THE MOVIE BUZZ
EX AOL TW CHIEF LEVIN: "PATIENCE!"
Former AOL Time Warner chief Gerald Levin, who has been accused of allowing himself to be hoodwinked by AOL's Steve Case into selling the company for inflated AOL stock during the Internet bubble, maintained Monday that there's still hope for the merger. Interviewed by Reuters in London while attending the World Congress of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, Levin said: "People are just too impatient with the emergence of new business cultures. It doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen in the first year, particularly when you have transforming transactions." He said that it was "too early to judge" whether the merger would pan out, but he also added: "Every human creative endeavor is subject to mathematical law that you're not always going to be right all the time."
ONLINE MOVIE SITE SUES STUDIOS
In a move in the civil courts paralleling a criminal investigation by the antitrust division of the Justice Department, Intertainer Inc., which offers movies on demand over the Internet, has sued Warner Bros., New Line, Columbia, and Universal, claiming that the studios' own on-demand Internet venture, Movielink, was designed to maintain an artificially high licensing price for other online distributors. The suit charges that the studios have participated in a "conspiracy to fix prices, engage in a group boycott, and otherwise unreasonably restrain competition."
FASTEST VIDEO ON DEMAND: THE U.S. POST OFFICE
Despite claims by the motion picture industry about rampant piracy of DVDs over the Internet, today's (Tuesday) New York Times points out that it would take a week for the average PC user equipped with a 56K modem to download all of the data on a single DVD movie disc. On the other hand, a DVD ordered over the Internet from companies like Netflix, CafeDVD, QwickFlicks or DVD Avenue, would likely take a couple of days to reach a customer, making the U.S. Postal Service the fastest video-on-demand carrier. Experts don't anticipate a change soon. David Farber of the University of Pennsylvania, who was an early architect of the Internet, told the Times, "It's going to be years before we get the bandwidth," Mr. Farber said. "When I sit back, I want the quality that comes with a DVD; I don't want to look at a 2-by-2 hole, which is what you get with [movies on] the Internet."
SPIRITED TICKET SALES FOR SPIRITED AWAY
Opening on just 26 screens the Japanese anime film Spirited Away earned $450,000, ($17,000 per screen). The Rotten Tomatoes website said Monday that the movie had received not a single negative review from 55 print, broadcast and online critics and was in fact the best-reviewed film of the year so far. Coincidentally, it observed, the new Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever received not a single positive notice and was the worst-reviewed film of the year.
The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):1. Barbershop, MGM, $12,817,223, 2 Wks. ($38,393,266); 2. The Banger Sisters, Fox Searchlight, $10,037,846, (New); 3. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, IFC Films, $9,748,969, 23 Wks. ($124,052,987); 4. Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever, Warner Bros., $7,010,474, (New); 5. The Four Feathers, Paramount, $6,857,879, (New); 6. One Hour Photo, Fox Searchlight, $4,631,662, 5 Wks. ($21746002); 7. Signs, Disney, $3,500,717, 8 Wks. ($217,941,210); 8. Swimfan, 20th Century Fox, $3,486,197, 3 Wks. ($24,445,584); 9. Stealing Harvard, Sony, $3,303,778, 2 Wks. ($10,606,755); 10. Trapped, Sony, $3,210,765, (New).
BARBERSHOP GIVES MGM NEW "DO"
In a welcome surprise for struggling MGM -- whose execs had reportedly resigned themselves to a one-hit year (from an upcoming James Bond feature) -- its $12-million urban comedy Barbershop held on to the No. 1 spot at the domestic box office for the second straight weekend with $12.8 million in ticket sales, bringing its total to $38.4 million. The studio had seen three earlier big-budget movies -- Rollerball, Hart's War, and Windtalkers -- flop, contributing to a $121.8 million loss in the second quarter.. Besides Barbershop, the studio's Igby Goes Down also played well in limited release. Moving onto 102 screens, it took in $758,000 to bring its two-week gross to $1.2 million. It reportedly cost only $6 million to make. Another low-budget film, Fox Searchlight's $10-million The Banger Sisters, opened in second place with $10 million, while the sleeper hit of the year, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which cost $5 million, took the third spot in its 23rd week with $9.7 million. It has now taken in $124.1 million..
RIGAS, SONS INDICTED
Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas, two of his sons, and two other former Adelphia execs were indicted Monday on charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud. U.S. Attorney James Comey said that the five had engaged in "one of the most elaborate and extensive corporate frauds in United States history." Rigas had been accused of using Adelphia as his "personal piggy bank," shaking out $2.3 billion for his own use. However, in a statement released following his indictment, Rigas said that the actions had been "legal and entirely proper and were approved and ratified by Adelphia's outside directors and audited by its independent accountants."
ANTITRUST STAFF SHOOT DOWN DIRECTV/ECHOSTAR MERGER
Justice Department antitrust staff members have concluded that the proposed DirecTV and EchoStar merger is anticompetitive and should therefore not be approved, the New York Times reported today (Tuesday), citing lawyers involved in the review process. However, today's Wall Street Journal said that EchoStar CEO Charles Ergen is planning to meet with FCC chairman Michael Powell on Wednesday in an effort to win his support for the merger.
CNN AND ABC MAY FORM A "NEWS POWERHOUSE"
CNN and ABC News have been discussing the possibility of merging into what today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times has described as "a stand-alone news powerhouse." According to the newspaper, which cited sources familiar with the situation, the talks have been continuing sporadically for 18 months but intensified recently. A Disney spokesperson confirmed that such talks have been taking place but noted that no deal has been reached.
CBS HOLDS RATINGS IN A MIAMI VICE
Marking an auspicious start to CBS's fall season, the series premiere of CSI: Miami scored a potent 15.5 rating and a 23 share Monday night, more than doubling the ratings of the previous occupant of the 10:00 p.m. time period, the canceled Family Law. The new drama held on to virtually all the audience of the network's top sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, which pulled a 15.7/22 at 9:00 p.m. for its season premiere and a 16.0/22 for a rerun from last season at 9:30 p.m. Earlier in the evening, the season premiere of King of Queens drew a 9.7/15, while the season premiere of Yes, Dear scored an almost identical 9.6/15. CBS won every primetime half hour, averaging a 13.7/20. ABC was second, thanks to Monday Night Football, averaging a 10.5/16, followed by NBC with an 8.0/12. At The WB, the new drama Everwood was deemed to be a hit as it produced a 5.4/8 at 9:00, down only slightly from its much-advertised debut last week.
HACKERS WONDER WHOM TO SUPPORT IN CLEANFLICKS BATTLE
The legal battle between Hollywood and Clean Flicks, a company that deletes scenes of sex, violence and profanity from videos on behalf of its clients, has put many online hackers in a quandary about which side to support. On the SlashDot website today (Monday), one message observed: "The DGA is defending the desecration of many of our favorite films, while Clean Flicks is strongly advocating for the copyright rights of the consumer to edit and/or alter the media that they purchase. At the extreme you have folks who want to eliminate all traces of sex and violence from the popular media; [on the other extreme, you have] the movie industry who wants to eliminate all property rights of the consumer." On Friday, the Directors Guild of America filed an action in federal court in Denver seeking an injunction against Clean Flicks and other companies that bowdlerize Hollywood films. In a statement, DGA president Martha Coolidge said, "What these companies are doing is wrong, plain and simple."
GIBSON'S FEATURE ABOUT CHRIST TO BE FILMED IN "DEAD" LANGUAGES
Mel Gibson says that he plans to produce and direct a film about the last 12 hours in the life of Christ -- entirely in Latin and Aramaic, with no subtitles. "For me, that's more real, and hopefully I'll be able to transcend language barriers with filmic storytelling. If I fail, I'll put subtitles on it, though I don't want to.'' Gibson told a news conference at Rome's Cinecitta Studios on Friday. He added: "No one wants to touch something in two dead languages. They think I'm insane -- maybe I am." Gibson said that he does not plan to appear in the movie himself. Christ, he said, will be played by Jim Caviezel (High Crimes). The other principal actors will be Italians, he indicated. The actor-producer-director ducked a question about the film's budget. A devout Catholic, he replied: "It is a project good for the soul, not the wallet."
CAINE'S MUTINY AGAINST WEINSTEIN
Following a shouting match between Michael Caine and Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, the film company is reportedly attempting to take The Quiet American, based on the Graham Greene novel about Vietnam, off its shelves and give it a limited release at the end of November to qualify it for Oscar nominations. Caine, who co-stars in the film, told the London Sunday Times: "I felt it would be a shame if this film was lost. Harvey felt it was too anti-American, unpatriotic or something like that, especially after September 11. So I shouted at him and told him he was wrong, that that was just silly, and I think he listened." A former Miramax executive told the newspaper: "No one shouts at Harvey, period, so your English knight [Caine] must have unseated Harvey from his high horse." The Sunday Times further reported that Weinstein had previously ordered cuts in the film to tone down one scene in which a character speaks of American "adventurism."
RINGS RINGING UP BIG DVD SALES
Although sales of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, being released on VHS and DVD today (Tuesday) are expected to be huge, some retailers say they suspect that some potential buyers may remain on the sidelines until a "Special Extended DVD Edition" is released in November. At that time, the two-disc set will be doubled and will include a three-hour-and-30-minute director's cut of the movie. Director Peter Jackson himself says in an interview included in the package being released today: "I really think it's a great opportunity to be able to restore back into the movie about 30 minutes worth of extra footage."
FORGET BLOCKBUSTER MOVIES; POPCORN'S WHERE IT'S AT
As far as movie theaters were concerned, the biggest stars in 2000 were popcorn, candy and soft drinks -- as concessions accounted for $4.5 billion in worldwide revenue -- continuing to provide more profit than ticket sales, according to Screen International. Reporting on a study by trade analyst Screen Digest, concessions may account for between 50 percent and 100 percent of a theater's profit, with film exhibition in at least one surveyed theater written off as a loss. The report cautioned, however, that the concession counter may be more susceptible to the current economic turndown than the box office, since people will continue to turn to movies as an escape but will probably spend less on snacks.
FEWER MOVIEGOERS; BIGGER BOX OFFICE
Although the box office set a new record for July of $1.16 billion, the 2 percent rise was attributed solely to a rise in ticket prices. In fact, for the first time in five years, actual admissions fell below 200 million, according to a report appearing in today's (Tuesday) Hollywood Reporter. Sony led the way with $337 million in ticket sales. Commenting on the results, the trade paper's box-office analyst, Brian Fuson, observed, "Overall, it was a poor showing considering the pedigree of the films in play."
Despite the strong box-office performance of Signs, produced by Disney's Touchstone division, Disney shares fell to a new eight-year low on Monday, stung by reports that Moody's and Standard & Poor's were considering a possible downgrade of its debt rating. The ratings services cited in particular sluggish theme-park attendance and lower advertising revenue at ABC. Shares in Disney were up about 4 percent in midmorning trading today (Tuesday).
A movie thriller touching on the crop circle phenomenon was in the winner's circle over the weekend as Signs, starring Mel Gibson, took in $60.1 million in its debut. Austin Powers in Goldmember dropped to second place with $31.1 million. Audiences ignored the universal pounding that critics meted out to Dana Carvey's low-budget, low-brow comedy The Master of Disguise, which came in third with $12.5 million. The concert film Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat, which opened in limited release, took in an impressive $7.3 million for fourth place. The film cost only $3 million to produce.
ACADEMY SAYS ONLY ONE REASON FOR OSCAR MOVE: RATINGS
A spokesman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has denied widespread reports that the academy had decided to move its Oscar ceremony to February from March in order to shorten the sometimes nasty campaigns among the nominees. In an interview with today's (Monday) New York Times, John Pavlik said: "The basic reason for doing this is to improve the position of the Academy Awards with regard to ratings and viewership," Mr. Pavlik said. "The ratings have been dipping in recent years, and this is just one of a number of things we're trying to get those ratings up." But Miramax Co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said that the date change will work against smaller films that are released late in the year and require word of mouth to build. Academy voters, he says, may not even see them. "This shorter awards season is going to favor the bigger movies, which means favoring the bigger studios," he told the Times.
NEW MOVIE WEB SITES
THE GOOD GIRL ( FOX SEARCHLIGHT )
24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE ( MGM )
BLOOD WORK ( WARNER BROS. )
XXX ( SONY )
ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH ( WARNER BROS. )
BLUE CRUSH ( UNIVERSAL )
MOSTLY MARTHA ( PARAMOUNT CLASSICS )
SIMONE ( NEW LINE )
LAST KISS, THE AKA L'ULTIMO BACIO ( THINKFILM )
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