the danger zone.
BAD AD WATCH: Disney is running pull quotes from someplace called Hangin ‘N Hollywood. I can deal with the small-town TV and radio stations. I can deal with the small-town newspapers. But what the heck is Hangin ‘N Hollywood, and in which donut shop can I pick up the publication?
READER OF THE DAY: From Bradshaw D.: “Hey, Dave, I came to The X-Files cybercast, and is was fun for awhile. I don’t know if any of my questions got answered in Yahoo! chat because I got mad after awhile because it kept stalling. The video part was pretty cool when it worked. It had some problems, though. Yahoo! always puts up transcripts of their chats, so I’ll know then if anything got answered. Being an X-phile, I had some pretty good questions. The thing that made me mad, though, was that The X-Files rooms were called Auditoriums, and at the beginning I was early and got into Auditorium #2, but then it stalled, and I ended up in room #15. That sucked. I thought it was pretty cool anyway. While I was in the chat room I was like, ‘Poland Rules’ and stuff like that. No one knew who you were but me.”

News By The Numbers

10. I WANT MY MUMMY: Miramax has picked up the domestic rights to Highlander director Russell Mulcahy’s horror film, Talos the Mummy. The story takes place in modern-day London. Talos is unleashed, and they have to dig up and reanimate the only detective who can stop him. There’s also still talk about doing Anne Rice’s version of a mummy saga, so look for a comeback in the wrapped look. And look for a comeback on Talos from genre icons Christopher Lee and Honor Blackman. It’s like the real Austin Powers.
9. NOT DOWNEY FOR LONG: Robert Downey Jr. is back at work, just having joined the cast of Bofinger’s Big Thing, the Eddie Murphy/Steve Martin/Heather Graham comedy. After making his first real public appearance a few weeks ago at the MTV Movie Awards, Downey turned up at the premiere of The X-Files with Minnie Driver in hand. Neither stopped to talk to the press, but Minnie has added a new face to the long list of doomed beaus in her young life.
8. RETURN OF THE PSYCHO: No, not Psycho. American Psycho. Leo may well be back on board after Oliver Stone has gotten involved and may direct the picture. Of course, if that happens, you can double the budget again to $80 million. Leo is also considering $22 million to do a remake of A Farewell to Arms. Of course, American Psycho, which involves a rather gross serial killer, should be sub-titled A Farewell To Arms. Just think, two-films-in-one, and Leo takes home $43 million.
7. GODZILLA DAMN!: You thought he was dead, but Godzilla is piling up retail receipts, even after early reports looked bleak for the licensees for Godzilla products. Sony now estimates retail sales to exceed $500 million, perhaps hitting as much as $750 million. That’ll pay for a lot of Taco Bell.
6. THE YEARN TO BURN: The Fifth Element director Luc Besson is planning to make a new version of the Joan of Arc story. He’s going to burn his lady love Milla Jovovich. (After all, she’ll be 23 this year. Ancient.) But Kathryn Bigelow is out to stop him. Yes, more legal wrangling! Bigelow, director of such classic flops as Point Break and Strange Days, says Besson sabotaged her project while it was in pre-production in 1996. Look for Luc to tie Bigelow to the stake before long.
5. HOME ICEBERG: Titanic is coming home on September 1, just in time to put some life into your Labor Day barbecue. Paramount expects the film to break all live-action video records before being re-released with 20 minutes of unseen footage probably sometime around Thanksgiving. You’ll be able to see for yourself the version with Schwarzenegger destroying the iceberg and saving the ship. And the missing scene with Linda Hamilton duking it out with Suzy Amis. And the clam chowder hallucinogens segment. Cool!
4. SO SUE ME: Lawsuits come and go. As Francis Ford Coppola was spending his days on the witness stand in his trial against Warner Bros. over his never-made Pinnochio, U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor threw out a $100 million lawsuit over The Full Monty. The judge basically said, “Get this case out of the U.S.” If he could only get the lawyers to go with the case.
3. PREMIERE-ALLY UNFAIR: New Line has pulled all its ads and stopped cooperating with Premiere magazine as a result of an article called “Flirting With Disaster,” which focuses primarily on supposed sexual and drug-related faux pas by studio executives. Is there something wrong with the New Line culture? I can’t say for sure. I can tell you only this. The sources in the article were almost all anonymous. And the current and former executives that I know from New Line all talk about one thing: how New Line’s top execs are actually in the business of making movies and not passing the buck like most of the other studios in town. Without prodding, executives from other studios are routinely described by the same people as more interested in sex than in business, but not New Line. Does that mean there haven’t been drugs taken and harassing passes made? No, but the same story could be done about almost every studio and major production company in town other than, perhaps, Disney and Sony. And both of those studios have skeletons of their own.
2. I’LL BE BACK, EVENTUALLY: As predicted here at The Hot Button, the amazing success of Titanic is going to cost the world at least one Jim Cameron movie. Cameron has now gone public with his plans to wait at least another year before jumping back into the directing saddle. Had Titanic flopped, Cameron would have been compelled to make things right and would probably be shooting a film for next summer right now. Oh, well. The long wait for Spiderman or Planet of the Apes or Forbidden Planet or Avitar or that Mary Poppins remake he dreams of doing or T4 has officially begun.
1. EQUAL WRONGS: The Screen Actors Guild membership earned about $1.4 billion in 1998. Women earned $472.7 million of the take. I don’t really believe there’s institutionalized sexism in the business of hiring actors, but women’s work is almost never done.
READER OF THE DAY: Andy writes about David Denby‘s bitter attack on The Truman Show: “That seemed like an overly bitter review of The Truman Show to me. ‘Didn’t have any emotional resonance?’ It sure did to me. Maybe because Denby has a cushy critic’s job so that he doesn’t have to feel trapped by life’s choices. For all the talk about how this film is satirizing the media, it resonates most for me as a man trying to escape the trap that a routine, predictable life has made (or been made for him). I thought Carrey, while not Oscar-worthy as some have claimed, did a very good job. And regardless of what Denby said, this film kept me interested throughout.”

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“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