It was another wild week in Hollywood as we entered the first week of Oscar-friendly December. A lot went down this week, so lets get right into the good and bad news of the week with this week's Notables.

NOTABLES

"Catherine Keener, Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack sign for Friends With Money" - Monday, November 29

This is one hell of a female ensemble cast right here, perhaps one of the finest female ensemble's in recent years. All of these actresses are immensely talented, and all this talent on the same screen should be a joy to watch. I don't know what kind of characters they will portray, but they all have some great range, with, collectively, the abilities to play damn near anyone under the sun. It will be very interesting to see who signs up to play their husbands, but this is one hell of a cast, as is, right now. Best News of the Week Nominee.

"Lions Gate picks up Akeelah and the Bee" - Monday, November 29

I guess it's been a good few weeks for Niccol Fellowship screenwriters. 2 weeks ago, The Strangers, a Nicchol Fellowship semi-finalist, was picked up by Universal, and this week, Akeelah and the Bee, a 2000 winner was snagged by Lions Gate. However, this project doesn't sound quite as good as The Strangers. Maybe they should've gone after this year's winner, instead of 2000's winner...This project is about an inner-city kid vying for the chance to compete in the National Spelling Bee, hence uniting her community. Yeah. It was said to be the Rocky of spelling bee movies. Yeah. That's odd, because I think there is all of one spelling bee movie anyway, and that's a documentary (See: Spellbound). This will probably warm people's hearts and blah blah blah, but it just doesn't sound appealing to me. Worst News of the Week Nominee.

"Nick Cassavetes set to direct Iron Man"- Tuesday, November 30

I can't think of someone more unqualified to direct an action/comic book flick than Nick Cassavetes. OK, he acted in some action movies (See: Face/Off, Blind Fury, etc.) but, last time I checked, acting and directing are rather different. His last stint in the directors chair was helming the incredibly sappy The Notebook. He also has the mediocre John Q under his belt, and one of the worst movies I have ever seen (seriously) She's So Lovely. The only reason this hack is still working is probably because of his family connections: he's the son of legendary actor John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands, who he directed in The Notebook. His directorial forays are all in different genres, and they all fail similarly. I can't see Cassavetes as a logical choice to direct a movie like this. Worst News of the Week Nominee.

"Matt Damon replaces Leonardo DiCaprio in The Good Shepherd"- Tuesday, November 30

Well well well. Less than a month after funding was yanked for this project, not to mention the news making my Worst News of the Week, this project is back on track. Are the Hollywood big wigs starting to read my column? Doubtful, but I didn't think it would take this long, with all the all-star elements in place here, for this project to find new life. Matt Damon's addition is some very good news as well. Damon is a fine actor, and he should fill in admirably for DiCaprio, but I'm just glad that this project is rolling again. My hat goes off to Morgan Creek for stepping up with the funds, and I'm just very excited for this movie to get started. Best News of the Week Nominee.

"Jason Filardi set to pen Gangsta M.D. remake"- Tuesday, November 30

Wow. If the title alone doesn't sound bad enough, Filardi is the dolt who wrote the insanely overrated Bringing Down the House. This is apparently a remake of a Bollywood "hit", which should give us some insight into why Bollywood (a loose term for films from India) flicks never find much of an American appeal. In this remake, a gangster hides his criminal ways by lying and saying he's in medical school, and when she finds out he's lying, he goes to med school for real. Wow. The writer of Bringing Down the House remaking a Bollywood "hit." Sounds like a match made in hell to me...Worst News of the Week.

"Nintendo gets into the film business"- Thursday, December 2

This is very interesting indeed, and, if it actually goes through, will make history in Hollywood, as the first video game company to have a feature film unit under its flag. If you look at their current holdings, the GameCube and GameBoy Advance, they aren't nearly as successful as the XBox or PlayStation 2, and from what I've seen, their newer games don't hold a candle to the games released on the XBox or PS2. But, this is still some great news because of one reason: The Legend of Zelda Movie. This classic video game has all the elements for a great fantasy film, and they'd be foolish not to try to bring this game to the silver screen first. The original game for the NES did have spin-offs on the Nintendo 64, and there are probably some for Game Cube as well, although I'm not positive on that one. Anyway, with their own film unit, they can have ultimate creative control and with the Zelda story, could possibly craft the most successful video game adaptation in history, and revitalize the whole genre. Best News of the Week Nominee.

"Your first look at 'Daisy Duke' in The Dukes of Hazzard

She may be annoying. She may be intellectually-challenged. But you can't dispute this: baby can wear them shorts! If she looks THAT good throughout the whole flick, that should add a good $10 million to the box office take. Best News of the Week Nominee...nah, it won't win, but it sure is nice to look at...

BOX OFFICE CORNER

National Treasure stayed atop the box office rankings for the 3rd consecutive week, but it achieved that landmark with a little help from The Phantom of the Opera movie. "Phantom" was slated for release this past weekend, but was bumped up to Christmas Day, therefore leaving no movies with a wide release coming out this weekend. Of the new movies this past weekend, Closer had the widest release with a paltry 476 theaters. Closer performed admirably in 6th place with an estimated $7.7 million and a whopping $16,176 per-screen average.

It was National Treasure, though, that capitalized the most, with the three-peat at the top of the box office mountain. The Nicolas Cage flick took in an estimated $17.1 million in its third weekend, dropping a modest 46.7% from last weekend. This still pales in comparison to the astonishing 5.9% drop from it's opening weekend tally last weekend, but that is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment, as far as I'm concerned. There are still no budget figures released for "Treasure," but I'd have to think that it's overall take of $110.2 million has to mark a pretty decent profit so far. With the high-profile releases of Blade: Trinity and Ocean's Twelve this weekend, I think it's safe to say we won't see National Treasure on top next weekend, but it's still been one hell of a run so far.

With no other new releases cracking the top 10, I'm going to focus on what will probably go down as the biggest bust of the year. Alexander only dropped one spot in the rankings, going from 6th last weekend to 7th this weekend. That's the good news. The bad news is the Oliver Stone epic dropped a huge 65.5% from last weekends opening weekend. The flick took in a measly $4.7 million this weekend, skidding from $13.6 million in its opening weekend. The Colin Farrell starrer has earned $29.6 million overall, far short of its enormous $155 million budget. Right now, the only way they'll make any money back, is if the cast and crew start buying Powerball tickets and the miraculously win the $171 million jackpot. I'd start buying those tickets, if I were them, because this will probably be the biggest bust of 2004.

GOING LIVE

The War of the Worlds: (www.waroftheworlds.com)

This is just a teaser site here, but there is some interesting artwork on this site, in the form of a cool picture of the Earth being "gripped" by something. It says the official site is coming soon, and you can sign up for updates and all that jazz. The site does have a cool look to it, but no content, so we can only hope that when there is some content, we get the same sort of style because that would be all right by me. We've got some time, though, since the movie doesn't open until June 29 of next year.

The Magic Roundabout: (www.the-magic-roundabout.com)

This is another lackluster site with just the trailer and the link to register for updates. Also, instead of just a regular block of text that says "In Cinemas Feb. 2005" it keeps flashing on and off and it's very annoying. The good news is, there isn't much to keep you on this site for very long anyway...

Fat Albert: (www.fatalbertthemovie.com)

Hey hey hey, we've got a site with some content this week! With some hip-hop beats in the background, you can surf through several different links here. Under "Fat Albert's Story" you get a little more insight into how Fat Albert is brought into present day. When you click on The Cosby Kids link, you get a brief description of each of the main characters. In Pictures you can see, well, pictures and in Dowloads you can snag a few wallpapers and AIM Icons. You can also watch the trailer, but the link for a game is "coming soon." Overall this is a pretty decent site that should keep you busy until Christmas Day when this flick arrives in theaters.

Are We There Yet?: (www.sonypictures.com/movies/arewethereyet)

This starts out with a very interesting introduction. A picture of a mountainside road and a car pops up, and then so does Ice Cube, the movie's star and he personally welcomes you to the site, before his kids in the movie tag along to join in the fun. When you get in the main site there is a lot of content here as well. Click on About the Flim to get a synopsis and some production notes, in Cast and Crew you can get some background info on the key players of the flick, check out a photo gallery, dowload some screensavers and AIM Icons in Downloads and there are even some games for you to play. What is really cool about this site, is that in every link except Cast and Crew, there are little videos with Cube and the kids from the movie. I've never really seen something like this in a website, but I think it's really cool that the cast would get involved with the movie's website. This is great website, and it did what most websites are supposed to do: it actually made me want to see the movie, surprisingly as that may be. This is one of the best websites I've reviewed for this column because it's just a lot of fun. Are We There Yet? opens on January 21.

The Aviator: (www.miramax.com/aviator)

The site starts off in style with a great picture that should be a one-sheet of DiCaprio wearing some cool super-imposed shades. When you get into the site, there is some content here, although not a boatload of stuff like the Are We There Yet? site. What the site lacks in substance, it more than makes up for in style. There is some nice background music, and the site just has a great look to it. On "The Story" you can find out a little about the plot, and under The Talent you get a biography on each of the main cast members. The majority of the content here comes from The Production menu, where there are the links Making the Film, Screenplay, Casting, Director, Special Effects, Editor, Production Designer, Costume Designer, Music and Producers. There is also a schedule for upcoming screenings of the film, and some quotes from some top critics. All in all, this is a very nice site to what could be one of this year's Oscar contenders. The Aviator opens December 17 in select cities and it goes wide on Christmas Day.

TRAILER PARK

Mr. and Mrs. Smith:

This looks like a perfect summer flick. You have two high-profile stars in Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, a high-concept story in two married assasins, secretly working for rival outfits and start gunning for each other, which should yield some very high box office results. Director Doug Liman is aptly qualified for this flick, proving his action chops in the surprise 2002 hit The Bourne Identity. This looks like a lot of great summer fun and it should be a hit both critically and financially. Mr. and Mrs. Smith opens on June 10.

Beauty Shop:

This isn't really an official spin-off from Queen Latifah's character in Barbershop 2, but it pretty much is. This is Barbershop for the ladies, and, just like in Barbershop, it seems like anything goes in the shop. I'm not quite sure if they can capture the magic of Barbershop, but with a fairly diverse cast in Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, Kevin Bacon and many others, it looks like they might have a shot. Beauty Shop opens on April 1.

The Wedding Date:

This romantic comedy puts a tiny little unique twist on an all too familiar guy-meets-girl type of story. In this flick, the guy meets the girl...because she paid for it. Desperate to find a date for her sister's wedding, the lovely Debra Messing pays an escort played by Dermot Mulroney $6000 dollars to go to the wedding with her. Take a wild guess what happens after that...Messing does look great, though, and it's always funny how these really attractive women find themselves desperately single in these type of flicks...Guys, if you have a significant other, prepare to be dragged to the theater on February 4.

Man of the House:

Wow, Tommy Lee Jones. How far have you sunk? Although I have to admit that I really can't see anyone else in this role, it's just sad to see. This "comedy" is supposed to be a mix of Bring it On and countless protect-the-witness-of-a-killing-from-the-killer flicks. Tommy even looks just bored in this, kind of how bored Robert DeNiro looked when he was making the dreadful Showtime with Eddie Murphy. This just doesn't look good at all. Man of the House opens March 4.

The Silencer:

This looks like a very interesting project. It looks like a mix of John Woo and Guy Ritchie's styles in a unique British action flick. They're going to try and push this unique style for the marketing of this flick, or at least they should because there are no recognizable stars in this movie. That could be to its advantage, though, and this could fly under the radar and have some success. If it ever comes near my neck of the woods, I will definitely check this out. The Silencer is still searching for a release date.

The Wedding Crashers:

This looks like a great comedy, with two hilarious stars in Owen Wilson (O.K., not all the time, but he's usually pretty good) and the always-money Vince Vaughn. They are both just perfect for their roles, as covert wedding guests trying to sneak their way in bed with female wedding guests. The premise alone here is just great, and with these two toplining, it should be just wonderful. Wilson should vibe well with Vaughn, the supporting cast, with Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken, is wonderful and this could be a great summer comedy. The Wedding Crashers opens July 22.

BEST NEWS OF THE WEEK

My pick for Best News of the week completes the circle from a past Worst News of the Week, and that is the jump starting of the once-dead The Good Shepherd. This is just awesome news, folks. Robert DeNiro making his directorial debut, directing from an Eric Roth script, and co-starring with Matt Damon? How can you not love this! I knew that this project's death just had to be temporary. There are SO many amazing aspects to this project that I knew someone was going to pony up the dough to get this off the shelf. If I ever meet someone from Morgan Creek, I'll buy them a drink or nine because they did the right thing in getting this back on track. Kudos, Morgan Creek people!

WORST NEWS OF THE WEEK

It was close this week, but I'm going to have to pick Nick Cassavetes helming Iron Man for my Worst News of the Week. OK, there is some action in John Q, but it was mainly a drama. He has NO experience directing action, a genre that Quentin Tarantino said is the toughest genre to direct in. I'm sorry, but a resume that consists of The f*&*in Notebook, John Q and, seriously, one of the worst movies ever, She's So Lovely, wouldn't qualify him to direct a big-budget action flick. Go back and direct your mom (literally) in The Notebook 2: I Still Don't Remember, and leave the action flicks to people who know what they're doing.

Cinemark Movie Club