Sean Smith

Stories by Sean Smith

  • NEXT STOP, 'NEVERLAND'

    At the moment when Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet needed to believe most, they just couldn't. During a crucial scene in "Finding Neverland," the entire wall of a living room literally lifts away to reveal a breath-taking fairyland. "We were all, like, 'What the f--- is that?'" Winslet says, laughing. "I confess, Johnny and I were, like, 'That is never going to work.' I mean, how wrong can you be?"Directed by Marc Forster, who led Halle Berry to an Oscar two years ago in "Monster's Ball," "Neverland" is about the events that inspired J. M. Barrie (Depp) to write "Peter Pan." With his childless marriage, as well as his career, faltering, Barrie befriends four boys--Jack, George, Michael and Peter--and their widowed mother, Sylvia (Winslet). The "lost boys" help Barrie relocate his passion as a writer. He teaches them that imagination can stave off grief and age, among other things--that you can grow up without growing old. "The loss of childhood is just so... sudden," Depp says. "One...
  • WILL OSCAR LISTEN?

    Millions of people surely believe that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" deserve best-picture Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, most of them don't vote for the Academy Awards. Despite shattering box-office records and dominating head-lines for months, these two films face real obstacles in the race for Hollywood's top prize. Of the many high-placed studio executives, producers, Oscar strategists, publicists and Academy members interviewed for this story, most think that "Fahrenheit's" chances depend on the results of the presidential election, and all say that a "Passion" best-picture nod is almost unthinkable. Hollywood, with its Jewish roots, did not experience "The Passion" as a transcendent religious and emotional event, as so many other viewers did. Some haven't forgiven Gibson for even making the film, let alone forgotten his father, Hutton, and his inflammatory statements about the history of the Jews. "I'll tell you why 'The...
  • LIFE ISN'T BEAUTIFUL

    Probably no one in modern Hollywood has been responsible for more great movies than Harvey Weinstein. The co-chairman of Miramax, who runs the company with his brother, Bob, all but created the independent-film market with such movies as "sex, lies, and videotape" and Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." In the past 15 years, Miramax has racked up a staggering 221 Oscar nominations and 15 best-picture nods. That success would seem to afford the Weinsteins permanent job security with their parent company, Disney. It doesn't. Last week the brothers laid off 55 employees, their film slate has shrunk by almost 30 percent, and their future is in jeopardy. "A year from now Miramax will still be around, but the question is whether Harvey and Bob will still be there," says one industry executive. "You can't imagine how much antipathy there is for them. It's going to be a nail-biter."Harvey Weinstein and Disney CEO Michael Eisner have been annoying each other for years--like two alpha dogs in...
  • PUPPET POWER

    Here's a phrase you don't hear every day: explicit puppet sex. It's also something you may not see in "Team America: World Police." The first cut of the new movie from "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone featured a scene of two naked marionettes getting very down and very dirty. Sadly, the Motion Picture Association of America, which doles out film ratings, doesn't give points for artistic vision. It slapped the film with an NC-17. For Parker and Stone to get an R, some or all of the scene will have to be cut. "I think it's a beautiful scene about lovemaking," Parker said last week as he prepared a shot of a drunk puppet vomiting on a bar. "Apparently, the MPAA can't handle that much love."Forget the MPAA. How are the rest of us going to handle it when the movie opens on Oct. 15? Aside from being a $32 million musical-comedy parody of a Jerry Bruckheimer action movie starring a cast of 22-inch puppets, "Team America" is a cannonball plunge into the sociopolitical deep...
  • This Gore Is No Bore

    The word "funny" is not the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the name "Gore." Last year, when Miramax announced it had commissioned Kristin Gore, daughter of Al, to write a comic novel about a single woman working in Washington, Jay Leno turned the book into a punch line of his own. "It's about a Capitol Hill staffer who works with a congressman on a health-care subcommittee," he said. "Apparently that boring gene doesn't fall far from the tree." Turns out, yes it does."Sammy's Hill" is a laugh-out-loud literary debut, certain to draw comparisons to "Bridget Jones's Diary." Samantha Joyce, its idealistic heroine, is a whiz at the office and a wreck everywhere else. She gets a neck rash when she meets a cute guy, seeks out telemarketers for romantic advice, can't Rollerblade worth a damn and obsesses over questions like how she'd get ready for work each morning if, say, a lion ripped off her right arm. ("People laughed, but I lived only a few short miles from the zoo.")...
  • COMING ATTRACTIONS

    On the first day of shooting their new film, Natalie Portman gave Julia Roberts a gift. The two women had never met, and because Portman had always admired Roberts, she decided to present her with a delicate silver necklace. On the chain were four letters that spelled out the most profane term for the female anatomy--otherwise known as the C word. "I just thought that was hilarious," Portman says. "But then I was like, 'I hope I don't offend her'." Nope. Compared with what Roberts has to hear, and say, in "Closer," it's practically sweet talk. Directed by Mike Nichols and adapted from the acclaimed play by Patrick Marber, "Closer" stars Portman, Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen as strangers who fall in love and then proceed to destroy one another with cruelty, infidelity and narcissism. As in Nichols's early films, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "Carnal Knowledge," the dialogue is shocking, as much for its emotional nakedness as for its raw language. When Roberts first saw...
  • NEWSMAKERS

    Q&A: Anne HathawayAnne Hathaway, 21, the dimpled klutz who charmed Julie Andrews--and kids worldwide--in "The Princess Diaries," is now back in theaters with the sequel. She talked to NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin.How much fun is it to wear a tiara?Not as much fun as taking a walk through the woods but more fun than having your eyebrows plucked. The initial excitement is great. Then the pins start sticking into your scalp.You trip a lot in the new movie.Oh, God, yeah. Every frame, and it wasn't the character. Garry Marshall just followed me around with the camera and spliced it in. I'm the biggest klutz ever. My nickname growing up was "Fairy Twinkle Princess," which obviously was a little bit of a facetious title.You're still at college. Is it hard taking calls from your agent while cramming for finals?It's difficult. I have a lot less free time than my friends. You're living two full-time lives.So basically you missed out on getting stoned and eating tubs of ice cream.I wouldn't say...
  • THE BEST DORM DVD'S

    Dude, it's not high school. Do not pack your Ben Affleck DVDs. Instead, stock your dorm with these flicks, and you'll be the hippest freshman on the floor.'Donnie Darko' Your generation's first cult hit. You'll spend hours asking, "Yeah, but man, what does it mean?"'Old School' The new "Animal House." Everyone on campus will be quoting it.'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' When you get your heart broken just before finals, you're so going to need this.'Pulp Fiction' Violent and enigmatic, funny and fierce, it's still Quentin Tarantino's best movie.'Amelie' Romantic comedy of the decade, courtesy of avant-garde auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It's French, but in a good way.'Y Tu Mama Tambien' Possibly the best-ever coming-of-age film. Plus, lots of graphic sex.'Scarface' "The Godfather" of hip-hop and gangsta culture.'Rushmore' If you felt like a brainiac dork in high school, this will boost your ego.'Fight Club' Lots of violence, searing social commentary and very, very funny.'28...
  • CONSPIRACY REDUX

    Just a minute ago we were talking about "The Manchurian Candidate," her political thriller coming out next week, but somehow Meryl Streep has veered off on her own little "Rock the Vote" tour. "Something like 35 percent of the population who can vote, doesn't," she says. "Now, if you told those people what clothes they had to put on, they'd be mad. If you told them what kind of car they had to drive--or what they had to eat for dinner--they wouldn't stand for it. But somebody is deciding what they eat and what they breathe and all that stuff..." Pause. "I'm on a rant, aren't I?" A little. Maybe we could get back to the "thriller" part. "Well, the movie has something to say, but it's mostly interested in scaring the bejesus out of you."In the wake of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," this revamp of the 1962 classic starring Frank Sinatra feels more chilling than it would have just two months ago. Denzel Washington stars as Capt. Ben Marco, a veteran of the first gulf war plagued by...
  • NEWSMAKERS

    Emmy for Your Thoughts The 2004 Emmy awards will be brought to you by a new sponsor: guts. Last week's nominations suggest that the famously timid television academy may finally be growing some, uh, courage. Exhibit A: "The Reagans," the mini-series CBS was afraid to air, pulled in seven nods for Showtime. Exhibit B: Fox's brilliant but ratings-poor "Arrested Development" dodged cancellation and was nominated for best comedy. That's even more impressive considering the academy snubbed "Friends" and "Frasier" in their overhyped final seasons.Which is not to say the Emmys don't have a heart. John Ritter was nominated for best actor even though he died after shooting only three episodes of ABC's "Eight Simple Rules." CBS's "Joan of Arcadia," about a girl who talks to God, was a surprise nominee, as was its 21-year-old star, Amber Tamblyn. Maybe it was divine intervention. Now, Lord, if you can help "The Sopranos" (and best-supporting-actress nominee Drea de Matteo, left) finally beat ...
  • Lightning Strikes

    The first scene of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" removes any doubt that the famous child wizard is growing up fast. The camera glides toward a light pulsing in the night, then through an open bedroom window, where Harry is hiding under his covers, playing with his wand and hoping to God he doesn't get caught. Wait a minute. Has new director Alfonso Cuaron inserted a sneaky allusion to the private habits of teenage boys into the family-friendly franchise? Cuaron's a warm, chatty guy and not one to dodge controversy--his last film, "Y Tu Mama Tambien," was so graphic that it was released unrated--but there's no way on earth he's going anywhere near this topic. "This is NEWSWEEK, man!" he says, then laughs for a very long time.Intentional or not, it's a pitch-perfect bit of subtext, and only the first of many reasons "Azkaban" rocks. Sure, there's a werewolf and a hippogriff and a bunch of other magical stuff, but the real reason this third film in the series outshines the...
  • Summer Muscle

    Don't blame us--Hollywood decided long ago that summer is testosterone time. And we don't greenlight the movies, we just write about them. So with apologies to Halle Berry ("Catwoman"), Nicole Kidman ("The Stepford Wives") and the enchanting Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries 2"), what follows are four insightful pages of beefcake. Hollywood knows that most women won't object to the man show, given that the season's filled with so many big names. Jackman. Hanks. Washington. Garcia Bernal. Oh yeah, plus Mike Myers as Shrek. (Hey, Princess Fiona thinks he's foxy.) So let your cinematic fantasies heat up with the weather and take a sneak peek at our top picks of the season.Tobey Maguire--SPIDER-MAN 2As glamorous as it may sound, life as a superhero is more like the worst job you've never had: long hours, lousy pay and a really hostile work environment. It's all getting to be a bit much for college freshman Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. On top of protecting the innocent from the...
  • Shrek Attack

    Captain Hook is playing the blues. At a dive bar in a forest, the Ugly Stepsister is hawking booze, the Headless Horseman is hammered and the king is hiring a hit man to kill Shrek. Can you blame him? The ogre has won the heart of the princess and thrown the castle into chaos--he's ruined everything! Just ask Disney.Three years ago "Shrek" grossed $480 million worldwide and scored DreamWorks the first-ever animated-movie Oscar by lampooning the fairy-tale formula that had built the Magic Kingdom. "Disney has really been the leader, in every respect, for 75 years," says Jeffrey Katzenberg, who shepherded "The Lion King" at Disney, then founded DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen 10 years ago. "We needed to find our own path, a sensibility that's a little subversive. 'Shrek' defined us." And changed the industry. Suddenly the Little Mermaid was all wet, and Sleeping Beauty looked very, very tired. Since 2001 only one traditional animated film, Disney's "Lilo & Stitch...
  • Out For Blood

    The city of Prague is elegant and intimate, whispering of hidden charms and quiet mysteries. "Van Helsing," which was shot there, is not. Directed by Stephen Sommers, who made "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns," it's a big, fast and very loud movie about a 19th-century vampire killer who battles a menagerie of monsters. "It's hard to make period movies that aren't Merchant Ivory," Sommers said on the Prague set last year as he set up a scene in which Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale load a seven-foot-tall Frankenstein's monster into a horse-drawn carriage. "The trick comes down to pacing. Anybody who knows me can smell me all over these movies." Yes, they can. Critics didn't like his "Mummy" franchise much. Horror-movie geeks blasted him for bastardizing a classic. But those two films grossed $844 million worldwide, so Sommers tends to shrug off the flak. Just before shooting that carriage scene last year, he jokingly announced to the crew, "If I film it, they will come!"Will they?...
  • Summer Muscle

    Don't blame us--Hollywood decided long ago that summer is testosterone time. And we don't greenlight the movies, we just write about them. So with apologies to Halle Berry ("Catwoman"), Nicole Kidman ("The Stepford Wives") and the enchanting Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries 2"), what follows are five insightful pages of beefcake. Plus Will Ferrell. Hollywood knows that most women won't object to the man show, given that the season's filled with so many big names. Cruise. Hanks. Heder. Wait, Heder? Yes, Jon Heder, a Brigham Young student who stars in the Sundance hit "Napoleon Dynamite"--our pick to be the season's sleeper. Heder might be unknown, but the kid ain't scared. "Oh, yeah," he says. "I'm gonna take 'em all down!" ...
  • MY BIG FAT GREEN SEQUEL

    Captain Hook is playing the blues. At a dive bar in a forest, the Ugly Stepsister is hawking booze, the Headless Horseman is hammered and the king is hiring a hit man to kill Shrek. Can you blame him? The ogre has won the heart of the princess and thrown the castle into chaos--he's ruined everything! Just ask Disney.Three years ago "Shrek" grossed $480 million worldwide and scored DreamWorks the first-ever animated-movie Oscar by lampooning the fairy-tale formula that had built the Magic Kingdom. "Disney has really been the leader, in every respect, for 75 years," says Jeffrey Katzenberg, who shepherded "The Lion King" at Disney, then founded DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen 10 years ago. "We needed to find our own path, a sensibility that's a little subversive. 'Shrek' defined us." And changed the industry. Suddenly, the Little Mermaid was all wet, and Sleeping Beauty looked very, very tired. Since 2001, only one traditional animated film, Disney's "Lilo &...
  • ACTION FLICKS: ONE HELLUVA CONCEPT

    "Hellboy" should not be a box-office smash: almost every studio passed on it, it's based on a small comic with a cult following, and it stars not Tobey Maguire or Ben Affleck but an actor best known as the beast in the TV show "Beauty and the Beast." Yet this ugly-duckling superhero movie--about a demon with a bad-boy attitude and good-guy heart protecting the world from evil--could swan its way into a sleeper hit. "Marketing was the hardest piece of the puzzle," says Tom Sherak of Revolution Studios, which green lighted the $64 million film. "The minute we'd say 'Hellboy,' it turned people off. We thought of changing the title." They didn't, thanks in part to director Guillermo del Toro, who worked for five years to get a loyal vision to the screen. "Some people take these stories and homogenize them," he says. "You have to understand the personality of the comic medium and embrace it." Del Toro did. When someone leaked an early script, a fan posted a Web review. He (or she)...
  • PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOVIE IS

    Jesus movies probably won't be resurrected in Hollywood. Despite the phenomenal success of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"--the film is now on track to earn about $400 million in the United States and could outgross "Spider-Man"--most industry sources consider it a singular cultural event that cannot be repeated. But it may change the film business anyway.In general, a studio pays for a movie and gives a major star 25 percent of the film's ticket sales. The studio keeps the rest, including all DVD revenue. Gibson flipped that model on its head, paying for (and therefore owning) his movie himself and giving Newmarket Film Group 10 percent of the gross. That decision could ultimately put as much as $300 million in his pocket. "It's a huge risk," says one agent. "If a star puts up $30 million of his own money, the movie's got to make $50 million or $60 million before he makes his money back, and most actors aren't going to put that percentage of their net worth at risk. Mel...
  • WESTERNS: RIDING INTO THE SUNSET

    Despite a solid $19 million opening weekend for Viggo Mortensen's "Hidalgo," the last Old West drama to gross more than $100 million was Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven," 12 years ago. And while other long-dead genres are enjoying a renaissance--"Chicago" revived the musical, "Pirates of the Caribbean" the swashbuckler--the Western seems out to pasture. Why? "Westerns are alive and well; they just don't wear tall hats and chaps," says Terry Press, head of marketing for DreamWorks. " 'Gladiator' is a Western. So is 'Star Wars.' Any time there's a singular hero who won't be moved off his position, that's 'High Noon,' and many, many movies are 'Shane'."Like the cowboy himself, the Western was hurt by modernization. As special-effects technology exploded in the '70s and '80s, movies became more visual and less character-driven, and Westerns lost their lucrative teen audience. The movie business also became increasingly global. Today big-budget movies often make more money in foreign...
  • CAREER INTERVENTION: ASHLEY JUDD

    THE CRISIS: Look, we like her, too. In theory. But ever since Ashley Judd leaped to stardom with the hit thrillers "Kiss the Girls" and "Double Jeopardy," she's made bad choices, continuing to milk the formula with "High Crimes" and "Eye of the Beholder." Her latest, Paramount's "Twisted," opened to a dismal $8.9 million. The studio is now retiring the genre. "Ashley's like the John Wayne of the 21st century," says one industry exec. "Every time you see an Ashley Judd movie, you feel like you've seen it before--with her in it." Judd's most impressive performance in years, in "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," was sadly ignored. Her recent stint on Broadway in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" was justifiably slashed. "Here's the hard-core truth," says a talent agent. "She hasn't had a hit since 1999. Her movies aren't earning money--or raves. She's picking formulas instead of parts. She's really beautiful, but she's boring." Adds the head of an indie company: "She's stuck in a trap...
  • NEWSMAKERS

    The Pirate's BootyIf you have a Johnny Depp fantasy, you're in good company. After "Pirates of the Caribbean" grossed $305 million (more than Depp's previous 11 movies combined), he's become one of the most sought-after leading men. Depp, 40, has been flooded with offers, but the swarthy expat is booked. "The Secret Window" opens next week; he's just finished playing a 17th-century poet in "The Libertine"; Jerry Bruckheimer wants him for a "Pirates" sequel (or two), but Depp is concentrating on playing Willy Wonka in Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Word is that Depp was the top choice of "Charlie" author Roald Dahl's widow, who knows a thing or two about sweet choices.Rosie Gets HitchedAfter six years and four children together, Rosie O'Donnell finally made an honest woman out of Kelli Carpenter. O'Donnell and Carpenter joined the thousands of gay people who have gotten married in San Francisco, though it's safe to assume that the world's most famous lesbian couple...
  • INTERVIEW: 'YOU WANT ME TO PLAY JESUS?'

    James Caviezel, the 35-year-old actor who first came to attention in Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" and starred in "The Count of Monte Cristo," talks to NEWSWEEK's Sean Smith about the agony and the ecstasy of playing the Savior in the controversial "The Passion of the Christ."SMITH: Before you played this part, did anyone ever tell you that you looked like Jesus?CAVIEZEL: Not at all. When I was younger someone once said, "You look like Mel Gibson." I told Mel that, and he said, "No you don't. I'm much better looking."[Laughs]Playing Jesus is obviously a daunting proposition. Why did you say yes to Mel?I got a phone call telling me that producer Stephen McEveety wanted to meet with me about a surfing movie. I went and met him for lunch, and after a few hours Mel Gibson shows up. He starts talking about what Christ really went through, and I said, "Yeah, I saw the Zeffirelli movie ['Jesus of Nazareth']." He goes, "No, no. I'm talking about the real thing." And then it hit me....
  • LIVING TO TELL THE TALE

    According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "hazing" means "a species of brutal horseplay practiced on freshmen at some American colleges." For once the OED has been outdone. From now on the definition should simply read: see Brad Land's memoir, "Goat." Land transferred to Clemson University in 1996 as a junior and pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity. There he was subjected to the usual degrading initiation rituals--run the gauntlet, drink until you vomit, act like a slave, repeat for weeks. "Goat" might have been just a well-written version of a story that we've heard too many times. But Land arrived at Clemson with a past that put the hazing in the context it deserves.A year before he went to Clemson, he gave a ride to two men who beat him half to death and then stole his car. The thieves, whom Land came to think of as "the smile" and "the breath," beat him for no reason other than sadistic pleasure. Long after his physical wounds healed he remained an emotional wreck, and joining ...
  • CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH

    Steven Spielberg began to worry long before we did. It was a couple of years ago, and Daniel Myrick, codirector of "The Blair Witch Project," was visiting the set of "Minority Report." Myrick was thrilled to see the master at work. Meeting Spielberg? "That was huge!" Myrick says. "He asked me how we shot 'Blair,' and said he was really inspired by it. My jaw was dropping." Spielberg even singled out a member of the cast, Michael C. Williams, who'd played one of the three film students who disappeared in the Maryland woods. "I really liked that Michael guy," he said. "Whatever happened to him?"He's, well... "I'm moving furniture," Williams says from his home in upstate New York. "The same job I quit on national television, on 'Conan O'Brien.' My wife and I had a baby, and I needed to support my family and not worry about whether I was going to get the next role on 'CSI'." He sighs. "We're all having a hard time. I think that's a big part of the story."Five years ago this week, "The...
  • NEWSMAKERS

    Carmen ElectraThe bride wore white. The groom wore black--nail polish. Welcome to the wedding of actress Carmen Electra and rocker Dave Navarro, or, as they're calling it on the MTV series, " 'Til Death Do Us Part." Electra talked with NEWSWEEK's Marc Peyser about her made-for-TV nuptials.You looked so elegant in that flowing gown. Won't your fans be disappointed?I've calmed down a lot. Having Dave in my life really changed everything. But it's always been my dream for the dress and the veil to be white and very traditional. I wanted to be a princess.So why did Dave look like a Goth?That's who he is. He's got the goatee and the tattoos. I wanted him to be comfortable.But black nail polish?At least he didn't wear the red.Speaking of weddings, your last one was in Las Vegas--and annulled. So tell me: what was Britney thinking?It's so easy to do in Vegas. You can get married in a drive-through, like picking up a cheeseburger. Britney's really young, but she's a smart girl. I'm sure she...
  • IF LOOKS COULD KILL

    Hard to believe, but beauty can be a burden in Hollywood. Sure, you can't be a movie star without it, but it can make you invisible, too. "The last three years I haven't been getting the kinds of jobs I really wanted," Charlize Theron says. "I got to a certain place where people were, like, 'Well, she's kind of bankable. And she's an OK actress.' But when the good character pieces came along they were, like, 'Charlize? Definitely not.' I couldn't even get in the door."She may have just blown it off the hinges. In "Monster," Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, the highway prostitute who became America's first female serial killer. Convicted of murdering six of her johns, Wuornos was executed in Florida 15 months ago. The movie, written and directed by first-time filmmaker Patty Jenkins, seeks to explain how this victimized woman became a villain, and places a love story between Wuornos and a conflicted young woman (Christina Ricci) at its center. "Monster" as a whole has been written off as...
  • A WINTER WASTELAND

    T. S. Eliot was wrong. January, not April, is the cruelest month. Think "Supernova," with James Spader. "Snow Dogs," with Cuba Gooding Jr. "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist," with, uh... the Fist? The New Year is that time when Hollywood releases all the dreadful movies that couldn't cut it at Christmas (or any other season), and audiences are left to suffer. "We see January as an opportunity for carefully selected product," one studio source insists. But product carefully selected for whom, exactly? Pause. "It's for all the people who've gotten tired of seeing really good movies."Within the next 30 days, we'll be treated to the biker action flick "Torque," the Owen Wilson comedy "The Big Bounce," the Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy "Along Came Polly" and the Mandy Moore romantic comedy "Chasing Liberty." Will they all stink? It's too soon to say--a few of them could be fun--but they sure won't be storming the Oscars next year. Why is January so often the last place to find...
  • The Hottest New Import

    Every month we get a new flavor-of-the-month actor," he says. "And it's always like, 'the new Marlon Brando.' There are so many Brandos now." Gael Garcia Bernal is not one of them. He first captured Hollywood's attention with the Oscar-nominated "Amores Perros." Last year he had the art-house crowd gushing with the erotic indie smash "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (not to mention Natalie Portman--the two are reportedly dating). But it wasn't until he walked onto the Academy Awards stage in March that the rest of the world took notice.His task was to introduce the nominated song from Salma Hayek's "Frida." Instead, the 25-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, ignored the Academy-approved text and delivered a poetic antiwar intro of his own. It didn't hurt that he looked like some smoldering, exotic prince. Across the country you could almost hear people thinking, Who is that? Bernal was thinking something else altogether. "I was s---ting myself," he says, laughing. "But I thought I had the...
  • The Ego Has Landed

    Although you've never heard of Vadim Perelman, the first-time director of "House of Sand and Fog" already has a reputation in Hollywood. A bad one. As assured as his debut is--a dark drama that will likely earn an Oscar nomination for Sir Ben Kingsley--the 40-year-old Ukrainian native has left a ton of wreckage in his wake. "It's a tough business, and some people can flourish with grace," says someone who worked with him. "He handled this like a psychotic Russian." But Kingsley, for one, likes him. "He's unstoppable," he says. "He's a beautiful T-45 tank, the kind that crashed into Berlin in 1945."In three years, Perelman has infuriated his former agency, ICM, butted heads with his studio, DreamWorks, and crossed swords with Miramax. He also didn't win friends last summer when he bragged that Steven Spielberg loved his movie. "Arrogant, I can admit," Perelman says. "But it comes out of incredible fear. I don't know --what the f--- I'm doing. In my whole life, I have relied on myself...
  • Sweet On Keaton

    When the two-sentence synopsis of "Something's Gotta Give" started circulating around Hollywood last year, guys laughed when they heard it. (Here's how it goes: an older man who dates only younger women goes out to his new girlfriend's house for the weekend. He falls in love with her mother.) Women, on the other hand, tended to high-five each other and say things like, "About time!" Writer-director Nancy Meyers ("What Women Want") got Jack Nicholson onboard. But when she pitched the movie to Diane Keaton, she got a unique reaction. "Diane's the most self-deprecating person alive," Meyers says, laughing. "She said, 'Why would anyone want to see a movie where I'm falling in love?' "If Keaton's got a few spare hours, we'd be glad to explain it to her. Since she la-di-dahed her way into the hearts of audiences (and the Academy) with "Annie Hall" in 1977, she's charted one of the longest and most diverse careers of her generation, playing comedy and drama with equal grace: "Looking for...
  • The Oscar Race: Ladies And Gents, Place Your Bets

    Historically speaking, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" doesn't stand a hobbit's chance in Mordor of winning this year's best-picture Oscar. No fantasy film has ever won, nor has the third part of a trilogy. (Gosh. Not even "The Godfather: Part III"?) And only two films that grossed more than $300 million domestically ("Forrest Gump" and "Titanic") have snagged the top prize. The conventional wisdom is that if a film is too successful, voters think it's already been rewarded--and the first two "Rings" installments have raked in more than $650 million combined. "People in this town get sick of a winner," says one Academy member and longtime industry watcher. "They prefer underdogs."The paradox is that Peter Jackson's epic series is the underdog--a daring long shot taken years ago by New Line, which gave a $300 million-plus trilogy to a largely unproven director, putting the future of the indie studio in Jackson's hands. "It was a truly gutsy, ballsy, old-Hollywood...
  • Newsmakers

    They Had To Be in PicturesUnder normal circumstances, you don't want a porn king buying up naked pictures of you and your pals. But Paris Hilton must be wishing Hustler publisher Larry Flynt had done for her what he did for Jessica Lynch. Hilton, an heir to the $300 million hotel fortune and a notorious party girl/ink hound, got more exposure than even she wanted when a three-year-old video of her, engaged in various sex acts--interrupted by a cell-phone call--with her then boyfriend Rick Solomon, popped up on the Internet. Her family released a statement saying how upset they were that she was being exploited; then Solomon filed a $10 million slander suit claiming the family and a publicist were trying to paint him as a "rapist." The family got the video back, but of course the most graphic three minutes are now everywhere.Bummer. If only Flynt had bought that Hilton footage when it was offered to him three months ago. He passed, he says, because the video was so dark it looked as...