Hot Button Archive for August, 1998

Director, Wrong Director

Today, two examples of hiring the wrong director. One, an excellent director in the wrong genre and the other, a director who should never be allowed to shoot a major motion picture again. You figure out which is which. (I don’t expect it to be difficult.)
First, with Sony breathing down their necks, MGM has decided to put Bond 19 into the hands of director Michael Apted. WHAT?! A great documentarian (Seven Up – 42 Up), a terrific actors’ director (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist) and a director who has failed every time he has taken a shot at a remotely action-based film (Gorky Park, Firstborn, Class Action, Thunderheart, Extreme Measures). What are they thinking? I mean, I admire this guy to the heavens, but as the director of a Bond movie?! This is one of the screwiest combinations of a director and a film since Castle Rock gave William Goldman’s great screenplay, Year of the Comet, to Peter Yates, who like Apted, is a great director (Breaking Away, Eyewitness, The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Bullitt), but not the guy for a frothy romantic adventure comedy.
Oddly enough, I was having lunch with a director friend Tuesday and he opined, “Warren Beatty hired the wrong director [himself] for Bulworth and made one of the best failed films ever. Had the right director, maybe had Sydney Pollack, been on that film, it could have been one of the all-time greats.” I agree. We then talked about Bill Duke, a very talented director, who really set his career back by trying to do too wide a range of films (from his breakthrough Deep Cover right into the old lady comedy The Cemetery Club) and has barely recovered. Not everyone is meant to do everything. Very few can.
Oh, yeah, the other guy is Rob Cohen. For some unknown reason, Columbia has attached him to a big sci-fi project called After the Visitation (a future Earth that has some new secrets since an alien visitation). This is the same guy who managed to make Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story look pretty good, but he stunk up the planet with Dragonheart and Daylight back-to-back. And next, HBO will inflict the hideous The Rat Pack on all of us who have cable. (Great actors, a miscast Ray Liotta and a truly crappy script that matches the direction.) I guess Cohen is miscast too. See, he used to be quite a good commercially oriented producer (Mahogany, Bingo Long, The Witches of Eastwick, Bird on a Wire) and has devolved into a hack director. What I really want him to do is produce.
CANNIBAL SCORN: This is my favorite story of the year so far. Herb Cruse, a 77-year-old surviving veteran of Pearl Harbor, tried to get the Carmike Theater chain to pay him off not to reveal the fact that he had poured his aunt’s cremated remains in the popcorn at three of the company’s Charlotte, N.C. theaters. They took a pass, so he apparently papered the theater’s parking lot with fliers claiming that the theaters were serving “cannibal corn” and encouraging participation in a class action suit. Only one problem. He now says that he never did put his aunt’s ashes into the popcorn, just “some ashes,” presumably not human. He was ticked because a district manager didn’t let him sell on-screen ads. Don’t these kids ever learn when the joke just isn’t funny anymore?! Me, I just assumed that “cannibal corn” had something to do with a fetish based around Dr. Scholls.
MULAN MUHLAH: Early reports out of China suggested that Disney would have a hard time getting Mulan onto screen. Apparently payback for the release of Martin Scorsese‘s masterpiece Kundun last Christmas. (If you ask me, China should be kissing Disney’s butt for burying a film that should have been nominated for at least six Academy Awards.) But Disney now says that the coast is clear. But there is another little problem. China only accepts 10 international films a year. (That would be us Americans.) So, not accepting Mulan wouldn’t be the biggest offense ever. And, of course, if China wants to punish America, Disney is trying to get them to let Armageddon screen. All they have to do is say yes.
NOTE TO ARMAGEDDON FANS: I know, I know.
EARLY TREK SPEC: Well, Paramount has finally made the deal to distribute Trekkers (nee: Trekkies), the wonderful Roger Nygard documentary on the people who love Star Trek a little too much. Or maybe just enough. roughcut.com took the first peek at the film over a year ago. Guess who wrote it? Check it out right here.
Paramount hasn’t decided whether to release the film, which some feel could tick off a few Trek-addicts (geez, these folks get riled over whether you call them trekkers or trekkies), before Star Trek: Insurrection hits screens this December or sometime in the spring, hopefully riding the wave of Trek focus refueled by the new film. If the studio is smart, they’ll go for the earlier option. The core audience is never going to boycott a new Trek film and a little controversy could help bring some hip buzz to the series.
READER OF THE DAY: From Jeffrey Wells: “Ben Affleck’s rant re my July 2 Mr. Showbiz story about Dogma was pretty wild. Jeff Schwager of Mr. Showbiz posted a reply late Tuesday on Kevin Smith’s View Askew site, pointing out Ben’s inaccuracies and requesting an apology.
“That pretty much covers it, except for two points I’d like to make.
“One, the story I wrote was basically about a tip I’d gotten from a trusted insider that Michael Eisner isn’t too thrilled about the prospect of taking heat from the religious right over the film’s satiric content. If Ben had said, ‘Gee, I don’t know anything about that, but I sure like the script, blah, blah,’ there would’ve been no story. But he didn’t. He said that Miramax topper Harvey Weinstein (whom he knows) ‘has his trepidations about this.’ He also shared his suspicion that Eisner is ‘probably…nervous about [Dogma].’
“These quotes he didn’t argue with, and indeed partially supported what I’d heard earlier. What was I supposed to do, ignore them?
“Two, I’m willing to bet that Ben’s rant wasn’t so much about his own reaction to the story (he’d been shown a typed transcript of his remarks and said, through his publicist, that he ‘stands by what he said’), but about Miramax’s (i.e.: Harvey’s). I’ll bet 20 bucks that Ben was diplomatically reamed out by Harvey (or some Miramax flunky, acting on Harvey’s orders) for speaking candidly about Dogma, and was told to, henceforth, keep his yap shut. I’ll wager that the young fellow’s pride was tarnished by this and that he passed these feelings along last Monday when asked about Dogma during his now-infamous Internet chat.
“Young men of intelligence and a semblance of balls, like Ben, always speak their minds openly…at first. (Leonardo DiCaprio was like this back in the What’s Eating Gilbert Grape days.) Sooner or later their remarks cause a stir, which always results in their managers or publicists stepping in and telling them to wise up, or else. If Ben were Tom Cruise or some other heavyweight, no one would have dared caution him. But (and remember, I’m just using my powers of deduction here) since he’s young and just starting out, and since Dogma is a possibly troublesome film that may indeed draw the wrath of the crazies, and since Ben and Matt Damon have a housekeeping deal with Miramax (the L.A.-based Pearl Street Productions), and since Harvey and Bob have never been reticent about throwing their weight around, Ben (I suspect) may have had his fanny paddled.

Ranting and Raving

This week’s rant is not by me or by a Hot Button reader. It comes from the cyber-pen of Ben Affleck, who wrote it late Monday night after reading the following question on the View Askew website: “I was reading about the Dogma controversy with Disney being worried about religious groups protesting against the story of , and I was curious to what your opinion is on this whole thing. Do you understand how the religious groups may protest and Disney should be worried? Or do you think it’s just a fantasy movie that no one should take too seriously?”
Mr. Affleck took this opportunity to rip a new anal pore for a journalist who dared to ask him about the film. His rant — and this one defines “rant” — follows:
“I actually have a very strong opinion on this matter. Some chump who writes for an Internet tabloid (Mr. Showbiz I think it’s called — how silly and lame is that?) snuck into the Armageddon junket and asked me about Dogma at a print round-table interview (circular tables filled with seven or eight journalists with tape recorders who ask questions and tape record your answers.) Everyone was (appropriately) asking about Armageddon (“What’s Bruce like?” “How hard were the space suits to wear, day in and day out?” etc., etc.)
“So, all of a sudden, this one fool plunges into a rambling, semi-coherent Dogma question, out of the blue. First of all, this is inappropriate, as all the journalists accept the invitation to the junket (where they are feted with gifts, free food, little pins and books and jackets, etc.) under the implied agreement that, for good or ill (and many, as evidenced by the deluge of negative press the movie got, evidently chose the latter), they would write about the movie.
“All but two of the some-odd 120 journalists I spoke with over the two days were good to their (implied) word and wrote about Armageddon. The exceptions were some idiot from a Chicago paper and this chucklehead from Mr. Showbiz (What kind of a name is that? I mean, to borrow a phrase; ‘Who the f–k talks like that? That is f–kin’ baby-talk!’ You don’t hear Sam Donaldson stooping to refer to himself as ‘The White House Prowler,’ or some such nonsense, just to pick up a few errant viewers…) decides to write about a film that won’t be released for another year, no one has seen, few have read and has literally nothing to do with Armageddon. His question would be disallowed by any competent judge as seriously leading were we in a courtroom, but we are far from there. The O.J. jury got a better look at the truth than these ‘celebrity-journalists’ (a contradiction in terms if ever I’ve heard one) give you.
“He begins ‘I hear Michael Eisner is very nervous about Dogma…’ ‘Really?’ I say, ‘That surprises me.’ He nods his head furiously and begins taking copious notes. I stare at him dumbly, as I can’t imagine what he’s writing down (or why, since 18,000 tape recorders are running at the table.) I go to great pains to say ‘I don’t know Michael Eisner. I’ve never met him. That seems strange…’ ‘Oh, yes,’ he assures me. Very nervous.
“At this point I’m wondering how this pathetic dingbat has any idea what Michael Eisner thinks, since I get the distinct feeling Eisner wouldn’t throw this guy a nickel if he were standing next to an off-ramp by a vending machine with a sign saying: ‘Will write senseless horses–t for two-bits.’ But I play along, out of politeness and answer in very non-specific terms along the lines of ‘Well, the Disney/Miramax marriage is not always easy, but both parties have a proven formula for success, it wouldn’t surprise me, necessarily, to find out that one party or another had its nervous moments at times, but I know Joe Roth [Disney exec/entertainment head], and he’s a very smart guy, I know Harvey [Weinstein, Miramax Co-Chairman], and he’s also very on top of it, so I assume everything will work out, blah, blah, blah…’
“After that response, Mr. Showbiz (who has already demonstrated that he knows far less about his namesake than the average Internet user, nevermind supposed Internet industry ‘insider,’ in contrast to what his moniker seems to suggest) goes on a rather lengthy and prosaic tirade about some ‘war’ between Disney and Southern Baptists over same-sex health benefits. At this point it occurs to me that we have gone so far afield as to be almost comical, but I nod politely and think ‘Note to self, avoid sitting at table with Mr. Bonehead in foreseeable future.’ And I leave it at that.
“Weeks later, a piece runs on Chucklehead’s site under some outrageous headline like ‘Affleck forsees trouble with Dogma and Miramax.’ I groan. The ‘text’ of the piece is really an elegant exercise in selective quotation, misquotation and out of context, text-manipulation. I assume it’s taken this guy the intermediate weeks since the junket to cobble this piece together. Only now, too late, do I realize I’ve been had by the Tim McVeigh of the gay left, and duped into playing a role in his imagined ‘war’ between Disney and some fringe religious group. There’s always some guy with an agenda. And, more often than not, the end product reflects that agenda much more than what you were trying to express in the interview. Ah, freedom… at what price. At least I’m not running for office (and coming up next, after ‘Beastiality On-line:’ Mr. 37th Congressional District!!!)
“So, you heard it here, from the horse’s mouth. There is no Dogma controversy that I (or anybody I know) know of. In fact, there isn’t even any Dogma yet. So, a word to the wise, beware of Greeks bearing gifts and always beware of journalists with kooky pseudonyms. My only comfort is in the old adage, ‘What goes around comes around.’
“By the way (and for the record) that’s Karma, my friends, not Dogma.”
WRITER OF THE DAY: The “rambling, semi-coherent, chucklehead, chump” is Jeffrey Wells, a long-established entertainment writer who now works primarily for the L.A. Times Syndicate. The article that Affleck cites has an awful lot of direct quotes in it, cobbled though they may be. (You might also find it interesting that Affleck and his publicists were sent the transcript of the roundtable interview before Wells delivered his story to Mr. Showbiz and that the publicist told Wells at that time that Ben stood by everything he said.) And this quotation from the article is particularly hard to claim as out of context: “It would not surprise me if the political situation around Dogma was very tenuous. I know [Miramax co-chairman] Harvey Weinstein has his trepidations about this, and he’s gotta answer to Disney.” Well, Ben says he knows Harvey. And Ben says Harvey has trepidations. Sounds like controversy to me. I can’t defend the article headline, “Affleck Prophesies Dogma Controversy,” because all he really does is acknowledge the possible controversy and that it had been considered by Weinstein and possibly others. But this response seems a little over the top. And the thing I find most fascinating about it is Affleck’s basic contempt for the media, in general, and the inherent falsity of most junkets in specific. Here it is, indeed, from the horse’s mouth.

YOU HAVE TWINS, MR. ZEMBIC!

Thank God we are going to get a big screen treatment of the story of Brian Zembic, the moron who had 38C implants in order to win a $100,000 bet. Yes, it was true. No, I did not offer him the $100,000. The movie rights were picked up by Fox Searchlight, so maybe they can use the searchlight to find this guy’s brain. Maybe this is Fox’s idea of a reverse There’s Something About Mary. They’ve said they see Mary as a guys movie that is made fun for women since it centers on a woman. Maybe 38Cs For 100Gs (my title) will be a woman’s film that has breasts, breasts, breasts for the boys.
READER CORRECTION: As long as we are already focused on baring boobs, Ethan C wrote in about a mention I made last week (THB 7/30): “Jamie Pressly‘s Playboy layout was about five or six issues ago. Really, Dave, you call yourself an entertainment reporter? Where’s your research?” He was kidding, so don’t write about him being a jerk. As for me, I’ve stopped reading Playboy in recent years. I actually did care about the articles, and they aren’t what they used to be. So, thanks for the heads up, Ethan.
A COMEDY?: Here is The Hollywood Reporter’s description of Kathleen Turner‘s role in Prince of Central Park: “She will play a woman who befriends a runaway foster child; together, they conquer their personal demons and rid New York’s Central Park of a drug-dealing gang.” Produced by Steven Seagal‘s production company, this could be an interesting action drama, right? Nope. Here’s a little more of the description: “The $7 million family comedy is based on the long-running Broadway and off-Broadway musical.” Nothing funnier than drug dealers, runaways and personal demons.
HAPPY WITH EVER AFTER: I’m beginning to see the kind of mail about Ever After that I saw about Deep Impact. People like it. They really, really like it. (Each letter starts, “You were too hard on Ever After…”) So, maybe it’s going to find its legs. Then again, maybe not. Another Drew Barrymore film (really her legitimate adult actress coming-out party), Boys on the Side, stiffed when it hit theaters in the post Oscar-release period a couple of years ago. I felt BOTS was a better film and, Whoopi Goldberg would have gotten a nomination had Warner Bros. released the film in time for consideration. But it was also Matthew McConaughey‘s introduction (still one of his best performances) to the studio film and the home of great dramatic performances by Mary-Louise Parker and Anita Gillette. Some felt it was maudlin or heavy handed, but I think it was a wonderful movie.
DIRECTING FOR DISNEY: I got the following letter from someone named Zoo Station when I suggested that Nancy Meyer has weak directing skills and proved it on The Parent Trap, even though I liked the movie overall (THB 7/31). “Since this is a Disney movie, you can’t blame the director. They’re basically told what to do with very little freedom. It’s basically the producer’s and studio’s fault. This is why you don’t see Spielberg directing one of these movies. These are films that beginning directors have to start with. That was pretty mean of you to say that ‘Nancy Meyer is a poor director’ when EVERY film takes many people to make it a good film or OK film. I highly doubt Spielberg did every little thing on Saving Private Ryan. He had help, and it could have been an OK movie instead of a great one. Also, Out of Sight is a good movie but not great.”
Well, first, you are welcome to your opinion on Out of Sight, as are those who love it and those who hate it. As far as blaming the studio for the way Nancy Meyer directed The Parent Trap, with all due respect, that is patently absurd. Let’s dump the Spielberg analogy from the top. Yes, if Janusz Kaminski (his Ryan cinematographer) sucked, the movie would worse, but he works for Spielberg. He isn’t out there freelancing. A good crew allows the director to execute his vision. And make no mistake, Spielberg doesn’t write or do everything else on a set, but his movies are his vision.
For better or for worse, film is a director’s medium. This brings us to Disney. The studio is infamous for pre-production notes. The reason why is because they understand that once the film starts shooting, they have almost no control at all. That’s the way it is. If the dailies are hideous, they can fire someone. That’s about it.
Meyer earned this directing job by being half of one of Disney’s big-money teams. She and husband Charles Shyer (who has been the director of the team to date) are writers first and adapted the original Parent Trap themselves. So, if there was studio interference, it was likely in that stage. And in post. I’m sure Disney wasn’t too thrilled to have a kids movie that runs 127 minutes. But again, I would say that Meyer/Shyer have enough juice at the studio to protect their baby.
There are certainly cases of films where it is not the director’s fault. And not just at Disney; not by a long shot. Francis Ford Coppola has worked for hire and you can tell. The script never quite works because he just doesn’t care. Lots of the “flash” directors have very little script sense, so their movies look great but make little sense, unless they fall into a great script. (See: The Great Ridley Scott vs. Tony Scott Debate.) And there are “savior” gigs, like John Frankenheimer being called in on the Brando/Kilmer version of The Island of Dr. Moreau after the original director (I forgot who it was) got fired.
You could tell, by watching Kilmer’s performance particularly, that the film was out of control and that no one could have saved it. But, all in all, the director is in charge. The writer-director is in almost absolute control. So, to blame anyone but Meyer for the directorial lapses in The Parent Trap is just wrong. If you want to make an argument that I was “mean,” make the one that says, “don’t abuse a first time director for not being fully formed.” That’s reasonable. But how many first-timers get to “try things out” on a major studio release? Not many.
READER OF THE DAY: From Chuck F: “Yes, definitely sell out. Heap on the moronic pull-quotes like a starving man piling on the food at an all-you-can-eat joint. Do anything to get your name in ads for movies that no-one will remember six weeks in the future. Or you could just keep up the good work.”

Weekend Wrap-Up

The big story of this weekend was really the death of BASEketball, a death almost as shocking in the negative as last weekend’s $30.1 million opening for Saving Private Ryan was in the positive. But, since the film didn’t make the Top 10, you’ll have to read more about that below. The Top 10 leads off with the Private, as it did last week, falling just 23 percent to $23.3 million. (That’s not a typo. That’s a coincidence.) The top newcomer of the wide release quartet was The Parent Trap, which took second place with a three-day total of $11.5 million, adding to the $5 million that it took in on Wednesday and Thursday. That’s solid, but hardly overwhelming. Look for the film, which got generally good reviews and is pretty much the last new kids’ film of the summer, to join the list of leggy films out there right now. The only change of Top 10 position amongst the returning movies was There’s Something About Mary‘s jump ahead of Zorro and Lethal Weapon 4 to take third place with $11.5 million, once again dropping minimally (just 12 percent this week after an 8 percent fall last week). The Negotiator was unable to talk itself into bigger numbers with just $10.4 million over the weekend after taking in less than $2.9 million on Wednesday and Thursday. Why didn’t the film open more successfully? Most wags will blame the lack of a “major” movie star. That could be part of it. There also seemed to be a lot of people who felt they had seen the whole movie in the trailer. They hadn’t, but in today’s world of six-months-to-video, any hesitance by the public can mean failure.
There was a fifth place tie between Ever After and The Mask of Zorro, each copping $8.5 million. That’s a decent opening for Cinderella with word-of-mouth ultimately deciding the film’s fate. (You know, in coming up with a pun, I realized that we don’t often see Drew’s legs, just her torso and face. Just a random thought). And it’s a 37 percent drop for Zorro, which kills me. (It’s quickly becomming another film that’s going to be an unsurprising surprise hit on video, along with Out of Sight.) Lethal Weapon 4 took seventh with its now traditional 40 percent drop (well, really 41 percent this week) to $7.7 million. Armageddon also repeated its drop (33 percent) to hit the eight spot with $7.5 million, passing $160 million and looking like it will self-fulfill Joe Roth‘s $180 million “estimate” from a few weeks ago. Dr. Dolittle took one of its biggest drops, falling a full 40 percent. But don’t cry for the doc, as he passed $125 million with a $4.4 million weekend. Finally, MAFIA! (or Jane Austen‘s Mafia! or The Gagfather) stayed in the Top 10 with $3.6 million. Still a failure in its own right (with under $14 million total to date), as Airplane! trio Zucker (BASEketball), Abrahams (MAFIA!) and Zucker (still not greenlit since First Knight) would appear to be forced to pass the comedy torch to the darker humor of The Farrelly Brothers, much as horror was shifted into “All Irony, All The Time” with Scream.
THE GOOD: Legs! We have legs! After starting off with the ultimate short-timer, Godzilla, this summer has finally found its legs. One of the most oft written comments I see in e-mails on Saving Private Ryan is how the film sticks with viewers long after a viewing. That means more viewings. There’s Something About Mary started out slowly, but is staying the course with the best hold-over figures since Titanic. Dr. Dolittle has been remarkably long-limbed. And yes, after the intense campaign by Disney for the world not to see Armageddon as a Godzilla-like flop, that film has held on well, too.
THE BAD: Bad news from the Trailer Park. I suffered the indignity of seeing the The Avengers trailer yet again. ‘Nuff said. The trailer for the new Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Knock Off made almost as little sense as the title (what does Knock Off have to do with the Chinese getting back Hong Kong?). And worse, the herky-jerky editing appeared to be demanded by the herky-jerky “Look, I’m just like John Woo without the talent” shooting style of the latest wannabe. And finally, A Night at the Roxbury ran a full two minutes in a packed theater without generating a single laugh until the very last shot. That shot is of Will Ferrell and Chris Katain in butt-floss bikinis. I guess we are supposed to take home that their lack of attractive rear ends is the central joke of the film. BAD! BAD TRAILER!
THE UGLY: It doesn’t get much uglier than the weekend BASEketball had. Three million dollars for eleventh place. The film was well marketed by Universal. I mean, they tried everything they could. They even turned up on the sports sites that I have been known to visit with ads using technology that I hadn’t seen before. And I like “South Park.” The guys are funny (even if they’ve duded “dude” to death). I think Jenny McCarthy has a real gift for being honest and self-effacing that still hasn’t found its way past her breasts and blonde hair. Zucker obviously has skills, but these kinds of movies are always a gamble. You never know whether you got s–t or Shinola until it’s made. The form is basically a bunch of jokes, just like a sitcom. But a bad sitcom episode can be made up for the next week. If you have one great episode for every three mediocre ones, you have a hit. One good parody movie out of four and you have a major career. Only you have to be called “The Ugly” by me three times along the way.
THE CHAT: This Friday, I shall not chat alone. Join me and my guests, the star and the director of first love, last rites, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Jesse Peretz. Friday. 10:00 p.m. GMT/2:00 p.m. PT/5:00 p.m. ET.
TWO MOVIES EQUAL: BASEketball + Armageddon = BASEketgeddon What happens when Michael Bay teams up with those wacky guys from “South Park” to save the world? Well, let’s just say that all they need to explode the asteroid is a match and plate full of beans! Flatulence was never so funny OR so beautifully shot. The pull-quotes are already in! “I laughed so hard I almost believed myself when I said that I liked it!,” Bobby Wygant. “grOss!,” Ron Brewington. “How Can You Complain About Me When There is Crap Like This Out There?,” Godzilla.
JUST WONDERING: This is for those of you who have already seen The Negotiator. Can anyone else relate J.T. Walsh‘s performance in this to Courtney Love‘s in The People vs. Larry Flynt? If you did, I bet you found it as spooky as I did. If not, write and I’ll tell you privately, not ruining the film for others.
BAD AD WATCH: First, there was good news this week. Bill Zwecker, the infamous pull-quote slut who carried the “NBC-TV Chicago” tag, has left NBC-TV Chicago. He won’t be reviewing movies anymore and claims there will be no more pull-quotes. Hurray. As for existing bad ads, gotta go back to BASEketball. On Saturday, Universal ran an ad loaded with pull-quotes from seven low-rent outlets. Bad enough. The eighth, oddly, was The New York Times. Go figure. On Sunday, in L.A., no pull-quotes. Better. But in the Chicago papers, there it was. Ain’t It Cool News, the solo pull, with the insightful, “A perfect synergy of the disturbingly modern humor of ‘South Park’ and the films Naked Gun and Airplane!.” I guess the folks at the U realized crap like that wouldn’t fly in big, bad L.A. As it turns out, the reason Harry Knowles is not credited with the pull-quote is that it isn’t his. It is the AICN’s ubiquitous, moronic, masturbatory “Joe Hallenbeck” character who wrote that gem. So Universal is quoting someone that they have no way of knowing even exists. Very, very bad.
READER OF THE DAY: Rak39 wrote: “I must disagree with you on the film Ever After. My friend and I pass out opinion cards for Hollywood Hotline, so we get to see every film that comes out for free. We loved the movie! And the responses reflected the same from most people. My votes for best movies so far this summer would be The Mask of Zorro, The Negotiator and Ever After. I feel as strongly about this movie as you do about Out of Sight. I hope it does better than you are predicting.”

News By The Numbers

10. YIP YIP TIP YIP YIP!: Martin Scorsese confirmed to Variety‘s Army Archerd this week that Dino (his Dean Martin movie) is “on the back burner.” With Scorsese’s choice cast of Tom Hanks as Martin, John Travolta as Frank Sinatra, Hugh Grant as Peter Lawford, Adam Sandler as Joey Bishop and Jim Carrey as Jerry Lewis, this movie lover is crying bitter tears. Instead we will have to live with Ray Liotta, in his worst performance ever, as Sinatra in the horribly directed and written Rob Cohen classic (yes, it’s worse than Daylight) called The Rat Pack. Only on HBO. Such exquisite sorrow.
9. RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL: Disney is making a half-hour animated movie about Princess Diana‘s life. No less than the Church of England’s Archdeacon of York has questioned the propriety of the choice, but just think of the potential. The voice of Demi Moore as Diana. The voice of Bruce Willis as Prince Charles. The voice of Antonio Banderas as Dodi Fayed, aka The Beast. And Angela Lansbury as the evil Queen Mother. Watch as the stork brings two babies to Diana and Charles. Watch as Diana sings a song about self-love as she forces herself to vomit while President Clinton (voiced by Wilt Chamberlain) and Hillary (voiced by Anne Heche) stand for a photo op in the next room. And, find out what really happened in the limo. (Hint: No one really died!) Yeah. That’s a good idea.
8. OH, THAT LEO!: Leonardo DiCaprio took some time to visit 17-year-old paralyzed Chinese gymnast Sang Lan at New York’s Mount Sinai Rehab Institute last week. Paramount took full advantage of the rare positive Leo sighting of late and sent Sang an advance copy of the Titanic video. No truth to the rumor that Leo’s visit was primarily an effort to win a bet with a buddy over a particularly offensive rumor about Asian anatomy. Nor that Leo simply wore out the last of the eight girls he met through Make-A-Wish last month.
7. COMING OUT IN A BIG WAY: The Black Cauldron finally comes to video next week. And in response, the Disney marketing department has lost its collective mind! First, Disney will go to Witchville, U.S.A. (Salem, Mass.) to break a Guinness World Record with “world’s largest cauldron.” Geez, didn’t know there was a competition. It’s seven feet in diameter and weighs more than 250 pounds. And, as a finale for the evening, well, I’ll let Disney tell it: “The awe-inspiring grand finale; will light up the sky as magnificent flames and glittering mines shoot out of the cauldron 50 feet into the air.” Couldn’t have mocked it better myself. That’s when “the ‘Black Cauldron Boogie,’ an all-new, toe-tapping, hip-shaking line dance created especially for this event” begins. I guess they won’t go out of their way to make me laugh even harder by staging the dance in a bath of red ink.
6. FRANCHISE WATCH: Sony lost round one in the fight for James Bond, being ordered not to develop a screenplay for the Bond film it hopes to make (after being heard in court on their rights claims) next December. Meanwhile on the Franchise Watch, Warner Bros. has been toying with a new-look Batman series while Superman is on full stop, Universal is going prequel for their Flintstones follow-up, Disney is doing a major remake of at least one old family film from its library each year, Paramount is ready to go (pretty much) with Mission: Impossible II (and trying to figure out how to do Titanic or Braveheart 2) and Fox has Star Wars on the way.
5. I CAN’T GIVE YOU A BILLION, BUT…: Michael Douglas was named a U.N. Messenger of Peace this week at a press conference. Turns out that Douglas wants to fight for nuclear disarmament and small arms control. (Apparently some disgruntled movie patrons held him at gunpoint until they got their money back for his last nuclear bomb, The Ghost and the Darkness.) Douglas earned the title after participating in some anti-nuke fundraisers in L.A. and seems quite sincere in putting his best effort forth. However, his original U.N. title has been shortened from Messenger of Piece of Ass.
4. FLOATING MICKEY’S BOAT: Disney finally set sail this week with The Disney Magic. The 83,000-ton ship will carry 2,400 passengers and a crew of 915 and looks really, really cool. What Variety managed to leave out was an eight-month delay in the launch, including four months of paid bookings that were canceled and will have to be made up for in the next year. And in all the hype, Mr. Eisner said, “You never know. Someday we may be in six or seven different cities.” Eisner and Variety failed to mention that the cruise line is part of a one-week Disney package that includes only three or four days on the boat, one of them spent visiting a privately owned Disney island. Before they go to six or seven different cities, they’d better get a few feet from home base first.
3. CLOSER, MY LORD, TO GUM: The Oasis Christian Center wants you to walk on Jesus Christ, but the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce objects strenuously. How’s that for a lead? Turns out that OCC decided to give Jesus his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame without telling the Chamber, the guys who are responsible for that institution. And they have a trademark to protect. Negotiations have begun, but look for a row of new stars for Jeffrey Hunter, Ted Neeley, Victor Garber, Willem Dafoe and Kenneth Colley. (And if you can figure out what movie Colley is from without using IMDb, you deserve a big gold star.)
2. SAVING STEPHEN AMBROSE: Quite a news cycle for Saving Private Ryan. From the problems getting the actual film into theaters on time last Friday, to box office numbers at least 20 percent higher than projected, to an unending Oscar buzz, this film has become the Beast of Summer 1998. And if that weren’t enough, DreamWorks is piggybacking into the Movie of the Week business by buying Stephen Ambrose‘s book Citizen Soldiers as the basis for its first non-series TV project. That should kill off any of the buzz around Spielberg’s last-minute inclusion of Ambrose in the Ryan party.
1. NO LONGER UNLISTED: Sixteen blacklisted screenwriters are getting their well-deserved credit for 21 different movies. The list: Leonardo Bercovici, for Under Ten Flags (1960); Henry Blankfort, for G.I. Jane (1951), The Highwayman (1951) and Joe Palooka in the Squared Circle (1950); Jerome Chodorov, for The Tunnel of Love (1958); Howard Dimsdale, for We Joined the Navy (1962); Carl Foreman, for A Hatful of Rain (1957); Daniel James, for Revolt in the Big House (1952) and The Giant Behemoth (1958); Paul Jarrico, for All Night Long (1961), Five Branded Women (1960), The Girl Most Likely (1957), and The Las Vegas Story (1951); Howard Koch, for The Intimate Stranger (1956); John Howard Lawson, for The Careless Years (1957); Donald Ogden Stewart, for Malaga (1962); Maurice Rapf, for The Detective (1954); Robert L. Richards, for The Indian Fighter (1955) and Kenner (1969) and Jean Rouverol, for The Miracle (1959). And in a startling concession, these writers will be refered to from now on as African-American-listed writers.
READER OF THE DAY: I don’t give readers pseudonyms, so this reader will just have to go unnamed. “Samuel L. Jackson spoke on the Disney lot last week to a half-filled Disney Theater, and surprise, surprise, the Oscars came up. But, he had exactly the opposite sentiment (from Variety’s angle) to share that day. Mr. Jackson, speaking to a mostly black audience, got on his people for blaming the Academy for the lack of black representation when the envelopes are cracked open. He argued that if How to Be a Player is what the black community expects to be nominated, they’d better plan for disappointment. He did slam the Academy, however, purporting that he doesn’t ‘think there really is a Price Waterhouse,’ because nothing he voted for ever gets on the ballot or gets the statue. He drew applause after stating that members of the Eve’s Bayou cast should’ve gotten nominated, in particular, Jurnee Smollett and Lynn Whitfield. But he challenged his audience and the black community to make better films. He also said some interesting things about Spike Lee. The topic came up about the use of the ‘N’ word in Pulp Fiction, and after making cracks like, ‘What, nice? Nimble?’ he said that if Spike doesn’t know anyone who speaks like Jackson’s character Jules, then ‘he ain’t never been to the ‘hood.’ He argued that people speak like Jules, and Quentin was just creating realistic characters. Furthermore, he said that, during the filming of Pulp Fiction, in one scene, just to see if he could, Jackson tried to use the ‘N’ work seven times in one sentence. As you might expect, he got plenty of laughs on that one.”

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“One of my favorite things in watching any performance on film is when there isn’t a lot of cutting going on and when you get a chance to become really absorbed in the artist in hand. The same way we do, hopefully, at a concert, when we get a chance to really trip in to something that’s happening on stage. Whether the singer’s singing, or one of the other musicians is playing, we sort of stay there instead of cutting round with our eyes a lot.”
~ Jonathan Demme

“We’ve talked about this before in the past, my obsession with the Shakespearean histories having the ideal combination of the sweet and the sour. In ‘Henry IV, Part II’ which we’ve discussed before, in the end of that story it’s very complex and haunting because Prince Hal becomes Henry the King, and he has transcended his hoodlum days and at the ceremony is Falstaff, his good friend with whom he has really fucked around and been a loser with, and Falstaff comes up to him and says, ‘Now that you’re king we can really party,’ and the king famously says, ‘I know thee not, old man.’ It becomes Henry IV’s anointment and Falstaff’s catastrophe. That’s life. I have experienced very little unfettered triumph. There are moments, such as when my children are born, but even that comes with new fears and anxieties. In a sense the better you can communicate that life is both at once, the more powerful over time something becomes. One strives for something where the threads are there because it lasts in way that is very palpable. The idea of a tragedy is powerful in literature and theater, but in cinema it doesn’t work, certainly not commercially, and less so critically. Why is that? I think it has to do with how movies are so close to us.”
~ James Gray