WaxWord

July 2008

July 31, 2008

Micah's Fan Digest

   Venom_2   The deluge of spinoffs has begun. Sony has announced that it will be making "Venom," off the "Spider-Man" franchise. Really, though, didn't we already get a taste of Venom--Topher Grace, in blue, with sharp teeth--as a hype-killing eyesore? The fan-sites are underwhelmed. "[Venon is] one of the more uninteresting villains in recent memory," writes Daytripper69 on Ain'tItCool.com, reflecting the general consensus. "He's all flash and very little substance." Quamb thinks it might not suck. "Original thought was *meh*. But if somehow they actually made a super gritty and full-on Venom film, it could kick all sorts of ass." Still unclear is whether Grace will be back.

The Judd Apatow gang is rehashing ideas too. In an interview with CHUD.com's Devin Faraci, the man himself revealed that a follow-up to this year's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is in the works. Rather than continue the misadventures of the hapless Nick, the sequel retains the egotistical rock-star (British funnyman Russell Brand) and his desperate fan (go-to-slacker Jonah Hill). It's called "Get Him to the Greek," and will be about the two trying to make it to a gig at Hollywood's Greek Theatre. Call me unamused; I'm still waiting for Apatow to use his godly powers to pull out "Freaks and Geeks: The Reunion."

July 29, 2008

Rick Nicita Leaving CAA

Nicita_2 Los Angeles is shaking, but Creative Artists Agency is shaking more than most. Rick Nicita, a partner at CAA and a powerhouse agent for close to 30 years, is leaving to run a movie production company. Claudia Eller has the full story on Nicita's decision to leave CAA to become the co-chairman and COO of Morgan Creek Productions, a leading Hollywood production company best known for its 1990s successes. Of late, the company led by James Robinson has put out a lot of duds: "Georgia Rule," which took in a staggeringly low $19 million; "The Good Shepherd" -- a vanity project for Robert DeNiro -- and "Man of the Year," an ill-fated Robin Williams vehicle that took in $37 million. Morgan Creek clearly needs some help; their big idea is another sequel to the Ace Ventura: "Ace Ventura, Jr," and it does not star Jim Carrey. CAA is now left with partners Richard Lovett, Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane, David  O'Connor, and Rob Light. Lovett and Lourd, of course, remain the dark knights of the agency.

July 28, 2008

Who the Hell is Vivi Nevo?

Vivi_nevo This is starting to bug me. Like many others around Hollywood, I have been hearing about this mystery man, Vivi Nevo, for some time, and been able to find out next to nothing. Here's what I know: he's Israeli. He's engaged to Zhang Ziyi. He's a staple in the Asian celebrity press which calls him a "venture capitalist," an "investor," and Zhang's "capitalist boyfriend." He gets invited to Herb Allen's Sun Valley conference of mogul insiders, and has become a fixture in high-powered media circles: on their yachts, at their charity events, in their social milieu. (He's a regular in the crowd of Ron Meyer, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Preston, Brian Grazer, Graydon Carter, Jim Wiatt.) But is he a mogul himself? How much money does he have? Where did it come from? What's he after? Nobody seems to know. Tim Arango took a shot at this mystery in today's New York Times, but got no closer to the target. After asking a whole lot of bold-faced names, Arango came up with this sort of thing:

You’re asking questions I’ve asked myself many times,” said Nicolas Rachline, who met Mr. Nevo in the late 1980s when both were part of a fashionable New York expatriate crowd that hung out at Le Bilboquet, a French restaurant on the Upper East Side. “What the hell does Vivi do? He seems to be a powerful player in the entertainment industry. How, I don’t know.”

This, to me, raises questions about who is looking out for the media gatekeepers. Can just about anyone with good cheekbones and a friendly affect become best buddies with Richard Parsons, Rupert Murdoch and Ron Perelman? Is all it takes to crack the inner circle of media and cultural power in this country is an ability to remember bar mitzvahs? What does that say about the judgement of these power brokers, and those looking out for their interests? I find it very strange that so many of Nevo's good friends admit to knowing next to nothing about him. Even the one fact that seems to be touted about him -- that Nevo is the single largest shareholder in Time-Warner -- turns out to be pure speculation.

There's something a little strange about all this. It's worth remembering that there have been many glad-handers and smooth talkers who have ridden into Hollywood and the Hamptons in decades past -- Elie Samaha comes to mind, so does Dana Giacchetto -- who dazzled otherwise intelligent people, only to have it all end badly. If anyone wants to enlighten me on the subject, including Mr. Nevo himself, I'm all ears.

Red Room: A Home for Authors

The Internet just keeps throwing forth more and more places to be. Communities, watering holes, places to join. The latest I've joined (well, just before Facebook, see yesterday), is "Red Room: Where the Writers Are." It's a website for authors. Anyway, a tip of the hat to those folks, who decided to feature "Loot" on its home page as the "Best of Red Room." Someday the book will come out, and people will actually get to read it: November. Or late October, if you order it now.

The Dailies - July 28, 2008

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Can "Dark Knight" sink "Titanic" record?
Batman sequel crosses $300 mil mark in record 10 days

Comic-Con 2008 wraps up
Die-hards lament commercialism, marginalization of comic vendors

Shia LaBeouf in automobile accident
Hand injury sidelines actor from "Transformers 2"

July 27, 2008

Facebook

Karl_rove_2This past week I joined Facebook. Why? Same reason I started a blog over a year ago. Same reason I joined LinkedIn a few months back. People who know about this kind of stuff told me to.

Just like with starting a blog - late - I felt I was quite possibly the very last person in this country to join Facebook. (Hillary, Obama -- both way ahead of me.) But today I see that, No. I'm not the last person to sign up. Right behind me comes Karl Rove, joining the world of the interconnected, signing up to a Facebook page. I learned this because - crazy, but true - we have a "friend" in common. And the friend writes that "Since Karl's new to Facebook, suggest people he knows." (Like who? Donald Rumsfeld? He has a page, I checked.)

So it turns out that after being the quiet power running the known world from the White House for seven years, after running the Republican electoral machine for a decade, Karl still needs friends. Don't we all? Perhaps, too, he wants to be connected, be part of that exciting new movement that is the World Wide Web. Let's help Karl. Let's "friend" him. It's the least we can do.

"The Dark Knight" Races to $300 Million at the Box Office

Batman_2 "The Dark Knight" just keeps going. The movie raked in another $75.6 million at the box office this weekend, according to Media By Numbers. The film is still in 4,300 theaters, one indication of pressing demand. Fans are lining up to see the film numerous times (two people in my house have seen it twice already), which is the rare kind of moviegoing behavior that makes for new entries in the Hollywood history books.
"Dark Knight" keeps racking up entries there. In just 10 days the movie has raced to a $314 million box office domestically, beating the previous benchmark held by "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." This does not include the overseas box office, which is just getting started, taking in $41 million so far. It's worth noting that Warner Brothers decided to skip Hollywood's habit of opening big-budget, blockbuster movies simultaneously across the globe, in favor of a global roll-out led by the huge success in the United States. Does this mean the studio feels it has a handle on film piracy, once a subject of its obsession?

Final note: big black eye for 20th Century Fox, whose sci- film, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," tanked with a $10 million opening. Most of the core, teenager audience was in diapers when the television series was a hit. And older fans? They went to see "The Dark Knight." (Sharon learns a lesson: wrote this at 10 am. Brain glitch means it's only posted now.)

July 26, 2008

SAG and AFTRA stand in place

See update of the stalemated talks below, from today's meeting of the SAG national board.

July 25, 2008

Programming: Reliable Sources on Sunday

Tune in to Howard Kurtz's "Reliable Sources" on CNN on Sunday, where I'll be appearing to talk about what's happening in the world of entertainment: Jay Leno's departure from "The Tonight Show," and this week's court decision nullifying the FCC fine against CBS for the exposing of Janet Jackson's breast.

(What? No Comic-Con?)

SAG Update: Stalemate, and a Meeting

Update on Saturday: the board adopted a resolution saying that all entertainment work (meaning, including work done on the Internet) should be covered by SAG, and that all work should be fairly compensated when re-used. The producers issued a counterstatement sticking their thumbs in their ears, waggling their fingers and reminding SAG that the union is losing out on that great $250 million offer they made. Bottom line: No progress.

Previously: Representatives from the national board of the Screen Actors Guild will meet on Saturday to discuss - what? Presumably the lack of any apparent strategy to get them closer to a contract. With actors working since July 1 without one, the guild now faces the situation of having rebuffed the last offer by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Televisio Producers. In addition, SAG is being challenged from within by dissatisfied members who want an alternate slate running matters, and they are getting no love from their sister guild, AFTRA, which already ratified its own contract. All that, and a frozen-in-place situation with the producers. Not a great place to be. We'll see if the board comes up with a new plan to kick-start negotiations. 

July 24, 2008

Comic-Con Updated: Hollywood Insiders, Watchmen, Twilight, and a film I made!

Latest update:

Thousands of people lined up on Thursday to see excerpts of upcoming movies and meet their favorite stars. Fox did not disappoint. Keanu Reeves stoked the fans for “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a re-imagining of the famous 1951 film. He wore a dark beard, in contrast to his clean-shaven alien look in the film. The clips showed prodigious effects, including an entire globe that appeared to hover on the edge of Manhattan, and the instant disintegration of bits and pieces of a city – a stadium, a truck. The film was originally conceived in the age of mutually-assured nuclear destruction, and its themes must take on different resonance now.

“Max Payne,” on the other hand, just seemed to be a vehicle for Mark Wahlberg to beat a lot of people to a bloody pulp. In general, many films on display seemed to feature not only heavy-duty combat, but lots of broken glass, rat-a-tat bullets and sprays of debris. Said Wahlberg of his vigilante character: “People will be very satisfied when they see the havoc he wreaks on the world.”

An incredibly buff Hugh Jackman also showed up unannounced to pump the crowd for his next “Wolverine” feature, to be released next year. He said he came straight from the plane from Australia with some dripping wet footage to show. (It looked like nothing of the kind: tight shots of fight sequences, with music.) In the clip, he looked scary-strong, and Liev Schreiber appears to grow wolf-like facial hair.

But amazingly, it was the chick vampire movie, “Twilight,” that set the room on fire. Hundreds of teenaged girls, and middle-aged women, showed up for a mostly-unknown cast of the first film of a four-book hit series by Stephanie Meyers. Actors like Robert Pattinson, cleft of chin, craggy of cheekbone and British of accent, needed only to run his fingers through his tousled mess of sandy blonde hair to send the room into spasms of joy. Meyer, director Catherine Harwicke and star Kristen Stewart were decided afterthoughts.

From early on Thursday people had lined up to see for the four-minute clip of “Watchmen” scheduled for Friday. I asked a DC Comics official why everyone was so crazed to learn about this film. He explained that this 12-part miniseries, written in the 1980s, is considered the oracle of comic book writing, a deconstruction of the superhero archetype in the age of Richard Nixon. In the story, heroes are progressively killed off. The first cut is done, and it’s three hours long. “We’re not sure how far it will go down,” said this official, who insisted on remaining nameless. Warner Brothers is making the film, for release in March 2009.

Earlier: The sights, the sounds. Fans with pink hair, and long green robes. Storm troopers. Anime come to life. How fun to see teenagers with painted-on blood oozing down their cheek at 10 am. Seriously. I took the train down from Los Angeles, and ran into agent Robert Newman from Endeavor. Several of his clients are presenting here, and Newman agreed that Comic-Con has begun to overtake other annual movie events, like Sho-West, the annual convention for movie exhibitors in Las Vegas. Nearly every major studio is presenting here, and there will be actors and directors and exclusive movie clips packing the halls. Why? “These are the tastemakers, and they’re more important than exhibitors,” said Newman. “These are people who have built an entire portion of their lives around their passion.” I ran into Oren Aviv, chief of Disney’s motion picture division, and he cautioned that presenting at Comic-Con may be important, but makes very little difference in the overall commercial success of a film. No need to bring a “Pirates of the Caribbean,” or anything with a built-in blockbuster following, he says. (Disney abandoned Sho-West several years ago.) Instead, Aviv sees studio participation as more of a gift to dedicated movie fans. “The bar here is very high,” he said. “The fans demand accuracy and authentic effort. They have to read the passion in the filmmaker. You should only come here if you have great s---.”

editor's note: We're experimenting with video, and I did a short filmed piece from the convention, see above. Comments and criticisms welcome. I'll post shortly about some of the news events, but you can see them more quickly for yourself on the clip above -- Keanu Reeves for the "The Day the Earth Stood Still," Mark Wahlberg in "Max Payne," and a surprise visit from Hugh Jackman for his new "Wolverine." More later!

Thanks to Page Six, Radar, WWD

Who picked up on the Anand Jon exclusive story. Welcome to those readers from Page Six, Radar and WWD's Memo-pad! And also thanks to the many, many commentors on the story, worth reading below.

The Dailies - July 24, 2008

Dailies_july242008

New Line piles on the "Hairspray"
John Waters to write treatment for sequel

MTV "Rocky Horror" remake in the works
New music may be used alongside original script

Fanboys (and girls) flock to Comic-Con
"Watchmen," "Terminator" info to be revealed

July 23, 2008

Comic-Con Is Where It's At

Comiccon A random conversation among four 14-year-old boys about the center of their lives: "The Dark Knight," and Comic-Con, the five-day geek-a-rama in San Diego that kicked off today. This event, now sold out, has become one of Hollywood's biggest promotional moments of the year. No studio misses out. Neither does any self-respecting teen.

Jeremy: "The Dark Knight" is the greatest movie of all time.

Burt: "No. The Avengers will be the greatest movie of all time. Marvel's making it."

Casey: "That won't be out for like three more years. And Comic-Con is now. And it's going to be the greatest thing ever. When are you going?"

Burt: "Tomorrow. I'm staying for the entire time. You?"

Casey: "My dad is taking me for two days."

Burt: "I have a friend who bought an original Spiderman comic book for like $8,500, and then he got Stan Lee to sign it!"

Brian: "Oh my God, that's so cool! Stan Lee!"

Jeremy: "Who's Stanley?" (Yeah, that one's mine.)

Anyway, I'm heading down south tomorrow to check it out, and will bring you tidbits and the latest. My geek antenna are admittedly imperfect, but I intend to keep an eye peeled for info on the much-anticipated "Watchmen," the Benicio del Toro vehicle "Wolfman," and Frank Miller's first directing effort, "The Spirit." Tomorrow's agenda, however, features my friend Catherine Hardwicke and her new film, "Twilight."

John Edwards Love Child? A Newsroom Conundrum

Edwards_4It's hard out there for an ex-candidate, and for the newspapers who cover them. Take today's explosive story, so far untouched by The New York Times, Washington Post or Los Angeles Times - or even Huffington Post. John Edwards, in our own L.A. backyard, was caught skulking from the room of a lovely blonde woman, not his wife, at the Beverly Hilton around 2:30 in the morning. Nailed! By National Enquirer reporters, who were skulking in the basement - waiting for him. The woman in question turns out to be the same Rielle Hunter that the Enquirer identified last December as Edwards' mistress, who was pregnant at the time. All this on the background, don't forget, of Elizabeth Edwards' battle with cancer. Oh yes, and then there's that presidential campaign. What a mess! But all ignored in the mainstream media. The story got no traction last December after both Edwards and Hunter denied their involvement. I can well imagine the tortured discussions in responsible newsrooms today: how to treat this story? Edwards is no longer a candidate (though he might be for v.p.). Is news of his having a mistress news worth reporting? Edwards will have trouble denying his involvement with Hunter now, and if he is the father of her child, that means he was lying back in December. How long can the papers avoid this story in the age of the Internet, bloggers like me, and guys like Matt Drudge, who've posted the National Enquirer tale? 

July 22, 2008

Micah Gottlieb's Fan Scan (a new feature!)

Bringing you the latest from fan sites around the Web: Xfiles

The spooky posters of "The X-Files: I Want To Believe," opening on Friday, have intrigued me, even if I've never been a fan of the cult TV show. But perhaps thimgs were better left under wraps. Ain't It Cool News' Latauro calls the film "one of the most passionless affairs I've seen on the big screen in a while," saying that the lack of moral conflict or supernatural mystique that defined the series nearly put him to sleep. AICN commenters didn't like it either.

Sacha Baron Cohen has nothing left to prove in the comedy world, having played French, Italian, and Austrian characters with panache...Joblo.com says he's signed onto a film titled "Accidentes" with Fox Atomic. He'll produce the film and may well end up playing the lead role of Latino attorney. Personally, I'm still waiting for him to take on a dramatic role. He has the dedication of a Daniel Day-Lewis. Does he have the acting ability?  - MG

July 21, 2008

An Accused Serial Rapist Speaks, Ahead of Trial

Anand_3 I got an exclusive interview with Anand Jon, the former fashion designer who will go on trial in early September for the serial rape of his models. The article, which includes the first look by a reporter at eight volumes of the models' testimony against him at the grand jury, is in the August issue of Los Angeles magazine, out this week. It is amazing to note that Jon, who has been rotting in the L.A. County Men's Jail for more than a year, has been virtually ignored both by local and national media. Is it because he was a small-time designer, hanging on the coattails of friends like Paris Hilton and Michelle Rodriguez? Is it because his victims were small-time farm girls lured to the big city and unworthy of attention?

I am told by one lawyer that this will be the biggest rape case in California history: 20 women are scheduled to testify against him. Their testimony is damning. But it is not quite clear to me that what Jon has done, in every case, was rape. The grand jury testimony is extremely weak in many places, and the womens' testimony is at times not credible on its face. (They stayed with him despite the alleged rape; they followed him to other cities; their excuse for doing so, in some cases is, "I'm not really sure.") In the article, Jon protests his innocence. But his most searing words are in a letter he wrote me from jail, which was too long to include in the magazine. I am posting it here, and am interested in any and all comments. Anand Jon does not appear to be a nice guy. But that is not a crime in any state.

Here's how the letter starts: "I have not seen the sky in months, 6, maybe 7. Kind of easy to lose track of time and yet be unbearably aware of its existence. I am awakened at around 5:30 am usually and on court days (once or twice a month so far) about 4:30 am and then remain in shackles while being a "sergeant-escort" to a tiny moving metal vertical coffin in a van and transported underground to the downtown court." (the rest

And in the interest of balance, here is excerpted grand jury testimony of one accuser, Katie W.

July 20, 2008

Dark Knight: Smashing Records All Weekend

For once, the happening fulfilled the hype. "The Dark Knight" is a bona fide, blockbuster, record-making hit. The film starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger packed cinemas everywhere, all weekend, and took in $155.3 million in its first three days in domestic release, according to estimates by Warner Brothers. Bale

That opening number beats the previous record of $151 million held by "Spider Man III." The per-theater average was a packed-to-the-gills $35,579. But that's far from the only record broken by the film. According to Media By Numbers, "The Dark Knight" smashed the box office record for the biggest single-day take, with $67.84 million on Friday (even higher than the earlier estimate), beating "Spiderman III"'s record; also, it landed the biggest Imax box office gross, and the biggest midnight preview gross on Thursday night, with $18.5 million.  The rising tide lifted all boats: this was also the biggest 3-day box office weekend in Hollywood history, according to Media By Numbers, besting the weekend of July 7, 2006. Congratulations to Warner Brothers, to director Chris Nolan, and to the industry, which needs the pop culture gargantua such as this to sustain the mystique and the glamour of the movies. (Photo by intrepid Jonathan Alcorn, who caught Batman sneaking out of town at LAX last night.) Update: Barely a day later, Bale got into an argument with his mother and sister in London, where he had gone for the premiere of "Batman." After an alleged altercation, Bale attended the premiere. The following day he submitted to police questioning at a police station in Belgravia. He left after questioning without being charged.

July 18, 2008

"Dark Knight" History, and the Box Office: One Down

Batmandarkknight300

Hollywood waits for events like these – glistening, bubble-like moments in pop culture when a movie grabs the focus of the entire country, and the world. “The Dark Knight” is one of those moments. It broke its first record today: midnight screenings across the country took in $18.5 million, beating "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," which took in $16.9 million in its midnight showings in 2005, according to Media By Numbers.

Strap on your seatbelts, ladies and gents: "Dark Knight" will be the memorable moment of summer 2008.

Rare indeed is the movie that manages to combine an expectant fan base, a gripping story well told, memorable performances and broad appeal. In addition the movie features real-life drama, the tragic, premature death of a lead performer, Heath Ledger as the Joker, in the wake of principal photography. So the gauntlet has been thrown, the race has begun.

"Dark Knight," director Chris Nolan’s $180 million vision of the Batman fable and sequel to "Batman Begins," unrolls in 4,366 theaters today. Fans at the midnight screenings came in costume, and shrieked their delight through the experience.

Why do records matter so much? Hollywood loves them, and so do fans. The five previous Batman films had opening weekends in the $40-$53 million range. But we’re hearing numbers like $120 million for this film. It would not surprise me in the least, given the enthusiasm that’s palpable from coast to coast. (And the Imax screenings are sold out.) The record to beat is “Spider-man III,” which took in $151.1 million in its opening weekend in May 2007. More than that, Hollywood just wants a great, big honking piece of history. (photo of fan at Grand Rapids, Michigan cineplex, from Grand Rapids Press)

July 17, 2008

Documentaries Going Online

Does Snagfilm.com constitute hope for Hollywood? This has been a rough year for documentaries, which just a few years ago seemed to be on the verge of challenging feature films for space at the multiplex. Lately they've seemed doomed to the back of the Blockbuster bin. I don't know if this new service constitutes real hope, but Snagfilms.com launched today, opening up a desperately needed distribution window. The essential idea is to use blogs and social-networking sites to act as distributors of the films. And they've made it technologically very easy.

Basically, anyone with a Facebook page or a blog can download a widget that allows visitors to the site to click and view a documentary for free. It costs the viewer nothing. It also earns the blogger/Facebooker nothing. (They're calling it "filmanthropy!" Uh-oh, I hear eyes rolling over on Avenue of the Stars.) But there is money to be had; any ad revenues are shared by Snagfilms and the filmmaker. (Collective sigh at CAA.)

The service, which has 225 choices up right now, includes "Super Size Me," "Dig" and "Paper Clips." The company was founded by Ted Leonsis, the former AOL bigwig who in recent years has turned to producing documentaries and apparently became frustrated with the shrinking possibilities for getting viewers in front of the films. Other backers were AOL's co-founder Steve Case, along with venture capitalist Miles Gilburne.

I called the International Documentary Association, and the president of the board, Diane Estelle Vicari, said she wasn’t sure the service would make money. But she was delighted the service had launched. “We have been waiting for this for a long time. I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “Here at the IDA, we see an average of 350 films for a competition, maybe 10 of those films will get distribution. Very few films make it theatrically. The window of opportunity on television keeps shrinking.”

Here's my take: given the very modest level of ad rates online, I rather doubt this is a money-making proposition. Documentaries are cheap, but they still cost at minimum hundreds of thousands, and often into the $1-$5 million range. So far there is little evidence that online fans are inclined to pay for something when it is optional. So if the world of quality films is reduced to "filmanthropy," then I worry for the future of quality film.

The Dailies - July 17, 2008

Dailies_jul17_2008

"Mad Men," "Damages" land Emmy nods
"John Adams" leads with 23 nominations

Amazon.com launches video-on-demand store
Service will be integrated with Sony Bravia TVs

YouTube, Lionsgate in online deal
Branded channel to offer clips for flexible use

Studios, SAG silent after third meeting
Stalemate continues, discussions remain confidential

July 15, 2008

The Dailies - July 15, 2008

Dailies_jul15_2008

Paramount loses $450m in financing
Deutsche Bank closes film unit as market interest wanes

Warner Brothers finds "Lost Planet"
Hayter to pen adaptation of video game

Weinsteins signs TV deal with Showtime
Pact to start in 2009 with Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards"

July 14, 2008

The Dailies - July 14, 2008

Dailies_jul14_2008_2

"Hellboy II" tops at box office with $35.9m
"Hancock" a strong second; "Meet Dave" bombs

Tribune Co. in turmoil
LA Times publisher out, Chicago Trib editor resigns

update: ax is expected to fall on 150 newsroom employees today. sw.

Is Bravo Sabotaging Project Runway?
Lack of promotion for final season at net may be sour grapes as reality hit readies move to Lifetime

Review: "Tropic Thunder"

Review_tropicthunder

"Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller's cameo-filled send-up of war movies which opens August 15, had a sneak peak at UCLA recently. Our summer intern, Micah Gottlieb, went and brings some early intelligence:

"Tropic Thunder" relies on two hammed-up forces to keep its slippery momentum: Robert Downey Jr. as a trash-talking character actor in blackface, and Tom Cruise as a trash-talking studio head who occasionally flaunts his inner gangsta. But the novelty has worn off by the time Cruise freak-dances his way through the end credits. And he is only one of a handful of surprise cameos in a movie that substitutes Ben Stiller's address book for inspiration – including Matthew McConaughey and Tobey Maguire.

The movie is itself a send-up of a genre, about actors in a Vietnam war film production gone awry. It begins with its best material: several fake trailers a la last year's "Grindhouse." It then hurls forth into an explosive, bloody battle, a glorious setpiece with an aesthetic that, with some good writing, could have introduced a truly epic comedy. Alas, these men are mostly caricatures, and ultimately 'Tropic' feels dated, whether through its use of 2004's "Get Back" by Ludacris as a punch-line (when there are many more recent inane crunk anthems), a half-baked war veteran subplot with Nick Nolte, or  its overall refusal to go anywhere truly daring. You know you're behind the curve when your film finds jokes about retards and TiVo worth repeating.

-- Micah Gottlieb.

July 12, 2008

Shelby White Update

Shelby White, the New York collector who earlier this year agreed to voluntarily relinquish 10 antiquities from her private collection to Italy, will give up two more pieces to Greece, the Greek culture ministry said Friday. The pieces are a marble sculpture that originally decorated an ancient grave and a bronze vase, both dating from the 4th century B.C.  The terms of this agreement were not released, and White's spokesman Fraser Seitel has not commented. But one can presume that White secured the right to be free of prosecution as regards the rest of her collection. Other major collectors should not feel so safe.

First Review of "Loot"

Publisher's Weekly has chosen to feature "Loot" next week, in the first review of the book which I'm delighted to share with you all. The book rates a star with PW, which says: "Skillfully blending history and reportage, Waxman traces the stories of treasures like the Elgin Marbles, then jumps into the debate over whether they should be restored to their countries of origin. She finds no easy answers: while acknowledging the dubious means by which European and American museums acquired many antiquities, she concedes that the governments clamoring for their return don't always have adequate plans for their maintenance." Here's the rest.

July 11, 2008

The Dailies - July 11, 2008

Dailies_jul11_2008

iPhone 3G rolls out in worldwide launch
Faster device expandable with new iTunes App Store

SAG rejects AMPTP's final offer
Dispute over new media, DVD residuals prolongs stalemate

News Corp unlikely to be part of Yahoo deal
Murdoch quashes idea of Microsoft partnership

July 09, 2008

Who Really Wrote "Generation Kill"?

Generationkill HBO's new $50 million mini-series, "Generation Kill," is being promoted everywhere as having been brought to the screen by the creator of "The Wire," David Simon. But what does that mean exactly? The series, debuting next Sunday, is a hard-driving, non-fiction tale of Marines on the front lines in Iraq, and it is drawn directly – in some scenes word for word – from the award-winning book of the same name by Evan Wright. Wright is credited as a consulting producer on the seven-part series, and has credit on two of the scripts. But he tells me that in fact he also wrote about "50 percent" of the scripts on which Simon and his collaborator Ed Burns have credit, and that he had to fight for the credits he got. "There was a lot of friction over credit issues," Wright told me today.


Last summer, after HBO cut the series from eight episodes to seven, emails flew back and forth last summer from Baltimore, where Simon lives, to Baghdad, where Wright had returned to report for Rolling Stone. Wright was worried, correctly it turned out, that Simon was about to kill one of his scripts. Simon resolved the matter by giving joint credit to Wright and Burns. Again two months ago Wright had to request further credit in the wake of still more active input, and Simon agreed. But Simon denies that Wright was responsible for half the scripts with his or Burns' name on them. "If he told you that, he's genuinely incorrect," Simon said this evening, from a screening for Marines in California, where Wright was also in attendance. He added: "Nobody wrote any of the scripts by themselves. There's stuff in Evan's script written by me and Ed. There's stuff written in total by me and Ed. There's stuff in our scripts written by Evan. That's what happens in every serialized show."


Well, yes and no. These matters are taken very seriously by the Writers Guild, and in the case of "Generation Kill" even Simon notes that it came down to actual page counts per writer. As for what it means to write the 'story' of a series based closely on a carefully reported, non-fiction book, Simon damned himself with faint praise: "Decisions have to be made about where to break the story, where to limit the point of view, where to combine elements, what characters are going to have to disappear from the storyline, which to maintain, which arcs are going to be emphasized, where the exposition will be." No wonder Wright, a novice in Hollywood who has no need to make an enemy of Simon, made this generous remark: "Even if the scripts were 100% mine, David is the author of the miniseries in that I'd never have thought to have migrated my book as faithfully as he did," he said.

A job? In Journalism?

Because I am all in favor of saving whatever print journalism remains, here's a call for a news editor at an excellent magazine, ArtNews, based in New York. Editor Robin Cembalest is looking for a smart, capable professional with a background in cultural news. Under publisher Milton Esterow, ArtNews has been a leader breaking news in the art world over the years, and was at the forefront of the looted Nazi art story in the 1990s. Here's the job posting. In other media news, The Hollywood Reporter appears to be in need of warm bodies in the wake of this week's latest eliminations. Nikki Finke has the details. Will Hollywood soon be a one-trade town?

The Dailies - July 9, 2008

Dailies_jul09_2008

AFTRA ratifies pact
Three-year TV contract deals a blow to SAG

Tarantino introduces "Inglorious Bastards"
Writer-director shows long-awaited script to Hollywood

Burnett sued for $70 million
Business partner claims breach of partnership agreement

July 08, 2008

Fire State

FireDriving up the 101 yesterday, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, was a journey through fire country. All along the Pacific Coast, clouds of smoke and ash hugged the waterline. Along 400 miles, passages of low-hanging smoke interrupted the brilliant blue of the Pacific,  through an ominously overcast Santa Barbara, and past the darkened tunnel that was Goleta. In between I emerged into the sunlight passages of the coastal Pino Noir vineyards and Pismo Beach, still unaffected. But all along the 101, the fuel for future fires was evident -- dry, sand-colored scrub lining the sides of the road. There are still 1,700 fires blazing through California, with only a small percentage of them contained, according to state officials. It is likely to take until the end of the month for the fires to be extinguished. But as July stretches into August, fire fighters are going to face exhaustion. Home owners will face evacuation. And beach-goers may decide that the summer of 2008 is a time to go much further south. Yesterday, the news radio served as  running commentary to the haze floating above Highway 101: "There is no fire season anymore," said the governor's spokeswoman. "It's year-round." (photo: LA Times)

July 07, 2008

Editor's Note

Readers: Light posting this week as I'll be travelling. In the meantime, here's another endorsement for my upcoming book, 'Loot,' this from the best-selling author Douglas Preston, with my gratitude:

Loot by Sharon Waxman is a riveting foray into the biggest question facing museums today: who should own the great works of ancient art? Waxman is a first-rate reporter, a veritable Euphronios of words, who not only explores the legal and moral ambiguities of the conflict but brings to life the colorful-- even outrageous -- personalities facing off for a high noon showdown over some of the world’s iconic works of art. Vivid, witty and delightful, this book will beguile any reader with an interest in art and museums. The great strength of this book is that it will offend virtually all parties to the conflict by revealing their deepest, darkest, dirtiest secrets, from the destructive cleaning of the Elgin Marbles by the British to the Keystone Kops level of security in Turkish museums.

--Douglas Preston, author of The Monster of Florence

The Dailies - July 7, 2008

Dailies_jul07_2008

"Hancock" flies high at box office
Smith flick reaps $107.3m since Tuesday

NBC U buys Weather Channel
$3.5 billion deal includes Weather.com

Icahn: Microsoft still in game if Yahoo! board quits
Activist investor kindles speculation with shareholder letter

Osbournes to host Fox variety show
Format a throwback to "Sonny and Cher," "Donny and Marie"

July 03, 2008

Tension at Conde Nast: Lipman V. Graydon

Portfoliojags

Tongues are wagging yet again over the fate of Conde Nast's business magazine Portfolio, and this time it's not just embittered ex-staffers. The thin display of ads in this month's issue with Starbucks' Howard Schultz as cover art (32 ad pages, according to a spokeswoman) was shocking to many, even if it does reflect summer doldrums and a slowed economy. How long can it go on this way? Meanwhile, the mood in editorial is far from warm and fuzzy. The latest top editor to leave is photo editor Lisa Berman, who has just abandoned the glamorous glossy for the more workaday environs of Entertainment Weekly. "I don't know a single writer or editor there who wouldn't rather be working somewhere else," came the harsh view from inside the Conde Nast building. Calls around the Times Square tower kick up a surprising amount of animosity toward editor Joanne Lipman, with comments like "confusion" and "identity crisis" among the kinder remarks. (We try to avoid ad hominems here at Waxword.)

There's another thing. Here in Hollywood, I keep hearing that Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter has prevailed on his coterie of power broker friends – among them Brian Grazer, Jim Wiatt, Brad Grey – to keep Portfolio from any big Hollywood 'gets.' Carter denies it. But it is notable that Portfolio has yet to weigh in with any major Hollywood pieces that might move magazines off the stand. Where's the Will Smith, mogul-in-the-making story? Or the Judd-Apatow-Comedy-Business-Genius cover? (Barry Diller was a 'get,' but at this stage, he's more Internet than Hollywood.)

A spokeswoman for Portfolio, Perri Dorset, said "We've not found" any evidence of Carter blocking and tackling. "Hollywood is a big place. We'll continue to cover it aggressively," she said. Asked about it, Carter responded: "Not only have I never spoken to anyone in Hollywood about Portfolio, I wish the magazine well and think it gets better with every issue." That's nice, but it's not what I'm hearing sotto voce. Graydon is "definitely blocking them in Hollywood," said one former Portfolio editor who asked not to be identified. Lead Hollywood correspondent Amy Wallace is "being blacklisted a little bit." Wallace, who has done major takeouts on financier Ryan Kavanaugh and lawyer/Superman expert Marc Toberoff, declined to comment.

July 02, 2008

The Dailies - July 2, 2008

Dailies_jul03_2008

Ferrell, Baron Cohen find Sherlock Holmes funny
Pair to reteam for Apatow-produced pic

Can Sirius XM afford Howard Stern?
Merged satcaster to wield greater negotiating power

Public TV network turns on French President
Sarkozy studio outburst secretly taped, released online

Posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger?
Critical praise for "Dark Knight" kindles award speculation

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