Hot Button Archive for April, 1998


Last month was the month of dumped movies. This month is the month of risk. There isn’t the built-in summer crowd. Because of Titanic, there isn’t the wide-open lack of competition April usually brings. And many of these movies can be both hits and misses. Yes, Lost In Space will likely take a steep drop this week, but Titanic won’t be, to use a pun for the last time, rising. In fact, Titanic should dip below $10 million for the first time this weekend. So, here we are. Will Species 2 manage to pass the $15 million mark or has everyone already gotten the joke? Can City of Angels romance the Titanic crowd into a big weekend? And will the weekend mark the coming end of the road for Lemmon, Matthau, Crystal and the Three Ninjas?
I’m going to stick my neck out (Way Out!) and predict a first place finish for City of Angels with around $15 million. For me, it’s the only “must see” of the weekend and I think Nic Cage‘s star is still on the rise. Species 2 comes in as a very close No. 2, with $14 million. I suspect about 55 percent of New Line’s box office will be Lost In Space, but the return of the Space Family Robinson is still strong enough to take third with $9.1 million. Titanic continues toward some form of mortality, with a 30 percent drop (after last weekend’s 24 percent drop) to $8.1 million and fourth place. And I think The Odd Couple II may have enough juice (Geritol, I guess) in the tank to take fifth with $7.5 million. I see the newcoming also-rans as The Players Club ($4.5 million), My Giant ($3 million) and 3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain ($1.8 million). And coincidentally, I expect Barney to stay in the Top 10 and for The Newton Boys, Good Will Hunting and The Man in the Iron Mask to exit the list.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY: are on vacation with me.
THE CONTEST: Click here to win cool Species 2 stuff in the new, easier to enter Hot Button Box Office Challenge. The competition is keen, the prizes don’t suck and your odds are getting worse each week as more of you join in, so now is the time to play!
JUST WONDERING: Disney has a seven-story billboard on Sunset Boulevard that changes on a regular basis. Right now, it has the beautiful poster image for Mulan. But does this mean Disney is conceding they have nothing worth promoting between now and mid-June? (Incidentally, Mulan will surely disappear minutes after the film premieres to pitch Armageddon.)
BAD AD WATCH: The Players Club opened on Wednesday with NO pull quotes. Not even from Ron Brewington. Here in Chicago (where I’m vacationing), the Tribune review says, “The Players Club is a whole lot better than the painful Demi Moore boondoggle Striptease. The bad news is, it’s still not very good.” There may be some good pull quotes in your Friday papers after this goes to print, but I’ll leave it to you whether no pull quotes is just good taste or a very, very bad sign.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Species 2 + SpiceWorld = SpeciesWorld. Five aliens from five different planets come to Earth looking to mate, but if they do, it will be the end of pop music as we know it on Earth. There’s Sporty Species (who kills by never showering after workouts), Ginger Species (who kills anyone who publishes old nudes of her that were taken before she came to earth), Scary Species (who scares racists to death because she arouses them even though they hate her species), Posh Species (who kills her career by never learning to act and sleeping with all of her co-stars) and Baby Species (who kills by sucking your thumb). With Michael Madsen as The Guy Who Talks Real Slow.
READER OF THE DAY: From Mary Hooper : “Now that all the ‘Party of Five,’ ‘Friends’ and Lost in Space Baby Boomers have seen the movie, what’s your best guess for the NEXT iceburg? Mercury Rising seems to have been more aptly named before release and will likely drop further this week. If both films should drop below $10 mil by next weekend, could Titanic beat the odds and float again?”

Scream Into Love

Kevin Williamson just did a deal to write a romantic comedy with the idea of deconstructing the genre the same way he did the horror genre in Scream. Early trailer dialogue: ” ‘Somebody loves love too much.’ (Gorgeous unknown 19-year-old actress in a push-up bra walks with a romance novel and falls into an open manhole.) ‘From the guy who made a horror hit that we can’t mention because Miramax might sue us, LOVE!’ (Matthew Broderick talks to a buddy.) ‘OK, so if I take a panther named Baby to her and tell her she reminds me of Katherine Hepburn, but without the shaking, she’ll fall into my arms?’ Friend retorts, ‘It wasn’t a panther, it was a leopard.’ Broderick, ‘No, I’m pretty sure it was a panther.’ Friend, ‘No, it was a leopard.’ Girl at next table looks up from her book, ‘It was a leopard.’ Matthew Broderick looks at her, ‘In the words, that uh, were, uh, used by Hugh Grant, uh, referring to the ‘Partridge Family’ in that clever way of his, but now we know that he’s really not romantic, but prefers oral sex with prostitutes on Sunset Boulevard, but the line still works, I think I love you.’ Annonuncer: ‘LOVE! whines into theaters next Valentine’s Day!’ ”
DREW LOVE: Drew Barrymore is pushing along with her producing career and, unlike a certain young actress whose name involves a precious metal and the eternal status of Cheech and Chong, Drew seems to have the right idea. The project is Never Been Kissed, which takes the former high school-geek Barrymore back to school. This movie is a natural that is undoubtedly a high school boy geek’s wet dream. Not because Drew might seduce a pocket protector pal (only rock stars, actors and uber-hip bar owners need apply), but because you can be sure she’s going to deflate the egos of the jock idiots that make life hell for the four-eyed nation.
THE BIG AIR BOAT: OK, so a sequel to Titanic is pretty much impossible. But Twister director Jan DeBont knows a good idea when he steals it. Twister pretty much riffed on Jurassic Park — all mind-blowing effects, minimal story. Now, it’s Hindenberg. The story is the story of the Hindenberg, which crashed in New Jersey in 1937, but with two fictional characters, an American Navy officer and a German documentarian who happens to be a fabulous babe. I guess we should expect Leni Riefenstahl to be up for the Gloria Stuart spot in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations in a couple of years.
JUST WONDERING: Did anyone else notice The Spice Girls concert on Showtime included their interpretation of that classic hit, “Generation Next?” I guess if Elvis were alive, he’d be ending each song with “Always Coca-Cola” instead of “Thank you very much.”
IT WAS ONLY A “;&$^%(*&@ING JOKE!: Rip Torn has a court judgement against Dennis Hopper to the tune of $475,000 because Hopper claimed on “The Tonight Show” that Torn lost the Jack Nicholson role in Easy Rider because he attacked Hopper with a knife. Hopper has backed off the story since, but apparently Torn can hold a grudge. Maybe Burt Reynolds can sue Stroker Ace director Hal Needham for talking him out of taking the Nicholson role in Terms of Endearment, which was as detrimental to Burt as losing Easy Rider was for Torn. But who will Nicholson sue for Wolf and Mars Attacks!?
STUCK IN THE WEB: Just as Harry Knowles was ready to start pre-production on Jim Cameron’s Spiderman, starring Leo DiCaprio and Gloria Stuart, the project is heading back to the courtroom. Marvel Comics, smelling the Cameron deal that the financially troubled comic book publisher has been anxious for, is suing MGM, Sony and Viacom (parent of Paramount) to regain exclusive rights to the character. That would mean Marvel could sell the rights to the highest bidder, which with Cameron interested would mean as much as $15 million upfront. In the meantime, with Spiderman and Terminator in rights’ battles, look for Cameron to make a less effects-oriented project (Planet of The Apes probably) his next “go” project. And don’t be too surprised if Cameron elects to co-finance the film with Fox with his $100 million Titanic check burning a hole in his pocket.
BOX OFFICE CHALLENGE: This week’s sponsor is MGM’s latest, Species 2. We tried to get you one of those really cool Natasha Henstridge babe/monster posters, but the regular-sized ones are all gone and the only stock MGM has are bus stop-sized ones that can’t be bent and weigh about 30 pounds. Cool, but too hard to ship. This week we also make the game easier to play by adding a little rough cut technology. Stop back tomorrow and you’ll be able to give your picks, read the rules and get ready to win Species II T-shirts and posters!
READER OF THE DAY: From Jim Mattes: “Cameron’s speech seemed more joyful than arrogant, and that makes all the difference. His career arc is just beginning, so there should be more Aliens to come. The only downside is that since the first Terminator and Aliens, Jim’s films have increasingly bloated in time and girth. I didn’t mind the excess 20 minutes or so in The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but the one hour dead-zone in True Lies was noticeable, as was the first hour-and-a-half of Titanic. Let’s hope this trend does not continue, while his skill as a filmmaker continues to increase as it has. Greater movies than this will Jim make, of that we might be sure. Then again, we might be wrong, so I shall wait and see.”

Ranting and Raving

$100 million. What would I do with $100 million? Jim Cameron has it, all in one check, and he deserves it. He earned it the old fashioned way. He made a $280 million movie and shocked everyone as it turned into an international phenomenon. That’s the way, boy! Anyway, back to me. If I had $100 million. Well, I’d probably make one of my own movies, but that would be cheap. Maybe a couple of million. I don’t write epics. Not interested.
So, I have $98 million left. Let’s see. I guess I would go and offer part of the money to Albert Brooks, some more to David Mamet and another $25 million or so to a dozen documentary filmmakers who really need it. I’d do anything to encourage Brooks to make more movies. Mamet is weird, but I think he’s an incredibly underrated director. And I love documentaries and hate that they are almost impossible to get made. Even worse, nobody shows the films in theaters, so I’d lay out a few million to buy my own revival house where I would run really good movies and really good movies only.
That leaves about $31 million in my account. Put that $1 million into an account for my nephews, nieces and godchildren to go to college. Better make that $2 million — one of them might want to go to a private university. That leaves $29 million. Better put $5 million aside for litigation. I don’t know what I did to earn this big check, but whatever it was, I’m sure some idiot will be suing me to get a part of it. Speaking of idiots, I should think about the IRS. Wait a minute! With $100 million, I’ll never have to pay taxes again! Suckers!
Okay, $24 million burning a hole in my pocket. Should I give it to the United Nations? Nah! Been done by someone. The name eludes me. Feed, clothe and shelter the homeless? A worthy idea. But how about this? What if I do the filmic version of these sidewalk newspapers that homeless people are selling all around America these days. I’ll turn homeless men into grips, gaffers and P.A.s. After all, those crew guys pretty much dress like homeless guys on the set anyway. Who would notice? A national below-the-line training program. Cool. Of course, I’ll need to set aside another $2 million to defend against the suit by the unions. And another $500,000 for bodyguards to keep me form getting killed in a mysterious accident.
That leaves about $20 million. I could make an IMAX film. Inside IMAX. Nope. I could buy an episode of “E.R.” Oops. Not enough cash. I could hire Sylvester Stallone to wash my car for a year, but he never vacuums the carpet in back. Forget it. I could buy the rights to Terminator 3 and make Jim Cameron‘s life hell for a few years. I could start dating Pamela Lee. We could remove all her tattoos and start again. I could start my own fabulous girl group, The Dave-ettes. They would all wear really snazzy clothes and sing well, so they would just lose all my money. Or I could get out of this crazy industry, move to Montana with a nice woman and have some kids, grow old in a healthy, loving environment and die at a ripe old age with children I could be proud of, a wife who loves me, real peace of mind and be buried on my own land.
What? And give up show business?
READER OF THE DAY: Timothy Kooney responded to the question about what was terrible about 1997: “[THE] LOST WORLD!!!!! Unlike Titanic, it was special effects with NO story, acting, plotting or anything else that would be considered part of the cinemagraphic arts. At least Titanic had a mediocre plot and somewhat interesting characters. Sadly, even the dinosaurs, though well done, did not break any new ground. I still break out in a cold sweat when I think about Michael Crichton and Jeff Goldblum getting paid ANY sum to embarrass their craft. Of course, Hollywood redeemed itself by granting the truly superior L.A. Confidential two Oscars. I’ve seen it three times and I think I will add a bit more to its box office while I can still catch it on the big screen.”

Spielberg and More

According to the New York Post, home of many publicists’ fantasies, comes the story that Ray Liotta, who plays Frank Sinatra in HBO’s “The Rat Pack,” received a model of a bloody horse’s head (like in The Godfather) with a note signed with Tina Sinatra‘s initials. It could be true or it could just be a stunt. Having had some dealings with her in an early life, Tina is one of the people I would least like ticked off at me for something I published, and she is not happy about “The Rat Pack.” Upcoming gifts to be sent to the movie set could include a box with Sammy Davis Jr.’s eye, Peter Lawford‘s fingerprint-laden/Marilyn Monroe-killing syringe and Joey Bishop‘s career.
MORE SPIELBERG: Last week, Steven Spielberg bought a novel on Charles Lindbergh. This week, he’s contemplating New Line’s project, The Notebook. It’s a Jeremy Leven (Don Juan DeMarco) script based on the Nicholas Sparks‘ bestseller in which a man reads his diary to his sick spouse. Sounds more kind of like a soft core porn movie found at 3 a.m. on HBO than a Spielberg movie. If you hear later that Steve’s signed Tom Hanks and Shannon Tweed, watch out.
SEYMORE BUTTS: For those of you who love Dennis Franz in “NYPD Blue,” he’ll be repeating one of his most infamous TV moments by showing his butt in the upcoming City of Angels. I was looking forward to the film until reading that. I mean, Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan (who gets a lot of words in tomorrow’s new The Whole Picture) and Andre Braugher, one of my favorite little-known actors on one hand. Semi-nude Franz on the other. Everybody else. Semi-nude Franz. OK, I’m still going to see the film, but I may avert my eyes.
ON THE MONEY TRAIN, AGAIN: After being reamed by Variety last week for reporting that Jim Cameron would get more than $100 million for Titanic from Fox and Paramount, The Hollywood Reporter reported Monday the deal was finally done on Friday. This, of course, is the second Fox story this month that was greeted with surprise by the trades when it happened. The other being the Star Wars deal. Yet every day both trades – and often The Hot Button – report news of deals that have yet to be signed. That is how this business works. Actors often don’t sign their real contracts until films are well into production or even after the films have wrapped. Who was it that said rumors were just facts that haven’t been confirmed yet? It’s not always true, but in the case of Cameron’s payday, it inevitably was.
ADVENTURES OF STUD BOY: Producer Tom Cruise has grabbed the English-language remake rights to the Spanish film, Open Your Eyes. The film is about an obsessive lover who gets back at the dumper after getting dumped. After being trained in obsessive love stories at the foot of director Stanley Kubrick, Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, have set a shooting schedule for the unscripted, uncast project for 17 months and 11 days.
JUST WONDERING: Anyone out there excited about The Players Club, The Big One, City of Angels or Species II?
FROM BIG SCREEN TO SMALL: Has Helen Hunt‘s Oscar helped open the door to TV for movie actors? Well, this year’s pilot season offers Nathan Lane, Samantha Mathis, Lori Petty, Julie Hagerty and Joan Plowright, plus Madchen Amick and Malcolm McDowell on the brand new “Fantasy Island.” The countdown to the Sharon Stone sitcom begins now. Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese is joining Barry Levinson as a TV executive producer, making a deal with ABC that includes a 13-episode commitment to a new series from novelist Nicholas Pileggi whose Wiseguys was turned into Goodfellas. Not a sitcom. And finally, TNT has increased its schedule of original films from eight to 13 for next year, filling the place of the lost NFL package. So the odds have increased significantly for “Dave: Portrait of An Obnoxious Columnist,” starring Meeno Peluce as the young Dave, Antonio Sabato, Jr. as the vain and egomaniacal current Dave and Robert Foster as the older/still-hasn’t-happened-yet Dave.
HER TWO CENTS: Every time you buy a Heather Graham doll from Lost In Space (OK, I guess it’s a Judy Robinson doll) Heather gets two cents from every dollar you spend. Heather’s Rollergirl doll from Boogie Nights gets $200 an hour and if you try and remove her head, she kicks you in the groin with her skates over and over again, screaming “You can’t disrespect me!”
AND HIS GOOD SENSE: Lost In Space director Stephen Hopkins and the LIS crew is already signed for the sequel, but Hopkins is already saying publicly that he isn’t “sure if [he] did a good job or not.” Reviews of Hopkins directing accomplishment are mixed, but he was smart enough not to say publicly what every man watching the movie was thinking, which was, “Who cares about his career as a director? He got Heather Graham in bed!”
READER OF THE DAY: From killcows: “I have discovered THE REAL TRUTH about Hollywood . THERE IS NO HOLLYWOOD. It’s just a big set built underground in L.A. where all the REAL sleaze hang out and have sex, push drugs and kill each other. All movies are actually chronicles of life on other planets that were discovered by the U.S. government in the 1890s, when the real first trip to the moon occurred. AND ALL HOLLYWOOD STARS ARE REALLY ALIENS AND ARE REALLY GAY. That explains everything.”

Weekend Wrap-Up

I’m not sure where you can get a RealAudio version of “Taps” on the Internet, but if you know where to find it, play it now. Titanic is dead. Long live Titanic. On the other hand, Jonathan Harris is alive, but nowhere to be found in the new version of Lost In Space. That didn’t stop the film from grabbing the top slot this weekend with more than ($500,000 more than) $20 million. (In space, nobody can hear you tell a story, but most of the effects are cool.) Titanic took its deepest drop yet, losing 24 percent to fall to $11.6 million. No one, not even a single box office contestant, expected this kind of drop. It’s a moderate, if not encouraging drop for any other movie in its second week, much less its 16th week, but Titanic still showed spunk, fighting off Mercury Rising for second after falling behind the Bruce and Baldwin offering by $340,000 on Friday. Mercury wouldn’t be Rising any higher than third with $10.8 million. But back to dropping classics, Grease fell off by about 57 percent this weekend. I think that means that “old” or “over” is the word. Primary Colors was not relieved by the dismissal of Paula Jones‘ lawsuit, dropping 33 percent to $4.7 million. The only other newcomer of note was Barney’s Great Adventure, which took 12th place, registering $2.2 million on 540 screens, which would make Barney’s $4,074 per screen higher than any of the Top 10 except Lost In Space and Mercury Rising (including Titanic) despite almost no evening playdates. (I’d like the police to check out anyone at a 10 p.m. showing of Barney). For those of you who got sucked into the My Giant trap I set on Friday, sorry. Oddly, no one wrote in that they were upset they wouldn’t be able to see the film until next Friday.
THE GOOD: Limited engagements of Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy will soon expand so that everyone can check this film out. Well, not everyone. The film is about a boy, but it is definitely not for kids. As you sit there laughing, every once in a while the urge to start crying hits you because what’s happening on-screen is actually very sad, but the characters just keep going, just like real life. Just like real art. Neil Jordan belongs in the Pantheon of great directors.
THE BAD: There’s a new ad for Good Will Hunting with Matt, Ben and Robin holding up their Academy Awards. All they need is a little cartoon bubble saying, “We’re the kings of the world!” Ever hear of backlash, Mr. Weinstein?
THE UGLY: Just caught the first ad for 3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain. The above-the-title talent is Hulk Hogan, Loni Anderson and Jim Varney. And Hulk Hogan is the one with his chest featured in the ad. Am I really seeing this? Is this just a bad dream? I’ve got to stop listening to Celine Dion before I go to sleep.
THE CONTEST: No one got in trouble for putting My Giant in their Top Five, but a bunch of you managed to get past the hurdle of picking the Top Five correctly. Four of you were within $1 million of the total for those five films. Jeff Ketcham was only $100,000 away. Like everyone else, he overestimated Titanic (by $2.4 million), but he made up for that by underestimating Lost In Space (by $2.5 million). He was within a million on the other three films. The other prize winners are Alex (just off by $200,000), Usman Javaid (off by $900,000) and Eric M. Jones (off by $1 million even). I need addresses, guys! (P.S. You would be welcome to the 54 T-shirt instead of Lost In Space stuff, Marc, but you have to win first!) We’re working on next week’s prize. I’ll let you know what it is later this week.
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: Dangerous Beauty + Grease = A Series of Dirty Jokes So Obvious I Don’t Even Have To Write Them, Do I?
JUST WONDERING: Is the guy from Milli Vanilli really dead or is he just pretending to be dead for someone else?
BAD AD WATCH: As much as I appreciate New Line’s generosity in sponsoring this week’s box office contest, any movie that offers pull quotes from Ron Brewington, Bonnie Churchill and someone named Bill Zwecker from NBC-TV, Chicago (you know, the town were Siskel & Ebert keep their thumbs to themselves for Lost In Space) is asking to take this slot. Welcome, Lost In Space.
READER OF THE DAY: From Krillian: “There were only three things I hated about the movie: 1. Matt LeBlanc is a bad actor. Don West was Joey in space. 2. That fake-looking monkey-Noid CGI cutesy toy-waiting-to-happen Blawp. 3. The ending had no regard for any law ever given in science or physics. Other than that, I was entertained, enthralled, excited and found many new reasons to worship Gary Oldman. And it had a kick-butt Godzilla preview.”
From Donner: “Ugh….Was bored most of the time, the writing was weak, the acting even weaker. I could go on and on, but it would just be repetitious, so I’ll spare you. All I can say is, I’m glad I saw it at a matinee price…”.
And LynnKC on Mercury Rising: “I just wish Bruce Willis would not try to act. His attempt at sentimentality was completely false. And Alec Baldwin should calm down. All he does is yell. The kid was pretty good. The movie lacked intensity since the whole movie was shown in the preview.”

News By The Numbers

10. Oldies But Goodies: I complain a lot that there aren’t enough revival houses here in L.A., much less around the country. Here’s the chance to make up for that. To celebrate their 75th anniversary, Warner Bros. is sponsoring week-long, big-screen showings of their 33 best films. The tour will start in the big cities, but the WB promises it will get to a ‘burb near you. My suggested tag for the ads? “See, we aren’t really as bad as 1997 made us look!”
9. Bobby’s Back: Robert Downey Jr. was released from jail this week after serving his time, which was increased by three days to make up for his filming days and reduced by 69 days for good behavior. There are hundreds in the industry and probably millions in the real world hoping he won’t be returning to the land of impaired judgment. I’m one of them, but I’m also very cynical about the likelihood of that happening. And the whole world is watching.
8. Drudge Goes Knowles: I guess Matt Drudge needs to find new territory now that the Paula Jones lawsuit has been thrown out of court. On Thursday night, he treaded on Harry Knowles‘ well-trodden turf by leaking some reaction to a screening of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, including some details about the plot itself. They didn’t like it. They really, really didn’t like it. Now, I will be on the look out for Harry’s “spies” to break the next presidential scandal.
7. Err Or Air?: Steven Spielberg has purchased the rights to a yet-to-be-published biography of Charles Lindburgh. This will be Spielberg’s fourth heavily-airborne film. The previous three? 1941, Always and Empire of the Sun. Be afraid, Steven. Be very afraid.
6. Reversal of the Week: The trades were running a story a few days ago that major female stars were being thrown out of the running for the female lead slot for the John Travolta flick, The General’s Daughter, so his wife, Kelly Preston, could take the role. Now, Variety is reporting that she has passed on the role. Another case of superstaris whiplashis.
5. The House Of Oscar: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has always had a hard time making up its mind. Should the Oscars be held at the Shrine Auditorium or the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion? And the winner is (drumroll please!) Hollywood Boulevard! Yes, starting in 2001, the Academy Awards will grace the street where tourists are torn between the footprints at Mann’s Chinese and Madonna’s underwear at Frederick’s of Hollywood Bra Museum. Classy place! The Oscars will have a permanent home in a theater that hasn’t been built yet, right near Mann’s. And good news! The subway may be ready by then, so nominees will be easily shuttled in and out since no one else in L.A. will be using mass transit in Hollywood at night.
4. Actors Need Not Apply: Universal is prepping a completely computer generated version of Frankenstein, but it’s not a cartoon. They want it to be like a regular feature length movie. I think that they’re about five years too early, but here’s a wish of good luck. You’ll need it.
3. A Price Before Rubes: Seagram chief CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr., relatively new owner of Universal Studios, told a media conference that the film industry should charge more for big-ticket movies. And of course, the rest of the industry should follow his lead. After all, Universal is next to last amongst majors in box office this year, with only Fox behind them. That’s Fox, which has released only three films (Firestorm, Great Expectations and The Newton Boys) all year as not to get hit by the wake of their co-production, Titanic. And look how Titanic has suffered for its pricing policy! As Jack might say to Edgar, “Sell crazy elsewhere. Hollywood’s already full up.”
2. Goodbye to Tri: Tri-Star Pictures will soon be no more. In with The Natural, out with Godzilla, you proved one thing for sure. Three heads aren’t better than one. Three corporations means 2,743 opinions.
1. Beware the Force of The Force: 20th Century Fox has finally announced they have secured the rights to distribute George Lucas‘ next three Star Wars‘ films. And perhaps even more significantly, the studio has taken the television rights to the most powerful sextuple-feature in any galaxy, even those far, far away. So, here is my question. With those TV rights worth at least $200 million, do you think Lucas, who financed the three films-to-come himself, is giving Fox those rights and distribution expenses alone as their profit for distributing the films? Is he even giving them that much?
READER OF THE DAY: From Larry D: “Of the 137 or so [Tri-Star] movies listed in the IMBD [Dave Note: Tri-Star claims more than 200 on the record], I have seen about 90 of them. The one that sticks out the most is The Hitcher with C. Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Lee. It was just about the scariest movie I had ever seen.”
From Brendon H: “Without a doubt, Short Circuit. The genius of Steve Guttenberg coupled with fine, overlooked supporting work by Fisher Stevens and G.W. Bailey. Number 5 is still alive!!!! (Of course this also happens to be the only Tri-Star film I can remember on my own).”

Weekend Preview

Can the Space Family Robinson be the ones to overtake Titanic? I’m getting mixed signals from all over the place. There are people who think Mercury Rising is the movie to beat this weekend. I don’t see it. I’ve yet to hear a single person point out how much they loved the trailer or that they were even aware the film was coming out this weekend. On the other hand, I’ve spoken to people with access to tracking who say they don’t expect much from Lost In Space. With Titanic likely to drop under $15 million for the first time, I’m banking on Lost In Space to generate at least $16 million, maybe as much as $20 million, to win the weekend. Titanic should do enough for second place, with Grease sliding into third with about $9 million. Mercury Rising should accelerate on star power alone to gross about $8 million, with My Giant opening to a weak $5.5 million, enough to take fifth place over the quickly falling Primary Colors ($4.8 million). The Man in the Iron Mask looks like a seventh place finisher with about $4.7 million, followed by Barney’s Great Adventure, which may draw enough kids to hit the $4 million mark. The rest of the Top 10 should have Wild Things just over Oscar winners As Good As It Gets and Good Will Hunting.
THE GOOD: As Good Will Hunting and As Good As It Gets make their likely last appearances on the Top 10, we know they’ll both be leaving with over $125 million in domestic ticket sales. Love or hate the players involved, that’s a good sign. The theory that Cameron is a threat or that his films won’t be made is bull. You make money, you make movies. Always. And low-budget foreign flicks like The Full Monty will continue to be made. It’s the films that are just good old-fashioned storytelling that are the true endangered species. If these two films can break $100 million, more will be made. Hooray.
THE BAD: Grease, Primary Colors, Wild Things, The Big Lebowski, The Apostle and even bad films from quality filmmakers like The Newton Boys, Twilight, The Borrowers and Dark City are going underseen, even by true film fanatics. October will be a fun month at the video store.
THE UGLY: From Manohla DargisLA Weekly review of The Newton Boys: “In his true-life film about four brothers who robbed banks out West during the late teens and early ’20s, Richard Linklater seems to achieve the impossible: He makes Ethan Hawke bearable.” That’s gotta hurt!
THE CONTEST: Pick the Top Five. Include the grosses you project for each. And add in your guesses on how the other new films that won’t hit the Top 10 will fare. (The four newcomers are Lost In Space, Mercury Rising, My Giant and Barney’s Great Adventure.) That’s all you have to do. If you guess best, you win the New Line Lost In Space prize package. And if you make the Top Five, New Line will send you your very own Lost In Space cap or CD. Cool, huh? And if you click on the link below, you can sign up for even more cool free stuff from New Line that you can pick up at a theater near you this weekend. Let the games commence!
TWO BAD MOVIES EQUAL: From Universal and Imagine Entertainment, “Somebody Sings Too Much!” Barney’s Great Adventure + Mercury Rising = Barney Rising. Sales of M&M/Mars, Nestle and Hershey products drop when the teeth of America’s children start rotting with unprecedented speed. But it’s not the candy. It’s Barney and that stupid song! After Baby Bop is found dead with a bullet through its head, Bruce Willis takes Barney into protective custody under orders from Demi and their Barney-loving youngest daughter, Tiramisu. But Alec Baldwin is on their trail, desperate to keep his newborn from being infected by dino-mania. Who will die? Who will survive? Who cares? Heather Graham is buck-naked and spray-painted green and purple in her cameo as Baby Bop! Whether of nursing age or pre-teen, the kids will love it!
JUST WONDERING: Why do studios insist on coming up with names that mean absolutely nothing, like Mercury Rising? It takes Universal more time to explain the name in the ads then to explain the storyline. Not good.
BAD AD WATCH: The limited release Ken Branagh/Madeleine Stowe film The Proposition boasts pull quotes from National News Syndicate, Drama-Logue and the latest greatest, Hollywood Bytes.
READER OF THE DAY: From Annie Larsen: “We have odd standards in Rochester, Minnesota. The films that do great? The Flintstones, Dumb & Dumber, and, of course, Titanic. The ones we never see? The Full Monty, Il Postino, etc. We have three major theaters plus a $1.50 theater. One has tiny theaters so they can boast two showings of Titanic. Another has huge theaters that I’ve only seen filled when Home Alone was playing. And our mall has four screens and typically shows Van Damme and remakes-of-TV-shows-that-should-never-have-been-remade-into-movies fare. That’s the theater experience in Rochester, Minnesota. We may not see any of the Oscar contenders until after they’re released on video, but we know who’s starring in the new remake of ‘The Partridge Family.’ “

The Urge To Merge

Sony Pictures Entertainment, whose two divisions Columbia and Tri-Star have long been referred to simply as Sony in this column, are devolving into one studio — Columbia Pictures. This puts the studio in line with Warner Bros., a division of Time-Warner Co., 20th Century Fox, a division of News Corp., Universal, a division of Seagrams, and Paramount, a division of Viacom. Only Disney stands as the parent company of their mega-corp. The spin on the “merger” is that the move will boost film production. The reality is there is no value to branding two names under one corporate parent, unless like Disney, there is a significant difference in the labels. (Touchstone for adults, Disney for kids, Hollywood for big budget films.) In Sony’s case, Columbia stood as the venerable studio, making smaller quality films (using 1991 as an example — Boyz N the Hood, The Fisher King and The Prince of Tides) while the Tri-Star arm was making the big movies (1991’s Hook and the pick-up of Carolco Pictures’ Terminator 2). But with both studios making both kinds of films last year (Which company did Men in Black and which did Starship Troopers? Which label released The Devil’s Own, Booty Call and Anaconda?), the process of branding two names, while trying to coordinate release dates, marketing and competition for product between the two sets of studios execs finally became silly.
A FAREWELL TO TRI-STAR: The first new studio to be considered a major right out of the box was created a little over 15 years ago by the troika of Columbia Pictures, Home Box Office and CBS-TV. Tri-Star, get it? The deal made a permanent infrastructure for what was standard operating procedure. Make the movie, sell it to cable, sell it to TV. For cable king HBO, it was a way of solidifying their position by assuring exclusivity, kind of like Fox TV overpaying for the NFL to legitimize its status as a network. (Ironically, Sony is now the only studio not to own a cable distribution outlet.) The party started out with a bang in 1984 with the now-classic The Natural. Unfortunately, the box office wasn’t as overwhelming as the Randy Newman score. Neither were numbers for the other Tri-Star products of 1984 — Supergirl, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Birdy, Places in the Heart and Runaway. By 1989, the partners were gone and Sony had complete control of the label. But all was not well, as five studio heads shuffled in and out before current chieftan Chris Lee took the reins 18 months ago for uberboss John Calley. In the end, Tri-Star was a victim of its own success. Not just in putting out hit movies that would probably serve Sony’s ultimate goals better as Columbia brands, but in hiring Lee, who fits Calley’s ideal for a studio chief. Amy Pascal, chief at Columbia, fits the Calley vision too, leaving little difference between the two divisions and uncomfortable inter-squad competition. After 200 films, Tri-Star joins the ranks of RKO, Selznick International and, for all intents and purposes, MGM and United Artists as former majors with names that are part of our cable and video memories alone.
JUST WONDERING: Sony’s retirement of Tri-Star brings up one of the more popular questions in town this week. How long before someone buys the Tri-Star name as the foundation of their own new studio? With no library (at least not one Sony will ever give up), how much is a name worth? My guess is that we’ll know before the millennium.
MORE SONY: The monster that is Godzilla, a Tri-Star Picture, is looking like a monster for exhibitors too. Since Jurassic Park, a 90/10 percent split of opening weekend grosses for mega-movies has become almost standard. But that pro-studio split always included theater overhead, which brought the actual split down to about 70/30. Sony is asking for a flat 80 percent for Godzilla in major markets. And suddenly, the positive buzz Godzilla got at ShoWest is turning. Variety quotes one exhibitor as saying, “It looked campy. We didn’t see the emotional hooks that ID4 had.” I can tell you the emotional hook in the early ID4 footage was made up of the dog jumping out of harm’s way in the tunnel, though the criticism is not completely faulty. I love Matthew Broderick, but he’s not Will Smith and there’s no Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch or Harvey Fierstein for audiences to identify with in the footage that’s been shown to date. Sony may be playing its cards too close to the vest as they try to keep the monster under wraps until the May 20 release date. Exhibitors won’t see the completed film until late April and toy manufacturers are already upset that they won’t be allowed to sell any Godzilla toys until the film actually hits theaters.
CONTEST COMING: Tomorrow, the box office contest is sponsored by New Line’s Lost In Space. You may love the film or hate the film, but the stuff will be fun either way, so put on your box office thinking caps now.
READER OF THE DAY: From Erin: “In all of your Postman madness Tuesday, you didn’t mention Larenz Tate for the role of Linc in The Mod Squad? What gives? Personally, I’d rather see Harold Perrineau in the role. Oh well. They signed Omar Epps, the next best thing.”

Rants and Raves for April Fools

I just have to get this off my chest. The weight of these insights has simply been too much for my soul. And I like to do this kind of thing at the beginning of a new month. It clears the palette.
Sources at Paramount and 20th Century Fox admitted to me last night that they will lose hundreds of millions on Titanic. As it turns out, the entire $1 billion-plus box office story was a hoax financed by Universal Studios, which was angling to get James Cameron to convince Arnold Schwarzenegger to make Junior II for the studio. In actuality, Titanic has grossed $3,797.25. The studio executives who, after being plied by a round of crème de menthe shooters openly blamed former Warner Bros. marketing guy Chris Pula for the idea, also admitted rigging the Academy Awards®, intentionally leaving Leo out of the studio-controlled nominations because, to quote one deeply placed source, “That punk is getting all the chicks. Even the hookers I pay for can’t concentrate when Leo is on the lot!” As for the Gloria Stuart loss, the same exec said, “Cameron actually decapitated Gloria by mistake during the shoot in Mexico. We were able to cover the flaw digitally until now, but we had a scare when the digitally created Fay Wray malfunctioned early in the show and so we went with the animatronic Kim Basinger instead.” I stated my disbelief, but then he convinced me of the truth of all this by adding, “What? You didn’t actually believe a real woman could look like that, did you?”
I think it’s terrible that As Good as It Gets co-writer-director Jim Brooks is trying to get the studio to make the hit film into a TV series that would be a kind of prequel. Christian Slater would take over the Jack Nicholson role in Before It Got Good, to premiere on the newly forming Sony/Disney/Viacom/Warner Bros. World Domination Network next fall. The Helen Hunt role in the series would be an aspiring 15-year-old waitress whose mother keeps getting her to “go out,” leading to the second season story line that has her getting knocked up by an asthmatic drunken sailor. She’ll be played by Anna Paquin. The Greg Kinnear role, ironically, will be played by Rosie O’Donnell, the mediocre movie star turned major TV star. This, of course, will follow the character before his sex change and will allow O’Donnell to sing show tunes in every episode.
Studios are fighting over a spec project that has already attached Jennifer Lopez, Angela Bassett, Eddie Murphy, Gregory Hines, Whitney Houston, Denzel Washington, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Graham Greene, Edward James Olmos and Damon, Marlon, Keenen Ivory and Kim Wayans in a project to be co-directed by Forest Whitaker and Bill Duke called We’ve Made All The Movies With Ethnic People That We’re Going To Be Making This Year So Go Protest Somewhere Else: The Movie. Word is, the studio that eventually gets the project will replace Eddie Murphy with Matthew McConaughey to add some star power.
Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin and Paul Verhoeven have teamed up to make a mega-budget effects extravaganza/hard-core pornographic remake of The Full Monty called The Full Monty 2000. Apparently, while rehearsing for the big strip act, the boys were exposed to some gamma radiation that made their genitals grow to the size of office buildings when let loose on the unsuspecting crowd. When the penises cross the ocean to destroy New York, Will Smith and a 5-foot-tall, spunky black woman with a name that ends in a vowel helps him save the world. The studio has already passed on Jada Pinkett Smith for the woman’s role claiming that she has no chemistry with Smith.
Finally, I saw Leo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Richard Gere, Eddie Murphy and Brad Pitt buck naked in a local park last week, playing on the jungle gym. They were accompanied by two transvestite hookers, three prominent supermodels (who are also secretly lesbians) and a gerbil. I shot the entire thing on video and it was going to be released on the ‘Net for $17.95 a viewing, but Pamela Anderson is suing to stop it since she didn’t get to have sex on the tape with anyone except for the gerbil, which explains the new rodent tattoo she is sporting on the lower northeastern quadrant of the right side of the her bionically enhanced left breast.
Reader Of The Day: Burt R. writes: “I want my Academy Award® or I’m gonna kill this hairpiece. I swear! Don’t push me! I want an Oscar in a brown paper bag along with that video of Loni having sex with Prince that I left in the guest house. Do you know how much that’s worth now? And I want someone to take me as seriously as I take myself! And I want someone to beat up Barbara Walters for asking about my bald spot. Everyone knows my hair is as real as my smile. Signed, Anonymous.”

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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