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David Poland

By David Poland

News By The Numbers

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

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon