MAYBE VIACOM CEO DIDN'T DISS SPIELBERG, AFTER ALL

An examination by the New York Times of the actual transcript of Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman's recent remarks about the possibility of Steven Spielberg leaving DreamWorks at the end of his contract next year suggests that Dauman may not have been as dismissive of Spielberg's value to the company as originally reported. In capsulizing Dauman's remarks to an investors' conference in New York on Tuesday, Daily Variety and other publications focused on his comment that if Spielberg left DreamWorks, "the financial impact to Paramount first and especially to Viacom over all would be completely immaterial." However, the Times observed, Dauman was using the term "immaterial" in the Wall Street sense -- meaning impact on reported earnings. The newspaper commented that Dauman's intended meaning "was perhaps lost in translation when the phrase hit Hollywood ears." The Times further pointed out that earlier in his remarks, Dauman had noted that Spielberg was currently directing the new Indiana Jones film and emphasized that it was being produced and released under the Paramount banner. He added: "We're doing everything possible to make him happy." On Thursday, Paramount Chairman Brad Grey told the Times: "I have the greatest respect for the creativity of Steven Spielberg and the entire DreamWorks team, as well as the immense entrepreneurial business skills of David Geffen. ... On behalf of Viacom and Paramount, I hope we're all in business for a very long time." (Separately, he told the Los Angeles Times: "It would always be better to have Steven and DreamWorks with us, but of course we'll be OK [if they leave].") And even if Spielberg does decide to ditch DreamWorks next year, the New York Times observed, it "would also probably maintain business ties with Mr. Spielberg for years to come without an executive contract, because it has acquired years' worth of projects in which he has a creative interest."

COMING SOON: DOWNLOADING MOVIES TO DVD

Setting the stage for Internet download services to sell movies that can be burned onto a DVD and played on conventional TV sets, the DVD Copy Control Association on Thursday approved new security software that permits content to be burned on a single disk but no more. (The content can not be viewed on a computer or on a portable video player, essentially pushing Apple's iPod Store out of the download-to-disk business.) Disks that can be used for such downloading will come preprinted with the codes necessary to prevent copying. Movie downloading services promptly hailed the approval, although it was uncertain when such disks will become available or how much they will cost. News reports indicated that a royalty payment will go the the group that developed the security technology.

ROSENBERG WINS SECOND TERM AS SAG PRESIDENT

Alan Rosenberg has won a second term as president of the Screen Actors Guild, narrowly defeating veteran actor Seymour Cassel. Rosenberg won with 47 percent of the vote to Cassel's 44 percent. In reporting the outcome, Daily Variety commented that "Cassel's strong showing also reflects a significant level of member dissatisfaction with Rosenberg's performance as president." Cassel had been urging the union to take a harder line with producers on DVD residuals and Internet fees. The election came as the guild prepared to enter into negotiations on a new contract; the current one expires on June 30.

MOVIE REVIEWS: GOOD LUCK CHUCK

This is the time of year when Hollywood dumps the worst it has to offer on multiplexes, confident that not many people will visit them anyway. Judging from critics' reviews, this year is no exception. Take, for example, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert's assessment of one of this weekend's new releases, Good Luck Chuck, which, he calls "the dirty movie of the year, slimy and scummy," and which "layers a creaky plot device on top of countless excuses to show breasts, sometimes three at a time, and is potty-mouthed and brain-damaged." A.O. Scott in the New York Times says that the movie, which stars Jessica Alba, is "a must-see for young men with a subscription to Maxim but no access to the Internet." To Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun, it's "a comedy about breasts made by boobs." Then there's Kyle Smith in the New York Post who describes Good Luck Chuck as "a fungal little sex comedy [that] doesn't need a review. It needs a tube of ointment and a shot of penicillin." And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune figures that the film must be "some sort of humor-deprivation experiment."

MOVIE REVIEWS: RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION

Resident Evil: Extinction (based on the video game) was not screened for critics, but the Dallas Morning News printed a review by Matt Weitz, a "special contributor," who had attended a preview. Weitz concludes: "Like the joystick arena it draws power from, this film is a momentary diversion, a distraction of monsters, cloven flesh and bullet-blown spray patterns. No one expects, or even wants, every film to be Philadelphia. But this latest -- and supposedly last (yeah, right) -- installment of the franchise is the dark side of the gamers' dream. It leaves you exactly where you started, an hour and a half older."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES ...

Opening for the art-house set and for possible Oscar consideration is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a title that will certainly not fit on the marquee of even a conventional movie house. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times describes the movie this way: "Hugely ambitious and not without moments of success, this indulgent 2 hour and 40 minute epic ends up as unwieldy as its elongated title." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times is also unimpressed, saying that it merely "adds another gauzy chapter to the overtaxed James myth, if not much rhyme or reason, heart or soul." Although Brad Pitt, who plays Jesse James, won a best-actor award for the role at the recent Venice Film Festival, he receives few plaudits from critics. Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail calls the award "a bit of a head-scratcher." But Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News describes the performances of Pitt and co-star Casey Affleck (as Ford) as "masterful and multifaceted, totally naturalistic yet bursting with magnetic star quality."

MOVIE REVIEWS: SYDNEY WHITE

Sydney White, described as a contemporary retelling of Snow White, starring Amanda Bynes, is receiving some grumpy reviews. In fact, Ty Burr in the Boston Globe spends the first paragraph of his review focusing on Bynes tan (he returns to it at the end,too), writing, "The star's skin tone is a dark orange fake-and-bake marvel not found anywhere in or near nature. Did they take Bynes out back and lacquer it on? Did she suffer an accident in a Cheetos factory? ... Doesn't matter: It's mesmerizing, and one of the worst makeup jobs ever seen in a studio film." (So much for "the fairest of them all.") And Walter Addiego in the San Francisco Chronicle doesn't bother much with the plot of the movie or the performances, either, focusing on the title. "The picture was going to be called Sydney White and the Seven Dorks, which at least suggests a takeoff on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," he writes. "Maybe the studio thought 'dorks' would turn off some potential ticket buyers, but the new, shrunken title conveys nothing." A few critics do bother to comment on the film, mostly dismissively. Like Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post who describes it as a "completely ersatz movie that flattens everything, including its star, with a generic look and assembly-line sensibility."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.