News for 7/12/2005

Tyler Perry's Reunion Stars Filming

Source: Lions Gate Films

Lions Gate Films, the motion picture acquisition, production and distribution arm of Lions Gate Entertainment, has begun principal photography in Atlanta today on Tyler Perry's screen directorial debut, Madea's Family Reunion, it was announced today by Mike Paseornek, President of Production, Lions Gate Films. The film is Perry's follow up to his phenomenal box office success Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

"Discovering Tyler Perry has been a very rewarding venture for LGF and we couldn't be prouder of Tyler's success," said Paseornek. "The continuing saga of Madea's enormously humorous trials and tribulations will keep audiences in stitches all over again and we look forward to the second endeavor in what promises to be a very successful franchise."

"One of the best ways I can show my gratitude at the public response to 'Diary' is to try to make the next one even better. I know with the great cast we've assembled that 'Madea's Family Reunion' is going to be a wild time," said Perry.

Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman was an incredibly successful release for Lions Gate Films, surprising industry analysts by earning the number one slot at the box office in its opening weekend and generating over $50 million at the domestic box office in the course of its theatrical run. The DVD was released just last week and has already become a sales phenomenon, with 2.4 million units sold in the first week alone. Lions Gate Films has signed Perry to a multi-picture deal, establishing him as a franchise for the company for years to come.

Based on Tyler Perry's acclaimed stage production, Madea's Family Reunion continues the adventures of southern matriarch Madea and finds her attempting to organize the yearly family reunion while dealing with the family's struggles and problems and trying to make the big weekend a success. Perry will make his big screen directorial debut from his screenplay. Reuben Cannon will produce, with a cast that includes Perry, Rochelle Aytes, Lisa Arrindell Anderson, Boris Kodjoe, Lynn Whitfield, Blair Underwood, Jenifer Lewis, Henry Simmons, Tangi Miller, Keke Palmer, Dr. Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson. Additional casting is still in negotiation.

Weekend Boxoffice

Slump's over? 'Fantastic'!

Marvel adaptation manages mighty $56 million opening

By Greg Hernandez
Staff Writer
Los Angeles Daily News

Hollywood's longest box office losing streak may be over, thanks to a heroic rescue by "Fantastic Four," a Marvel Comics adaptation that snared a shockingly big $56 million weekend take, according to studio estimates Sunday.

If the numbers hold when final totals are announced today, the streak of 19 consecutive weekends in which box office receipts lagged behind 2004 totals will have ended on the weekend it would have reached five full months.

"Four," based on the Marvel Comics series and released by 20th Century Fox, overcame critical drubbings to surpass industry expectations and claim the title for fifth biggest July opening ever.

"It looks like we may have finally broken the 813-week slump or whatever it's been," joked Bruce Snyder, Fox's president of distribution. "This movie is light and fun and doesn't take itself too seriously, and it played through the roof. This became the everybody movie, and it didn't matter that some critics were punching it."

The weekend's top 12 movies earned an estimated $140.9 million, up 2.26 percent from the $137.8 earned by last year's top 12 on the same weekend, according to figures released by the box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co.

"This is very encouraging," said Exhibitor Relations Co. President Paul Dergarabedian. "The fact that audiences lined up and they wanted to see a fun, summer comic book movie proves that people still want to go and see these types of films in the theater and not wait for DVD."

"Four" was assisted mightily by "War of the Worlds," which took in a hefty $31.3 million in its second weekend in theaters. The Paramount Pictures release, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg, dropped from first to second place. It has earned $165.8 million domestically since its June 29 release.

"Batman Begins," starring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader, finished in third place by earning an estimated $10.2 million in its fourth weekend. Released by Warner Bros., "Batman" is one of the summer's biggest hits with a cumulative gross of $172.4 million so far.

Opening in fourth place was the thriller "Dark Water," a Disney release starring Jennifer Connelly that enjoyed far better reviews than "Four" did. "Water" took in an estimated $10.1 million, which was in line with industry expectations.

"It's nice to be a part of what appears to be the weekend that is going to break the negative streak of our business," said Chuck Viane, president of Disney's Buena Vista Distribution.

Rounding out the top five was the still-popular Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie action picture "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." The Fox release added an estimated $7.8 million to its box office coffers, with its five-week gross a stellar $158.6 million.

"The picture just keeps going and going," Snyder said.

Fox, which had four movies in the top 10, had even more reasons to celebrate as "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" finished in 10th place with an estimated $2.6 million in ticket sales. That was enough for it to reach $370.8 million overall and to edge past "The Passion of the Christ" to become the ninth-highest grossing movie of all time.

The movie industry, which still trails 2004 attendance by nearly 10 percent, will look to gain momentum next weekend with big openings for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" starring Johnny Depp and the comedy "The Wedding Crashers" with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released today.

1. "Fantastic Four," $56 million.
2. "War of the Worlds," $31.3 million.
3. "Batman Begins," $10.2 million.
4. "Dark Water," $10.1 million.
5. "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," $7.85 million.
6. "Herbie: Fully Loaded," $6.3 million.
7. "Bewitched," $5.5 million.
8. "Madagascar," $4.3 million.
9. "Rebound," $2.9 million.
10. "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," $2.6 million.

It's nonstop work for Denzel

By Marilyn Beck and Stacey Jenel Smith

There'll be no rest for Denzel Washington, who recently completed his Broadway stint in "Julius Caesar' and went immediately into preparations for Spike Lee's "Inside Man.' Once he wraps that story of a bank robbery gone awry with Clive Owen, Jodie Foster and Willem Dafoe, "We get him in September. They're looking to shoot not long after Labor Day.' That's writer Bill Marsilii, speaking of "Deja Vu,' which will be directed by Tony Scott for producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Marsilii, who joined forces with Terry Rossio on the "Deja Vu' screenplay that was bought in a whopping $5 million deal, notes that Washington will play an FBI agent investigating the bombing of a ferry boat. "He notices something odd about one of the victims -- she would have had to have been killed three hours before the explosion. He tells his superiors, 'Whoever killed this woman, Claire, stole her car and used it to drive the bomb onto the ferry.' The character is subsequently shown a prototype time window device that allows users to see a few days into the past. The decision is made to train it onto the dead woman's final days. Claire turns out to be fascinating and lovely, Denzel's character is captivated. He wonders whether the machine can be used to help save her life, and ...' "That's as much as the trailer will show,' says Marsilii. For him, the realization of the spec project marks the summit of a long grueling climb through years of projects studios loved that somehow never got made, promising deals and development hell.

The role of Claire is being cast now.

MEANWHILE: Denzel's support of the Fisher House charity, which provides sick and injured soldiers' families with lodging near the hospitals where their servicemen and women are staying, is getting increasing attention by way of the Internet and word-of-mouth -- to judge by our reader mail. He gave the organization the largest donation it had ever received and agreed to serve on its board of trustees months ago. We've been among those who've received letters from fans wanting to know, as one e-mail via CompuServe and Netscape puts it, "Why wasn't Denzel's heroic donation to our military troops given more attention by the media? What he did is definitely worth broadcasting.'

Actually, Denzel is among the laudable group of celebrities who don't attempt to glorify their images by making charitable endeavors a public matter, who feel that doing for others is something that should remain private. We applaud that.

Fraser, Def, Moreno & Braga Take Journey

Source: Millennium Films

Brendan Fraser (Crash, The Quiet American, and Gods and Monsters) is scheduled to start Millennium Films' production of Journey to the End of the Night, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, September, 2005. A gritty thriller of betrayal beyond redemption set against the harsh backdrop of a South American city defined by drugs, money, sex, and corruption, Journey to the End of the Night pits a tortured son against his father as they separately develop plans to escape the desolation of their lives through a lurid underworld.

Mos Def (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Woodsman, The Italian Job) is in negotiation to star and compose the score for the film. Also in negotiation is Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace).

Scott Glenn (Backdraft, Silverado, Urban Cowboy) and Alice Braga (City of God) also join the cast.

The film is written and will be directed by Eric Eason. His first feature film, Manito, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize and went on to receive 14 other awards at festivals around the world. The first annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City named Eason Best Emerging Filmmaker for writing and directing Manito, which was released in 2003.

Journey to the End of the Night will be produced by James Acheson, Frank DeMartini (Mozart and the Whale) and Richard Gladstein (Finding Neverland, The Bourne Identity). Executive producers are Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Danny Dimbort & Boaz Davidson for Millennium Films and Simon Millar & Adam Shulman of The Firm.

'Fantastic Four' Director Has His Own Origin Story

By Daniel Fienberg

LOS ANGELES ( Tim Story has heard all of the skeptical questions from journalists and fans alike: Why would Marvel and 20th Century Fox entrust a franchise as venerable and potentially lucrative as "Fantastic Four" to a director whose credits get no bigger than "Barbershop" and "Taxi"?

"I just went in and showed them my passion for the material and my education on the material," Story explains. "Luckily for me, they believed me."

Marvel has certainly had some success bringing up young, hungry directors from the independent ranks. Before they launched the "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" juggernauts, for example, Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi were best known for making complex films for mere pittances, but both men would now probably look at a $100 million budget as starvation wages. After seeing "Barbershop" and marveling at how Story created a dysfunctional family dynamic in an enclosed setting, Avi Arad had no qualms about letting the director have his way with "Fantastic Four."

"I have a philosophy that may be controversial, but I feel like directors have to be able to direct the small movie," Marvel's CEO says. "They have to be able to get the relationships and the acting. There are specialists to do the special effects, physical effects, CGI and so-forth. What the director needs to do is have a vision and then rely on the specialists."

While it took "Barbershop" to convince Arad, Fox executives had to see a rough cut of "Taxi" before signing off on Story. Although the Queen Latifah/Jimmy Fallon madcap comedy was shredded by critics, it made just under $36 million domestically and sold the studio on the young director.

"One of the biggest things for them was tone," Story recalls. "They knew that our movie had to be fun. It wasn't like 'X-Men.' It wasn't a dark movie. It wasn't like 'Batman.' It wasn't a dark movie. This movie that had to walk the fine line between humor and action and adventure." (Read More...)

News for 7/5/2005

Terry McMillan's Epilogue to 'Groove' Affair

Author Files for Divorce, Claiming Husband Is Gay

By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer

That groove that Terry McMillan got back on her tropical vacation, when she met the hot young Jamaican stud Jonathan Plummer, who rearranged all her atoms into a new transcendental orbit? Who inspired the bestseller "How Stella Got Her Groove Back"? Which became the box-office sensation with Angela Bassett and a torso-writhing Taye Diggs? With the shower scene and the beach scene, which some women have watched with yearning and hope, oh, 89 times?


Worse, gone down low .

In a pending California divorce that is getting uglier by the hour, McMillan, 53, claims that Plummer, 30, is gay and manipulated her into marriage to become a U.S. citizen. She contends he wants to bust their prenup and get at some of the millions she has earned as a best-selling author.

Plummer, in documents filed with Contra Costa County Superior Court, claims that McMillan is "homophobic" and bent on revenge. He didn't know he was gay when he met her in 1995 on a beach in Negril, he told the San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported about the breakup on Sunday.

"It was devastating to discover that a relationship I had publicized to the world as life-affirming and built on mutual love was actually based on deceit," McMillan wrote in her declaration to the court. "I was humiliated."

And frightened, said her attorney, Jill Hersh.

"It's very scary for her," Hersh said yesterday, "because he appears to have been living a dual life that has left her exposed to disease." Asked whether McMillan had been tested for HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, Hersh said, "I'm not going to discuss that."

McMillan is on vacation before a 10-city tour begins next month for her next book and unavailable for comment, said a spokeswoman for her publisher.

Plummer was occupied doing television interviews and also could not be reached for comment. His cousin, Mark Plummer, who said he was serving as "media liaison," said Jonathan "didn't know what he was when he met Terry. He didn't know a lot about a lot of things. About this time last summer, he tried to have this discussion with her. He had felt the rumblings in himself for a while and felt a shift in himself. . . . The physical aspect of their relationship had dissolved."

"Nonsense," says J.L. King, author of "On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep With Men."

"He knew he was gay," says King. "I feel so sorry for her. It's a devastating time."

Last night, McMillan seemed to acknowledge she has joined a new sisterhood: "She is very much aware that many women across the country are faced with situations such as this," read a statement sent by her personal publicist, "and just like those women she will not let this detract from the many blessings in her life."

This is more than another celebrity fairy tale fizzling, deeper than a dishy hot summertime story. This particular rupture in this particular marriage has cultural explosiveness because McMillan writes with such authenticity and intimacy about the lives of middle-class black women -- their rages, loves and hurts, their aspirations and defeats, their sisterhood and isolation in the wider world.

Her books create their own phenomenons. "Disappearing Acts," about a pedigreed music teacher trying to find love with a construction worker, ignited plenty of sharp talk about whether McMillan denigrated black men. And when an editor complained that her female character, Zora, was too "preppy," she shot back, "Look, she's not barefoot and pregnant, living in the projects and getting her ass kicked. I cannot apologize because some of us have been to college."

In "Waiting to Exhale," four professional women got together to drink white wine and bemoan that they would never find Mr. Right. McMillan sold 4 million copies and got a $2.6 million paperback advance. The movie grossed $67 million, and women all across America organized group outings to the theater and, later, home parties to watch it on video. When one of the characters torched her badly behaving man's car, they would jump to their feet and hoot their approval, like the punk kids who shout out the lines at midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Her readers thought McMillan was writing about them. And Terry didn't have a man, either. Dogged at marketing herself, McMillan always was plenty eager to share her own life story and offer up frank quotes. She was a single mom. She'd had her struggles with cocaine. All that money, and the newfound success she worked hard to get, and the bright son with the good grades and the promising track career, and the big, beautiful house outside San Francisco, but no man.

Then her mama died from asthma and, totally depleted, McMillan dragged herself off to Jamaica to recuperate.

The golden-brown Plummer appeared. He was 20, working at the hotel where she was staying. He didn't care that she was not some young thing with taut skin, she said later, and he didn't know anything about who she was. She came home in a state of extended bliss and wrote "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" in a white heat. She told everybody all about this when the book came out, and dedicated it "To Jonathan P."

She did worry a little bit about the age difference, she said, but her friends told her to drag him on up to the States, saying they hadn't seen her look so satiated in years. Plummer moved into her $4 million home, and next thing he knew, he was escorting her to movie premieres with Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett and getting the full scrutiny at book signings for "Stella."

The whole tableau was so inspirational that thousands of itchy women started flocking to the Caribbean, scouring the beaches for their own special bronzed groovemakers.

That's all over now.

Plummer is out of her house and on the evening news. He's thinking about his own book, "How Stella Lost Her Groove," which Mark Plummer portrays as a tale of "recovering from life with Terry." In court documents, he has contended that he told her before Christmas that he was gay. In her response to his filings, McMillan says he leveled with her only after she confronted him about hours of phone calls to a male friend in Jamaica and his perusals of online gay chat sites.

Hersh, McMillan's attorney, says the estranged husband is "attempting in a very concerted way to shine a very distorted light in an effort to get something from her that he is not entitled to. He has victimized her in every conceivable way both emotionally and financially."

There are restraining orders on both sides. McMillan obtained one to keep Plummer from her house, according to documents, and claims she discovered he had embezzled at least $200,000 from her bank accounts. Plummer got his after he alleged she had harassed him for coming out of the closet, and had come to his dog-grooming business and thrown things. In a Jan. 14 letter filed with the court, McMillan wrote to Plummer, "The reason you're going to make a great fag is that most of you guys are just like dogs anyway. . . . You do whatever with whomever pleases you and don't seem to care about the consequences."

Plummer contends in documents that McMillan tried to prevent him from obtaining his share of royalties for "Stella." In her filed response, she says that is untrue, adding she gave him $150,000 in the first few months after he arrived in California, and later paid for him to go to community college and San Francisco State University. She has been ordered to pay him $2,000 a month in spousal support as well as some attorneys' fees.

Now all those tender moments McMillan recounted about their life look a little different: how she and the mister got into dyeing each other's hair once a month, "like being a little kid with paint." How she set him up in the dog-grooming business.

Even her flinty-eyed prediction of their future was off. She told Us magazine: "My husband is much younger than I am. I say to him: 'Hell, some day I'm going to be old and wrinkled and you might be on the Viagra but still, chances are we're going to outgrow each other before then,' and I'm not just talking about him getting with a younger woman. He might just bore me to death."

In 2001, she told The Washington Post, "husbands come and go." Unless the case is settled first, the divorce is headed for an October hearing, after which a judge presumably will rule which party gets custody of The Groove.

Weekend Boxoffice

'War of the Worlds' Takes in $77.6M

AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - "War of the Worlds" conquered the box office as easily as the movie's aliens overpowered Earth, but it did not have enough firepower to overcome Hollywood's prolonged slump.

Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise's sci-fi tale took in $77.6 million over the long Fourth of July weekend, lifting its total since debuting Wednesday to $113.3 million, according to studio estimates Monday.

That fell well short of the all-time high held by "Spider-Man 2," whose $180.1 million haul in its first six days led Hollywood to a record Fourth of July weekend last year.

The top 12 movies took in $160.1 million, off 25 percent from that 2004 record weekend.

It was the 19th straight weekend that domestic revenues were down compared with last year's, extending the longest slump since analysts began tracking detailed box-office figures. The worst downturn previously recorded was 17 weekends in 1985.

For the year, revenues are down about 7 percent, while factoring in higher ticket prices, admissions are off 10 percent. The longer the slump drags on, the harder it gets for Hollywood to dig itself out of that revenue hole, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

"There's a spotlight on the slump and people's dissatisfaction about going to the movies. That negative perception can create a negative reality," Dergarabedian said. "It also gives people the opportunity to vent all the reasons they don't like going to movies, whether it's high ticket prices or the costs at the concession stand. So they feel validated in that by the slump."

"War of the Worlds," Spielberg and Cruise's update on H.G. Wells' classic about space invaders laying siege to Earth, had the second-best four-day opening over Fourth of July, behind the $115.8 million for "Spider-Man 2."

"Anybody disappointed with the second-biggest opening ever on Fourth of July weekend should really sort of seek help," said Rob Friedman, vice chairman for motion pictures at Paramount, which handled domestic distribution for "War of the Worlds."

The studio hopes "War of the Worlds" will have a long shelf life at theaters, since Spielberg and Cruise's audiences tend to skew older than crowds that rush out over opening weekend for such comic-book adaptations as "Spider-Man 2," Friedman said.

"This is not a sequel. It's not based on a comic book and a young fan-based property. This is based on a 100-year-old literary property," Friedman said. Spielberg and Cruise's "movies tend to play longer, stay in the marketplace longer, so I think as it relates to `Spider-Man 2,' we'll have to wait and see what the long haul brings."

Opening in 78 countries last week, "War of the Worlds" took in an additional $102.5 million overseas from Wednesday to Sunday, putting its worldwide total at well over $200 million. Paramount did not yet have figures on how much the movie took in internationally on Monday.

"War of the Worlds" bumped "Batman Begins" to second place after two weekends in the top box-office slot. "Batman Begins" hauled in $18.7 million over the four-day weekend to raise its three-week domestic total to $154.1 million.

The weekend's other new wide release, the Martin Lawrence basketball comedy "Rebound," fouled out with just $6 million from Friday to Monday, coming in at No. 7.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Tuesday.

1. "War of the Worlds," $77.6 million.
2. "Batman Begins," $18.7 million.
3. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," $12.7 million.
4. "Bewitched," $10.8 million.
5. "Herbie: Fully Loaded," $10.5 million.
6. "Madagascar," $7 million.
7. "Rebound," $6 million.
8. "Star Wars: Episode III _ Revenge of the Sith," $5 million.
9. "The Longest Yard," $3.5 million.
10. "George Romero's Land of the Dead," $3.2 million.

Four Brothers Set Visit

Source: Joshua Starnes

Half of the Mercer house - childhood home to Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), Angel (Tyrese Gibson), Jeremiah (André Benjamin), and Jack (Garrett Hedlund), the titular brothers of John Singleton's Four Brothers - sits on a sound stage in Toronto, almost looking like it could be lived in but for the pipe rigs and tubing that keep it from falling in.

"How are ya'll doing," he asks us when we arrive at CineSpace Studios - a few minutes outside of the Toronto financial district - around noon. It's fairly late in the day for most film sets, but Four Brothers has only just gotten going. I'm told they have a tendency to start at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, then later and later as the week progresses, but they still always manage a ten-hour day. Which means they'll be here until 10 p.m. tonight at least.

Singleton doesn't look worried, though. Dressed in a breezy gray cotton shirt (despite the 40 degree temperatures outside), he's very calm and laid back as he prepares his first shot of the day. We've caught him just as he was running up to his office.

"I'll be by to talk to you guys in a minute," he says and leaves, and we proceed to get our first glimpse of the sound stage.

The original Mercer house, and the street it's on, was a location in Hamilton - a large city west of Toronto that will be filling in for Detroit in the film. That house and the street corner have been reconstructed on the sound stage. Even the facades of the neighboring houses have been built - standing in the right place you would think you were standing in a real neighborhood, until you looked up at the mass of lighting rigs above you. (Read More...)

Gosling & Mackie Starring in Half Nelson

Source: Variety

Ryan Gosling (The Notebook) and Anthony Mackie will topline the independent film Half Nelson, a feature adaptation of helmer Ryan Fleck's Sundance-winning short film Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Variety says the drama, filming this month in Gotham, follows a unique relationship between a white schoolteacher, his African-American student and a local drug dealer.

The movie is being directed by Fleck, who co-penned the screenplay with Anna Boden.

'Alias' Co-Star Joins New Burnett Biopic

LOS ANGELES ( "Alias" co-star Carl Lumbly will play the lead role in "Nujoma: Where Others Wavered," the latest from award-winning filmmaker Charles Burnett.

The independent feature is based on the autobiography of Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia and former president of the South West African People's Organization. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the part of Nujoma (Lumbly) covers his life from his early 20s ( a bit of a stretch for the 52-year-old actor) into his late 60s.

Danny Glover also stars in the film, which will reunite Burnett with two of his "To Sleep With Anger" stars. Production has already begun in Namibia with an assistance from the African nation's Film Commission.

Lumbly has played Agent Marcus Dixon for four seasons on ABC's "Alias" and will return to begin production on the show's fourth season late this summer. His other notable credits include "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension," "Men of Honor" and a regular role on "Cagney & Lacey."

Burnett last directed the "Warming by the Devil's Fire" segment of the miniseries "The Blues." His acclaimed features have spanned from 1977's "Killer of Sheep" to "Anger," for which he received Independent Spirit Awards for direction and screenplay.

Ice Cube is the Teacher of the Year

Source: Variety

New Line Cinema has bought comedy pitch Teacher of the Year from writer Jeff Bushell with an eye for Ice Cube to star in the tale of two junior high school instructors in a brutal competition to take teacher of the year honors.

Variety says that once a finished draft comes in, Cube will likely attach himself to the project if everyone involved wants to move forward.

Bushell worked on Curious George for Universal and is penning South of the Border for Disney. Cube was last seen in Are We There Yet? and XXX: State of the Union.

News for 6/26/2005

Mekhi Phifer Making Directorial Debut

Source: Variety

Mekhi Phifer (ER) will make his directorial debut on the indie comedy film Easier, Softer Way, which has just been acquired by Sony Pictures.

Variety says the film follows two hapless pot heads involved in a scheme to rip off a mysterious character called Mr. Big after the duo sours on rehab.

Phifer is set to star, along with Maura Tierney, Scott Grimes, John C. McGinley, Ronnie Warner, Terry Crews and Mo Collins.

The film, written by Warner, is scheduled to shoot in Los Angeles in July.

Production Wraps on Freedomland

Source: Revolution Studios

Filming has wrapped on Revolution Studios' Freedomland, a drama directed by Joe Roth and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore and Edie Falco, it was announced today. The film, which is based on Richard Price's acclaimed novel of the same name and is being produced by Scott Rudin, will be released by Columbia Pictures on January 13, 2006.

The screenplay for Freedomland is by Price (Ransom, Clockers, Sea of Love, The Color of Money), and is adapted from his 1998 novel. Revolution Studios' Charles Newirth (Christmas with the Kranks, Peter Pan, Maid in Manhattan, America's Sweethearts) is serving as executive producer.

Revolution Studios and director Joe Roth bring to the screen Richard Price's Freedomland, a highly-charged and gritty mystery of a car hijacking, a missing child and a neighborhood torn asunder, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore.

"I have known Richard Price for his entire career, and I believe that 'Freedomland' is his best work," said Roth. "I am excited to be bringing it to the screen with such talents as Sam Jackson, Julianne Moore and Edie Falco and to be working again with the talented and successful Scott Rudin."

Rounding out the cast are Ron Eldard, Anthony Mackie, William Forsythe and Aunjanue Ellis.

Evan Ross Naess Snacks on Jellybeans

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Evan Ross Naess is in talks to join the cast of Warner Bros. Pictures' roller-skating comedy Jellybeans, says The Hollywood Reporter. Music video helmer Chris Robinson is directing.

Ross Naess, the son of Diana Ross, will play Ant in the film, a contemporary urban comedy with music and dance set in a roller-skating rink in Atlanta.

Tina Chism, Antwone Fisher, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Joe Robert Cole wrote the script. The story is based on material by Dallas Austin and T-Boz.

More Cast for Lee's The Inside Man

Source: reports that Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer, Peter Gerety, Peter Frechette, Jason Manuel Olazabal, Darryl 'Chill" Mitchell and Ashlie Atkinson have joined the cast of director Spike Lee's The Inside Man.

They join Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster and Willem Dafoe in the drama which pits a cop against a clever bank robber who's trying to pull off the perfect heist and finds himself in the middle of a hostage situation.

The studio targeting a March 24 release date for the film.

Jackson & Ricci in Black Snake Moan

Source: Variety

Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci are negotiating to star in Black Snake Moan, a gritty drama Hustle & Flow helmer Craig Brewer will direct in Memphis in September, reports Variety.

Brewer will reteam with "Hustle" producers Stephanie Allain and John Singleton for the film, which will also be distributed by Paramount Classics.

Jackson would play Lazarus Woods, a God-fearing ex-blues musician who is a father figure to a sex-addicted woman played by Ricci. Justin Timberlake is being courted to play Ricci's boyfriend.

Jackson would shoot the film right after he completes work on the New Line's Pacific Air Flight 121. Ricci last starred in Wes Craven's Cursed.

Weekend Boxoffice

'Batman Begins' Wins Box Office Amid Slide

AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - "Batman Begins" took in $26.8 million to remain the top movie for the second straight weekend, but it could not keep Hollywood from sinking to its longest modern box-office slump.

Overall business tumbled despite a rush of familiar new titles _ "Bewitched," a "Love Bug" update and the latest zombie tale from director George Romero.

Revenues for the top 12 movies came in at $116.5 million, down 16 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Fahrenheit 9/11" opened as the top movie with $23.9 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

It was the 18th weekend in a row the box office declined, passing a 1985 slump of 17 weekends that had been the longest since analysts began keeping detailed figures on movie grosses.

"Batman" lifted its 12-day total to $121.7 million.

Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell's sit-com update "Bewitched" debuted in second place with $20.2 million.

Audiences were lukewarm toward the weekend's other major premieres. "Herbie: Fully Loaded," with Lindsay Lohan behind the wheel of the speedy VW "Love Bug," was No. 4 with $12.75 million, raising its total since debuting Wednesday to $17.8 million.

"George Romero's Land of the Dead," the fourth installment of the flesh-munching zombie saga from the director of "Night of the Living Dead," debuted at No. 5 with $10.2 million.

In narrower release, the documentary "Rize," about the south-central Los Angeles dance form known as krumping, opened at No. 12 with $1.6 million.

In limited release, the nature documentary "March of the Penguins" had a strong debut of $121,788 in four theaters. "Yes," starring Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian and Sam Neill in a drama about an affair between an Irish-American married woman and a Lebanese man, opened with $29,437 in seven cinemas.

Theater revenues have skidded about 7 percent compared to last year. Factoring in higher ticket prices, movie admissions are off 10 percent for the year, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

If the slump continues, Hollywood is on course for a third straight year of declining admissions and its lowest ticket sales since the mid-1990s.

"We're working with a pretty huge deficit that would take a lot of business to overcome," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Just breaking the slump is not enough. We would have to reverse the trend and see attendance on a big uptick."

Even with a big Fourth of July weekend expected from Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise's "War of the Worlds," which opens Wednesday, Hollywood still may not snap its losing streak. Over the same weekend last year, "Spider-Man 2" pulled in $180 million in its first six days, leading the industry to a record Fourth of July.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Batman Begins," $26.8 million.
2. "Bewitched," $20.2 million.
3. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," $16.75 million.
4. "Herbie: Fully Loaded," $12.75 million.
5. "George Romero's Land of the Dead," $10.2 million.
6. "Madagascar," $7.3 million.
7. "Star Wars: Episode III _ Revenge of the Sith," $6.25 million.
8. "The Longest Yard," $5.5 million.
9. "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D," $3.4 million.
10. "Cinderella Man," $3.3 million.

Academy Invites Foxx to Join As Member

When "Ray" star Jamie Foxx won a best actor Oscar in February, he shouted out, "wow, wow, wow, wow!" Now the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is offering him another wow-worthy honor: membership in the organization.

The Academy announced Friday that it has invited Foxx and 111 other notables within the film community to join in 2005.

That number, down from 150 in past years, represents the Academy's new goal of selectivity to slow its growth, said spokesman John Pavlik.

This year's crop spans the gamut from "Bewitched" comedian Will Ferrell to Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal ("The Motorcycle Diaries").

Thirty-three Oscar nominees were asked, including actors Clive Owen ("Closer") and Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways"), actresses Sophie Okonedo ("Hotel Rwanda") and Catalina Sandino Moreno ("Maria Full of Grace"), and screenwriter Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby").

Committees representing the Academy's 14 branches, including film editors, producers and art directors, propose and vote on would-be members before leaving final say to the Board of Governors.

Oscar nominees, if not already a part of the Academy, are automatically considered, though not necessarily invited to join.

New members will be inducted into the Academy at an invitation-only reception Sept. 21.


Jones' Illness Closes 'Pond' Revival

LOS ANGELES ( - Veteran actor James Earl Jones, known as the voice of CNN and Darth Vader, will be taking a break to recover from pneumonia.

Unfortunately, this will cause the Broadway revival of "On Golden Pond," in which he starred, to close on Sunday, June 27, reports the AP.

"The entire 'On Golden Pond' family is heartbroken to close this production prematurely, and it's especially disappointing that James Earl Jones won't be with us for our final performances," says producer Jeffrey Finn in a statement Thursday.

Jones, 74, has been out seen Wednesday, June 15, causing the show's box office to plummet. The actor's doctors feel that he wouldn't be able to take to the stage till August because of the "seriousness of recuperating from pneumonia."

Jones portrayed professor Norman Thayer, a role that Charles Tucker played in Jones' absence. "On Golden Pond" opened April 7 to mainly positive reviews, especially for Jones.

Jones has an Oscar nomination for his leading role in 1970's "The Great White Hope." His recent film credits include voice work for Fox's animated "Robots" and reprising his role as the Darth Vader's voice in "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith."

Disney So Renews 'Raven'

LOS ANGELES ( The Disney Channel has greenlit a fourth season of its top-rated series "That's So Raven" -- the first time the network has gone beyond three years for one of its shows.

Production on the new season, which will also see the show's 19-year-old title star take a producer credit, is set to begin next month, according to The Hollywood Reporter. By the time it's finished, "Raven" will have reached 100 episodes, another first for a Disney Channel show.

In the past, the network has opted to end production of series after 65 episodes. "That's So Raven" has already surpassed that mark, thanks to an extended third season that continues this summer.

In addition to a fourth season of the show, Disney Channel also plans to produce a "Raven" original movie, which would likely air in 2007. The channel is also looking at the possibility of a sequel to "The Cheetah Girls," which starred Raven and aired in 2003.

In addition to her own show, Raven has done voice work on another Disney Channel series, "Kim Possible."