Short Takes – July 2007

| July 1, 2007

Can it still be said that Tom Cruise’s religion has not affected his career? The waning superstar has been banned from filming scenes at German military bases by the country’s Defense Ministry. Cruise is starring in Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie, an historical war drama about Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. German officials balked at the idea of a known Scientologist playing one of their “national heroes.” Over the last few days, German citizens and representatives have come forward to denounce Cruise and his “money-grubbing cult”; just yesterday, the Finance Ministry issued their refusal to allow Singer and Cruise to film at the famous Bendlerblock Memorial, where a pivotal scene in the movie takes place. Regardless of the controversy, production of Valkyrie will continue as scheduled. The question remains: will Cruise ever fully recover from the Scientology Summer of ’05–or will the spirit of L. Ron Hubbard curse his box-office receipts for years to come?
Steven Spielberg has officially pledged his support to Hillary Clinton as a candidate for the next president of the United States. Spielberg famously backed Bill Clinton fifteen years ago, so the show of support for Hillary should come as no surprise–except that recent rumblings suggested that the all-powerful director-producer was considering stumping for Barack Obama instead. He did, after all, help throw a fundraising dinner for Barack in February. How much does the support of a famous filmmaker really help a presidential hopeful? More than you might think, as a stamp of approval from Mr. Spielberg is practically an endorsement from Hollywood as a whole. Or is it? If Michael Bay starts shooting jingoistic, flag-waving TV spots for Rudy Giuliani, than this race could get really interesting.
The summer movie season is about half-over, which means its time to beat the Hollywood bean counters to the punch and put the last two months in financial perspective.

  • Leading the way in the hits department was the trio of triumphant trilogy closers, Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Jury’s still out on which of these blockbusters will come out on top (it looks like Spidey’s the one to beat), but, regardless, all are bona fide smashes. The summer’s other big winners include Ocean’s 13 (also a threequel, for those counting at home) and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, both of which did much better than analysts were predicting. Knocked Up has covered its budget five times over and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The hilarious Judd Apatow comedy is slowly but surely marching its way to the $200 million mark. 1408 surprised the hell out of everyone and made a very respectable $25 mil in its opening weekend–look for more high concept, low budget horror soon. On the smaller end of the spectrum, Michael Moore’s Sicko is doing typically strong business, though it won’t touch the $150 million his last film, Farennheit 9/11, put on the board three summers ago. And the word-of-mouth, indie hit of the summer? That’d be Once, the Irish kitchen-sink musical that (almost) everyone can’t get enough of. Its achingly sincere, coffee shop rock soundtrack is also selling like hotcakes.
  • So what about the duds? Evan Almighty cost $200 million and made only $30-mil-or-so in its opening weekend, meaning the Bruce Almighty sequel probably won’t recoup its losses. The “torture porn” trend hit a wall with Eli Roth’s vile Hostel: Part II, which tanked hard and fast, despite plenty of promotion, a relatively cheap price-tag, and tons of castration and evisceration. I guess audiences aren’t as desensitized as they appear. And Lindsay Lohan’s tabloid exploits weren’t enough to peddle Georgia Rule on the masses, though the film’s $20 million tally isn’t totally tepid in a summer of superheroes, pirates, and transforming robots.
  • Bug was miss-sold as a creepy crawly horror film rather than the creepy crawly psychological thriller it actually is. It didn’t make much, but it didn”t cost much either. Same goes for 28 Weeks Later, which scared up some business for one week in May before getting annihilated by Shrek and Pirates. Jury’s still out on Live Free or Die Hard, which opened pretty strong but has some big competition ahead of it. By Pixar’s standards, Ratatouille‘s $47 million bow is a disappointment, but something tells me that this animated masterpiece will have legs–don’t be surprised if it catches up with the green ogre by the end of the summer. And it’s way too early to call it on Transformers, but–alas–things look pretty good for Michael Bay and his robotic friends.
  • The lessons to be learned from all these numbers? Sequels still sell and Americans still love loud, long and busy action movies. Also: torture is more profitable in the chilly autumn and winter months–who wants to spend a lazy summer afternoon watching people get mutilated and degraded?–and cheap comedies make just as much money (or more) than expensive ones. Check in at the end of the summer for a full box office report.

The Weinstein Company is teaming up with director Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) and producer Tony Krantz (Mulholland Drive) to create a new label for the production and distribution of American-made martial arts movies. The films will star international actors but will be shot in English. The first three scheduled projects are being made with a straight-to-DVD release in mind, but, depending upon the quality and marketability of them, may be put in theatres too.
Who’s making what this year and next? Marc Forster, he of middling, prosaic affairs like Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland, has just signed on to make the 22nd entry in the James Bond series. Given the producers’ preference for anonymous journeymen directors, it’s certainly a change of pace to see them hand over the franchise to a filmmaker with a Best Picture nomination under his belt. Then again, reputation aside, Forster is an anonymous journeyman. It’s a shame, because the last 007 film, last year’s Casino Royale, was the best of the whole damn series.
Speaking of anonymous journeymen and James Bond directors, Michael Apted has been recruited to direct the third film in the Chronicles of Narnia saga, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Apted, you may recall, was responsible for what may be the single worst Bond movie ever made, The World Is Not Enough. That doesn’t bode too well for Narnia fans, though the Andrew Adamson original was hardly a masterwork to begin with. Look for Part 2 (Prince Caspian) next fall, while Apted’s sure-to-be-stellar third entry drops in ’09.
In more bad news, Tim Burton has walked away from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! The Robert Ripley biopic sounded like the very project that could get Burton back on track after a decade of artistic misfires and soulless, autopilot crowd pleasers. With Jim Carrey attached to star and Burton’s old Ed Wood screenwriting team knocking out the script, it seemed a like the perfect comeback picture. Alas, the auteur has abandoned the film to make Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp–a project that would have gotten hearts racing ten years ago, before Depp went all commercial on us and the two of them started making soulless junk like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride. Potential upside: with Burton out, producers are courting Michel Gondry to direct. No official word yet, but sounds even more perfect for Michel than it did for Tim.
Also, Woody Allen is directing an opera. Seriously. The erstwhile Manhattanite will bring Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi to the Los Angeles stage. Look for it in September of 2008.
Good Morning America critic Joel Siegel died of colon cancer on June 29th. He was 64 years old. I have no joke prepared at his expense. I did not admire his work as a film critic–he was prone to bad puns and worse insights–but he was one of us. And, from what I understand, he was a nice man. Rest in peace, Joel.
I have no joke about Chris Benoit either. Atlanta, GA, police confirmed last week that the WWE Wrestler murdered both his wife Nancy and his 7-year-old son Daniel before committing suicide. Allegedly, Benoit suffocated Nancy on Friday and Daniel on Saturday, hanging himself on Sunday. No real motive has been established for the crimes, though there had been a history of domestic disputes between Benoit and his wife. The WWE aired a tribute to Benoit the night after his body was found, but the organization disavowed his name when the murders were revealed to the public. A bizarre, rather tragic story.
Paris Hilton made her first post-prison appearance on the Larry King Live show last Wednesday. The hour-long program drew huge ratings for CNN, as 2.6 million viewers tuned in to hear the heiress talk about her experience behind bars. By all accounts, it wasn’t a particularly hard hitting interview–come on, it’s Larry King–and many have accused Hilton of lying on air when she told the host that she had never tried drugs. (Thanks to the internet, you can probably hop on over to YouTube and prove that statement wrong in less than a minute. GO!)
Isaiah Washington is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore! The Grey’s Anatomy star was fired a few weeks ago after months of controversy regarding his use of the word “faggot” on set. Washington first uttered the slur during a verbal and physical altercation with co-star Patrick Dempsey. Shortly thereafter, fellow cast member T.R. Knight came out the closet, claiming that the controversy surrounding the fight had forced him to go public about his sexuality–and that Washington had directed the epithet at him! After repeating the offensive word backstage at the Golden Globes, Washington weathered an onslaught of criticism, all of which culminated with the unceremonious termination of his contract. Over the last two weeks, the exiled actor has exploded with a number of public statements and wild allegations against his co-stars and former employers. Among other things, he claims that:

  1. He used the word to insult Dempsey, not Knight. (Which makes it okay how?)
  2. The producers should have fired Knight for using the on-set incident to boost his own salary.
  3. Knight was jealous of his “bigger and better” storylines, and wanted him fired
  4. Knight wanted Dempsey fired
  5. Dempsey wanted Knight fired
  6. He was fired because he was black
  7. Producers made up a rehab program for him
  8. He tried to quit, but they fired him!
  9. Sandra Oh still likes him.

One or two of those wild claims may be true. Maybe they all are. But probably not. Isaiah Washington is a homophobe and apparently rather crazy. More updates as they come in.
Former Frasier star David Hyde Pierce has come out of the closet. Can’t wait to hear what Isaiah Washington has to say about that.
Sci-Fi Channel’s hit series Battlestar Galactica–hailed by many critics as the best show on television–will come to an end early next year. The fourth and final season of the sci-fi polemic begins in November.
Larry David has officially separated from his wife. Laurie David, producer of the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, married the Seinfeld creator fourteen years ago. Divorce is hard, but, as anyone who’s seen an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm can attest, being married to Larry David is probably harder.
Ally McBeal and Boston Legal creator David E. Kelley will helm an American remake of the BBC sci-fi cop drama Life on Mars. TV bit player Jason O’Mara will star as a 21st century detective accidentally transported back to the 1970s. Let’s hope Kelley’s redo is more The Office than Coupling.
Following in the footsteps of The Police, Rage Against the Machine, and Smashing Pumpkins–I know I mention these guys every month, but just bear with me–megastar late ’90s pop group The Spice Girls will reunite for a world tour. The original line-up will all be there, including Ginger Spice (Geri Halliwell, who left the group in 1998) and Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham, socialite wife to soccer superstar David Beckham). Though I’m pretty sure absolutely no one was clamoring for this reunion, there is a silver lining: the Girls see the whole thing as a chance to say goodbye to their fans. Sorry ladies, your fans said goodbye to you nearly a decade ago. But prove me wrong, ladies. Prove me wrong.
Speaking of ill-fated tours, Kelly Clarkson had to cancel hers due to poor ticket sales. Chalk it up to over-ambition: Clarkston was scheduled to perform at arenas, which she probably just isn’t quite popular enough for yet. A “more intimate” (i.e., club) tour is being set up for the summer in support of her My December album. It may be December in your heart Kelly, but something tells me that it could be Your August very soon. (Sorry.)
Also, speaking of reunited ’90s pop outfits, The Verve are getting back together. The Britpop/alt rock group broke up in 1999 after losing a court battle over the use of a looped Rolling Stones snippet in their smash hit, “Bittersweet Symphony.” Thanks to the lawsuit, the band didn’t see a dime of the profits they earned from the song–and the Stones eventually sold the rights to Nike. Apparently less bitter than they were a decade ago–and buoyed by the enthusiastic support of Coldplay’s Chris Martin–Richard Ashcroft and Co. are touring and releasing a new album. Now just be a little more careful about the sampling this time around, boys.
Contrary to speculation, Weezer are not breaking up. They are working on a new album to be released in the spring of next year. I’ve stopped waiting on the proper follow-up to Pinkerton. All I ask from you Rivers Cuomo is no more songs like “My Best Friend” or “We Are All on Drugs.” Please?
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more entertainment news, at the top of the month, every month.

About the Author:

Jon Bastian Jon is a playwright and screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, where he has been currently appearing in Flash Theater LA when not working for Cesar Millan to keep his dogs rolling in kibble.
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