News for 10/31/2005

Exclusive: Spotlight on Angela Robinson

Source: Edward Douglas

Director Angela Robinson fascinates me. Ever since I saw her first feature film D.E.B.S., a movie which I didn't particularly like, I've just been amazed by how her career has unfolded.

D.E.B.S. started as a short film, which received raves at the Sundance Film Festival, so she expanded its premise of high school girls inducted into a secret spy agency into a full length feature. I wasn't very happy when I found out that Robinson would be directing the latest installment of Disney's Herbie, the Love Bug. You have to understand that I loved the character as a kid, and some might even say that I was obsessed with it to the point of owning a few VW Bugs long after they were cool. I was a bit concerned about a relatively new director who did a movie I didn't like taking over the steering wheel. When I finally saw Herbie: Fully Loaded, I was pleasantly surprised and glad to say that I was wrong about Ms. Robinson, because with a proper budget and better cast, she actually was a pretty decent director.

Thanks to the release of Herbie: Fully Loaded on DVD this Tuesday, I finally had a chance to talk to Ms. Robinson, nervous as hell that she may have read my D.E.B.S. review, which included some fairly harsh criticism, not only of that movie, but also of her being picked by Disney to do the Herbie movie.

Of course, I obviously was wrong about her, as she's actually quite cool, and if she ever sees my review, she'll forgive me.

CS: This is such a different movie from "D.E.B.S." in many ways, so how did you get this gig?
Angela Robinson: I don't know why everyone always thinks that's really weird. I think someone from Disney saw "D.E.B.S." at Sundance when we premiered it there and really loved it, so they got everybody else at the studio to watch it and then sent me the script. They really wanted somebody to bring a fresh voice to their old Herbie franchise. I was really attracted to the idea of a girl who wanted to be a racecar driver, so I went in, and I gave them my pitch on how I thought the movie should be, and then they gave me the job.

CS: Were you a Herbie fan as a kid or were you too young to be one?
Robinson: You know, I was a fan when I was a kid, too, but I hadn't seen the movies since forever. I just remembered them mainly from when I was a kid, and then, I went back and watched them and found especially the first "Love Bug" incredibly charming and very sweet. But I remember when I was a kid, I just loved them.

CS: Were you worried about the long-time Herbie fans who have been waiting this long for a new movie and whether they'd be freaked out by your new version?
Robinson: Not really. Actually, my whole pitch was to kinda keep the character of Herbie intact, like not totally reinvent him or make him CG or super-morphy or anything like that. I didn't think the Herbie fans would be that upset, because I was actually trying to remain true to the spirit of the original Herbie movies just because I thought that they had a charm of their own that I didn't want to mess with. That being said, it's a whole new land and a whole new context and a girl driving Herbie, and the world of NASCAR, which I thought were exciting new elements. (Read More...)

'Anatomy' Lesson Follows Super Bowl on ABC

LOS ANGELES ( ABC has given its second-year drama "Grey's Anatomy" a big vote of confidence, awarding the show the high-profile spot after the Super Bowl in February.

The episode will air following the game -- probably about 10:15 p.m. ET -- on Feb. 5, 2006. "Grey's Anatomy" is already performing extremely well as part of ABC's powerful Sunday-night lineup, and the network is hoping the Super Bowl episode could take the show to another level.

"'Grey's Anatomy' is a huge asset for this network and is fast becoming one of America's favorite Sunday-night events," ABC Entertainment chief Stephen McPherson says. "The producers are preparing a great episode that will appeal to new viewers as well as devoted fans."

So far this season, "Grey's Anatomy" is averaging about 18 million viewers per week -- sixth-best on all of television -- and a very healthy 8.2 rating among adults 18-49.

It's also the No. 2 show on TV among young women, behind its lead-in, "Desperate Housewives." Airing the show after the Super Bowl could draw some additional male eyeballs to the hospital drama, which stars Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh and Katherine Heigl.

ABC last used the post-Super Bowl berth for an episode of "Alias" in January 2003 that drew about 17.4 million viewers -- way above the show's average at the time. However, because the network devoted considerable time to a post-game show, the episode didn't air until 11 p.m. ET, resulting in the smallest audience for the post-Super Bowl program since NBC aired "The John Larroquette Show" after Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994.

Earlier this year, an episode of "The Simpsons" on FOX averaged 23.5 million people; in 2004, 33.5 million people watched the premiere of "Survivor: All-Stars" after the CBS telecast of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl.

Glover Dances to 'Dreamgirls'

LOS ANGELES ( Danny Glover is the latest actor to sign on for DreamWorks' feature version of the musical "Dreamgirls," set to be directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon.

Based on the Broadway hit, "Dreamgirls" is a fictionalized version for the story of the Supremes, focusing instead on a girl group called the Dreamettes. Beyonce Knowles will play Diana Ross-esque Dreamette Deena. Jamie Foxx is in place as their manager Curtis Taylor Jr., while Eddie Murphy has been on board for a while as R&B legend James "Thurber" Early.

Several parts remain uncast, including the key role of Effie, though "American Idol" champ Fantasia Barrino has been linked to the film.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Glover will play Marty Madison, the manager of Murphy's character.

Glover, a recent guest star on NBC's "E.R.," is best known for his work in the "Lethal Weapon" films. He's also been seen in films like "The Color Purple," "Witness" and "Sleep with Anger," though his most recent hit was "Saw," last year.

Weekend Boxoffice

'Saw II' Hacks Way to Top of Box Officez

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The horror tale "Saw II" hacked its way to the top of the box office, debuting with $31.7 million, almost twice the $16.3 million opening for the swashbuckling sequel "The Legend of Zorro."

The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. are:

1. "Saw II," Lions Gate, $31,725,652, 2,949 locations, $10,758 average, $31,725,652, one week.

2. "The Legend of Zorro," Sony, $16,328,506, 3,520 locations, $4,639 average, $16,328,506, one week.

3. "Prime," Universal, $6,220,935, 1,827 locations, $3,405 average, $6,220,935, one week.

4. "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," DreamWorks, $6,132,856, 2,491 locations, $2,462 average, $17,374,339, two weeks.

5. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," DreamWorks, $4,302,316, 2,935 locations, $1,466 average, $49,694,983, four weeks.

6. "The Weather Man," Paramount, $4,248,465, 1,510 locations, $2,814 average, $4,248,465, one week.

7. "Doom," Universal, $4,228,385, 3,042 locations, $1,390 average, $23,034,930, two weeks.

8. "North Country," Warner Bros., $3,560,238, 2,555 locations, $1,393 average, $12,109,718, two weeks.

9. "The Fog," Sony Screen Gems, $3,108,668, 2,587 locations, $1,202 average, $25,311,280, three weeks.

10. "Flightplan," Disney, $2,727,697, 1,766 locations, $1,545 average, $81,277,639, six weeks.

11. "Elizabethtown," Paramount, $2,382,813, 2,137 locations, $1,115 average, $22,699,053, three weeks.

12. "Good Night, and Good Luck.," Warner Independent, $2,003,682, 272 locations, $7,366 average, $7,239,225, four weeks.

13. "In Her Shoes," 20th Century Fox, $1,717,152, 1,402 locations, $1,225 average, $29,225,030, four weeks.

14. "A History of Violence," New Line, $1,351,883, 1,011 locations, $1,337 average, $28,542,075, six weeks.

15. "G," Aloha Releasing, $1,280,851, 495 locations, $2,588 average, $1,922,579, four weeks.

16. "Capote," Sony Pictures Classics, $1,096,902, 165 locations, $6,648 average, $3,492,551, five weeks.

17. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," Warner Bros., $942,360, 1,176 locations, $801 average, $51,905,641, seven weeks.

18. "Two For the Money," Universal, $632,145, 629 locations, $1,005 average, $22,151,385, four weeks.

19. "The Gospel," Sony Screen Gems, $623,898, 506 locations, $1,233 average, $15,033,775, four weeks.

20. "Stay," 20th Century Fox, $486,627, 1,684 locations, $289 average, $3,349,167, two weeks.

News for 10/26/2005

Chiwetel Ejiofor Lines Up Two More

Source: Variety

Chiwetel Ejiofor has been set to star in director Alfonso Cuarón's The Children of Men, as well as the Michael Almereyda-helmed indie Tonight at Noon, reports Variety.

Ejiofor, who just starred with Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster in the Spike Lee-directed The Inside Man, first joins Owen and Julianne Moore in the futuristic The Children of Men at Universal. He plays the leader of a radical political faction bent on controlling the future of the human race.

He'll then join Connie Nielsen, Lauren Ambrose and Rutger Hauer in Tonight at Noon. Ejiofor plays two characters in an Almereyda-scripted film about New Yorkers who experience random encounters that define their lives.

Paramount and MTV Films Hound Foxx

LOS ANGELES ( MTV Films and Paramount Pictures have secured Jamie Foxx and his producing partners, Jaime Rucker King and Marcus King for a two-year first-look deal.

In a press release announcing the deal, the Viacom entities say that "Foxx, King and Rucker King will provide services in connection with developing, supervising, producing, consulting and Foxx possibly appearing in MTV Films and other Paramount features, all released by Paramount Pictures." It's unclear what that means specifically, but it sounds like Oscar winner Jamie Foxx gets to do whatever he wants for a little while, "Stealth" or no "Stealth."

"MTV has an amazing history with Jamie Foxx as well as Marcus and Jaime King, so this is a fantastic opportunity to work with their talents and develop compelling feature films that suit the unique sensibility of our audience," says Van Toffler, president, MTV Networks Music Group and MTV Films. "Ever since 'In Living Color' we have been huge Jamie Foxx fans and had a great time working with him, including his hosting the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. To expand that relationship into our feature film business makes perfect sense for us."

Foxx had a great 2004 with Oscar nominated roles in "Ray" and "Collateral." Thus far, 2005 broughttrophies for those performances, but his only feature release has been the aforementioned "Stealth." Foxx gets a chance for redemption next month with Sam Mendes' "Jarhead." Other upcoming Foxx projects include "Dreamgirls" for Bill Condon and Michael Mann's "Miami Vice."

"Paramount Pictures considers Jamie Foxx a Hollywood force to be reckoned with," says Gail Berman, president of Paramount Pictures. "Developing features with Jamie, Marcus King and Jaime Rucker King creates an opportunity to tap into their creative force, and I'm delighted they'll have a home at Paramount."

Foxx is also OK with the deal.

"It's an exciting time to go into business with Paramount Pictures, and we're looking forward to developing projects that fuel the unique MTV Films' risk-taking mentality," the actor says.

News for 10/24/2005

Weekend Boxoffice

'Doom' No. 1 in Another Slow Movie Weekend

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- The Rock did not meet his doom at the box office, but his latest action flick came in with a light pop instead of a bang during another slow weekend at movie theaters.

"Doom," adapted from the sci-fi video game, debuted as the top movie with a modest $15.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. The movie led a lackluster lineup that continued Hollywood's box-office slump, with the top 12 movies taking in $71.3 million, down 27 percent from the same weekend last year.

"Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," a horse racing family film starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning, opened in second place with $9.3 million.

Charlize Theron's blue-collar drama "North Country," based on the real-life story of a woman who led a sexual-discrimination lawsuit against male co-workers at a mining company, premiered a weak No. 5 with $6.5 million.

"Stay," starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and Ryan Gosling in a thriller about a psychiatrist racing to save a suicidal patient, flopped with a $2.15 million debut.

Films in limited release opened strongly. The romance "Shopgirl," starring Steve Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman in an adaptation of Martin's own novella, debuted in eight theaters with $236,000. The comic crime thriller "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, took in $174,300 in eight theaters.

Both films expand to more theaters over the next couple of weeks.

Hollywood has been in a box-office slide for most of the year, with admissions running about 8 percent below 2004 levels.

Though distributor Universal expects to make its money back on "Doom," the studio had hoped for a bigger opening weekend, said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution.

"I'm very concerned about the marketplace," Rocco said. "There are so many movies out, so much to choose from, yet the marketplace continues to fall, and not just by little amounts."

Other studio executives are sticking to the idea that the industry has simply had a prolonged run of movies that failed to pack in crowds.

"I've been telling people for a long time that I think it's content-driven. I don't think we had a film that jumped out for people this weekend," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released "North Country."

Warner has a certain blockbuster coming in mid-November with "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Other big films scheduled through the holidays include "King Kong," "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "The Producers."

October typically is a slow time for movies. Over the same weekend a year ago, though, the box-office shot up on the unexpectedly strong debut of the ghost story "The Grudge," which opened with $39.1 million.

"In all fairness, this was more of a typical late-October weekend, as opposed to a year ago, when `The Grudge' surprised everyone and made this weekend look pale by comparison," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Doom," $15.4 million.
2. "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," $9.3 million.
3. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," $8.7 million.
4. "The Fog," $7.3 million.
5. "North Country," $6.5 million.
6. "Elizabethtown," $5.7 million.
7. "Flightplan," $4.7 million.
8. "In Her Shoes," $3.9 million.
9. "A History of Violence," $2.7 million.
10. "Two for the Money," $2.4 million.

Foxx Endorses Fantasia for 'Dreamgirls' Role

By Daniel Fienberg

LOS ANGELES ( It isn't every day that you hear an Oscar winner get excited about doing a film with a reality television veteran.

Talking to reporters about his upcoming role in "Jarhead," Jamie Foxx threw his full support behind Fantasia Barrino, winner of the third season of FOX's "American Idol," for one of the final uncast roles in the upcoming DreamWorks adaptation of "Dreamgirls."

"I think if Fantasia does it, it's outta here," Foxx gushes. "If Fantasia does the movie it's completely in the stratosphere. It's nuts."

Bill Condon, an Oscar winner himself, will direct "Dreamgirls," a big screen version of the hit Broadway musical that takes a fictionalized look at the rise of the Supremes. Beyonce Knowles is in place as Deena (the Diana Ross role), with Tony winner Anika Noni Rose and Eddie Murphy also on board.

Fantasia (she of the single name since her "Idol" win) has been linked to the role of Effie (originated on stage by Jennifer Holliday), the group's replaced lead singer, for some time. The casting rumors gained momentum in late summer with buzz of a impressive audition tape that swayed most of the project's creative talent. Despite all of the industry rumbling, though, the part remains curiously vacant.

Foxx's own participation in the film has been on-and-off, as the "Ray" star hesitated following his Academy Awards triumph. The material and the cast swayed him and now Foxx will begin work on "Dreamgirls" early in the new year after he completes Michael Mann's "Miami Vice."

"At first I wasn't going to do it," Foxx admits. "They didn't know what was going on. Then I was like, 'I wanna do it.' Then I found out Eddie Murphy was doing it and Beyonce was doing it and I said, 'C'mon man. I have got to get that. Save me a dollar man, because that's going to be outstanding."

Foxx is generally in a musical mood these days. His new album drops on Dec. 6 and movie reporters covering the "Jarhead" junket were treated to a sampler of the disk, which includes guests like Ludacris, Mary J. Blige and Kanye West.

"I fooled them a little bit too, because I've got some young stuff at the beginning, some young stuff at the end, but in the middle, it's our stuff -- some make love, how-you-doing, get-to-know-you, treat your woman like this, treat your man like that, some infidelity on both sides," he says.

"Jarhead," based on Anthony Swofford's best-selling memoir, will be in theaters on Friday, Nov. 4.

News for 10/15/2005

Paramount Boards Condon's Dreamgirls

Source: Variety

Paramount Pictures has signed on as DreamWorks' partner for Dreamgirls, the Bill Condon-directed adaptation of the stage musical, reports Variety.

The studios will co-finance the film, a thinly veiled telling of the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes in the formative years of Motown Records.

Dreamgirls stars Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy. Condon wrote the Oscar-winning musical Chicago.

DreamWorks will release the film in North America; Paramount will handle overseas. Production begins in January for a December 2006 release.

Who's in the basement?

Mehcad Brooks tightlipped about 'Housewives' plot

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Mehcad Brooks likes being Wisteria Lane's latest hunk. Just don't ask him what's in the basement.

"It changes you as much as you let it," he says of his newfound fame as Matthew Applewhite on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." "You kind of need to keep the same people around you."

But that means his "bills are higher," he jokes, because he's picking up the restaurant tab for his pals more often.

Matthew and mother Betty (Alfre Woodard) are objects of curiosity and suspicion in the neighborhood because of what they seem to be hiding in their home.

And such interest isn't limited to the script. In recent weeks Brooks has been approached by strangers demanding to know more about the mysterious cellar dweller, who on the last episode managed to escape captivity and had to be subdued by Matthew and mom with a pistol butt to the back of the head.

But Brooks will only say many surprises are in store for the popular soap opera.

"It's like those little Russian dolls. Open them up and there's more inside. The stories are very layered," he says.

Before moving to Wisteria Lane, Brooks was a relatively unknown actor, usually cast in athletic roles -- most recently as a basketball player in the upcoming movie "Glory Road," about the 1966 team with the first all black starting lineup that won the NCAA national championship.

"My favorite thing about 'Housewives' is that I don't have to dribble a basketball," says the 6-foot-3-inch actor, who turned down basketball scholarships to attend the University of Southern California's school of cinema-television.

Now to address the TV season's other watercooler question: Yes, Brooks is single.

"I'm really a kind of casualty of romance," he says, self-mockingly comparing his situation to the romantically challenged "Housewives." "I either ruin the relationship myself or I get hurt a lot."

Brooks, who turns 25 on October 25, was born in Austin, Texas, the son of a professional football player and a journalist. He recalls his passion for acting began at age 4 on a trip to Universal Studios with his grandmother.

"I said, 'Grandma, this is what I want to do with my life,' because I looked around and figured out that people made a living there."

"Desperate Housewives" shoots at Universal.

Brooks has worked as a model, but to help pay his tuition he also took less glamorous jobs, including window washer and theater usher.

"Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry says 100 to 150 young men were considered before sending about 25, including Brooks and brother Billy, to meet the producers.

Cherry had not originally written the Applewhites to be black. But after two other actresses turned down the role of Betty, Woodard was suggested. As a "huge fan," Cherry immediately felt she was ideal.

"I'm not one of those guys who says, 'Oh, we have to have diversity,"' he explains. "I just want great actors -- that's all I care about. Then when it came time to look for a son for her we just wanted someone who was sexy, but wholesome. Mehcad (pronounced Muh-CAD) had just a fine upstanding look about him, but he has a slightly dangerous sexy quality too, and we thought it was an intriguing combination."

Brooks agrees with Cherry's colorblind casting.

"The way I look at it, dysfunction has no color. It's equal opportunity, it invades every family no matter what economic level, no matter what race," he says. "It just so happens the Applewhites have a darker pigment of the skin."

Hounsou Takes Warner 'Blood' Money

LOS ANGELES ( Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou is in talks to round out the cast of the Warner Bros. drama "Blood Diamond."

As was reported earlier in the week, Jennifer Connelly is also in final negotiations to join Leonardo DiCaprio in the thriller, which will be directed by Edward Zwick.

The film is set in Sierra Leone and would star Hounsou as an African farmer who ends up in the middle of a war between a diamond smuggler (DiCaprio) and the local syndicate that runs the diamond industry. Adding a bit of new information, The Hollywood Reporter says that Connelly would play an American journalist.

The film was scripted by Zwick, regular collaborator Marshall Herskovitz and Charles Leavitt, from a story by Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell. Production is expected to begin in February shooting in South Africa and Mozambique.

A supporting actor Oscar nominee for "In America," Hounsou has most recently been seen in "Constantine" and "Beauty Shop." The Benin-born actor also earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in "Amistad."

News for 10/10/2005

Weekend Boxoffice

'Wallace & Gromit' Tops Live-Action Rivals

By David Germain
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Clay paid off at the box office for "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." The clay-animated family film debuted as the top weekend movie with $16.1 million.

The airplane thriller "Flightplan," which had held the top box-office slot the previous two weekends, slipped to second place with $10.8 million, lifting its total to $60.9 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

A rush of new wide releases filled out the top five, led by Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine's tale of squabbling sisters, "In Her Shoes," which opened at No. 3 with $10 million.

Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey's sports-gambling flick "Two for the Money" debuted in fourth place with $8.4 million.

"The Gospel" - starring Boris Kodjoe as an R&B singer making peace with his faith and his estranged father, a church bishop - had a surprisingly strong opening of $8 million, placing fifth for the weekend. The movie played in just 969 theaters, barely one-fourth of the cinema count for "Wallace & Gromit."

The restaurant comedy "Waiting," with Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris and Luis Guzman, premiered at No. 7 with $5.7 million.

Overall revenues slipped, with the top 12 movies taking in $87.8 million, down 10 percent from the same weekend last year.

Two acclaimed movies opened strongly in limited release. Actor-director George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck," featuring David Strathairn as legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, took in $420,000 in 11 theaters.

"The Squid and the Whale," starring Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney in a comic drama of a family's bitter divorce, grossed $124,000 in four theaters.

"Audiences are evidently paying attention to critical raves and really showing up in big numbers for these independent movies that have been very well-reviewed and kind of get a must-see vibe going for them," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

"Wallace & Gromit" was based on three short films made for British television about the adventures of a cheese-loving inventor and his long-suffering canine pal.

Featuring the voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, the big-screen "Wallace & Gromit" pits the duo against a monster rabbit ravaging the town's vegetable gardens.

"Wallace & Gromit" follows "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" as the fall's second film created through stop-motion animation, which involves photographing inanimate objects a frame at a time. The last big stop-motion film was "Chicken Run," from the makers of "Wallace & Gromit," which debuted with $17.5 million and went on to become a $100 million hit.

Distributor DreamWorks is counting on the film's stellar reviews and strong word of mouth to give "Wallace & Gromit" a long run in theaters. Though popular in the United States through the TV shorts, the characters have been far better known in their native Britain.

"In the U.S., they weren't as well-known as people might imagine," said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks. "I think they certainly will be after this weekend."

"The Gospel" was a late addition to the schedule of distributor Sony, whose strategy of marketing the movie heavily to black church groups paid off. Blacks accounted for 85 percent of the movie's audience, said Rory Bruer, Sony head of distribution.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," $16.1 million.
2. "Flightplan," $10.8 million.
3. "In Her Shoes," $10 million.
4. "Two for the Money," $8.4 million.
5. "The Gospel," $8 million.
6. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," $6.5 million.
7. "Waiting," $5.7 million.
8. "A History of Violence," $5.1 million.
9. "Serenity," $4.9 million.
10. "Into the Blue," $4.8 million.

News for 10/8/2005

Nipsey Russell, a Comic With a Gift for Verse, Dies at 80


Nipsey Russell, the comedian whose one-liners and impromptu rhymes made him one of television's popular talk-show guests and game-show panelists during the 1970's, died on Sunday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He was 80 and made his home in Manhattan.

The cause was cancer, said his manager, Joe Rapp.

One of the early black stand-up comedians who found success with mainstream audiences, Mr. Russell started performing professionally in 1931 at the age of 6, when he was featured as a singing, dancing master of ceremonies for a children's troupe in Atlanta organized by Eddie Heywood Sr., the father of the jazz pianist. By the 1950's he had become a seasoned comedian who set his act apart from the baggy-pants, mostly raunchy comics who were the staple of most black clubs of the time.

Dressed in a conservative business suit and tie but wearing a raffish porkpie hat, he offered a confident, sophisticated approach to comedy. His jokes and topical observations were often delivered in the form of aphorisms and rhymes. He had begun reading Shelley, Homer, Keats and Paul Laurence Dunbar when he was 10 and sometimes quoted from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." Hip, glib and conspicuously intelligent, he attracted downtown crowds to Harlem, becoming a standout attraction at the Baby Grand, Small's Paradise and other cabarets with quips like "America is the only place in the world where you can work in an Arab home in a Scandinavian neighborhood and find a Puerto Rican baby eating matzo balls with chopsticks."

Mr. Russell prided himself on the universality of his humor and insisted that he did not want to be labeled a black comic.

"I use mother-in-law jokes, kid jokes, tax jokes - anything that works," he said. But, despite telling at least one reporter that there was less racial material in his act than on the nightly news, his satirical comments on civil rights issues during the 1960's suggested that his usual stage diffidence masked more intense concerns. One of his favorite stories concerned an African delegate to the United Nations who stopped at a restaurant in Maryland only to be told that blacks were not served there.

"But I'm the delegate from Ghana," the diplomat protested.

"Well, you ain't Ghana eat here," the waitress replied.

Speaking of nonviolent protest, he observed, "He who turns the other cheek will get hit with the other fist."

Nipsey Russell was born in Atlanta on Oct. 13, 1924. ("My mother just liked the way the name Nipsey sounded.") He moved to Cincinnati and lived with an aunt during his senior year of high school so he would be eligible to attend the University of Cincinnati tuition-free. A four-year enlistment in the Army - where he was commissioned as a captain in the field during World War II - interrupted his studies at the university. But he returned and earned a degree in English in 1946.

After college, he pursued his stage career in earnest, working black circuit clubs in the Midwest and on the East Coast before graduating to the Apollo in Harlem and top Catskills resort hotels like the Concord. It was his tenure at the Baby Grand, a Manhattan cabaret, however, that led to guest spots on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show," and those national television appearances ignited his career in 1959. His catchy verse, aphorisms and gift of gab were perfectly suited for radio and television and soon he was making steady appearances on Arthur Godfrey's morning radio program and a variety of television shows.

He played a policeman in the popular situation comedy "Car 54, Where Are You?" in 1961 and became the first black performer to become a regular panelist on a weekly network game show when he joined ABC's "Missing Links" in 1964. A year later, he became a co-host of ABC's "Les Crane Show." During the 70's, he was a co-star in the ABC sitcom "Barefoot in the Park" and appeared regularly on "The Dean Martin Show" and "The Dean Martin Comedy World."

Mr. Russell was a frequent panelist on television game shows like "Hollywood Squares" and "The $50,000 Pyramid," where he always came prepared with topical verse:

Before we lose our autonomy

And our economy crumbles into dust

We should attack Japan, lose the war

And let Japan take care of us.

A tireless performer, he appeared in Atlantic City and Las Vegas until the early 1990's and continued to make television appearances until last year.

There are no immediate survivors, Mr. Rapp, his manager, said.

Although Mr. Russell was best known for his television and nightclub work, probably his most admiring reviews derived from his role as the Tin Man in the 1978 film "The Wiz." The movie variation of the Broadway variation of "The Wizard of Oz" was generally panned, but critics praised his performance.

In The New Yorker, Pauline Kael wrote: "He understands that the roles are vaudeville-comedian turns. ... [and] shows here that all his years of playing the inoffensive black entertainer in front of white audiences haven't softened him as a performer; he has the true pro's integrity of style."

Showtime Sets Condensed Run for 'Sleeper Cell'

LOS ANGELES ( Showtime thinks it has appointment-worthy television on its hands in its show "Sleeper Cell." So rather than roll out the series week by week, it's decided to schedule the 10-episode drama like a miniseries.

The series, about an FBI agent (Michael Ealy) and devout Muslim who infiltrates a terrorist cell run by a radical Islamist (Oded Fehr), is set to premiere Sunday, Dec. 4. New episodes will air at 10 p.m. ET Sunday through Wednesday over two weeks, with an encore at 11 p.m. each night. The final two installments airing back-to-back at 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18.

Showtime also has a multi-play strategy set, with encores of that week's episodes playing in two-hour blocks Thursday and Friday nights and marathons on Saturdays.

"We felt that 'Sleeper Cell' is a special television event whose themes have never been more relevant than they are today," says Robert Greenblatt, head of Showtime Entertainment. "We knew that once our subscribers started watching this compelling drama they would be hooked and wouldn't want to wait over two months for its powerful conclusion. The condensed scheduling underscores the momentum of the initial storyline, yet does not preclude it continuing as a weekly series."

The miniseries-style schedule is a little risky, but a conventional run has its downside too. Scheduling "Sleeper Cell" as a weekly series would mean airing episodes during the heart of the holiday season and ending it at the beginning of February sweeps, when the broadcast networks will be in high gear.

In December, though, the broadcast networks will largely be throwing up repeats as they take a break after November sweeps.

Four More in Estevez's Bobby

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Writer/director Emilio Estevez is continuing to assemble an impressive cast for Bobby, his passion project about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, says The Hollywood Reporter.

Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, Nick Cannon and Freddy Rodriguez are joining the cast, which already includes Anthony Hopkins and Demi Moore. Estevez also has a role.

Bold Films is financing and producing the ensemble film, which mixes fact and fiction to chronicle the intertwining lives of a grand cast of characters, all of whom are present at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel in the hours leading up to Kennedy's assassination.

Stone will play the wife of the hotel manager who works in the hotel's beauty salon. Wood's character is marrying a girl to change his draft classification. Cannon is a Youth for Kennedy volunteer, and Rodriguez is a hotel busboy.

Ten more major roles need to be filled, but after 4 1/2 years, Estevez is 2 1/2 weeks away from the first day of principal photography. The budget is less than $10 million.

Study Finds Young Men Attending Fewer Films


LOS ANGELES, Oct. 7 - As Hollywood continues to worry about the decline at the box office, a new study suggests that the movie industry is being jilted by the one audience it has pursued most ardently for at least two decades: young males.

In a survey of 2,000 moviegoers by OTX, a Los Angeles-based online research company, men under 25 said they had seen 24 percent fewer movies this summer than they did in the summer of 2003, when the same study was conducted. The drop in moviegoing was much smaller for women and for other age groups. The study used a random, nationally representative sample of moviegoers who were queried online in August. There is a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Instead, young men ages 13 to 25 reported that they were busy surfing the Web, instant-messaging with friends and playing video games on consoles like PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

The study also found that people who were attending movies less often were doing so because of the cost.

The study, which will be released next week, quantifies what many in Hollywood have theorized this year, as box office revenues have dropped 7 to 10 percent, namely that the increased competition for leisure time from the Internet and interactive gaming has eroded the movie audience.

But the study highlights that this erosion is occurring most deeply among those who were once most enthusiastic about going to the movies, and at whom Hollywood has long been aiming its wares: young males.

"I was surprised by the speed with which this has occurred, since video games have been around for a while," said Vincent Bruzzese, the study's author and senior vice president of OTX media and entertainment insights. "The digital environment has really captured the hearts and minds of everyone, and particularly younger males. They are staying home at an incredible rate right now."

The study echoed a finding about television viewing that was much disputed two years ago, when Nielsen Media Research charted a sharp decline in prime-time ratings among men ages 18 to 34. That finding, which delineated the growing fragmentation of the viewing audience, was also attributed to a rise in alternate activities, like video games. A year later, the viewership returned.

The finding leaves Hollywood rather in a bind. Having neglected the adult audience in favor of the youth market in recent decades, studios now find themselves losing ground in this important demographic. In the OTX study, young men also complained loudest among respondents about the movies themselves. Only 35 percent reported that there was an "excellent selection" of movie choices, down from 60 percent two years ago. Women and other age groups also reported a decline, though not as precipitous.

In the study's other major finding, a majority of respondents - 68 percent - said they had attended fewer movies because it had become too expensive. That reason was cited far more than other factors, like the decline in quality or a preference for waiting for the DVD.

"There hasn't been a dramatic price increase in the last two years, so it seems to be a case of the straw breaking the camel's back," Mr. Bruzzese said of ticket costs. "Price went up just enough, and the competition increased just enough, and the perceived release of the DVD window is shorter."

The finding suggested, he said, that the movie industry might want to consider solutions like establishing frequent-attendee reward programs, reducing ticket prices or promoting the merits of moviegoing.

While disputing that there was any serious decline in moviegoing, John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, said the industry needed to emphasize that moviegoing remained inexpensive compared with other activities outside the home, rather than reduce its costs.

"Ticket prices in movie theaters have increased by a slower percentage than any form of out-of-home entertainment in the last 10 years - take plays, music concerts, bowling," he said. "It is a conundrum for us, needing to educate patrons more about the value of going to movies, and we're working on that." (Ticket prices have risen 2 to 3 percent a year in the past few years, about even with inflation, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office.)

Mr. Fithian said he was "befuddled" by studies that show fewer people attending the movies. Looking at moviegoing patterns over three decades, and not just the past few years, he said, "the basic assumption that people are going to the movies less often is not true."

The OTX study also found that going to the movies was the second-most popular weekend activity reported, after going out to dinner, and just ahead of watching a DVD or video at home. The study reported the average person spending about $55 on weekend entertainment.

Jim Gianopulos, co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said Hollywood was already catering to diverse audiences beyond young men and would need to continue to do so.

"It makes no sense to continue aiming all your films at the same demographic quadrant," Mr. Gianopulos said. "Eventually they become stale and lack originality. No one would program a slate to do that. It has always been our strategy" to make movies for all kinds of audiences.

But Mr. Bruzzese said his study suggested that Hollywood might need to recultivate the practice of making movies for older audiences, who are less quick to adapt to the digital revolution.

"For the time being, you have a product that is in many ways geared to a particular audience that is the most distracted by the new digital environment," he said. Other audiences "aren't as distracted, but perhaps there isn't as much product for them."

UPN Extends Love-'Hates' Relationship with 'Chris'

LOS ANGELES ( "Everybody Hates Chris" has already lived up to its nearly overwhelming advance buzz, not to mention a brutally competitive timeslot, to deliver some of UPN's best ratings ever for a comedy series.

So it's really no surprise that the network wants the show to stick around. UPN on Wednesday (Oct. 5) announced it was giving "Chris" a full-season order.

"The early ratings results for 'Everybody Hates Chris' have been very encouraging, and we're thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive response that we continue to get from the press, the advertisers, the creative community and our viewers," UPN President Dawn Ostroff says. "We're now in production on our 11th episode, and from what we've seen and read, this wonderful series maintains its incredibly high standard of quality and the best days still lie ahead."

The show, executive produced and narrated by comedian Chris Rock, is a "Wonder Years"-ish fictionalization of Rock's life at a 13-year-old in Brooklyn. Tyler James Williams stars as Chris, with Tichina Arnold and Terry Crews playing his parents.

"Chris" set ratings records for UPN in its premiere two weeks ago, drawing the biggest audience ever (7.8 million people) for a comedy premiere on the network. Its second episode held up well against stiff competition, drawing just over 6 million viewers.

The strength of "Everybody Hates Chris" has also led to improved ratings on Thursday nights in UPN's target audience of adults and women 18-34, even though the three comedies that follow it -- "Love, Inc.," "Eve" and "Cuts" -- haven't been able to hold on to a lot of their lead-in audience.

"Chris" is the third new show of 2005-06 to earn a full-season pickup, following FOX's "Prison Break" and NBC's "My Name Is Earl."

News for 10/2/2005

Weekend Boxoffice

'Flightplan' Lands on Top of Box Office

AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jodie Foster's "Flightplan" stayed aloft at the box office, as the airplane thriller took in $15 million to remain the No. 1 movie over a rush of new wide releases.

The science-fiction tale "Serenity," a continuation of writer-director Joss Whedon's cult TV series "Firefly," debuted in second place with $10.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The overall box office, which had surged since Labor Day, fell back into a slump that has persisted most of the year. The top 12 movies grossed $75.3 million, down 26 percent from the same weekend in 2004, when "Shark Tale" opened with $47.6 million.

The animated fantasy "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" was No. 3 with $9.8 million, lifting its total to $32.9 million after two weekends in wide release.

After a strong opening in limited release the previous weekend, David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" expanded and came in fourth with $8.2 million. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as a family man whose tranquil life is shattered by encounters with mobsters.

"Into the Blue," a thriller with Paul Walker and Jessica Alba as divers hunting for treasure in a 150-year-old shipwreck, opened at No. 5 with $7 million.

The sports flick "The Greatest Game Ever Played," which dramatizes the 1913 U.S. Open golf showdown between an unknown amateur (Shia LaBeouf) and a veteran British champ (Stephen Dillane), debuted at No. 9 with $3.75 million.

Roman Polanski's "Oliver Twist," his new take on the Charles Dickens classic featuring Ben Kingsley, flopped in its wide-release debut after a solid premiere in a handful of theaters a weekend earlier.

Playing in 779 theaters, "Oliver Twist" took in just $875,000 for an $1,123 average. By comparison, "A History of Violence" averaged $6,119 in 1,340 theaters, "Serenity" averaged $4,616 in 2,188 cinemas, "Greatest Game" managed $3,697 in 1,014 movie houses and "Into the Blue" did $2,510 in 2,789 locations.

Polanski's version received mixed reviews, some critics noting the film faithfully adapted Dickens' story but brought little new to the tale of the orphan boy, which has been filmed in many variations for movies and television.

"It's probably one of those things where people feel they know the story so well, and to try to get them to come see it again, possibly in a new way, is not the easiest task," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, which released "Oliver Twist."

Opening strongly in limited release was "Capote," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in an acclaimed performance as author Truman Capote during his years researching and writing the true-crime novel "In Cold Blood." The film grossed $348,978 in 12 theaters for a $29,082 average.

Also in limited release, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" debuted with $155,000 in 41 theaters, averaging $3,780. The film stars Julianne Moore as a 1950s housewife who supports her family by winning advertising jingle contests.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Flightplan," $15 million.
2. "Serenity," $10.1 million.
3. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," $9.8 million.
4. "A History of Violence," $8.2 million.
5. "Into the Blue," $7 million.
6. "Just Like Heaven," $6.1 million.
7. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," $4.4 million.
8. "Roll Bounce," $4 million.
9. "The Greatest Game Ever Played," $3.75 million.
10. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," $3.1 million.

News for 9/28/2005

Weekend Boxoffice

Foster's 'Flightplan' Tops Box Office

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jodie Foster's thriller "Flightplan" landed atop the weekend box office, taking in $24.6 million in its debut.

The animated fantasy "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" _ after a week in limited release _ expanded to wide release and came in at No. 2 with $19.1 million.

The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.:

1. "Flightplan," Disney, $24,629,938, 3,424 locations, $7,193 average, $24,629,938, one week.

2. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," Warner Bros., $19,145,480, 3,204 locations, $5,975 average, $19,656,451, two weeks.

3. "Just Like Heaven," DreamWorks, $9,621,591, 3,509 locations, $2,742 average, $29,818,607, two weeks.

4. "Roll Bounce," Fox Searchlight, $7,570,366, 1,625 locations, $4,659 average, $7,570,366, one week.

5. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," Sony Screen Gems, $7,448,102, 3,045 locations, $2,446 average, $62,256,212, three weeks.

6. "Lord of War," Lions Gate, $5,034,906, 2,814 locations, $1,789 average, $17,382,050, two weeks.

7. "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," Universal, $4,310,270, 2,581 locations, $1,670 average, $96,944,308, six weeks.

8. "The Constant Gardener," Focus, $2,324,326, 1,282 locations, $1,813 average, $27,662,007, four weeks.

9. "Transporter 2," 20th Century Fox, $2,227,033, 1,726 locations, $1,290 average, $39,902,491, four weeks.

10. "Cry Wolf," Focus-Rogue, $2,189,343, 1,787 locations, $1,225 average, $7,454,801, two weeks.

11. "March of the Penguins," Warner Independent, $1,747,832, 1,405 locations, $1,244 average, $72,846,145, 14 weeks.

12. "An Unfinished Life," Miramax, $1,680,867, 888 locations, $1,893 average, $5,693,881, three weeks.

13. "The Wedding Crashers," New Line, $1,266,247, 1,225 locations, $1,034 average, $205,540,048, 11 weeks.

14. "Red Eye," DreamWorks, $1,117,525, 1,575 locations, $710 average, $56,999,383, six weeks.

15. "Four Brothers," Paramount, $882,659, 814 locations, $1,084 average, $72,526,233, seven weeks.

16. "Proof," Miramax, $835,210, 84 locations, $9,943 average, $1,093,229, two weeks.

17. "The Brothers Grimm," Miramax, $637,445, 996 locations, $640 average, $37,357,723, five weeks.

18. "A History of Violence," New Line, $515,992, 14 locations, $36,857 average, $515,992, one week.

19. "Sky High," Disney, $431,016, 526 locations, $819 average, $62,279,496, nine weeks.

20. "The Man," New Line, $381,622, 870 locations, $439 average, $8,063,150, three weeks.

Duncan Enrolls in 'School'

LOS ANGELES ( Oscar nominee Michael Clarke Duncan is the latest addition to the cast of Todd Phillips' comedy "School for Scoundrels."

Duncan and fellow new arrival Jacinda Barrett will appear opposite Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder in the Dimension Films production.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") stars as a sad-sack meter maid who takes a confidence-building class to learn the skills to romance his dream girl. Little does he know that his professor (Thornton) is after the same woman.

Duncan will play Lesher, one of Thornton's associates. Barrett will play the dream girl.

An Academy Award nominee for his work in 1999's "Green Mile," Duncan was most recently seen in a thankless part in "The Island." Next up for the actor is Will Ferrell's perpetually untitled NASCAR comedy.

The industry trades insist on referring to Barrett as the co-star of films like "Ladder 49" and "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," when she'll always be best known as one of the stars of "The Real World: London."

Forest Whitaker on active duty with 'Shield'

By Cynthia Littleton

There's a new menace in Vic Mackey's life.

Forest Whitaker has joined the cast of "The Shield" as a regular for the FX police drama's upcoming fifth season, set to bow in January.

Whitaker will play Detective Jon Kavanaugh, an ambitious newcomer to the Los Angeles Police Department's Internal Affairs division who is tasked with investigating rogue cop Mackey, played by series star Michael Chiklis, and the strike force he leads.

Whitaker was pursued for "Shield" duty by

"He's going to be a great foil for the guys on our show," said Shawn Ryan, the series' creator and executive producer. "Forest has always impressed me with his range. He's got an incredible sweetness and soulfulness but also strength. It's a rare combination for an actor and that appealed to me with this character."

Whitaker is committing to series TV at a time when his schedule already is overflowing with feature projects. He recently was onscreen at the Toronto International Film Festival in the indies "American Gun," which he also produced, "Mary" and "Little Trip to Heaven." He also has taken on the role of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the upcoming Fox Searchlight political thriller "The Last King of Scotland."

Whitaker was feted this month with a tribute to his work as an actor, director and producer at the 31st annual Deauville Festival of American Cinema in France.

"Shield" wrapped a strong fourth season in June that was highlighted by the addition of Glenn Close in an Emmy-nominated turn as Mackey's boss, Capt. Monica Rawlings. Ryan said that the character of Kavanaugh "will present the biggest danger to Vic and his team in the history of the series so far."

Whitaker's recent TV work as an actor includes Showtime's "Deacons for the Defense," and he was host of UPN's short-lived revival of "The Twilight Zone" in 2002.

Singleton to Get 'Behind the Lens' Award

NEW YORK (AP) - John Singleton will be honored with the fourth annual DaimlerChrysler "Behind the Lens" award.

Singleton, 37, is being recognized for his work as a writer, director and producer of feature films that have provided a platform for change in the depiction of black stories on the screen.

The award will be presented Oct. 23 in Los Angeles. Previous winners are Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles and Reuben Cannon. Recipients are chosen by an advisory panel of industry professionals.

"As one who always works behind the scenes, it is very gratifying to be honored by one's peers and those who appreciate the hard work we put into telling stories of our America," Singleton said in a recent statement.

His screen credits as a director include "Four Brothers," "Boyz N the Hood," "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "Rosewood."

DaimlerChrysler will present $25,000 to a charity chosen by Singleton.