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New York Post Blogs

May 10, 2007

Feds Help Harvey Hype 'Sicko'

Looks like the high-powered spin doctors that Harvey Weinstein just hired to work on the Michael Moore documentary "Sicko'' already have the clueless feds doing their work for them. The AP is reporting today that Moore is under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department for taking ailing 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba as a stunt for the new film, which will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19 and is set to open in the U.S. on June 29. In a publicity windfall for "Sicko,'' the feds are looking into a possible violation of our longtime trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba. One of the film's producers told the AP: "The efforts of the Bush Administration to conduct a politically motivated investigation of Michael Moore and 'Sicko' will not stop us from making sure the American people see this film.'' A "person working on the release of the film'' -- possibly newly signed spin doctors Ken Sunshine and Chris Lehane, who are no doubt high-fiving each other on this lucky break -- told the AP that after he received a letter from the feds, Moore arranged to place a copy of "Sicko,'' an expose of the U.S. health care system, in a "safe house'' outside the country. The Weinsteins will really hit the P.R. jackpot if the feds revoke Moore's U.S. passport, since we're sure he could get one from his friends in Canada, or possibly Cuba, to visit Cannes. No doubt he and Harvey have already arranged for visas with that worker's paradise so they can avail themselves of its excellent socialist health care system if either needs heart-bypass surgery in the future.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 12:13 PM | Comments (3)

Just My Luck -- Not!

You'll have to wait another day for Kyle's acid-dipped official verdict on "Georgia Rule,'' but the signs are not encouraging for the Garry Marshall-directed chick flick, whos reviews are currently running 23 percent positive at Rotten Tomatoes. The AP's Christie Lemire dubs it Lindsay Lohan's "Gigli,'' while Glenn Kenny over at Premiere.com writes: "...if there was ever a film project that deserved sabotaging, this is it.'' Glenn (lets hope for his sake he doesn't go to work for Glenda Bailey at Glamour) is referring to a sternly-worded note from a studio exec -- warning La Lohan that her endless hard partying was holding up this troubled production and threatening legal action -- that was leaked to the press. Today in Pulse, the ascerbic Reed Tucker surveys the wreckage of La Lohan's downwardly spiraling career. Meanwhile, Gitesh Pandya at Box Office Guru predicts "Georgia Rule,'' also starring Jane Fonda and Felicity Huffman will battle for second place this weekend with the horror sequel "28 Weeks Later,'' with about $13 million apiece, about 20 percent of what leader "Spider-Man 3'' is expected to do. "Delta Farce,'' a Larry the Cable Guy spoof that isn't good enough to be screened in advance for critics, is pegged for $4 million. Bringing up the rear among new wide releases, with Gitesh expecting a pitiful $3 million, is the Weinsteins' latest atrocity released through MGM, "The Ex'' (nee "Fast Track'') starring Zach Braff, whose own film career certainly doesn't seem to be on any kind of fast track. I can't figure out for the life of me why they bothered screening that one, though Jeffrey Lyons did laugh at the showing I attended and told me afterwards he always enjoys watching Amanda Peet.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

Sounds of Silents

This has been a great season in New York for seeing silent movies with live musical performance. Two of the more noteworthy offerings at the Tribeca Film festival were the U.S. premiere of "Passio'' with a live ensemble at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the New York bow of "Rebirth of a Nation,'' an inventive deconstructuction of the racist classic "Birth of a Nation'' by hip hop artist D.J. Spooky. Through next Thursday at the Village East, you can see Guy Maddin's wonderful new silent melodrama "Brand Upon the Brain!'' which I reviewed yesterday, accompanied by not only an orchestra but a live narrator and a live-sound effects crew. But you'll have to move fast to book the most incredible film/live action presentation I've ever seen. "El Automovil Gris'' ("The Grey Automobile''), which I saw in 2003 at the North Carolina Museum of the Arts with my daughter Xan, is an edited version of a 1919 Mexican serial based on the exploits of a real-life gang. It's accompanied not only by a piano but by three narrators who simultaneously describe the action in English, Spanish and Japanese, as well as acting each scene out in the tradition of the Japanese Benshi. There are also antic subtitles devised by Claudio Valdes-Kuri, an avant-garde Mexican stage director who devised this overwhelming spectacle, a commentary on the difficulty of multi-lingual communication, which has been touring internationally for years. "El Automovil Gris'' will be presented one time only Friday night at the Quad as the opening-night attraction in a series of 11 Spanish-language films curated by David Bowie as part of his exciting, brand-new High Line Festival. Don't miss it.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

Toronto Opener

The summer movie season has scarcely begun, and we're already talking about the opening-night film at the Toronto Film Festival, which kicks off the fall movie season on September 6. This year it's Jeremy Podewswa's Canadian drama "Fugitive Pieces,'' described as "a powerful, poetic and emotionally charged drama about love, loss and redemption.'' Based on a novel by Ann Michaels, it's about a child (Robert Kaye, pictured with Rade Sherbedia) who escapes World War II Poland for Greece before finally coming of age in Canada. The cast also includes Stephen Dillane and Rosamund Pike. It's the tenth festival opener (going back to "In Praise of Older Women'' in the festival's second year, 1978) for Hungarian-born Robert Lantos, who has long been one of Canada's leading film producers. Interesting unanswered question: will Warners' recent decision to ban advance screens in Canada (where bringing a camcorder into theaters is not illegal, thus encouraging piracy) include the Toronto Festival? The long-on-the-shelf Brad Pitt Jesse James movie was rumored to be angling for a Toronto slot before this development.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

What Becomes A Legend Most

The other day I spoke with Gretchen Wayne, the widow of John Wayne's oldest son Michael, about the Duke 100th birthday on May 26, as well as Katharine Hepburn's this Saturday. A few of her comments found their way into a chart I did on these two legends for today's Post. One link between the two stars that didn't fit in the chart: Howard Hughes, who was Hepburn's lover for a time and loaned her the money to buy the movie rights to "The Philadelphia Story,'' produced a couple of Wayne's movies, most notoriously "The Conqueror.'' That's the one that was filmed downwind of a nuclear test site; most of the cast and crew, including Wayne, eventually died of cancer. Both were considered virtually unemployable at one point, Wayne after the failure of his first starring vehicle, "The Big Trail,'' and Hepburn after "Bringing Up Baby'' tanked. Then there's the Humphrey Bogart connection. Hepburn of course worked with Bogie on "The African Queen'' (mysteriously still unavailable on DVD; Paramount apparently owns the rights) while Wayne co-starred with Bogie's wife Lauren Bacall a couple of years later in "Blood Alley.''

The latter was a production of Wayne's production company, initially called Wayne-Fellows and long known as Batjac. Gretchen Wayne is the president of Batjac and has been vigilantly shepherding the movies still owned by the family onto DVD. I noted that the entire catalogue was finally represented with Warner Home Video's release of "Big Jim McLain'' (called "Marijuana'' in this Italian poster because of a brief reefer scene) on May 22. She added that she had noticed in Dave Kehr's superb DVD column in the New York Times that MGM had, purely coincidentally, just released Frank Borzage's "China Doll,'' one of the earliest Batjac productions, starring Victor Mature and Gene Tierney, which is not owned by the family.

Ms. Wayne is not thrilled that Paramount, which released spectacular DVD restorations of "The High and the Mighty'' and other long-unavailable titles owned by the family, has decided to re-license its Wayne titles originally released by Republic Picture to Lionsgate. That studio marked the centennial the other day by repackaging old transfers of classics like "The Quiet Man'' that Ms. Wayne considers less than state of the art. "I don't think it's fair to the fans,'' she said.

Ms. Wayne attributes her father-in-law's enduring popularity -- he was the No. 3 star in a recent Harris Poll, behind Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington -- to the fact "you always knew what you were getting at a John Wayne movie. You're not going to be embarrassed.'' One of her favorites is Otto Preminger's "In Harm's Way,'' in which a cigarette suggests a post-coital moment between the Duke and Patricia Neal.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 06:00 AM | Comments (2)

May 09, 2007

'Sicko' Express

The Weinsteins, who have denied rumors they're having cash-flow problems, will rush Michael Moore's "Sicko'' into theaters on June 29, just six weeks after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. This expose of the American heath-care system -- which The Post exclusively reported includes footage of ailing 9/11 responders the filmmaker flew to Cuba for treatment -- will be going up against such July 4th weekend offerings as the much-hyped "Die Hard: Live Free or Die'' with Bruce Willis and the latest Pixar blockbuster, "Ratatouille.'' Somehow we don't think the Weinsteins and their distributor on "Sicko,'' Lionsgate, have managed to set up a tie-in with McDonalds on this one.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 09:03 AM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2007

Costner Channels John Barrymore

Kevin Costner has signed to star in "Swing Vote,'' which Variety reports today is about "a single father thrust into the national spotlight when the presidential election comes down to his vote.'' The screenplay is attributed to director Joshua Michael Stern and Jason Richman, but it sure sounds like a remake of a Golden Age flick to us. Any movie buff worth his salt will note this more than resembles Garson Kanin's famous sleeper "The Great Man Votes.'' In that 1939 comedy, John Barrymore plays a single father who discovers he holds the deciding vote in a mayoral election and suddenly becomes a VIP. No word yet on whether Costner's character, like Barrymore's, has a drinking problem. But we're sure lawyers for RKO Pictures, which apparently holds the story rights to "The Great Man Votes,'' will be looking into this, along with lawyers for the descendants of the original writers, John Twist and Gordon Malherbe Hillman.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2007

Will Bart Dump Variety's Crix?

Are Variety's film critics afraid of losing their jobs? Back in March, the trade journal's blowhard editor, Peter Bart, published a screed suggesting that reviewers who didn't appreciate the artistry of hits like "300'' and "Ghost Rider'' had better start looking for another line of work. Last week, Bart was banging the same ashcan and again sucking up to aggrieved studio bosses. A few days after the paper's film critic, Todd McCarthy, lambasted hit-to-be "Spider-Man 3,'' the the "Pushy Question'' feature on Variety's website asked: "Are film critics really needed anymore ...or is it a washed-up profession?'' Among those responding to the question was an anonymous "Variety staffer,'' who left this lengthy post:

Continue reading "Will Bart Dump Variety's Crix?"

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 06:30 PM | Comments (2)

Happy 'Waitress'

Murdered filmmaker/actress Adrienne Shelly (center, with Kerri Russell and Cheryl Hines) would surely be delighted that her third and last film, "Waitress,'' managed the second-best per-screen average this weekend this weekend -- $22,875 on four screens compared to $34,807 for "Spider-Man,'' which swallowed up close to 11,000 screens in North America. Considering it's about a woman suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, actress Sarah Polley's wonderful "Away From Her'' with early Oscar favorite Julie Christie, averaged a very healthy $14,000 per screen, also at four locations. The worst per-screen average among openers was Curtis Hanson's long-jinxed gambling dramedy "Lucky You'' with Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore. It averaged a pitiful $996 at 2,525 theaters, which means that at many locations, not only will the theaters get to keep all the receipts, but Warners will have to chip in additional money to cover operating expenses. As Variety notes today, this may not augur well for the "counter-programming'' being thrown against week two of Spidey this weekend, like "Georgia Rules'' with Lindsay Lohan, "The Ex'' with Zach Braff, and the horror sequel "28 Weeks Later,'' as well as other less-expensive wide releases that will go up against what is probably the heaviest lineup of megabucks franchises in Hollywood history.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2007

Yo Ho No! Spidey's $148M Weekend Forces 'Pirates' to Walk the Plank

It's not going to be easy for Captain Jack Sparrow to pirate back the box-office records he was forced to surrender to Spidey this weekend, but you can be sure the folks at Disney are working overtime right now to try and make this happen. Spidey delivered an astounding estimated $148 milllion domestic gross this weekend, far surpassing the $135.6 million high-water mark set by the second "Pirates of the Carribean'' last year, as well as Spidey swiping the one-day crown from Captain Jack on Friday with a $59 million gross. Disney's marketers have several problems to overcome in topping this, including far more competition than Spidey faced -- and widespread dissatisfaction with the second Pirates compared with the second Spidey.

By far the biggest obstacle is that "At World's End'' reportedly carries a butt-numbing 170-minute running time, which is 30 minutes longer than the overlong "Spider-Man 3.'' That means only one evening show in most theaters, so to avoid turning away customers to rival attractions, the Mouse House will have to try and substantially bust the record "Spidey 3'' set for the number of screens -- something like 11,000 (about a third of those available in North America) at 4,252 locations. Which is going to be harder to do on May 25, when Spidey and "Shrek 2'' are still on substantial numbers of screens, than it was this weekend, when everything else was relatively expendable. Caught between Spidey and Captain Jack is a third mega-franchise -- the first time, I believe, that three followups to all-time hits are opening in the same month. The advance buzz on "Shrek The Third,'' opening May 18, isn't great, and having to deal with the third weekend of Spidey on its opening weekend, as well as the opening weekend of "Pirates'' on its second, could cut into the till. But the new Shrek does reportedly run only 81 minutes, which will give it an extra show or two a day. I haven't seen a budget estimate for "Shrek the Third,'' which doubtless cost a pretty penny. Sony's official pricetag on "Spider-Man 3'' is $253 million, the highest any studio has ever copped to, though reports place the actual cost as high as $350 million (plus a king's ransom in marketing costs). "Pirates'' reportedly cost anywhere between $225 million and somewhere north of $300 million. High stakes indeed.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 07:46 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2007

Sizzling Spidey Has Record $59M Opening Day, Looks Likely to Surpass 'Pirates' Three-Day Mark of $135M

11:30 a.m. update: Sony reports that "Spider-Man 3'' opened to an estimated record $59 million in North America yesterday. With an additional $45 million in ticket sales overseas, it was the highest single day gross in worldwide box office history, $104 million. The studio estimates the first three days will come in between $135 and $140 million. House records were broken and there were sellouts all over the place. The highest grossing theater yesterday was the Lincoln Square in Manhattan, which sold an astounding $158,158 in tickets yesterday, including IMAX shows.

Looks like Spidey is taking back both the opening-day and opening-weekend records from Captain Jack Sparrow. Prelminary numbers at Fantasy Moguls have "Spider-Man 3'' doing a massive $58 million on its opening day Friday, including midnight shows on Thursday night. If the extrapolation (based on figures compiled by other studios) holds up, that would pass the $55.8 million mark set by "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest'' on its opening day last July. (Sony will have its official estimate around noon New York time). Steve Mason's preliminary projection for the weekend at FM is an out-of-this-world $147 million, outdistancing the $135.6 million record set by the second pirates during its second weekend. This despite reviews that are notably less over-the-moon than for the first two "Spider-Man'' films, though still generally positive. The bad news is that Spidey sucked the wind out out of everything else in theaters. "Disturbia'' looks to trail distantly in second place with $5.75 million for the weekend. "Lucky You,'' the long-shelved and poorly reviewed gambling drama with Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana that was the weekend's only wide opener, tanked with just $1 million on Friday; it's projected to end up in fifth place with a pitiful $3 million over three days.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 06:55 AM | Comments (0)

Comin' At 'Ya!

Back in Hollywood's Golden Era, studios routinely airbrushed photos of actresses to make their waists smaller and their breasts bigger. This practice is still alive and well in this computer age, even if airbrushes have gone the way of rotary phones. It's very rarely noticed. But somebody at Warner Bros. apparently failed to coordinate this bit of digital wizardry performed on Emma Watson for the 3-D IMAX version poster of the new "Harry Potter'' -- suggesting that the 3-D highlights more than Quidditch -- with the posters for the uh, flat version. (Also note that Hermoine's hair has been made a bit wilder, the better to inflame adolescent male fantasies). So it's now the talk of the web. The Post's Harry Potter blog, The Quibbler, which is not at all happy about this marketing ploy, has an even nicer animated before-and-after version and a ton of irate reader comments.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

DVD Extra

Several reviews, including mine, observed that "Waitress,'' the charming comedy about a pregnant waitress (Kerri Russell) from the late filmmaker-actress Adrienne Shelly that opened on Wednesday, had more than a slight resemblance to Martin Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.'' Ellen Burstyn won the Best Actress Oscar for playing a struggling waitress in that film, which of course inspired the TV series "Alice.'' But at the time the movie was released, Scorsese said he was inspired by an earlier film, "My Dream is Yours.''

The delightful "My Dream Is Yours'' was developed as a vehicle for Doris Day by legendary Warner Bros. director Michael Curtiz, who had discovered the singer and featured her prominently in her film debut, "Romance on the High Seas.'' That film's ensemble included the unforgettably ascerbic composer and wit Oscar Levant, who was to observe decades later on TV talk shows that "I knew Doris before she was a virgin.''

Both of these films feature Jack Carson, who joins Doris and Bugs Bunny for a fantasy musical number in "My Dream Is Yours,'' which incidentally is a credited, if loose, remake of "Twenty Million Sweethearts'' (1934) with Doris stepping into Dick Powell's old role. "My Dream'' is yours is included in Warner Home Video's recently released second Doris Day box, along with "Romance on the High Seas,'' the Gus Kahn biopic "I'll See You In My Dreams'' with Danny Thomas, the laborious Cinemascope musical "Lucky Me,'' and a pair of period charmers with Gordon MacRae derived from stories by Booth Tarkington, "On Moonlight Bay'' and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon.'' The DVD for "Light'' includes a very funny Joe McDoakes short with gag appearances by Day and MacRae as themselves.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 06:50 AM | Comments (0)

Did The Gipper Switch Teams?

There were news stories this week about the release of Ronald Reagan's diaries from his presidential years. But somehow I doubt there's anything in there as dishy (or as utterly unsupported) as in a Joan Crawford biography I read recently. The main thesis of David Bret's "Hollywood Martyr'' (Carroll & Graf, $29.95) seems to be that just about any man actress married, was involved with or shared an elevator with was gay or bisexual. I'm a fan of Golden Age Hollywood gossip, but I have never heard this yarn about the future president and the unfortunate Ross Alexander, who is perhaps best known today for playing Demetrius to Dick Powell's Lysander in the 1935 film version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream.'' Here's a brief excerpt:

Continue reading "Did The Gipper Switch Teams?"

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 06:37 AM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2007

Zach Braff's Cinco de Mayo Present


Are those wily Weinsteins, who are chopping "Grindhouse'' in two for foreign markets, turning Jewish actor Zach Braff into a Latino to better sell "The Ex,'' his comedy opening next week? (As we reported a while back, "The Ex'' was known as "Fast Track'' back in December, when it opened to poor reviews and business for a one-week Oscar qualification in Los Angeles). Starpulse quotes the actor on his MySpace blog: "I don't know why they made me so tan on the poster for The Ex. When I first saw it I thought it might be the South American poster, since we all looked a smidgen Latin. Or… as Latin as I'm ever gonna look..I kind of look like that kid who played Ben Stiller's supposed Hispanic son in Meet the Fockers."

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

Tribeca Limps to a Close

There are still some $25 tickets available online for the Tribeca Film Festival's closing night film tomorrow at the Borough of Manhattan Community College's Tribeca Performing Arts Center. But I'd personally balk at paying even the $18 charge for waitlist tickets if they are available at the four other venues showing the flick over the weekend. This very-long-in-the-works documentary by Albert Mayseles and Antonio Ferrara starts promisingly, with some priceless footage of Christo and his wife Jeanne Claude, who come off as lovable hucksters, trying to sell very skeptical New York on the idea of the huge "art'' installation in Central Park in the late 1970s, with the help of legendary power broker Theodore Kheel. The idea went nowhere then, but a quarter-century later, the "art''-loving Mayor Bloomberg approved it with an imperial decree, despite widespread hostility from many New Yorkers. The film then does a 180 and goes all gooey-eyed after The Gates are actually installed in the park, and the endless views of all that saffron-colored nylon flapping in the wind quickly become tedious. What's more mystifying, much of the footage of The Gates is shot in hideous-looking low-definition video, which looked positively horrendous on a big screen at the sparsely-attended press screening where I saw it. It will look far better on TV, and indeed, "The Gates'' will be shown next February on HBO. So save your money, folks. By the way, the Bob and Jane Show handed out its awards the other night. They didn't invite me, or even send yours truly an e-mail release, but The Reeler, the head of their fan club (who seems to have the mistaken impression that I liked "Passio''), was there and so here you go. Congratulations to Fred Durst and all the rest.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

Unlucky Drew, Unluckier You

Yes, there is another movie besides "Spider-Man 3'' opening in wide release today. "This spring, boredom has a new name: 'Lucky You.' In the poker flick, an announcer calling a climactic poker match uses a Texas hold 'em term frequently, saying, 'And the flop. And the flop. And the flop.' This movie reviews itself.'' And that's just the first paragraph of Kyle's devastating one-half star review of Curtis Hanson's incredibly boring bomb with Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore, which has been moldering on the shelf at Warners for nearly two years before being dumped -- er, offered as "counter-programming'' -- opposite Spidey after having its world premiere earlier this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. The L.A. Times reported this week that half a dozen cuts of "Lucky You'' were screened for test audiences to no avail.(The studio's Jesse James flick with Brad Pitt, which has been held up almost as long, seems to be having a similarly difficult time, according to the Times). As we noted earlier this year, there is generally a jinx on movies with "Luck'' or "Lucky'' in the title, "Goodnight and Good Luck'' being a notable exception.

Warner Home Video recently released the inert musical "Lucky Me,'' one of Doris Day's few flops, and this trend goes back as far as the ironically titled "Lucky Night,'' which introduced the less-than-scintillating team of Robert Taylor and Myrna Loy, who arguably had even less chemistry together than Barrymore and Bana. And, while we're at it, isn't it time for a moratorium on movies set in Las Vegas? It's so tapped out as a metaphor for American ennui that it's become a huge cliche. The Vegas-set "Lucky You'' follows the Nicolas Cage bomb "Next,'' which is his something like the star's fourth film set in Sin City (if you count the climax of "Con Air'') and will be followed shortly by "Ocean's Thirteen.'' We recently caught a trailer for the next "Resident Evil'' flick, and that one seems to be set in Vegas too, albeit a post-Apocalyptic version.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 07:02 AM | Comments (1)

The Studios and the Webslingers

It's a slow news day for Variety -- Tinseltown is holding its breath for the first U.S. returns from "Spider-Man 3,'' which could come as early as this afternoon if Sony releases figures from the midnight shows. Which leaves the tireless Anne Thompson lots of room for a really comprehensive piece on movie bloggers and how many of them are giving control-freak studio flacks tsuris by not playing by the long-established rules of the game. I started this blog earlier this year, but it really got noticed when I exclusively reported that "Ghost Rider'' was being shielded from critical scrutiny, something that was vehemently, and falsely, denied (on fanboy blogs) by the film's producer and director. A rep for the aggrieved studio at one point even claimed I was the only print film critic with a blog. Anne's piece says "a growing number'' of us ink-stained wretches are blogging, and generously cites me at the head of a list of "notables'' that includes Ty Burr of the Boston Globe, Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Shawn Levy of the Oregonian. As I told that charming lady from Sony, I expect most movie critics in the U.S. will be blogging in a year if they want to remain connected with readers.

Posted by Lou Lumenick on 06:29 AM | Comments (1)


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