News for 9/25/2003

Omar Epps Joins Alfie Remake

From Variety

Omar Epps will star opposite Marisa Tomei and Jude Law in the untitled Paramount remake of the 1966 Michael Caine classic Alfie. Epps will play Marlon, the best friend and co-worker of Alfie (Law). Charles Shyer is directing and co-scripted the pic with Elaine Pope.

Epps was last seen in the Showtime telepic Conviction. He next appears with Meg Ryan in the boxing drama Against the Ropes and with Christina Ricci in Wes Craven suspenser Cursed.

Erykah Badu Moves Into the House of D

From Variety

Erykah Badu has joined the cast of David Duchovny's writing and directorial debut, House of D.
The independent film, described as a drama about a man coming to terms with his past and present friendships, will star Duchovny and wife Tea Leoni, Robin Williams and Tyler Hoechlin.

Badu last was seen on the bigscreen in Lasse Hallstrom's The Cider House Rules.

Cannon Inside 'Beltway' with Miramax Thriller

By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Drumline" star Nick Cannon will appear in and executive produce the political thriller "The Beltway," playing a Capitol Hill intern who uncovers an illegal and dangerous plot overseen by the CIA.

The project marks Cannon's third with Miramax Films. The actor is shooting the studio's "Shall We Dance?" opposite Jennifer Lopez and will then segue into the October start of "The Underclassman," a film based on his own idea.

Cannon will next star in Warner Bros. Pictures/Alcon Entertainment's "Love Don't Cost a Thing," and he provides a voice in the upcoming 20th Century Fox feature "Garfield."

Weekend Boxoffice

Vampire Film 'Underworld' Tops Box Office

AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES - The vampires-vs.-werewolves blood feud "Underworld" put the bite on movie-goers, debuting as the top weekend movie with $22 million.

"Underworld," starring Kate Beckinsale as a vampire warrior, buried other new movies, with the Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles gospel romance "The Fighting Temptations" opening in second place with $13.2 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"Secondhand Lions," starring Robert Duvall, Michael Caine and Haley Joel Osment in the coming-of-age story of a teen and his oddball great-uncles, premiered at No. 3 with $12.9 million.

The previous weekend's top movie, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," fell to fourth place with $11.5 million, pushing its 10-day total to $41.4 million.

The thriller "Cold Creek Manor," with Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone as new homeowners terrorized by their house's former occupant, debuted at No. 5 with $8.3 million.

Overall ticket sales were unusually strong for September, typically a quiet time for Hollywood. The top 12 movies took in $94 million, up 37 percent from the same weekend a year ago.

"People seem to be in the mood for movies," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Studios are creating a new strong period at the box office by taking a chance and putting all these films out in what is not known as a big moviegoing time."

"Underworld" was the third horror movie to debut at No. 1 in the last month, following "Freddy vs. Jason" and "Jeepers Creepers 2." Critics generally slammed "Underworld," but the horror genre has a loyal audience unswayed by bad reviews.

"It's certainly a fun, audience-pleasing movie," said Jeff Blake, vice chairman at Sony Pictures, whose Screen Gems banner released "Underworld."

"Underworld" was Sony's eighth No. 1 debut of the year, tying a record set by Warner Bros. in 1999 and 2001, Dergarabedian said.

Woody Allen's box-office slump continued as his romantic comedy "Anything Else" opened well out of the top 10 with $1.7 million, the weakest debut among his four films for distributor DreamWorks.

"Anything Else," starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, capped a course of diminishing returns for Allen at DreamWorks. His "Small Time Crooks" debuted with $3.9 million in 2000, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" opened with $2.5 million in 2001, and last year's "Hollywood Ending" premiered with $2 million.

Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, expanded from its limited debut a week earlier and broke into the top 10 with $2.8 million.

A reissue of Brian De Palma's 1983 gangster epic "Scarface" debuted strongly with $268,000 in 13 theaters. A new DVD version of "Scarface," which stars Al Pacino, hits stores next week.

1. "Underworld," $22 million.
2. "The Fighting Temptations," $13.2 million.
3. "Secondhand Lions," $12.9 million.
4. "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," $11.5 million.
5. "Cold Creek Manor," $8.3 million.
6. "Matchstick Men," $7.8 million.
7. "Cabin Fever," $3.9 million.
8. "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star," $3.8 million.
9. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," $3.5 million.
10. "Lost in Translation," $2.8 million.

News for 9/18/2003

Magic Johnson Scores Film Deal with Warner Bros.

By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Earvin "Magic" Johnson's new production company has signed a deal with Warner Bros., where it hopes to make modestly budgeted urban pictures with crossover appeal.

Both parties have the option of extending the one-year, first-look pact into a four-year relationship that would encompass as many as 10 movies in the $8 million-$15 million range.

Johnson, the NBA star-turned-entrepreneur, co-founded Magic Hallway Pictures in July with producer Paul Hall, whose credits include "Higher Learning" and the 2000 remake of "Shaft."

While they consider urban teens their core audience, Johnson and Hall stressed their intention to produce movies with the potential to penetrate the suburban youth market.

"We like to call them 'urban-suburban pictures,"' Hall said in an interview, adding that many cultural trends originating in the urban centers are then picked up by suburban America. "We want to do pictures that have broad appeal, that are multiracial and have heart."

Projects being developed include a feature adaptation of the Jill Nelson novel "Sexual Healing," which they will produce along with Shelby Stone. Its plot involves two frustrated women who open a male brothel.

They also are developing "The Bomb," which is actually a carry-over from an earlier two-year deal Hall had with Warner Bros. It tells the story of a man suffering a midlife crisis who falls for a younger woman.

During its first year, the company plans to produce two movies with an emphasis on modest budgets.

"If you're smart with the budget, your ancillary really becomes your ancillary and not a way to make back your budget," Hall said.

Hall's feature film credits also include Warners' Frankie Lymon biopic "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" and Fox Searchlight's upcoming "Johnson Family Vacation," starring Cedric the Entertainer.

Johnson is founder and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, which includes the Johnson Development Corp., which creates entertainment complexes, restaurants and retail centers. He also heads Magic Johnson Entertainment, which teamed with Fox Searchlight to release "Brown Sugar" last year.

Bratt Sniffs Out Role in 'Catwoman'

By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Benjamin Bratt will play Halle Berry's love interest in "Catwoman," the film based on the DC Comics antiheroine of "Batman" fame.

The Warner Bros. film begins shooting Sept. 29 with mononymous French director Pitof at the helm.

Bratt will play Detective Tom Lone. Also on board are Sharon Stone as Laurel, a villainous cosmetics magnate; and French actor Lambert Wilson ("The Matrix Reloaded") as Georges, her evil husband.

Bratt most recently starred in last year's "Abandon." Other credits include "Pinero," "Traffic" and "Miss Congeniality." He also did a four-year stint on the TV series "Law & Order."

Weekend Boxoffice

'Once Upon a Time' Tops Box Office

AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES - Johnny Depp has made another transformation: oddball actor to box office moneymaker.

The star known for playing eccentrics in cult favorites such as "Ed Wood" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is establishing himself as a major box office draw with two films this weekend in the top five.

"Once Upon a Time in Mexico," starring Antonio Banderas as a mariachi-musician gunslinger and Depp as a sleazy CIA agent, debuted in first place with $24 million, according to industry estimates Sunday.

It was Depp's second consecutive No. 1 debut after the summertime hit "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

"Pirates," still performing strongly in its 10th week of release, came in at No. 5 with $4.6 million. So far, it has earned $288 million, making it the second highest-grossing movie of the year, behind "Finding Nemo."

Analysts said Depp's comical sashaying swashbuckler in "Pirates" may have helped sell audiences on "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," which was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez as a sequel to his films "El Mariachi" and "Desperado."

"Johnny Depp's career has been very interesting but he's normally not in the big blockbusters," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. "Suddenly, he's in the No. 1 and No. 5 movie in the same weekend. For any actor that's great, and for Johnny Depp it's totally unexpected and welcome."

Depp has had blockbusters before, such as "Sleepy Hollow" (1999) and "Chocolat" (2000), and modest hits like "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) and "Donnie Brasco" (1997), but they have been few and far between the respected but little-seen cult films like "Dead Man," "Ed Wood," "Benny & Joon" and "Fear and Loathing."

The first weekend's ticket sales for "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" nearly matched the total $25.4 million theatrical gross for 1995's "Desperado," which starred Banderas but not Depp.

The Nicolas Cage caper "Matchstick Men," about a con man and his daughter, opened in second place with $13.3 million, a modest debut consistent with some of Cage's recent underperforming films such as "Windtalkers" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin."

"This wasn't the kind of film that could strike across-the-board appeal," said Brandon Gray, proprietor of "He opened this about as well as it could be opened."

The cheaply made trapped-in-the-woods horror film "Cabin Fever" opened in third place with $8.5 million.

"It's a great weekend for horror and it's been a good season for horror," Dergarabedian said, citing the success of such recent slasher-monster films as "Jeepers Creepers 2" and "Freddy vs. Jason."

Ticket sales overall bounced back from last weekend's dismal earnings of $50.5 million, the lowest box office weekend in two years with "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" at No. 1. This weekend, "Dickie Roberts" fell to fourth place with $5 million.

The Bill Murray dramedy "Lost in Translation" debuted with $901,143 in just 23 theaters, posting an outstanding per-screen average of $39,180. The film opens in 125 theaters next weekend.

The top 12 movies grossed $73.5 million, up 45 percent from last week and about 1 percent from last year, when "Barbershop" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" topped the box office.

1. "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," $24 million.
2. "Matchstick Men," $13.3 million.
3. "Cabin Fever," $8.5 million.
4. "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star," $5 million.
5. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," $4.6 million.
6. "Freaky Friday," $4.1 million.
7. "Jeepers Creepers 2," $3 million.
8. "Open Range," $2.809 million.
9. "S.W.A.T.", $2.800 million.
10. "Seabiscuit," $2.7 million.

News for 9/13/2003

Van Peebles Duo Rue Lack of Minority Movie Power

By Amran Abocar

TORONTO (Reuters) - Director Mario Van Peebles lamented the lack of minority studio heads in Hollywood on Wednesday, saying little had changed his father, director Melvin Van Peebles, made the seminal blaxploitation film "Sweet Sweetback's Baaad Asssss Song" in 1971.

That film was a cult hit in the 1970s and helped put black cinema on the map as a precursor to films such as "Shaft" and "Superfly." It is recreated in Mario Van Peebles' new movie, which premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In "How To Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass," the younger Van Peebles plays his father and depicts the obstacles that almost shut down the original film, including death threats, lack of money, near blindness for the older man and hostile labor unions.

Van Peebles was uniquely positioned to make the film, having made his movie debut in "Sweetback" as a 13-year-old.

The director relied on the kindness of friends Ossie Davis, Nia Long, Joy Bryant and T.K. Carter, all of whom worked for low rates, to make "How To Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass." Like "Sweetback," the film was shot on a blistering schedule and made independently.

"There's no head of any studio that can greenlight a movie (who) is a minority, right now, today in 2003," he said. "You have to go ahead and do things yourself.

"Though Melvin had broken down the doors to some extent, they closed those doors," he said. "And in order to make any difference you had to start directing and creating films."

"Sweetback" introduced the black ghetto hero fighting back against "the man," or the white establishment. It was the highest grossing independent film in 1971 and opened the door for other black films and directors.

For Melvin, "Sweetback" was a rebuke to a Hollywood system, which up to that point mostly cast black actors as court jesters or in shoe-shuffling, timid roles where they were quickly killed off.

More than 30 years after "Sweetback," the maverick director is still irked by the lack of access minorities have in Hollywood and insists the fight against "the man" continues.

"The hype is just slightly different but it's the same old, same old," he said in Toronto this week. "The keepers of the gate...try and keep the disenfranchised disenfranchised."

News for 9/8/2003

Weekend Boxoffice

'Dickie Roberts' Takes Over Box Office

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - The band of grown-up kiddie actors in "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" beat back the bloodthirsty bat-creature of "Jeepers Creepers 2" at the weekend box office.

"Dickie Roberts," a comedy starring David Spade as a down-on-his-luck former child star, debuted at No. 1 with $7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The film appealed to family audiences, according to distributor Paramount Pictures, because it lacked gross-out gags and had an uplifting story about reclaiming the former star's lost childhood.

Still, it earned less in its opening weekend than Spade's trailer-trash comedy "Joe Dirt," which debuted in April 2001 with $8 million.

"He was more successful (co-starring) with the late Chris Farley," said Brandon Gray, proprietor of movie tracker "I mean $7 million in this day and age is a pretty mediocre opening at best, but they can brag about being No. 1 and it could have been a lot worse."

Last week's top film, "Jeepers Creepers 2," about a flying beast that feeds on a group of stranded teenagers, was nudged into second place, earning $6.7 million for the weekend.

The movie offerings generally attracted little interest, however, following the end of summer and the start to school for many children. Overall ticket sales of $50.4 million were down more than 14 percent from last year, when "Swimfan" topped the box office.

"It was a pretty typical post-Labor Day weekend: nothing spectacular, nothing too terrible," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co.

He said the $7 million collected by "Dickie Roberts" doesn't compare to the $40 million to $70 million debuts of summer blockbusters, pointing out that this kicks off the downtime between summer extravaganzas and the next popular moviegoing season, the holiday weeks full of would-be Oscar-contenders.

"The Order," a supernatural thriller starring Heath Ledger as a priest searching for a man who absorbs the sins of other people, debuted weakly in sixth place with $4.3 million. The film was the subject of squabbling between its makers and studio and was dumped into theaters without screening for critics.

Meanwhile, "American Wedding" became the 20th film released in 2003 to cross the $100 million mark.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" saw its cumulative total surge to $282.1 million, edging "The Matrix Reloaded" for the second-highest grossing film of the year. "Finding Nemo" is No. 1 with $333.9 million.

1. "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star," $7 million.
2. "Jeepers Creepers 2," $6.7 million.
3. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," $5.5 million.
4. "Freaky Friday," $5.1 million.
5. "S.W.A.T.," $4.6 million.
6. "The Order," $4.3 million.
7. "Open Range," $4 million.
8. "Seabiscuit," $3.7 million.
9. "Freddy vs. Jason," $3.2 million.
10. "Uptown Girls," $2.4 million.

'Creepers' Actress Sang for Her Supper

LOS ANGELES - Before actress Lena Cardwell began screaming for her supper in "Jeepers Creepers 2," she used to sing for her supper.

Cardwell performed on subway platforms in New York when she was a struggling actress, and would sometimes make $100 an hour.

"Everytime I did it, I really did put myself out there," she told The Associated Press. "It really gave me a lot of stamina and it really gave me a lot of perspective as a performer. Frankly I'm ready to try anything and I'm not really afraid as much."

She said she treated each performance as if she were singing in Carnegie Hall.

The work paid off. Cardwell stars in the popular horror flick, which was the top movie in the U.S. last weekend.

In the film, the bloodthirsty Creeper is back on his 23-year feasting schedule, toying with a stranded basketball team amid the Midwestern corn fields.

No spoof here. No wink-wink. None of the arch pseudo-sophistication of the "Scream" series. This is horror straight up, talons punching through the roof to grab your neck, music swelling to a crescendo five seconds before the next victim dies. Subtle as a brick, "Jeepers Creepers 2" is what it is, and you either love it or hate it.

News for 9/3/2003

That Raven, she's so busy

By Cesar G. Soriano

It's not every day that you become the tween queen of television. "It's crazy! I love it. I'm really enjoying myself, so it's cool," says Raven, the 17-year-old star of the Disney Channel comedy That's So Raven.

With the departure of Lizzie McGuire star Hilary Duff, the actress formerly known as Raven-Symone is now the top cheese at the kids' cable network. And Raven is spreading her wings:

•The Cheetah Girls, a Disney original movie starring Raven as a singer in an all-girl band, premiered Aug. 15 with some of the best ratings ever for the network. The musical is in reruns.

•That's SoRaven, about a girl who can see into the future just enough to get her into trouble, is now filming its second season. It's one of the highest-rated shows among "tween" viewers, ages 9 to 14. The show airs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. ET/PT, with new episodes premiering Oct. 3. On Sept. 20, Disney-owned ABC will begin airing Raven reruns on its Saturday lineup at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT.

• Raven will soon begin filming her first starring role in a feature film, Disney's All-American Girl. She also has been cast in the lead role for a Warner Bros. remake of Sparkle, about a Supremes-like group of singing sisters.

• The singer/actress, who recorded her first album at age 5, will release a new album next year on Disney's Buena Vista records. She also sings the Raven theme song, contributes to the show's upcoming soundtrack and performs on the Cheetah Girls soundtrack.

• On Sept. 7, Raven will perform the national anthem at the White House for the "Tee Ball on the South Lawn" game and picnic hosted by President Bush and his wife, Laura.

The Atlanta native has been acting since she was in diapers. Before now, she was best known as the precocious 3-year-old Olivia on Bill Cosby's show, a role she barely remembers. "It's so foggy. But I do remember the smells, how the set smelled, how Mr. Cosby smelled."

After that came roles on Hangin' With Mr. Cooper and two Dr. Dolittle movies.

Raven also shares a bit of TV history. With the January premiere of That's So Raven, she became one of the few African-American actress to have her real name in a show title. That, along with the show's physical slapstick style of comedy, has led to media comparisons with I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball.

"I'm honored to be in that category. Wow. I can kind of see it, but that's a BIG name. When I'm acting, I try not to think about it. I'm just trying to be me.

"Hopefully everybody enjoys my work. Hopefully I'll stay grounded, and hopefully it doesn't backfire," says Raven. "If I did change, my family and friends would kick my butt!"

With Hollywood calling, she juggles reading movie scripts with reading textbooks. The home-schooled student graduates from high school next month. The accomplished cook would like to attend culinary school someday. And she still tries to maintain some semblance of a normal teenager's life.

"When I'm back in Atlanta with my friends, we shop, we chill, we flirt," says Raven. She declines to say whom she's flirting with. "Oh, that's personal. I have to keep something to myself!"

Weekend Boxoffice

"Jeepers Creepers 2" Reaps Record

By Bridget Byrne

The summer season crept to a record sudden-death ending.

Jeepers Creepers 2 reaped a record $18.4 million over the four-day Labor Day holiday weekend, the studios' deadline for opening their "tentpole" potential blockbusters, chiefly aimed at out-of-school youth.

This R-rated MGM/UA release, made on the cheap compared to many summer offerings, arrived in 3,124 sites unopposed by any other new wide releases. Between Friday and Sunday, the munch-and-crunch sequel about an ugly critter with a taste for stranded youths, earned $15.3 million, according to final studio totals released Tuesday. Jeepers 2's average per screen over the full four days was $5,879.

All this blood money enabled it to beat the previous Labor Day record, set in 2001 by the original Jeepers Creepers, which averaged $5,378 at 2,944 sites, earning $13.1 million over three days and $15.8 million over the four-day holiday.

Exhibitor Relations, the company that tallies the box-office grosses, estimates a record overall box office for the summer season--$3.27 billion. However, the number of tickets sold since the summer season officially started on Memorial Day weekend was only the fourth highest on record, so it was steeper prices that enabled business to surpass last year and the $2.99 billion record set in 1999. (Final season totals are due Wednesday.)

The relaunch of the heist caper The Italian Job, which Paramount believed had been overlooked in the summer rush, accomplished its stated goal--doing just enough business ($3.9 million over four days at 1,964 sites) to reach the $100 million mark--$100.9 million to be precise--after 14 weeks of release.

Three other flicks capitalized on enough interest from the holiday crowds on what is traditionally a lackluster moviegoing weekend to reach that $100 million benchmark.

The cop actioner S.W.A.T. took in $10.5 million over four days. That landed the Sony movie at number four on the weekend top 10 list and brings its overall gross to $102.7 million after four weeks.

Universal's horse drama Seabiscuit, trotting along in seventh place, earned $9.1 million over the long weekend for release for a $104.6 million tally in six weeks.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle also managed to wing it past the $100 million goal, although the Sony release is now barely visible in theaters. The sequel scored $440,000 over the holiday to carry its gross to $100.3 million.

The weekend's number-two movie, the mom-daughter switcheroo comedy Freaky Friday, is heading in that direction. The Disney remake, this time starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, moved up two spots, earning $12.6 million over four days to push its four-week haul to $90.8 million.

As of this weekend, 15 summer releases have grossed $100 million-plus--but many were so expensive to produce that they aren't guaranteed to be profitable. Last year at this time there were 12 summer releases that had met that mark. All told, 19 films released in 2003 have hit $100 million.

Last week's number one, that other horror sequel, Freddy vs. Jason, dropped way down to seventh place after two weeks on top. The blood bath faceoff earned $8.7 million and has now grossed $73.9 million in three weeks.

Overall, the top 12 films grossed $106.1 million from Friday to Monday--a Labor Day record. The total surpasses by 16 percent the same period last year when the more sophisticated scare movie Signs knocked 'em dead in its fifth week of release. The Friday-Sunday combined gross of $81.6 million was down 4 percent from last weekend.

Here are the top 10 films from Friday to Monday (Friday-Sunday totals are in parentheses):

1. Jeepers Creepers 2, $18.4 million ($15.3 million)
2. Freaky Friday, $12.6 million ($9.2 million)
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, $10.82 million ($8 million)
4. S.W.A.T., $10.78 million ($8.3 million)
5. Open Range, $10.75 million ($8.1 million)
6. Seabiscuit, $9.1 million ($6.5 million)
7. Freddy vs. Jason, $8.7 million ($7.1 million)
8. The Medallion, $6.2 million ($4.7 million)
9. Uptown Girls, $5.6 million ($4.3 million)
10. American Wedding, $4.8 million ($3.7 million)

News for 8/25/2003

Samuel L. Jackson May Go Back in the Day

From The Hollywood Reporter

Samuel L. Jackson, whose S.W.A.T. is currently playing in theaters, is in early talks to star as a controversial California high-school basketball coach in Paramount's Back in the Day.

The film revolves around Ken Carter, who made national news in 1999 when he benched the entire undefeated basketball team at Richmond (Calif.) High School for poor academic performance. He forfeited two league games and made the gym off-limits until students raised their grades. His son was one of the members of the 1999 team who went on to earn four-year athletic scholarships. His was to West Point.

Mark Schwahn wrote the screenplay for director Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance). Production is scheduled to begin later this year.

Cedric the Entertainer Pacts with MGM

By Chris Gardner

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Cedric the Entertainer has signed a two-year production pact with MGM, the studio that brought him to a wider audience with the 2002 hit comedy "Barbershop."

The first-look deal aligns with MGM's pledge to produce and distribute more urban-oriented fare. It will release "Barbershop 2" next year. The studio in June picked up the pitch "Flash" for Cedric to star in and produce.

Cedric next stars in "Intolerable Cruelty" for Universal opposite George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. He is due to begin production on Paramount's "The Honeymooners" in October.

Weekend Boxoffice

'Freddy Vs. Jason' Remains No. 1 Flick

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - A weak batch of new movies made easy prey for "Freddy vs. Jason," which took in $13.45 million to remain the No. 1 weekend flick, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"Freddy vs. Jason," a blood feud between the villains of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th," was the first movie to retain the top spot for two straight weekends since "X2: X-Men United" in early May.

Years ago, big hits could linger at the top of the box office for weeks, but studios today focus on marketing blitzes to guarantee huge opening weekends before crowds drift on to the next blockbuster.

"This summer in particular we saw weekend after weekend with a new No. 1 film," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "That really speaks to the transitory nature of the business and audience habits. The shelf life of a movie is very short."

The year's top-grossing movie, "Finding Nemo," debuted at No. 1 in late May, slipped to second place the next weekend, then regained the top box-office spot in its third weekend.

"Finding Nemo" took in $1 million this past weekend, pushing its total domestic gross to $329.8 million. It has surpassed "The Lion King" ($328.5 million) as the top-grossing animated movie ever.

The weekend haul for "Freddy vs. Jason" raised its 10-day total to $61.5 million.

The best debut among new movies was for Jackie Chan's action comedy "The Medallion," which opened in fifth place with $8.2 million. Ashton Kutcher's romantic comedy "My Boss's Daughter" opened in 10th place with $5 million.

Executives of "The Medallion" distributor Sony and of "My Boss's Daughter" distributor Dimension Films said the movies were cheap enough that they still will turn small profits.

The Lisa Kudrow-Damon Wayans comedy "Marci X," which sat for more than a year on Paramount's shelves, opened with a dismal $865,000. The studio dumped it into a modest 1,200 theaters to boost its eventual home-video prospects.

Even with the weak slate of new movies, overall revenues were up sharply. The top 12 movies took in $86.2 million, up 33 percent from the same weekend last year, when box-office receipts petered out in a late-summer swoon.

This summer has closed with a surge of hits such as "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," "Seabiscuit," "American Wedding," "S.W.A.T." and "Freaky Friday."

Revenues this year from early May through Labor Day should wind up squeaking past Hollywood's record $3.8 billion haul in summer 2002, Dergarabedian said. But that reflects higher ticket prices and actual admissions this summer will be 3 to 4 percent lower, he said.

1. "Freddy vs. Jason," $13.45 million.
2. "S.W.A.T." $10.8 million.
3 (tie). "Freaky Friday," $9.4 million.
3 (tie). "Open Range," $9.4 million.
5. "The Medallion," $8.2 million.
6. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," $7.3 million.
7. "Seabiscuit," $6.3 million.
8. "Uptown Girls," $5.6 million
9. "American Wedding," $5.58 million.
10. "My Boss's Daughter," $5 million.

News for 8/18/2003

Underwood Brings Change to HBO's 'Sex'

AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES - Miranda's new squeeze in "Sex and the City" is handsome, successful and charming. He's also black — notable for a show that has been almost uniformly white in its casting.

The series about four single New Yorkers is finally allowing the city's ethnic diversity a central role.

Blair Underwood, introduced in Sunday's episode, plays Dr. Robert Leeds, the New York Knicks team physician.

The series about four New Yorkers, starring Sarah Jessica Parker (who's also an executive producer), Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, is in its final season. (It's a divided year: 12 episodes are airing through Sept. 14, then the series is to return in January 2004 with eight concluding episodes. Underwood is appearing through the end of the first batch.)

"We all of us, and no one more than Sarah Jessica, had lobbied for this for a long, long time," Nixon, who plays Miranda, said in an interview. "I'm a huge fan of the show, but if we had area in which we really could use improvement, it's certainly this one."

The comedy only lightly has brushed up against New York's diversity before.

Cattrall's character, bed-hopper Samantha, had a handful of flings with minorities and a romance with a Hispanic lesbian (Sonia Braga).

But the inner circle of friends and serious boyfriends remained steadfastly white. Like "Friends," another New York-set series, "Sex and the City" came under scrutiny for painting the town one color.

Last season on "Friends," a black love interest (Aisha Tyler) was introduced in a story line that, like the "Sex and the City" plot featuring Underwood, ran for four episodes.

"I think Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original columns (on which 'Sex and the City' was based), the world she writes about is extremely white," Nixon said. "And (series creator) Darren Star would say, `I know these people. I move in these circles. It's a very white circle.'"

"That's an argument to be made," Nixon said. "But it is six years later now, and I think it's irresponsible. I think it's about time."

Miranda, a single mother and lawyer who's been moping about lost chances with Steve, her child's father, meets Leeds when he moves into her building. She's on the co-op board that vets potential buyers.

Here's Nixon's take on the encounter: "There's a sense Miranda is trying to push him because, A, he's a great candidate, he's a doctor, he earns a lot of money, he's very personable; B, a little diversity would be nice; and C, she's trying to hide the third thing that she thinks he's utterly adorable and would love to have him in the building.

She's masking her attraction to him in political correctness, which I think is funny."

Underwood has been a television groundbreaker before. In 2000, he starred in the CBS drama "City of Angels," a TV rarity with its predominantly black cast. The series, which he said was unable to find its creative footing quickly enough, was canceled because of low ratings.

"There was a lot of responsibility weighing on that show. At least we did two seasons," said Underwood, whose upcoming projects include the film "How Did It Feel?" and the animated Nick at Nite series "Fatherhood," based on Bill Cosby's book. The actor just signed to star in the film adaptation of the novel "My Soul to Keep."

He found out he was being offered the "Sex and the City" role in the usual way, through a call from his agent, although the conversation started with a less-than-usual query.

"The first thing I remember hearing was, `Do you have any problem with nudity?'" Underwood recalled. "My answer was, `Hey, I'm not ashamed.'"

He enjoyed every aspect of filming, especially a scene in Madison Square Garden ("The 10-year-old child inside of me that loves sports was in seventh heaven that day") and working with Nixon, whom he calls "amazing."

Underwood also expressed satisfaction with the colorblind story, which barely takes notice of the ethnic difference between his character and Miranda.

"It's a non-issue," he said. "I think that's more current in this day and age, when it's not a novelty to see interracial dating on television anymore."

That's especially true when you're dealing with characters such as those on "Sex and the City," he said, described by Underwood as "four progressive New York women in 2003."

"Who are they going to bow down to or be with concerned with or kowtow to? Not their parents or society," he said.

Does that make it more surprising that the series had refrained from such relationships? "I didn't have that conversation with them (the producers)," Underwood said. "But if this is their final season, it's time."

Weekend Boxoffice

Slashers Freddy and Jason Top Box Office

AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES - The horror tag-team "Freddy vs. Jason" had a killer weekend as the showdown between the bad guys of the "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" franchises debuted with $36.4 million.

That was more than the combined total for the entire theatrical runs of the last installments in each franchise. Last year's "Jason X" — the 10th "Friday the 13th" flick — topped out at $12.6 million, while 1994's "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" — the seventh in that series — grossed $18.1 million.

The idea of pairing "Nightmare's" Freddy Krueger and "Friday's" Jason Voorhees had been kicked around since the early 1990s, so there was great fan anticipation. The combination revitalized both movie serials, whose endless sequels had become parodies of themselves.

"It worked because it's a brand new series. It's an original movie with name recognition," said Russell Schwartz, head of domestic marketing for "Freddy vs. Jason" distributor New Line Cinema. "We took it seriously and didn't turn it into `Scary Movie.' Not that it doesn't have humor, but we didn't want to go too campy."

"S.W.A.T.", the previous weekend's No. 1 movie, fell to second place with $18.6 million, bringing its 10-day total to $70.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall's Western, "Open Range," opened at No. 3 with $14.1 million. Directed by Costner, "Open Range" stars him and Duvall as free-range cattle grazers battling a rancher's thugs.

"Uptown Girls," starring Brittany Murphy as reluctant nanny to a precocious 8-year-old girl, premiered in fifth place with $11.2 million. The skateboarding adventure "Grind" opened at No. 12 with $2.6 million.

In limited release, "American Splendor" — starring Paul Giamatti in a film biography of cult comic-book writer Harvey Pekar — opened strongly with $156,000 in six theaters. The top winner at last winter's Sundance Film Festival, "American Splendor" expands to more theaters over the next few weekends.

The overall box office, which has slumped for much of summer, rose sharply this past weekend. The top 12 movies took in $132.1 million, up 33 percent from the same weekend a year ago.

Last week's power blackout in the Northeast and Midwest appeared to have little effect on overall movie attendance. Some movies, including "Freddy vs. Jason," did more business on Friday when power outages remained widespread than on Saturday, when power had been restored.

"It's hard to say the power failure had an effect," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Perhaps the numbers would have been a bit stronger without it. But the net effect was nil from what I'm looking at, because this was a really good weekend."

1. "Freddy vs. Jason," $36.4 million.
2. "S.W.A.T.", $18.6 million.
3. "Open Range," $14.1 million.
4. "Freaky Friday," $13.1 million.
5. "Uptown Girls," $11.2 million.
6. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," $8.5 million.
7. "American Wedding," $8.2 million.
8. "Seabiscuit," $8.1 million.
9. "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," $5.2 million.
10. "Bad Boys II," $3.2 million.

Raven is Warner Bros.' Sparkle

From Variety

Warner Bros. has set 17-year-old actress Raven to star in Sparkle, the remake of the 1976 drama about a Supremes-like group of singing sisters. Michael Elliot (Like Mike) has been brought on to rewrite the script by E. Lynn Harris.

Raven, who stars in the Disney Channel series That's So Raven, will take the role originated by Irene Cara, playing the youngest sister in a sibling trio that becomes a sensation but suffers conflict and tragedy in the process.

The original was scripted by Joel Schumacher and directed by Sam O'Steen, and the original songs by Curtis Mayfield will likely be used in the remake. Raven will do her own singing in the film and has just recorded an album for Walt Disney Records.

Raven is also set to star in the Disney feature film All American Girl, scripted by Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries).

Saldana, Luna Checking in at Spielberg's 'Terminal'

By Chris Gardner

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Zoe Saldana and Diego Luna are joining headliners Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the cast of Steven Spielberg's "Terminal," which begins shooting at the end of next month in Los Angeles.

Hanks plays a Balkan immigrant who makes an airport transit lounge his home after he learns that the borders of his war-torn nation have been blurred, voiding his passport and leaving him without a country.

Making friends among the airport employees in the United States, including a baggage handler (Chi McBride), he falls in love with a flight attendant (Zeta-Jones), which prompts his escape a year later.

Saldana joins Stanley Tucci in playing representatives of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Luna will play an airport employee. The project is set up at DreamWorks.

Saldana is currently in theaters with "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," while Luna co-stars in Kevin Costner's "Open Range," which opens Friday.