Sean Smith

Stories by Sean Smith

  • 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...
  • Newsmakers

    Forget the 'Alamo'?John Lee Hancock should know better. Surely the Waco-born director of "The Rookie" has seen the T shirts that read DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS. But last week Hancock--to whom Disney has entrusted "The Alamo," its retelling of Texas's proudest hour--pulled his film out of contention for the Oscars; he'll now open it in April. He says he needs more time. But Hollywood types say they know what that means--trouble. Disney's spinners insist everything is OK, but it's too late: consider Texas messed with.Hancock says he knew this would spark bad buzz, but believed "the time crunch was dictating where the movie was headed. I didn't make this to win awards. I made it because it's a story that's important to me, and I want to get it right. I owe it to Texas." But now Disney's without a horse in this year's Oscar race--and has to watch the titans who'd initially signed on for "The Alamo," Russell Crowe and Ron Howard, release the films they made instead, "Master and Commander"...
  • The War Over The Gipper

    President Reagan is lounging in his pajamas trying to watch TV when Nancy starts that old argument again. "Al Haig's got to go," she tells Ron. Nancy never liked Haig, and now she's needling her husband again. "You know what he did when you were in the hospital?" she asks. "I know he thought he was going to take control, but that's not so bad," Ron says amiably, between bites of an Oreo. Finally, she swoops in front of the president, placing her blood-red nightgown between him and the television, and gets him where it hurts most. "Get rid of Al, Ronnie, or you're never going to end the cold war!" Bingo. "All right!" he says. "Now get off my goddamn back, will you?"You think that fight sounds ugly? It's nothing compared with the brawl over CBS's "The Reagans." This mini-series (scheduled for Nov. 16) is full of scenes from a marriage like the one above, some of them loving, a few of them nasty and many of them certain to tick people off. Two weeks after a leaked script ignited...
  • O, Captain, My Captain

    Directors are a superstitious lot. They have their good- luck hats and T shirts, their little routines and rituals. Anything, really, to ward off the bad juju that can sink a movie. Peter Weir is not one of them. "At one point, I had a little toast with sake or something at the beginning of each shoot," he admits, one afternoon last week in Beverly Hills. But that tradition ended on the set of his 1986 drama "The Mosquito Coast." The first scene was outdoors, complete with a pig in the background. "And I was going about my quasi-poetic raising of the glass, and we smashed one," he says. "It may have been too dangerously pagan. Anyway, the pig attacked the script girl shortly afterward."The 59-year-old Weir has a lot of stories like this: literate, entertaining narratives that hint at larger ideas but never spell them out. The Australian director's movies--including "The Year of Living Dangerously," "Gallipoli," "Dead Poets Society," "Witness" and "The Truman Show"--succeed for just...
  • Deals: Passion Play

    Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ" has a U.S. distributor: a small independent label, Newmarket. As reported in NEWSWEEK, Newmarket was a top contender for Gibson's foreign-language film about the last 12 hours in Jesus' life. Major studios steered clear of the project. "There's a gigantic emotional, psychic, moral risk involved in this," said one studio source. It's a risk Newmarket was willing to take. The company, which distributed the indie gem "Whale Rider," went after the film aggressively, edging out Lions Gate and Miramax. The decision could garner the company more attention than actual cash. Gibson's company, Icon, will essentially "rent" the film to Newmarket, which will front the cost of putting the film in U.S. theaters for a share of the profits. Icon retains the rights, will distribute the film in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, and can sell it to distributors in the Roman Catholic Southern Hemisphere. Originally planned for an Easter...
  • Hollywood Family Feud

    They weren't just talking about Arnold last week, or wondering how Siegfried would cope without Roy. After all, Hollywood has been engaged in one of the ugliest family spats in years--pitting directors against studio heads and employees against bosses--over whether Oscar voters should get free DVDs. On Friday, 142 signatories, including Jodie Foster, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese, printed an open letter to the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, decrying his recent decision to ban the freebies in the name of piracy prevention. "This is a real Karl Rove move," says director Robert Altman. "It's just plain wrong. I think you'll see a boycott of the Academy Awards."How did Valenti find himself the center of such rancor? Since 1966, Valenti, now 82, has presided over the MPAA, which is responsible for movie ratings, and represents the seven major studios on Capitol Hill. While a strong leader by all accounts, Valenti does not necessarily speak for the...
  • Who'll Buy Mel's Movie?

    Mel Gibson's "The Passion" isn't an easy sell. In fact, it seems no major studio wants to touch it. "It's not worth the aggravation," says a studio head. "Even if it makes money, it's not going to be 'Titanic'." And with it could come titanic problems: protests, hate mail, boycotts. "Even if it doesn't deserve it," says another film exec, "it's going to be used as a political football." After months of speculation about "The Passion," the question remains, Who will buy it?Gibson's film--a traditional Roman Catholic portrayal of Jesus' death--has inspired more hostile attention than any movie in recent history, with accusations that it could foster anti-Semitism, even when few have seen it. Although supporters of the film are just as vocal, the film could prove a PR ulcer for any large, publicly held company. What's more, movies about Christ haven't scored at the box office for decades--and "The Passion" is in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic with subtitles.In 1988, Universal released...
  • Newsmakers

    Living a Real-Life FantasyIf your kid won't do his homework, this'll really depress you. A Montana teen has not only written a 528-page fantasy novel, but the book, "Eragon," has debuted at No. 3 on The New York Times best-seller list, ahead of every "Harry Potter" except the latest. "It's extraordinary!" says Christopher Paolini. "I mean, good grief, I'm only 19!"Home-schooled in Paradise Valley, Paolini earned his GED at 15 and began the first part of his Tolkienesque "Inheritance" trilogy, about a 16-year-old boy and a mysterious blue stone that hatches a dragon, a journey of self-discovery and an epic battle between good and evil. His parents, who run a small publishing company, printed it, Paolini did the cover art, and he began hawking "Eragon" in regional schools and bookstores. "I even did a signing in a grocery store," he says.The book fell into the hands of Carl Hiaasen, who gave it to his editor at Knopf, which won a bidding war; Paolini walked away with a $500,000...
  • Love Is Dangerous

    She is not broken. She's not ashamed or bitter or interested in our forgiveness. It has been two years since the end of the affair, the public flogging, the divorce, the failure of two of her movies. She's now 41 and not the woman she was then--to herself or to us. "It's just been the most f---ed up, most painful, most monstrous, great time I've ever had," she says. We'll get to that, all of it. "Just keep asking me questions," she says. "I feel like I have a lot to say."Behind her, the sky and sea are dark. Sitting here, at a beachside restaurant in Santa Monica, Meg Ryan seems so unlike any previous image of her, it's as if we've been watching someone else all these years. As she discusses her life, and her new film, the erotic thriller "In the Cut," which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last week, she's forthright and thoughtful. Her hair is darker, her voice deeper, her manner surprisingly sexy. "You're not the first person to suddenly see that," says Edward Zwick, who...
  • Movies: Let The Buzz Begin

    The Oscar race began last week (yes, already) with the launch of the 28th Toronto International Film Festival. The annual industry gathering--more than 700 critics and--journalists attend, too--is a bellwether for the Oscars. Last year "Far From Heaven," "The Quiet American," "Talk to Her," "Frida" and "Bowling for Columbine" all made a splash and later earned Oscar nods. But this year it's even more important: Oscar night has been moved up a month, to Feb. 29, so positive reviews coming out of the 10-day festival could carry a film right onto Academy ballots. "The shortening of the window increases the sense of urgency," says Nancy Utley, president of marketing at Fox Searchlight. "It's going to be noisier than ever."The buzz has already started on "The Human Stain," based on the Philip Roth novel, starring Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins; "21 Grams," with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation." The festival has a particularly good track record of...
  • How To Out-Fox The Big Boys

    Normally, you would never have heard of the movie "Thirteen," an unflinching look at adolescence starring two unknown teenage girls. Such films usually play at that theater near campus for a week. But "Thirteen" opened two weeks ago to a massive $22,443 per screen average (five times higher than "Freddy vs. Jason"), and is poised to become the last indie hit of the summer, following the success of "Bend It Like Beckham" and "28 Days Later."That any of these movies caused more than a blip on the cultural radar screen is impressive. That all three came out of one independent studio, Fox Searchlight, is something Hollywood hasn't seen since Miramax made a name for itself a decade ago. "Searchlight is really at the top of the heap now," says the head of a competing studio. "Every part of that company works so well."In 2000 Peter Rice, a Brit who'd worked his way up from intern to executive VP, took over Twentieth Century Fox's art-house division. With marketing whiz Nancy Utley and...
  • Of The Mr. Clean Named Mr. Sheen

    He's afraid it's still in there. Yesterday, a bug crash-landed in Charlie Sheen's ear, and after trying to dig it out, then flush it out, he's pretty sure it's dead, but he's not sure it's, you know, gone. So now he's sitting in his trailer on the Warner Bros. lot as a doctor peers into that little gizmo with the light. "I had this traumatic experience as a child," Sheen begins. But the doctor, clearly, has been here before. "I think we can skip the therapy part of this, Charlie," he says.Doc, you don't know what you're missing. Few people can mine comedy from personal drama like Sheen: it's a skill that scored him a Golden Globe award last year for having the chops--and the chutzpah--to follow Michael J. Fox in the lead role on "Spin City." And it's earned him the starring role in perhaps the season's funniest new sitcom, CBS's "Two and a Half Men"--as well as one of TV's most coveted time slots, right after "Everybody Loves Raymond."Sheen plays Charlie Harper, a successful jingle...
  • Expensive Lessons

    Hollywood doesn't know what to do with you, frankly. Thousands of people sit around out here trying to figure out what you want, and just when they think they've nailed it, you up and surprise them. It totally bums them out--and they were bumming a lot this summer. The good news is (a) they're still employed, and (b) you taught them a few lessons that could (fingers crossed) mean better movies in the years ahead.First, teen boys have been replaced as the primary target of summer fare. Sorry, dudes, but you're just too narrow a demo. Families are where it's at. "Finding Nemo" outgrossed "The Matrix: Reloaded" domestically by $48 million, and the PG-13-rated "Pirates of the Caribbean" swabbed the deck with "Bad Boys 2," costing less and making almost double at the box office. And guess what. It turns out that charming characters and a captivating narrative can trump even the most stellar star vehicles and most spectacular spectacles.So can a good laugh. After months of somber Oscar...
  • Newsmakers

    Lord of the Oscars?Peter Jackson might want to clear off his mantel. The director of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which has already grossed more than $1.8 billion worldwide, is finishing part three, "The Return of the King," and even without seeing a frame, Hollywood insiders consider it the front runner for a best-picture statuette--and Jackson for best director--come Oscar time. No surprise: the first two films were both nominated. What's remarkable is that in an industry known for vicious battles for Academy Awards, many people who plan to compete against Jackson's film secretly want him to win. "I'm such a fan of his," says a studio head with a film sure to be up against "LOTR." "I've been waiting for the Academy to reward him for his nine-hour movie."Or it may be even longer. There's rampant speculation about the length of the film--still two months from completion--with reports circulating that "King" will clock in at more than three hours. If it does, that's not likely to...
  • Off To The Races With 'Seabiscuit'

    This is very, very dangerous stuff," says Gary Ross, sitting amid the Old World splendor of the St. Regis Hotel, in Century City, Calif. The avuncular writer-director of "Seabiscuit" is talking about horse racing, but he could just as easily be holding forth on filmmaking. "It may have the highest mortality rate of any sport. If you have an accident in a car, the vehicle is designed to protect you. If you fall off a horse going 45 miles an hour, well... "In a summer of mutants, terminators and pirates, Ross's $80 million drama about the runty, 1930s Thoroughbred that became a national sensation is one of the more dangerous movies around. It is epic, intelligent and sincere--a movie for adults, about to be released during the most teen-centric season of the year. "Seabiscuit" doesn't have a Pink single on the soundtrack. It will not be coming to a PlayStation near you. It is not, in other words, the kind of film that Hollywood studios make much anymore, and certainly not at that...
  • Movies: #1? Swell. Wake Me When We're Rich

    Though "The Hulk" smashed up $62 million its opening weekend, and looks to gross about $150 million domestically, that still won't be enough green to get Universal out of the red on the film. In fact, by Labor Day, few summer blockbusters will have earned a profit. Worldwide ticket sales are only a fraction of an "event" movie's total revenue. Summer spectacles cost more than $100 million to make and more than $40 million to market, and theater owners take just under 50 percent of the income. So studios usually don't start making a profit until after the film leaves the megaplex. "Theatrical release is a launching pad," says Rick Finkelstein, president and COO of Universal Pictures. A hit movie can generate hundreds of millions of dollars in DVD sales, TV rights, toys, clothing and videogames. (The Enter the Matrix game may be more profitable for Warner Bros. than "The Matrix" sequels.) But none of this happens unless the movie is an "event" to begin with. And the drive to score a "...
  • 'Like Every Other Couple'

    Yes, gay men are having more sex than you are. But if it makes you feel any better, lesbians are probably not, and as a general rule gay and lesbian couples in long-term relationships face the same challenges of keeping sex alive in their unions as husbands and wives do. "We're just like every other couple," says Jason Lyon, 34, who has been with his partner, Tim Hartley, for four years. "Sex is still fresh and fun and frequently surprising, but it's so not the center of our world. The perception is that we, as gay men, are getting laid all the time, but although sex has an important place in our relationship, it's certainly not the top spot. In fact, currently it's a few slots down the list."Hectic lives, job stress and a lessening of sexual desire as men age can all play a factor. Adopting a child, as a growing number of gay male couples are doing, doesn't help. Gay men who, when single and in their 20s, might have been having sex multiple times per week, suddenly find themselves...
  • Movies: Threesome

    Charlie doesn't know what he's missing. The poor guy can hear his Angels over that speaker-phone and bask in their adoration, but he can't see what we see: Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu snuggled up on a sofa, laughing, high-fiving and playing with each other's hair. Trust us, Chuck, hang up the phone and get over here. In 2000, the angelic trio's goofy-sexy action comedy raked in $264 million worldwide, turned Diaz into a $20 million-a-film actress, Liu into a household name and Barrymore into the most successful actress-producer in Hollywood. "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," which was directed by McG, and which rump-shakes into theaters June 27, is the perfect encore. More action, more jokes, more skin--and more Moore. Demi Moore joins the cast as a golden-gun-toting Angel gone bad. Excerpts from a rollicking talk with Barrymore, Diaz and Liu:NEWSWEEK: You all got pretty banged up doing the action sequences, didn't you?CAMERON DIAZ: Drew got the worst of it.DREW...
  • Ashton Wants Her. But Will Hollywood?

    In Case You Haven't Noticed, Demi Moore is back. The 40-year-old star, once Hollywood's highest-paid actress, has returned from a five-year hiatus in Idaho, greeted by a perfect storm of hype. That body! That bikini! That boyfriend! Sure, it's good for the box office of "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," in which she plays a bad a cherub gone badder, but will it actually reignite her career?Sure looks that way. Even before the film opens, Moore has three movie offers on the table, and she met with two directors last week. (Her primary hope is to find a romantic comedy that suits her.) What's more, the strategy of her return has been the talk of the industry. By doing a film targeted to both young people and to women, she is introducing herself to teenagers who were in grade school when she split town and reinforcing her appeal with the female audience that made "Ghost" a smash. Gal-palling with Lucy Liu and dating Ashton Kutcher, 25, doesn't hurt, either. "She's allowing herself to...
  • Movies: The Mini's Big Break

    When it comes to car-placement deals in summer blockbusters, price tags keep climbing. Miramax is now shopping the largest contract ever, asking $35 million from whichever automaker wants its wheels in the 2005 version of "The Green Hornet." (Harvey will reach this agreement before there's a screenwriter or director. How's that for priorities?) But is all this moneymongering necessary? So far, summer's best product placement--the too-cute Mini Coopers in "The Italian Job"--didn't cost the car company a penny. BMW just turned over the keys to 32 of its British bulldogs, and agreed to let the studio demolish them during the elaborate chase scenes. The criminals are trying to steal gold, but the Mini hijacks the movie--running down stairs, sneaking onto subway tracks, outmaneuvering helicopters. (Charlize Theron is considerably less active.) Just three weeks after the movie's premiere, Mini folks estimate that sales have spiked more than 20 percent. What aspiring baddie wouldn't pay ...
  • Fan Swapping: Gay. Straight. Up Late.

    When the season finale of Showtime's "Queer as Folk" airs on June 22, about half the folk tuning in won't be queer. The serial, focused on the lives (and sex lives) of gay men, has an estimated 50 percent female audience, most of whom, it's assumed, are heterosexual. "It was intended as a gay show written for a gay audience," says Daniel Lipman, who, with Ron Cowan, created the American version of the British TV hit. "It has amazed everyone that there's such a crossover." But Showtime chairman and CEO Matthew Blank thinks they all should have seen it coming: "If there was a show about attractive gay women who happened to not have their clothes on occasionally, do you think some straight men might watch?"Mindy Newby, 35, an insurance underwriter in Sacramento, Calif., says she was shocked at first to see guys have sex with guys. "And then it became incredibly sexy." She laughs. "Straight men should watch it." What about gay men? "I never watch it," says Kevin, a 31-year-old living in...
  • Newsmakers

    Cat Fight At CAA? ...
  • 'Idol' Worship

    Simon Cowell never lets you see him sweat, but at the moment he's looking a little damp. It's Tuesday afternoon, hours before the "American Idol" semifinal, and the last rehearsal is just beginning. Paula Abdul shows up with her ubiquitous Chihuahua, Thumbelina, chats with Randy Jackson and half-listens to the performances. Finally, Cowell can't stand it anymore. "Can I give you some advice, Paula?" he says. "You look nice. Just don't talk." Simon's never been much for chitchat, but he's particularly on edge now because of something strange occurring onstage. Kimberley Locke, who most everyone believes is a long shot to make it to the finals, is singing the pants off Ruben Studdard. Clay Aiken isn't at his best, but Studdard is really off. His rendition of Peabo Bryson's "If Ever I'm in Your Arms Again" is so obviously uninspired that the judges are clearly worried. They even tell him to take off his distracting hat and sing again, even though the judges almost never comment on...
  • The X Factor

    I shouldn't even be talking about this," Bryan Singer says. It's late on a Sunday night, and the 37-year-old director of "X2: X-Men United," is nursing a vodka and tonic at Orso, in Los Angeles. Two hours ago he made his final tweaks to the $120 million movie, and he has every reason to celebrate. But there's a trashy story about the making of that movie--it begins with his taking a painkiller and ends with Halle Berry reportedly telling him to "Kiss my black ass"--that's been dogging him. "Some gossipy freaky person decides to embellish a story and some idiot calls the New York Post, which is a tabloid, it's not even a f--king newspaper," he says. "It's not relevant enough for me to sue them, although I could. The fact that anyone's talking about this has nothing to do with what really happened and everything to do with, 'We've got to have something to talk about because we're bored.' Unbelievable."It seems that Singer's bad-boy reputation in Hollywood has risen right along with...