Hot Button Archive for March, 1998

The Postman, Minnie Driver and More

As I find myself longing never to write about Titanic again, I think that I can get The Postman almost all the way out of my system today. There’s no actual news or anything, but in L.A. it’s become very fashionable to cleanse your body and soul of unclean thoughts and other waste by force. So, here goes.
KUNDUN UNDONE: After a lackluster release by Disney in the U.S., Australia’s Village Roadshow, Disney’s normal distribution outlet down under, has passed on the distribution of the film. Is it a coincidence that A.V.R. is negotiating multiplex deals on mainland China and Hong Kong that might be complicated by the totalitarian depiction of the Chinese in Martin Scorsese‘s small masterpiece? Demonstrators who camped out in front of their offices last week didn’t think so. A.V.R. execs claim that it’s just business, but that hasn’t kept The Postman from hitting Aussie screens. Village Roadshow hasn’t spindled or mutilated Scorsese’s film, but they’ve definitely folded.
MOD UPDATE: A couple of week’s ago (link to:, I told you about Aaron Spelling‘s search for two young co-stars to star opposite Claire Danes in the feature version of The Mod Squad. Well, they found a Pete in Giovanni Ribisi, a very talented comic actor who you may remember as Frank, Jr. on “Friends” or from his starring role in Richard Linklater’s SubUrbia. Or, as the theme column continues, from his role in The Postman, which co-starred the original Julie, Peggy Lipton. I love when an item goes full circle.
THE MARRYING MAC: I know this will send all of you away in tears, but Macaulay Culkin is tying the knot (and not around his dad’s neck). At the ripe old age of 17, Mac is engaged to Diary of Anne Frank star Rachel Miner. His publicist tried to get him engaged to the real star of Anne Frank, Natalie Portman, but her ring finger is committed to a publicity stunt in which she gets engaged to Leonardo DiCaprio. Can you imagine the cat fight? (Not between the women, between Leo and Mac). Almost makes you want to make a $100 million movie about a post-apocalyptic world whose primary remnants of the past seem to be made up primarily of product placements. (I know, there was no connection. You come up with a Postman reference that fits and e-mail it to me!)
JUST WONDERING: Kevin Costner will certainly survive The Postman, but does the film’s failure give an excuse to people who don’t want to make Larenz Tate a movie star?
THE MINNIE WATCH: After a month or so of worrying about Minnie Driver‘s love life, here’s a little work news. She’s picked her next film. It’s called An Ideal husband. Oh, Minnie! You deserve the perfect husband! That Matt Damon! He’ll pay for dumping you! With God as my witness, I’ll avenge you! Uh, did I get off track? Driver will co-star in the film which is being adapted from the Oscar Wilde play and directed by Oliver Parker, the guy who adapted and directed the Laurence (“Don’t Call Me Larry!”) Fishburne Othello that burned and crashed a couple of years ago. No one from The Postman has been cast yet, though Olivia Williams would fit nicely, I think.
DATING YOURSELF: Ready for the next “Why Did Everyone Make The Same Movie This Year” phenom? It’s dating schools. Yes, we insane people on the coasts are paying others to tell us how to date. (And when that doesn’t work, some of us are paying for sex. Right, Charlie?) DreamWorks is adapting an article from Mademoiselle magazine (kind of like adapting a political philosophy from a three-fold pamphlet) called I Went to Date School. That dating legend, Danny DeVito and his Jersey Films has purchased rights to the story of the company the Mademoiselle article focused on, First Impressions. And the guy who brought us Wild Things has a script in the market called Date School, about a nerd who gets a date he didn’t expect to get (with the hottest high school hottie) and decides he needs a lesson on how to date. Of course, in that version, everyone ends up naked or dead or both. Much like in, you guessed it, The Postman.
READER OF THE DAY: From Loyd Movie: “Glad you’re as interested in the ‘missing’ Oscar winners as I seem to be. But you left off a few — just a few — like Olivia De Havilland, Art Carney, Joan Fontaine, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, Goldie Hawn, Eileen Heckart, Wendy Hiller, Katharine Hepburn, Kim Hunter, Glenda Jackson, Lila Kedrova, Sophia Loren, Dorothy Malone, John Mills, Tatum O’Neal, Liza Minnelli, Jason Robards, Anthony Quinn, George C. Scott, Beatrice Straight, Peter Ustinov, Loretta Young, Jane Wyman, Maureen Stapleton and Paul Scofield. Yes, I know many of these stars are close to 90, but 88-year-old Luise Rainer made it! And she’s only one year older than a certain Best-Supporting-Actress-Oscar nominee who should be a winner now and her movie would’ve beat that chariot race movie.”

Weekend Review

Grease is the weird. I’m getting exhausted trying to figure out Paramount’s box office results every week. Titanic was down 7 percent from last week, despite the Oscars, to $16 million. This surprised me, as for a change, I expected the film to do better than it actually did. On the flip side, Grease had the kind of three day skid that is usually reserved for the very worst films with the very biggest stars. But there shouldn’t have been word-of-mouth problems on the 20-year-old classic. Grease opened in first on Friday with $6.1 million. That should have led to at least a $19 million weekend. But on Saturday, instead of going up at the box office as almost all films do, it dropped to $4.2 million, meaning that it had to do under $3 million on Sunday. The film’s $13 million total is hardly an embarrassment. It’s even close to my prediction, but you still gotta wonder.
Leo beat John to the finish line, but the third and fourth place spots reversed the placement of the superstar challengers, with Travolta winning over DiCaprio in the celluloid forms of Primary Colors ($7.3 million) and The Man In The Iron Mask ($6.6 million). In non-John and Leo films, Wild Things took fifth and the other Oscars winners, As Good as It Gets and Good Will Hunting both did well, increasing their box office takes. The news on the other newcomers fits perfectly into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
THE GOOD: Ride, a Miramax/Dimension release that only hit 492 screens this weekend, managed to gross $2.6 million. That’s a $5,242 per-screen average, better than any film in the Top 10 other than Grease. This comes just four weeks after Live Entertainment had a surprise success, also directed to the urban market, with Caught Up. With New Line moving back into this area as well, the competition should continue to heat up as the year continues.
THE BAD: The Newton Boys managed just $4 million, despite opening on 1,964 screens. That’s a $2,037 per-screen average. Not good. The execs out there who have been fighting for the right to pay Matthew McConaughey $12 million for his next picture are probably doing double-takes this morning.
THE UGLY: No one showed up to Meet the Deedles, which opened on 1,762 screens and managed to pull in only $2.2 million for a $1,762 per-screen average. That’s ugly.
CONTEST WINNER: No one got the Top Five right. No one. Most of you were killed by The Newton Boys. Ironic, since the brothers pride themselves on non-violence in the movie. Things were so tough this week that just getting the Top Four was enough to put Brandon Gray in the winner’s circle. E-mail me and the stuff is yours, Brandon.
NEXT WEEK’S CONTEST: Forget the ShoWest stuff. New Line is kicking in a complete package of cool stuff from Lost In Space to next weekend’s box office winner. It’s time for all of you who aren’t entering to get on the box office bandwagon.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Dangerous Beauty + The Newton Boys = Dangerous Newtons. Matthew McConaughey is the beautiful psychopath who is poisoning the Fig Newton supply of a large Northeastern city. Catherine McCormack is the beautiful police psychologist who can’t decide whether to love him or lock him up. With Ethan Hawke as the beautiful former boyfriend, Skeet Ulrich as the beautiful Fig Newton junior executive who figures out chocolate is the antidote and Vincent D’Onofrio as the guy who can’t decide whether he’s extremely beautiful, extremely fat or a giant bug. With a guest appearance by Rufus Sewell, who is extremely beautiful and a giant bug.
JUST WONDERING: Had Titanic opened last summer and The Truman Show opened at Christmas, would we all be talking about how it was Jim Carrey’s year as he had the smash hit Liar Liar and an Academy Award for his performance in The Truman Show?
BAD AD WATCH: Well, these aren’t really that bad, but most of my teeth have rotted out since reading the ad. Barney’s Great Adventure is coming and the ad is running with eight quotes from kids, ages 2 to 7. From pull quotes “Super Dee-Super” to “My Most Favorite Thing Ever,” a bunch of pre-schoolers are doing Jeanne Wolf’s job for her.
READER OF THE DAY: Denise offers a response to the weekend’s Reader of the Day that echoes the thoughts of many: “While I agree that all of James Horner‘s soundtracks sound very similar, I think this is true of most film composers. They all have a readily identifiable style. In fact, my family makes somewhat of a game of guessing the composer of a soundtrack when we see a film. Danny Elfman is even easier to identify than Horner. Although I am not one of Titanic‘s rabid fans, I do feel that the music was a perfect fit for the film and was emotionally powerful. The award is not given for what style of music one likes or whether it sounds different to a composer’s other works. It’s based on how well the music helped tell the story of any one particular film. In Titanic, Horner succeeded in bringing out the feel of the era, culture, epic grandeur and emotional highs and lows of the film. In fact, I think his soundtrack made me feel more emotion than the actors did.”
And T.D. Putney adds: “Hey Erik….Before you go on a anti-James Horner campaign maybe you should get your facts straight. Hans Zimmer made Backdraft...Nice try though.”

News By the Numbers

There was only one story this week, so all of this week’s top 10 stories are somehow Oscar related. After this, you’ll get an Academy breather, with the race for 1998’s Oscar pretty much on hold until October. Which brings up one interesting thought: Had Titanic premiered in July 1997 as planned, it’s unlikely that it would be blessed with 11 Oscars and over $1 billion today. Fate is an amazing thing.
10. Going Away Mad: A Michigan-based research film did a telephone poll after the Academy Awards and asked who was the worst-dressed of the night. Madonna “won” the contest, with Cher running second. Perhaps Madonna shouldn’t have borrowed a dress from Kirstie Alley‘s wardrobe from “Veronica’s Closet.”
9. Leo Shows Up. Naked!: Leonardo DiCaprio is suing Playgirl magazine for planning to publish nudes of the Academy-snubbed actor in next month’s issue. Of course, this is kind of silly since Leo has appeared buck naked in two films already. Maybe he’s concerned he doesn’t fill the frame quite like former Playgirl-litigating model Brad Pitt. You know what they say: the longer the name.
8. Ben Hurt: When Titanic tied Ben-Hur with 11 Oscar wins on Monday night, ol’ Ben-Hur himself showed he still takes the races pretty seriously. “I know they’re comparing this to Ben-Hur, and that it tied with Ben-Hur,” bitched Charlton Heston. “Well, there were a lot fewer categories back then, so for it to win 11 was a real coup. Today, it’s a lot easier to get 11, so I think Ben-Hur still beats out Titanic.” Not too classy, Chuck. No truth to the rumor that when he ran into Jim Cameron at an after-party he said, “Get your stinkin’ hands off me, you filthy ape!” Ironically, the hottest rumor of the moment has “The King Of The World” Cameron setting his sights on remaking Planet of the Apes (at Titanic‘s senior-partner studio, 20th Century Fox) as his next project with Ahnuld in the loincloth that N.R.A. Charlie once wore. (Well, not literally the same one. That would be gross!) This is all possible because Universal pulled the plug on Ahnuld’s most pressing project, I Am Legend, which was a re-make of The Omega Man, which was (surprise!) a Charlton Heston movie.
7. Matt & Minnie – The Final Chapter: Word is that Minnie Driver, Matt Damon and Winona Ryder all occupied the same 10 square feet of party on Monday night, sending Minnie away in tears. This will hopefully be the very last public chapter in the most public break-up since Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. And keep this in mind, Minnie. Eddie Fisher. Just keep saying it to yourself. Eddie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds is still making movies. Eddie Fisher.
6. All About Ashley: Howard Stern and many others spent Tuesday reviewing the state of Ashley Judd‘s undergarments, or lack of such, as the actress strode across Oscar’s stage Monday night. Her publicists kept the conversation alive by issuing a stern denial. I happened to have taped the awards. After watching the tape in slo-mo, over and over, I am convinced of two things. One, I don’t care about catching a fleeting glance at a beautiful woman’s private parts nearly as much as I did when I was in high school. And two, that girl was footloose and panty free.
5. Missing: The line-up of former acting Oscar-winners was surprisingly incomplete. Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand were all out on sick leave. Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Al Pacino, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando (who didn’t accept his Oscar in the first place), Christopher Walken, Paul Scofield and Daniel Day-Lewis are all notorious no-shows. But where were Tom Hanks, Jodie Foster, Nicolas Cage, F. Murray Abraham, Emma Thompson, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline (whose father-in-law, Gil Cates, produced the award show), Dianne Wiest, Mercedes Ruehl, Olympia Dukakis, Linda Hunt, Jessica Lange, Mary Steenburgen, Julie Andrews, Jane Fonda and Patty Duke?
4. Good Jim Paying: WhenTitanic looked like an iffy proposition, Jim Cameron gave his rights to profit participation in the film back to the studios (Fox & Paramount) as a show of support. $1 billion-plus later, everyone agrees that he should get it back. The question is, how much will the studios fork over? The latest rumor is that a check for $100 million will soon be headed Cameron’s way. That’s almost enough for Cameron to make a movie trailer!
3. The Sound of Money: Cameron’s not the only one who will be passing the eight-figure payday for Titanic. Composer James Horner, who won an Oscar for his score and another for writing the mega-hit “My Heart Will Go On,” earned $800,000 for scoring the film and will get a royalty of about $1.20 for every Titanic album sold. That looks to add up to about $20 million, which means a lot of Horner’s new favorite music: Cha Ching!
2. Sunday Night At The Oscars: Next year, Oscar will be making the move from Monday night, where it has been for 45 years, to Sunday night. Why? There’s more money for ABC on Sunday than on Monday. Oh, and the traffic will be easier to deal with in L.A. (Sure, that’s the reason.) The event may also start an hour earlier to accommodate the early risers. So, why is this bad for the movie business even though it’s good for T.V.? Sunday night is the third best night of the week at the box office. Monday is generally the worst.
1. Back To The Boat: Eleven Oscars meant more than a 50 percent increase this week for Titanic box office receipts, pushing the film past the $500 million mark domestically even before the weekend. As Good As It Gets and Good Will Hunting also showed increases, but both films had already fallen well below the $10 million a weekend mark. Titanic‘s increase means that it will likely fight off Grease for the top spot at the box office this weekend. That would be week 15 on top.
Reader Of The Day: From Erik: “It amazes me that James Horner is getting accolades with a soundtrack that is a rehash of every score he’s done since the early ’90s. Even the Oscar-winning ‘My Heart Will Go On’ is reminiscent of the Diana Ross ballad sung for Land Before Time. His music is popular only because it has a wider audience now — listen to Braveheart, Aliens, Star Trek II, Land Before Time, Backdraft, and you’ll see where he got the inspiration for Titanic: Himself. Thanks for offering a forum to allow film nerds like me rant about pointless subjects!”

Weekend Preview: Dead at The Boxoffice

It’s the weekend of the dead at the box office this week. Titanic is rising, Grease is being resurrected and Primary Colors may be dead and buried in just its second week. The only real competition against The Big Boat for the top spot will be Grease, but has the hype been loud enough to launch the musical to stellar numbers? Last year, Paramount re-released The Godfather the weekend before the Academy Awards and it got lost in the golden hype. This year, Grease follows the Oscars, but it takes more than a couple of days to get we thirty- and forty-somethings excited. (Ain’t aging grand?) I see Titanic moving back upstream to about $18 million and Grease stuck at about $15 million. Wild Things looks like it’s ready to slide up the list to third (with about $9 million) as positive word of mouth starts to supersede Sony’s T&A ad campaign. I see Primary Colors dropping to about $8.2 million with The Man in the Iron Mask close in tow with about $7.6 million. That would be your top five. The other new wide releases are Disney’s Meet the Deedles </strong>and Fox’s The Newton Boys. My hopes aren’t too high for either. If either passes the $5 million mark, I’ll be amazed. I’ll guess $3 million and $3.5 million. You tell me which is which.
THE GOOD: John Travolta is still the word. For all of the Primary Colors problems, J.T. still opened the film effectively. Grease will re-open in no small part due to his draw. And everyone in town still likes the guy. Not just good. Miraculous.
THE BAD: The Men That Would Be Movie Stars, Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke, will likely prove once again that magazine covers and great abs do not a movie star make when The Newton Boys opens to soft business this weekend. Of course, those things can get you a baby via Uma Thurman, so I guess it’s not all bad. I happen to like Richard Linklater as a filmmaker and I also feel he’s brought out the best in both men in the past. Hopefully, this film is better than the hype machine.
THE UGLY: Are we witnessing the end of Dennis Hopper’s career again? He’s the only movie star name in the cast of Meet the Deedles, but he doesn’t show up in the ads or trailer in any way shape or form. On the other hand, not being connected to the Deedles could be a dream come true for the ’60s icon.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Meet the Deedles + A Price Above Rubies = Meet the Price Above Deedles. From Disney and Burn Hollywood Burn creator Joe Eszterhas. Two blond surfer dudes pretend to be orthodox Jews in order to get a discount on 47th Street in New York City. Hilarity ensues when a quick circumcision is all that stands between the boys and $1 million in diamonds. Co-starring Matthew McConaughey as The Moyle.
JUST WONDERING: If we all loved Stanley Donen’s performance at the Academy Awards so much, why won’t any of the studios make a single romantic musical comedy?
BAD AD WATCH: Wide Awake is currently in limited release, but it will soon be at a theater near you. Apparently the second-tier reviewer from Sixty Second Preview covered the film because Jeff Craig’s name is nowhere to be seen. But his associate did him proud, offering up two exclamation points in one pull quote. “BRIGHT, FUNNY & OVERFLOWING WITH HEART! Wide Awake is destined to become a classic coming-of-age movie!”
CONTEST: Beat me, beat everyone else and beat the odds and there’s a prize from an upcoming movie waiting just for you. There’s a neat shirt for Deep Impact, a purple and lamé 54 shirt or your very own copy of the original The Odd Couple up for grabs. Pick the order and grosses of the top five, plus the other new films that won’t make the quintet and you get to pick your prize.
GREAT TV: Generally, in deference to our parent company, TNT, I wouldn’t be sending you to other cable channels, but if you like The Hot Button or The Whole Picture, you will love Split Screen, the series from independent producers John and Janet Pierson on the Independent Film Channel. Particularly Saturday’s show, which has a segment on writing seminars that is so sharp and dead-on funny, it’s a classic. It airs at 10:15 p.m. and 3:15 a.m.
READER OF THE DAY: From Rob S: “Was it just me, or did anyone else think it would’ve been cool if Bart the Bear had gotten loose?”

Tour of the Titan-ick!

Can’t get enough of the Big Boat? Well, Oscar-winning composer James Horner will be touring the country this summer with his Titanic score and more, including a 30-minute suite of music that was cut out of the movie, “Titanic: The Composer’s Cut.” Guess this is kind of like the Shine tour last year only I’ll be the only one shaking my head and talking to myself as the music plays.
MOUSE DROPPING: Your husband just won three Academy Awards, you were in a $100 million movie last year and you’re still a blonde bombshell. What are you gonna do? Linda Hamilton is going to Disney’s world! She just signed to voice the evil demi-goddess Nemesis on Disney’s TV version of Hercules. Things are tough all over.
JUST WONDERING: Is Kevin Bacon doing a nude scene in Wild Things tat for tit?
KNIGHT AND DAY: Les Visiteurs is one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time in France. Yes, even bigger than The Nutty Professor. But when the film arrived in the U.S., seemingly predestined for remaking, nothing happened. Why? The film is based around two medieval knights transported into modern day. The argument was made that there is no tradition of knighthood in America, so the central premise was faulty for an American remake. But John Hughes sees it differently. No word on what the Home Alone creator will do to make the concept U.S.-friendly, but at some point, I expect to find the lost knights in a house that three burglars are trying to rob.
LOW-LITA NEWS: I have been critical of the censorship buzz around the distribution problems of Adrian Lyne’s Lolita up until now. I still say the biggest mistake the production made was making the film before having a domestic distributor. When a movie like Basic Instinct got into trouble, the director could take the heat. But if a studio buys Lolita, the finished product, there are no excuses to make. On top of that, the film demands a minimum of $15-$20 million in prints and advertising to launch. The commercial failure of sexually controversial films like Henry and June and Showgirls means even that minimal amount could be wasted money. All that aside, the refusal of playdates on pay-per-view by DirecTV, Request TV and Viewer’s Choice can be seen as nothing less than censorship. Hard to claim that Howard Stern and “His Many Lesbians” is OK to sell but a film based on a classic novel is not. A film that has already removed any nudity by the body double for the 12-year-old title starlet of the film. The one cable outlet still in talks with the producers is Showtime Networks, the exclusive cable home of The Red Shoe Diaries, Beverly Hills Bordello and the aforementioned classic, Showgirls.
READER OF THE DAY: From Geoff W: “While Stanley Donen’s speech may have been more gracious than Cameron’s, they both were the products of the pure joy that they each felt. Plus, Donen’s was rehearsed and planned. Cameron was king of the world and shouldn’t be criticized for saying it. That was how he felt and how most people would feel. Especially after spending three years of his life on the film and having to deal with all the criticism before the movie came out. Congratulations James.”

Oscars Wrap-Up

Give me a T! Give me an I! Give me a T! Give me an A! OK, enough of that! It’s over. Titanic came pretty close to sweeping. Eleven Oscars. Can’t really argue with any of them. Would I have made a few different calls myself? Sure. Those of you who have been reading this column for a while know that I have some problems with the Big Boat. But I can’t deny that the film has left the hearts of millions floating on air. There’s not a film amongst the Best Picture nominees that I actually dislike. And none that I think is so far above the expert craftsmanship of Titanic that I was rooting for or against any of them. The only winner that I was disappointed by — and I know that many of you disagree — was Helen Hunt.
Even in the clip they showed for Best Film, she was more loud than deep to me. But her win seemed to fit in with the theme of the evening. Inevitability. There was more passion from the “other” award winners than from the big eight. Affleck and Damon tried really hard, but there was that moment where you got the feeling that Matt sensed a comedic lull and decided to start yelling. Jack jumping the lines in the floor didn’t play in the theater because no one there could see the lines. Kim Basinger was kind of sweet, but I had that creepy feeling that Alec Baldwin is going to go Star 80 on us. (Just kidding, Alec. Don’t hit me.) Somehow, a bunch of Oscars on top of a billion dollars seems like gilding the lily. Nonetheless, congratulations to all the winners.
MY FAVORITE MOMENT: Stanley Donen‘s song and dance. I’ve never seen a better prepared acceptance from an award recipient. It had all the charm of a Donen film. Lovely.
MOST GRACIOUS MOMENT: Kevin Costner poking fun at himself as The Postman in the filmed opening. You may have noticed that there weren’t many laughs from the audience. That film scared Hollywood so much that it was a bit like telling a joke about the Holocaust in a synagogue. And I’m not exaggerating.
PRESENT AND UNACCOUNTED FOR: On an evening with so many Oscar winners in the audience (“You are Fay Wray, aren’t you?”), did it seem odd to you that the Academy had Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Drew Barrymore, Alec Baldwin and Matt Dillon handing out awards? Gotta love the Academy’s appreciation for demographics!
THE OSCAR-WINNING LINE-UP: That thing took forever! I mean, I love that kind of thing, but it seemed to go on for half an hour. The thrill was gone somewhere around George Kennedy. And what started creeping into my head was all the people who were missing. I guess that Jodie Foster didn’t want to meet the press. Barbra has a backache. Gary Busey showed up to be on last night’s Oscar episode of “Politically Incorrect,” but he wasn’t on stage at the Oscars. And where were Tom Hanks, F. Murray Abraham, Emma Thompson, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Diane Weist, Mercedes Ruehl, Olympia Dukakis, Linda Hunt, Jessica Lange and Mary Steenbergen? Paul Newman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Al Pacino, Nicolas Cage, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman and Chris Walken all get a pass for being notoriously absent on a regular basis. But what about Jane Fonda? On the night her brother was nominated for an Academy Award? Weird.
IT’S NOT A DATE: It was nice that Ben and Matt decided to bring the family, but couldn’t they get Gwyneth and Winona a couple of seats? Hell hath no fury like a P.R.-based romance scorned.
GOOD MINNIE HURTING: Minnie Driver looked so lost when the boys went up for their screenplay Oscar. Again. I don’t remember seeing this kind of public agony from a star since Madonna broke with Sean Penn.
SPEAKING OF WITCH: Did Madonna seem distracted, unhappy, catty and generally pissed while introducing other performers for Best Song? She did to me. Plus, the leather gown seemed like an ad for her album and the new shape of her busom seemed like an ad for motherhood.
BILLY RATES: Crystal was right. He should have gotten out after a great performance last year. He was fine, but the material was pretty soft this year. The best part of the Oscar song was the opening to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. All downhill from there, except maybe for getting in Jack’s lap. Crystal may be the perfect Oscar host. He is the only one (as opposed to Letterman, Leno or Dennis Miller) who is really a part of the community. But it was a little stale this time out. Maybe he, Robin and Whoopi should combine Comic Relief and the Oscars next year. All those tuxedos and the homeless. Could be great.
WHY DID THEY: Have to do a dance number? They had to know it would stink. Have giant cookie cutters for Oscar cookies on stage? I kept looking for the cookies. Go to close-ups on Spike Lee and Sidney Poitier when Samuel Jackson came on stage? Maybe they wanted to make Academy segregation more obvious Have a woman from Anastasia flying? I guess they thought it was still last year and they were doing The English Patient.
THE ANTI-OSCARS: On Sunday, Kevin Costner swept the Razzies with wins in every category for which it was nominated, taking worst picture, worst director, worst actor, worst screenplay and worst song. Other Razzie winners were Alicia Silverstone, Dennis Rodman, Speed 2, Con Air and, unfairly I think, Demi Moore, for G.I. Jane.
READER OF THE DAY: That would have to be the winner of my little Oscar contest. There were two people who made the right picks on 19 of the 24 Academy Awards given out last night. Both got all 11 Titanic Oscars. But one of them thought that Titanic would get an even dozen. Yes, Gloria Stuart threw the diamond overboard and she threw Joel Bergen right over the edge too. Our winner got all 11 Titanic nods and all eight of the major awards. When she writes about Jim Cameron, she adds, “a.k.a. JC, a.k.a. Jordan Catalano, a.k.a. Jesus Christ.” SheÕs a world-class smart-ass form the University of Michigan. Erin Podolsky, come on down!

Ranting and Raving

Primary Colors opened last Friday to a lot of analysis comparing John Travolta‘s Jack Stanton to Bill Clinton and not very much box office. America is sick of talking, thinking and, ultimately, wallowing in Clinton’s affairs of state. Life is good and it would be even better if all this sex and scandal talk would just go away. But there are these movies (add Wag the Dog to the mix), throwing all this uncomfortable stuff right back into our faces. And that’s how Primary Colors has become the Rorschach Test of feature films for those of us who have seen it, whether as part of our jobs or by choice. For some, it’s too kind to Bill. For others, it brazenly wallows in the negative side of Bill Clinton. To me, that’s a triumph, not a failing.
This is the gray of reality, folks. It’s not about Bill Clinton. It’s about selective morality. It’s about the politicians that live in our brains. It’s about an America that has become so cynical and jaded that there are no rationalizations too big to work through. It’s about an America that makes up its mind, then changes the rules to fit our desires. It’s about settling. We bit the apple in the political Garden of Eden during Watergate and now we know too much to go back. And boy does that tick us off. When a movie comes along and mocks us for that loss of innocence, well, watch out!
I always remember going to see Hurlyburly on Broadway with a friend many years ago. She was ready to walk out 20 minutes into the show. “I know all those screwed-up people,” she said, “Why do I need to pay $50 a ticket to see them on a stage?” I finally came to understand what she meant. She didn’t hate those people. She hated herself for being a part of their lives for so long. For knowing that they were sick, but not taking the responsibility to walk away. Facing the things we’ve rationalized is unpleasant. And nobody wants to pay $50 for the right to do it or even $7.50 to do it in a movie theater.
That’s why I think Primary Colors (and Wag the Dog for that matter) won’t get their due until the millennium has come and gone. Never before have films that so defined their eras been made in such close proximity to their subjects. In fact, some of Primary Colors‘ director Mike Nichols‘ other films still stand as iconic representations of their time. The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, Working Girl and Postcards From the Edge all define the distinct and often unpleasant “progress” of American society. From innocence lost to uncontrolled libido to the lost souls of the Reagan era to the self-deception we couldn’t stay one step ahead of anymore. But those were all late in the game. By the time Melanie Griffith was overcoming power-mad Sigourney Weaver, Gordon Gekko had already been shredded in Wall Street. Primary Colors opens the Oval Office door even before the zipper has a chance to be zipped. Who the hell wants to see that? And if you do want to see it, do you want to admit it to your friends?
The Clinton administration defined the era themselves. It’s called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The solution is in avoidance, not in the truth. As Bill Maher likes to scream on “Politically Incorrect,” “Clinton only lied because he was asked a question that he shouldn’t have been asked.” Apparently, Mike Nichols has told the story that shouldn’t be told. But I, for one, am glad he did.
READER OF THE DAY: From Eric J: “Stanley Donen possesses something today’s stars lack — humility. Plus his song and dance was not only appropriate but fun. (Definitely better than any of the other dance numbers.) What a contrast compared to James Cameron (of whom I am a big fan); his ‘I’m king of the world’ and moment of silence were annoying and disappointing. Talk about trite. I thought James had more class than that.”

Weekend Review and Oscar Preview

The story of the weekend wasn’t so much the continuing success of Titanic, which actually took a bump up over the weekend, but the relatively dismal showing of Primary Colors. Looks like Universal execs were right for a change when they insisted on keeping the budget for the comedic drama down, even with John Travolta. (Don’t worry. They’ll be making up for that bout of insight with the meaninglessly titled Mercury Rising.) It was never even a contest. Titanic won by just 17 percent on Friday, but on both Saturday and Sunday, the Big Boat maintained a 33 percent lead on Mike Nichols‘ Roman a’ Cliff Arquette. Which, to me, is a shame, since I happen to think this is an important film. (I have already heard disagreement on that from a few of you, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.) Leo dropped his Iron Mask this weekend to the tune of 35 percent, as many of you expected. U.S. Marshals did the same. Wild Things rode the T&A wagon to a surprising $9.6 million. And Mr. Nice Guy gathered up $5 million, which for a quickie release, ain’t too bad.
THE GOOD: Wild Things. I expected little more than Denise Richards‘ busom and Kevin Bacon‘s weenie. And both were there, but this is not a film about body parts. John McNaughton has made a very funny, genre-bending, revisionist noir comedy that will have a long life in film schools for years to come. Now I know why Sony dumped the film. They couldn’t figure out how to sell it, so they went for the boobs. This film is much richer than that and deserved better. Critics who took it too seriously just didn’t get it, much as they didn’t get McNaughton’s Mad Dog and Glory, which was grossly underrated. I was truly thrilled to find this film, which I expected to be schlock, to be a bit of mad genius.
THE BAD: The buzz around Primary Colors continues to be about the Clinton angle, but as much as the film is Clinton’s story, it’s about more than one candidate. It’s about the state of politics in this era. As it happens, I also revisited Wag the Dog this weekend and on my third viewing, I still found myself laughing out loud at some parts of the film. It’s a shame that quality work that so incisively reflects a period of American history, like such films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dr. Strangelove, The Candidate and Bob Roberts, is being missed just because the current President has made the films too close to reality for comfort.
THE UGLY: The Independent Spirit Awards were handed out Saturday to many recipients who should have been recognized by the Academy this year. Eve’s Bayou took a couple of statues, as did Chasing Amy (which was not my personal fave, but lots of people loved the film). In the Academy wheelhouse, Robert Duvall won Best Director, Best Actor and Best Feature and Julie Christie won for Afterglow. My guess is that these honors were better than just being nominated, but “it’s an honor just to be nominated” will likely have to suffice tonight.
CONTEST WINNER: This week was excruciatingly close between two guys. Both got the order of the Top Five right, and one of them — Chode60005 — was the only person to hit the exact number on Primary Colors, $12.4 million. But Chode was undone by a $2.1 million over-estimation on Wild Things. Dan Krovich didn’t hit any nails on their heads, but he did better overall in the Top Five and was within $100,000 of the right number on Mr. Nice Guy. So, Dan is our winner! Congratulations and your T-shirt will be on its way shortly.
TWO UNLIKELY-TO-WIN OSCAR-NOMINATED MOVIES EQUAL: The Full Monty + As Good As It Gets = As Good As The Full Monty Gets. In an effort to suck a few more dollars out of a really good idea for a movie, Paramount and Fox co-produce this film, which features Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Djimon Hunsou, Robin Williams, Burt Reynolds and Jack Nicholson stripping for two straight hours. The budget soars to over $200 million as the costs for prosthetic makers, pubic hair weaves and personal trainers take off into the stratosphere. After test-screening audiences find that Nicholson’s naked body is even harder to handle than the truth, Kevin Bacon‘s naked body is hired to replace Nicholson’s by way of computer graphics. Burt Reynolds walks out of the premiere and fires his agent, his manager and his housekeeper for getting him into the film. Djimon is gracious and claims that he understands why his privates are the only ones not shown in the film. The rumors about him overshadowing the others just aren’t true. Williams appears naked, but no one can find any of his body parts through the hair. And Affleck and Damon arrive at the premiere with their new wives, the Barbie Twins.
JUST WONDERING: Will any of this year’s major nominees be back for more next year?
BAD OSCAR AD WATCH: Newsweek called the screenplay for Good Will Hunting “tangy.” But one ad based around Oscar itself is for American Express. It shows that 20 out of 25 nominees in the directing and acting categories are American Express cardholders. My question: What about the other five? Nicholson, Hoffman, Robin Williams, Judi Dench and Julie Christie are the missing members. Seems like being off the list is the cooler place to be.
READER OF THE DAY: From Steve: “If Matt Damon meets Minnie Driver Oscar night and both of them win, who will they thank?”

News By The Numbers

10. Restaurant Armageddon: Bruce Willis may be able to save the earth this summer, but his restaurant is under a threat worse than an asteroid. The 87-unit Planet Hollywood chain has had its credit rated as “junk” by Standard & Poors. Corporate analyst Dawn Hu says “the themed restaurant sector carries even higher business risks than other restaurant formats.” More risks for customers, too. Bad food, expensive T-shirts and the very real threat of seeing a piece of memorabilia that will remind you of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
9. Racing With Ford: It looks like Ford U.K. is the European equivalent of America’s Denny’s. For the second time this year, they’ve had to pull an ad over complaints of racism. This time, it’s an ad based on The Full Monty that features four dancing men. But none is black, unlike the movie. That may not seem serious, but the last pulled ad featured a photo of four black assembly workers who had been given white faces.
8. Jew Gotta Be Kidding: Jerry Maguire‘s Renee Zellweger is playing a Jewish woman who clashes with orthodox rules in A Price Above Rubies and some Hassids don’t like it. But their protest wasn’t well attended. Only 18 people showed up. Director Boaz Yakin laughed, “I could get a better turn out with my co-op board.”
7. Le’ Porno: Finally, a way to erase the deficit and lower taxes at the same time. And we have the French to thank for it. The French Health Ministry is partially financing five short X-rated films to promote condom use. No comment on the trend from the Clinton White House, but we may have just found a post-Presidential gig for Bill.
6. Semi-Pro or Con: The story got out via The New York Post last week that actors Matt Damon and Edward Norton were so into their roles as gamblers in Miramax’s Rounders (which we referred to last week as Good Will Gambling) that they would play in Las Vegas’ World Series of Poker and that real gamblers were so upset that there was a bounty on their Hollywood heads. Additionally, the story said the team had already played Miramax’s Harvey and Bob Weinstein out of $1,200. I guess that’s the per diem for a publicity trip to Vegas.
5. Not Jada-ed Yet: Will Smith just signed for a romantic comedy, but his co-star will be Whitney Houston, not his newly-christened wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The project is called Anything for You and is about a guy who dumps his girlfriend and then has to jump through some serious hoops of her design to get her back. Maybe Jada’s gonna be unavailable due to baby duty, but this one sounds like a perfect role for that particular 5-foot-tall sassy comedic actress, not for stiff songbird Whitney.
4. It’s A Small Universe After All – A couple of weeks ago, it was Paramount going down under. Now, Universal is opening a movie theme shopping center in Beijing. Universal execs are hoping to add a theme park as soon as possible. Look for the Tiananmen Square Action Stunt Show, the Back to the Past movie ride and the fun of E.T., the Extremely Territorial, where they ask for your name as you enter the ride and by the time it’s over, your entire family has been imprisoned.
3. Celine, Can You Hear Me?: Guess who’s not going to be singing in public with Celine Dion again? The elusive Ms. Streisand, of course. This time it’s the Oscars she’s missing, thwarted by a bulging disc and bronchitis. It’s beginning to look like we’re going to have to wait for a tearful 2 a.m. meeting between the two divas on The Jerry Lewis Telethon if we ever want to see them work together.
2. Under Pressure: Robert Downey Jr. will serve an extra three days in the lock-up to make up for his bad-P.R.-for-the-judge days of out-of-jail/on-set duty last month. Downey definitely has a serious problem and earned his jail time, but this additional time is just a response to public pressure and is unfair. Downey will do four months in a residential rehab when he leaves the Los Angeles County Jail on April 1.
1. He’ll Be Back: The Ahnuld is back after a self-imposed 18-month post-Batman & Robin hiatus. Well, kind of self-imposed. Universal refused to commit to his I Am Legend, a sci-fi flick with a budget more than $150 million, so now they’ve greenlit End of Days at a cost of only $100 million. (What a deal!) The film has the Big S. trying to keep the Bigger S. (Satan) from finding a bride in New York City. Arnold as Dr. Ruth! Gotta love it.
READERS OF THE DAY: Krillina says: “When I think of Chris Rock in Lethal Weapon 4, I think “It’s that annoying guy from the 1-800-COLLECT commercials.” If Rock wants people to think he’s a hot commodity in Hollywood, he should leave 1-800-COLLECT to Phil Hartman and Ed O’Neill, kings of not impacting the box-office.”
But, Matt B says: “If there is anything that would compel me to see Lethal Weapon 4 this side of a team of wild horses, it is Chris Rock. I would see him in anything. In fact, he sure would have livened up The English Patient.

Weekend Preview

It’s gonna be an interesting weekend for a change. John Travolta power should be able to overcome the “I’m bored with Clinton-esque scandals” attitude that ended up hurting Wag the Dog much more than helping it. I say it will win this weekend’s primary by a few million.
But there will still be a fight for second between Titanic and The Man In The Iron Mask. I know that some of you are sick of me inferring monkey business with reported Titanic numbers, but the fact that I see some really questionable box office reportage doesn’t mean that I’m slamming Titanic as a movie. And I haven’t questioned the numbers since the fourth weekend of the film’s release. This movie is a phenom. But, last weekend, Titanic‘s box office fluctuation that ended up in a reported tie was questionable, rising on Sunday. As I predicted, Titanic‘s “final figures” for the weekend mysteriously rose by $100,000, while Iron Mask numbers did what one normally expects, a $200,000 drop. Based on the those studio reports, Titanic won the weekend in the end by $300,000. What would be Paramount’s motivation to fluff numbers? Last weekend’s win set the record for most consecutive winning weekends, breaking a three-way tie at 12 weeks. This fluffing doesn’t require a great conspiracy, We’re talking about a 1 percent variation in the weekend numbers in order to insure a record that will forever be attached to this film. So far this week, Iron Mask is ahead of Titanic by $200,000 each weekday. That’s a 12 percent lead. So it seems likely that Titanic will spend its first weekend out of first place, falling to third place. No great shame when you already have a billion in the bank.
The only other holdover capable of grossing more than $5 million this weekend is U.S. Marshals. I would estimate about a $7 million weekend. I think that should be just enough to beat out Wild Things, which should open on the strength of Denise Richards’ breasts alone. I know it sounds sexist. (I’m doing a lot of apologizing today, huh?) But the movie is being sold on sex and the wide array of stories about what Neve Campbell keeps on and what Richards, Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon take off should bring in at least $5 million in ticket sales. Jackie Chan is back, but New Line isn’t doing a whole lot to make it a special occasion. I look for the film to land in seventh, behind Good Will Hunting and The Wedding Singer.
THE GOOD: Niagara Niagara is opening here in Los Angeles with a performance by Robin Tunney (from The Craft) as a Tourette Syndrome sufferer that is already making her a hot commodity before the film earns box office dollar one. You can’t go. )&$#)(&@$. You can’t go. #@(%&*(@#. You can’t go far. *&$&*(#&$(&. in Los Angeles without *&$(*&#$. seeing her *&($&(#. (*&$(*#&$. *(&$(*&#$ face.
BOX OFFICE CONTEST: Pick this weekend’s Top Five at the box office with the dollar amounts for each. Add new wide releases that you don’t see in the Top Five as a tie-breaker. You have until Saturday at noon to get me your entries. Closest one to the actual numbers wins a prize. For real.
THE BAD: L.A. Confidential got all those Academy Award nominations, but still won’t get close to the domestic box office dollars of fellow Best Picture nominees Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets or Titanic, and it won’t be anywhere near the worldwide box office for The Full Monty.
THE UGLY: Hush looks like it’s going to gross more domestically than Wings of the Dove.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Mr. Nice Guy + Wild Things = Mr. Nice Thing. Kevin Bacon exposes himself over and over again and while the bad guys are checking out his package, he beats them senseless. And he never uses a stunt penis! The film includes nude scenes by Bacon, Matt Dillon, Jackie Chan and Tom Arnold as comic relief. The sequel Miss Nice Things has already been greenlit, with Denise Richards as the star. Miss You’re Gonna Have To Pay Me A Lot More If You Want To See These, starring Neve Campbell, has been indefinitely shelved.
JUST WONDERING: Is Grease still the word?
BAD AD WATCH: I was driving along listening to the radio the other night when none other than Adam Carolla, the funny guy from “Loveline,” was ragging on Ron Brewington of American Urban Radio Networks. Carolla called him “the anti-critic” and proclaimed that a positive review from Brewington was a sure sign of a movie worth avoiding. In my look through the papers, Ron was unusually under-represented this week, but he did earn the headline for one big film. “If you liked The Fugitive, you will love U.S. Marshals!” And if you love getting your teeth pulled, you’ll love Chairman of the Board.
READER OF THE DAY: From Greg: “Let’s say I missed yesterday’s The Hot Button and would like to read it today… how can I do that? I can’t find any way to get to past columns from the rough cut Web site!”

Chat With Aaron Spelling

Got to chat with Aaron Spelling yesterday. He offered up a couple of movie-related tips.
1. He has an hour-long pilot at NBC called “Odd Jobs” with Roger Avery, who won an Oscar for writing Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino. Spelling says the humor is great.
2. I asked him what he thought of Claire Danes choosing to do the feature version of his series, “The Mod Squad.”
“I’m thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. This girl, who I loved in Romeo and Juliet, is doing Mod Squad? I’m thrilled.” What about the rest of the troubled teens turned cops? “The others are tough, especially in matching Claire’s age. Captain Greer could be [played by] a star, but probably not the other two young people. But Claire Danes with a gun. I love it.”
Spelling will be hands-on with the film. “I had a meeting with the writer and director Monday night at my house for two and a half hours, exchanging ideas.” Will the film go camp or ultra-serious? Spelling wouldn’t really say, but he closed with, “It’s much more rambunctious than the original.” What does that mean? He wasn’t sure either, laughing, “Is rambunctious even a word?”
THE PAPER TRAIL: Christine Lahti hit just the right note at the Golden Globes when she was caught with her dress down in the ladies room when she was announced as a winner. But leave it to Kaopectate to take it a little too far. The company is sending Kaopectate Oscar Relief Baskets to all 20 of the acting nominees. Kaopectate’s press release says they hope the baskets will give everyone a “solid performance” during the awards. Gross!
BACKLASH: One of the ongoing conversations in town is that Jack Nicholson and Jim Cameron could have knocked themselves out of their sure-bet Oscar wins with their performances at The Golden Globes. A lot of people seem to feel, including none other than insightful veteran William Goldman, that their smug attitudes that night could be as damaging as an iceberg. We’ll see on Monday night.
STICKING UP FOR THE PREZ: It’s nice to see Alec Baldwin taking the President’s side against the media barrage over the current sex scandal in Washington. He’s right. We should stay focused on real problems. Like cocaine overdoses and hotel rooms destroyed by the least successful member of a certain set of acting brothers. What was that name again?
NEXT!: On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the ad campaign for I Know What You Did Last Summer was misleading because it referred to the film as “from the creator of Scream,” which, for Sony, meant writer Kevin Williamson and for Miramax, the producers of Scream, meant director Wes Craven. My question is, “Who cares?! This is old news! Why are these idiots still spending money on lawyers?!” Hmmph!
CONTESTS, WE HAVE CONTESTS: OK, boys and girls. Here are two roads to cool stuff. One is the Oscar road. Click here to see all the Academy nominees and send me your picks by Monday afternoon. The winner gets his or her pick of ShoWest stuff. The other road is to send me your picks for this weekend’s Top Five at the box office including the dollar amounts. You have until Saturday at noon to get me your entries. (By the way, the new films this weekend are The Newton Boys, Wild Things and Primary Colors.)
READER OF THE DAY: More harsh words from Denise: “As a Mel Gibson fan, I am making daily burnt offerings for Lethal Weapon 4. The production pace is scary, but I think it is their best hope to break their major losing streak. I can’t stand those buffoon studio heads, Daly and Semel! What has happened to their decision-making process? I read that they were skeptical about using Chris Rock to help bring some youthfulness to the cast of LW4. I find that unbelievably idiotic! The presence of Chris will do nothing but help the film.”

Ranting and Raving

I’ve been to the desert for a week with no sleep. It feels good to come back where it rains. (For those of you who aren’t singing along to the tune of America’s “Horse With No Name,” try it, you’ll like it.) Well, maybe not so good. After spending the week in Las Vegas at ShoWest you might expect that I am all show-bized out. But it’s the opposite. For all the glitz, for all the selling, ShoWest is a show for real people. You hang out with people who own movie theaters, but most of them are every bit as star-struck as teenagers at a rock concert. You walk with them through the concession-laden trade show and, like Patty Duke, a hot dog makes them lose control. Offer up a T-shirt and a shortfall will turn into a mob scene. I know that I may sound like I’m mocking these folks, but quite the opposite. See, I had to come home.
It started at the ShoWest awards. Star after star ran through the press room because they had “to catch a plane.” So L.A. Tom Arnold died with a “real” audience with material that would’ve received laughs in L.A. See, these folks weren’t used to laughing on cue. Certain media outlets brought their L.A. attitudes with them to the press room. I’ll give you a hint. They were TV people. But can I really blame them? After all, they had to get their segment with each star in the couple of minutes they had with them. No time to bother with perspective. They didn’t really care about ShoWest or the exhibitors. They needed Oscar exclusives. And I guess that’s where the disparity lays. In perspective. The wine doesn’t taste as good if you don’t let it breathe, but L.A. is all about getting drunk quickly, not enjoying the experience.
Maybe it’s because we have too much to intoxicate us out here. I returned to three screenings at the same time on the same day. Obviously, I couldn’t attend all three. I chose the one that was most important to my business needs. The news from Renny Harlin‘s birthday party was about how expensive the house was and who was there. (Kevin Costner says that Titanic will sweep, if you care about what “The Postman” thinks. Jim Carrey and Lauren Holly are back in love and acting like teens. And Renny still drinks like a Fin.) The Coffee Bean is still loaded to the gills with long-legged wannabes and the men who wanna be with them, at least for a few hours. Tuesday was St. Patricks Day and in L.A. the green flowed freely. Only here, it’s the color of cash and envy. Welcome.
TOYS FOR YOU: Not only will there be a Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas T-shirt up for grabs in the box office competition this week, but we have to have an Oscar competition too, right? Get your e-mail warmed up. The contests and the rules in tomorrow’s The Hot Button.
MORE SELF PROMOTION: Today is the day that rough cut’s weekly page is updated. There’s a brand new chapter of The Whole Picture and more coverage on NoShoWest.
READER OF THE DAY: From Erin P: “I haven’t seen The Man in the Iron Mask yet, but Janet Maslin’s review in the New York Times is one of the funniest things I’ve read in quite some time.”
I was in Las Vegas when Maslin’s review ran. Thanks to Erin, I’ve read it and I agree that it’s very funny. One quote from Ms. Maslin: “When the mask comes off, the story’s glowing young hero appears to have undergone a seaweed wrap at that exceptionally punishing spa, the Bastille. And he later delivers this self-help credo: `I wear the mask. It does not wear me.'”

From The Readers

After a week in Vegas, my Hot Button has been pushed so many times that it’s worn out. (Worse, there’s almost no really interesting news out there to comment on.) So, while I regenerate my passions for tomorrow’s rant, I’m turning the column over to you once again.
From Mary H: “I have a theory about the Titanic box office numbers. Without having seen Iron Mask, I would still hazard a guess that those going for the next ‘Jack Dawson experience’ are going to be left wanting, and, of course, the only cure for the Louis/Phillipe image is another dose of Jack. So, it’s back to Titanic for one more viewing (‘There, THAT’S better!’), and the numbers are once again bizarre and ‘unbelievable.’ Unless a bigger movie is coming next week, I predict that Mask will drop to No. 2, and Titanic will be back in the top spot next weekend.”
From G Martin: “I look for John Travolta to have a strong spring. He has Primary Colors and the always cool re-release of Grease, so Hollywood, watch out! He’s about to explode and knock Titanic out of the water.”
From JOEY: Take One: “Quite a few of the diehard DiCaprio fans decided to do a ‘DiCaprio Double Feature’ kinda thing. At least two people I know did it, and it doesn’t seem like an outlandish possibility to me.”
Take Two: “I think that one of the big reasons that you didn’t get a lotta e-mail last week was because humans are selfish and if they think that a response is unlikely, they (we) won’t e-mail.”
And Take Three: “Godzilla will be big (another “all style/no substance” flick from the overrated Devlin/Emmerich team), but no Titanic. The only movie that may come close to beating out Titanic will be Star Wars: Episode One.”
From Steve Chien-Wei Weng: “Subject: Nightmares on Oscar Night: 1.Jack Lemmon wins another Oscar, because the winner insists so.
2.Robert DeNiro is arrested by police again because the attorney needs him as a witness in the White House scandal.
3. Christian Slater arrives just after being released from jail, so he doesn’t get the Leonardo punchlines.
4.Leonardo shows up, has nothing to do but sit there and cause fans to yell his name.
5. Sharon Stone shows up with her new husband to find out that half of the other men there used to be her boyfriends. The other half of the men are lined up to chat with Madonna. And Madonna‘s desperately seeking Leonardo and Leo is sitting in Demi Moore‘s lap.
6. Barbra goes to the powder room again when Celine sings.
From Akiko: “I have worked with DiCaprio on a film before, and guess what? He is much more than a teen idol; he really has talent. Whether these films recognize it, or even show it, is another question. He is not just a pretty face. He knows what he is doing.”
From Martin C: The Man In The Iron Mask was terrible. John Malkovich did his usual performance, which means that he screamed and gritted his teeth. That’s what he calls acting. Leonardo Dicaprio was struggling to act. There is a scene where Leo’s playing Philippe, looking out the window at the moon, and it looks like he’s trying to cry. I can see him thinking about something sad to make himself cry, and he doesn’t even succeed. But the acting wasn’t the biggest problem with this film, the script was. The big secrets of the plot are not secret, and anyone with half a brain cell can, and will, figure them out in the first 10 minutes, except for the guy sitting right in front of me, who thought he was a genius when he figured it out.”
From Ryan J: “I’m a loyal fan and supporter of Leonardo DiCaprio. And I thought The Man in the Iron Mask was good. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t embarrassingly awful. What I thought was interesting was that Leo really isn’t the star attraction, it’s the musketeers. It’s thanks to Titanic that the media is pushing it as Leo’s film, and it’s not. He made it long before anyone could have seen how successful Titanic was going to be. Therefore, I don’t consider this his follow-up by any means. His true follow-up — and the one the media should have reserved all its rabid scrutiny for — is the one he chooses to make post-Titanic. The one he chooses from his endless stream of unsolicited scripts. The one he could command up to $20 million for. That’s the one where he really has to prove he’s worth it.”
READER OF THE DAY: I guess that’s me. Thanks for all the great mail on Monday. And Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you who celebrate the holiday. And for those who don’t, watch out for green puddles.

Weekend Review

A tie. That’s what the studios reported on Sunday, estimating that both of Leonardo DiCaprio’s starrers, Titanic and The Man in the Iron Mask, both made exactly $17.5 million. They didn’t. Who actually won the race should be sorted out by this afternoon. But keep this in mind. In order to hit the $17.5 million mark, Titanic had to have dropped less than one percent (about $100,000) after dropping over eight percent each of the last few weeks. Additionally, Titanic dropped over $100,000 on Saturday alone, meaning that the Friday and Sunday numbers would have had to have been up. Unlikely. Also at stake is Titanic‘s claim to the record for most consecutive weekends at Number One. If it wins this weekend, it gets the nod. That may be reason enough to tap dance around the truth a little. I know that some of you want proof when I suggest that fudging numbers could be taking place, but no one really knows but the studio bookkeepers.
In other box office news, U.S. Marshals dropped just 31 percent. Much better than I expected. The rest of the Top Ten was pretty much the same, with a few slot changes, including Good Will Hunting, which maintained much stronger legs than the newer product to gain three slots and fourth place.
THE GOOD: The Wedding Singer passed the $60 million mark on its way to about $75 million domestic. And so far, every person that’s mentioned the film to me has liked it a lot. “Sweet,” they say. Just what we need more of these days.
THE BAD: Had The Man In The Iron Mask managed the expected $20 million-plus instead of $17.5 million, there would have been no doubt who won this weekend. It’s hard to say that $17.5 million is a disappointment, but even if the Masked Man beats the Big Boat, the LeoManiacs didn’t come out in the expected droves.
THE UGLY: Chairman of the Board opened this weekend and no one seemed to notice. No sight of Carrot Top in the Top Ten, which is good, since his presence would signal the coming of the apocalypse.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: The Man in the Iron Mask + The Big Lebowski = The Man In The Big Iron Lebowski. In a Polish twist on being in a pickle, Jeff Bridges stars as one of the best actors of his generation who keeps getting stuck in huge leaden movies that can’t lift off the box office launchpad. The film is a prequel to the Dennis Quaid-starrer, The Man In The Big Iron Smirk.
JUST WONDERING: Why did so many of you decide not to write me last week? Was it because you knew I was away or didn’t you care about ShoWest?
BAD AD WATCH: Sony had a good week in Las Vegas last week, but Wild Things is struggling out of the gate with “Sexy Sizzler” reviews from three small-market TV types (Mike Cidoni, credited as from ABC-TV; Dennis Willis from KGO-TV; Craig Kopp from WCPO-TV) and Tracie Sheppard from E.T. Online.
RETURN OF THE BOX OFFICE CONTEST: Starting this weekend, I’ll be giving away cool stuff from ShoWest for the person who can best guess each weekend’s box office outcome. In honor of my last week in the desert, this week’s prize will be a T-shirt from the upcoming Johnny Depp movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Rules will turn up later this week.
SHOWEST EXTRA: Besides kicking preview butt, Godzilla‘s ShoWest also offered up a look at the movie’s theater standee, which not only offers up a flashing Godzilla eyeball, but a first-ever standee rain storm. Keep an eye out (no pun intended) for it. And if, for some reason, you still need to catch up on ShoWest, watch for Wednesday’s cover story and check out the daily columns. The weekend’s wrap-up has links to the entire week of coverage.
READER OF THE DAY: From Denise G: “I would like to go out on a limb to predict that everyone is going to be stunned when The Man In The Iron Mask does smelly business at the box office. It so obviously sucks that I won’t even go see it despite the presence of the smoldering, sexy Gabriel Byrne! Only the most diehard Leo teenybopper fans will attend, and I doubt if that will add up to the $20 million that you are forecasting. My estimate is a modest $8-12 million.”

ShoWest: The Wrap Up

It’s over. By about 10:30 Thursday night, all the screenings had been screened, all the candy had been sold and all the questions had been answered. Well, not all the questions. If you’ve been reading the ShoWest coverage all week, you’ll already know that only one of the five major studios made an appearance this year. That would be (sfx: Godzilla roar) Sony. Of the four mini-majors who sponsored events, DreamWorks did best, but left a bunch of questions in the air. (A note: Apologies for my forgetfulness about a DreamWorks project called Antz, starring the voice of Woody Allen and Sharon Stone. It looked terrific and exhibitors are looking forward to getting the film next spring.) And in the end, there was a lot of talk about the future of ShoWest itself. But as one insider told me, the show changes with the industry and ShoWest ’98 reflects where the majors are as we move into this summer. Disney was the only other major with serious summer heat and their plans were stopped in their tracks by the preparations to demolish the regular off-site location of the studio’s semi-annual supershow.
The ShoWest Awards reflected the same jittery reality. There were big stars, including Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Matt Damon, Minnie Driver and Helen Hunt. There were big directors and writers like Barry Levinson, Barry Sonnenfeld, Ron Bass and Gary Ross (the Big screenwriter who scored big with the sneak look at his directing debut, Pleasantville). And in an Oscar snub turn-around, ShoWest got Djimon Hunsou, but not Anthony Hopkins, who was satellited in from a set somewhere. (Djimon graciously turned away any speculation about race playing a part in his Oscar snub. Great guy.)
But none of that could make up for Tom Arnold. He hosted the award show, which TNT (our parent company) didn’t televise this year. (That too was the source of more speculation. Did TNT pass because they chose to do the SAG Awards or did they just decide that ShoWest did nothing for the network? Hmmmm. Even RCTV didn’t show up to grab celeb interviews like “E.T.,” E! and so many others.) I’m trying to come up with the best words to describe his performance as host, but “sucked” seems too subtle and “disastrous” may be a little too El Nino-esque a description.
Let’s just say that in a room of 3,000 people, about six were laughing with him, 50 were laughing at him and the rest were in a state of stunned silence. It wasn’t just the stupid and offensive material either. It was the classic Tom Arnold delivery. Dustin Hoffman went on for a long time telling a story about passing wind on the set of Rain Man (This was a complimentary story about Barry Levinson), but he got laughs. Not Tom. (Actually, there was a windy theme at ShoWest this year. Leslie Neilsen went with the whoopie cushion for his entrance at the Sony event.)
For the press, this year’s show was a disappointment, too. While Djimon, Burt, Minnie and Joan Allen stopped to talk to reporters, the rest of the stars zoomed through the photo line and ran past reporters. Julia Roberts didn’t even do that, but she got a pass after she explained in her acceptance speech that she was working under a cloud of Midol and Alka-Seltzer. Damon, one of the runners, got no such pass. In fact, he was the talk off the press after dissing us by running by us twice in one day. He did apparently do a few private interviews, but he’s starting to develop the kind of press-shy/press-contemptuous attitude that can turn a career to dung after just one bad movie. Instead of having media friendlies wanting to help you through the tough times, actors who pull this crap tend to get buried, often for no reason other than their press attitude. Everyone wants him on their cover now, but this is just the beginning of what he hopes will be a long career. Talk to Patrick Dempsey about that, Matt.
Coca-Cola sponsored the nice post-Awards dinner, complete with filet mignon and large shrimp. But the only premium items were 20 ounce bottles of soda. I didn’t take any home. But I did emasculate my table’s centerpiece by taking the very cleverly made Coke-bottle torch, which is basically a 10-ounce bottle on a flashlight. The light led the way to the bar, where some journalist colleagues and I drank to old and new friends and said goodbye until next year. And that’s really what ShoWest is about. Getting together and talking about last year and the year to come. Let’s hope that next year is a better year for all the studios and for ShoWest 1999. I’ll be there for sure.
More ShoWest: If you’ve missed any of the previous week of ShoWest reporting, click Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday for the rest of the daily coverage. And check out the ShoWest feature that will run next Wednesday.
Back To Normal: Next week, The Hot Button goes back to the regular schedule. Monday will be the Weekend Review, Tuesday and Thursday are news days, Wednesday is Ranting and Raving day, Friday is Weekend Preview and the Weekender is News By The Numbers, the top 10 stories of the week.

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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