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Tasty Tidbits From Hollywood's Frenzied Fall

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Snakes on Kazakhstan?

It may seem far-fetched to compare Borat with Snakes on a Plane. But both may be prime examples of how Internet hype does not necessarily translate into box-office hype. Despite all the Web chatter, New Line’s Snakes flopped. Will Fox’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan bomb as well?

Nah, but it’s already a blowback. Back on October 17, I learned that Sacha Baron Cohen’s spoof, widely thought to have runaway box-office potential, was tracking well behind that family clunker The Santa Clause 3. This week, the latest Borat tracking showed a slight uptick, especially among young males, but Santa’s still gonna beat his Kazakhstani ass when they both open November 3. “Borat’s gaining, but there’s still no awareness in the middle of the country,” a movie marketing guru told me. 

So Fox blinked. On Tuesday, the studio suddenly cut back Borat’s opening to just 800 screens in the U.S. and Canada in what it announced was a “tiered theatrical release.” A better word for it would have been retreat. Most of these theaters are in big cities, with the studio hoping that word of mouth will motivate the local yokels to see it. There was also a well-timed “leak” of Borat’s first four minutes onto YouTube on October 19. (Then again, the whole of NBC’s Studio 60 pilot was “leaked” onto YouTube, and its ratings were still crappy.) But take note: The “Shrimp Running on a Treadmill” video is still way more of a YouTube favorite than Borat.

Nonetheless, Fox suits anticipate Borat’s hilariously satirical misogynistic anti-Semite will have legs, especially on college campuses that love Cohen’s HBO cult figure, Ali G. (But Dane Cook’s HBO comedy, Tourgasm, was a college sensation and his Employee of the Month still tanked.) Still, with only an $18 mil budget, Borat is certain to make moola. But how much more publicity can this movie generate? The pic started making waves at the Cannes Film Festival and wowed audiences at September’s Toronto Film Festival. Cohen, in character as fictional TV reporter Borat Sagdiyev, the “sixth most famous man in Kazakhstan,” staged various Washington, D.C., stunts outside the White House gates and Kazakhstani Embassy during a state visit by Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was not amused. The media ate it up, and since then Cohen has been red hot in Hollywood.

Slow Death?

Neither CNN nor NPR would run ads for Newmarket Films’ Death of a President opening this weekend (October 27). Already, two major American cinema chains — Regal Entertainment Group, the No. 1 U.S. cinema operator with more than 6,300 screens in 40 states, and Cinemark USA, which operates roughly 2,500 screens in 34 states — have said they wouldn’t show this film imagining Dubya’s assassination. The hugely controversial political thriller from director Gabriel Range became one of the most talked-about films at the Toronto Film Festival, where it won the Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) “for the audacity with which it distorts reality to reveal a larger truth.” Since then, the 93-minute pic’s subject matter has become a conservative cause célèbre with which to hammer what conservatives claim is “unpatriotic” Hollywood, whereas progressives believe the documentary-style film has an antiviolence message. Range has said he has received death threats. Little wonder then that the pic had a hard time finding a U.S. distributor.

This week’s attempt to drum up a censorship controversy helped the film get badly needed publicity. Even though the Motion Picture Association of America has approved both print and electronic ads for Death, Newmarket Films said it was told by CNN in an e-mail Monday that the news organization nixed the ads “because of the extreme nature of the movie’s subject matter.” NPR echoed. Other media outlets aren’t objecting. People connected with the film say MSNBC, Fox.com and CNET.com, among others, accepted broadcast and digital ads for the movie, while print ads have already appeared in the major newspapers. The director, who also co-wrote the film, uses archival footage of Bush to create the scenes that lead up to the president being shot, and digital effects are used to superimpose his head onto an actor for the assassination denouement.

Free Bert

Hollywood litigator Bert Fields, who represents major players ranging from Tom Cruise to David Geffen, is virtually free and clear of almost every aspect of the Pellicano case, including the wiretapping and conspiracy accusations, which federal prosecutors have been pursuing against thug P.I. Anthony Pellicano.

“This is done and over,” sources told me.

This news comes despite prosecutors calling at least 10 members of Greenberg Glusker, Fields’ Century City law firm, before a federal grand jury in recent weeks. But I’ve learned that to show his eagerness to cooperate, Fields repeatedly agreed to requests by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles to temporarily waive the statutes of limitations for any conduct being examined in the Pellicano probe. And when these specified periods of time expired, he waived them again and again. While it’s true that the statutes of limitations have not yet lapsed on all potential charges against Fields, I’m told almost every one has already run out, including all those concerning the big issues. Now the feds have stopped asking Fields for any more extensions, sources said.

For three years, Fields has been an official “subject” of the feds’ investigation in the Pellicano wiretap case. (Being a “subject” meant he was a person whose conduct was within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.) Fields and Pellicano were pals professionally and personally — Fields was one of the very few in show biz who helped raise money for Pellicano’s kids when the P.I. was first jailed.

Back in June, Pellicano himself told the Los Angeles Times:  “Of all the people in the world to suspect it of: Bert Fields? Mr. Clean Jeans? Mr. Straight Arrow? My God, I don’t think I’ve even heard him curse in the entire time I’ve known him — let alone say, ‘Hey, Pellicano, I want you to go out and do this or do that.’ I mean, come on .?.?. There is no way in the world that any lawyer who has got any brains is going to hire somebody to do something illegal. Why throw away your law license?”

Already, federal prosecutors said they did not expect to bring charges against Fields’ law firm. Nevertheless, just having the feds breathing down the neck of Greenberg Glusker lost the practice some senior partners, led by Howard Weitzman and Dale Kinsella, last April 17. (Ironically, it was Weitzman who first brought Pellicano to Los Angeles.) Fields does have some civil cases arising out of the Pellicano probe to deal with. But “Bert has already put this behind him, and is totally focused on his cases. I’ve never seen him so busy,” a source close to him told me.

Next month, he goes into L.A. County Superior Court for a two-month jury trial representing best-selling author Clive Cussler against Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz’s Beverly Hills movie company Crusader Entertainment over Cussler’s right of script approval on the film Sahara.

Honestly?

So the first thing I asked Sherry Lansing was, “Are you going to tell the truth?” Because she’s signed to write a memoir with Crown’s Harmony Books in a deal negotiated by her agent, Lynn Nesbit. When I reached her by phone in Munich, where her husband, Billy Friedkin, is directing an opera, Lansing pledged, “I am going to be scrupulously honest. Because there’s no point doing it otherwise.”

The money she’ll receive from the book will go to cancer research, and it’s a tidy sum since the word is she’s receiving a cool $1 mil to put pen to paper. Lansing said the deal is contingent on her finding a writer, because it will be an “as told to” book covering her entire life. Still, I’m skeptical that Lansing, who for so many years was the very model of diplomacy in this very rude town, can really tell all about the rat bastards at Fox and Paramount whom she’s worked for and with. Too many Hollywood players, like Dawn Steel and Mike Medavoy, have written books that don’t dish the real dirt. ?