Will Spider-Man 3 underachieve?

Inside the big picture show.
April 26 2007 4:54 PM

Let the Games Begin

In a crowded summer blockbuster season, someone's going to get hurt. Will it be Spider-Man?

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Justin Timberlake. Click image to expand.
Justin Timberlake

Reluctant prince: American Idol has lots of fun guests. On Wednesday night, Celine Dion sang with Elvis! But last week, there was an odd couple, indeed: Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chief of DreamWorks Animation, and Antonio Banderas. For many people in the industry, seeing Elvis was less of a jolt than seeing Katzenberg. Obviously, he has an incentive to promote the upcoming Shrek the Third, and having the contestants rave about the movie after a screening serves that purpose. But since neither Katzenberg nor Banderas can be considered a pop icon, why would the producers of American Idol want them? The answer is: They didn't. The folks at Paramount (which will distribute Shrek) also made a big ad buy on the show, of course, but the real lure was that Katzenberg was supposed to deliver Justin Timberlake, who plays a young prince in the new movie. Having the newly redeemed Timberlake appear as mentor to the aspiring Idols makes a lot of sense, no matter how unwilling one might be to listen to boy-band covers. But Timberlake balked. Katzenberg's camp says the problem was that Timberlake's touring schedule changed, making the appearance impossible. A well-placed Timberlake source says the young man opted to spend the week in Scotland with his parents. There were early reports that Timberlake—who was Mr. Cameron Diaz at the time he was hired to co-star with her in the third Shrek—did not sparkle in his role. A source says his performance turned out "fine" but notes that he's not meant to be particularly funny. He plays a reluctant heir to the throne. (Maybe he was in character when he said no to American Idol.) Meanwhile, Idol is open for movie business. Next week, Disney will shell out for a 90-second commercial during the show for its next animated film, Ratatouille. No doubt, a studio would like exclusivity when it pays enormous amounts of money for ad time. But the studios aren't in a strong negotiating position when it comes to the show. "Idol is the only place to reach an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old," says one marketing executive. "It's worth the money." (link)

Monday, April 23, 2007

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This is a tale of drug abuse, pornography, and betrayal—and the war on terror. It is the only story you're likely to read this week that has Ann Coulter taking a field trip with television personality Orson Bean.

It all begins with an extraordinary 23,000-word piece in the thick-as-a-brick March issue of Vanity Fair. The piece revealed more than perhaps anyone needs to know about Pat Dollard, a one-time agent to director Steven Soderbergh, a drug addict of prodigious proportions, and a sometime porn-film performer.

In 2004, Dollard suddenly ditched his show-business life in Los Angeles and went to Iraq. Not long after he arrived, he e-mailed a photo of himself to friends and family. It depicted him in combat gear, surrounded by Marines, with his hair cut into a mohawk and the word die shaved into his chest hair. Experiencing "vivid clarity," he later said, feeling as though he'd had "a message from God," Dollard discovered that he was a "warrior" whose mission was to make a documentary that would spark support for President Bush and the war.

He began shooting many hours of footage of the Marines, some of whom came to see him as a hero in the mold of Hunter S. Thompson. "My goal is to de-sensitize young people to violence," he told Vanity Fair. "I want kids to watch my film and understand that brutality is the fucking appropriate response to a brutal enemy."

Dollard's message had considerable appeal to a number of Bush supporters, who began grooming him as a poster boy for their cause—the guy who ditched the Hollywood life to spread the word. Ann Coulter was a fan, and Dollard was a guest on Tony Snow's Fox radio show before Snow moved to his job at the White House.

These people could hardly have been pleased by the Vanity Fair piece. As author Evan Wright abundantly illustrates, Dollard's mission has been frequently interrupted by drug binges and other detours into depravity. Wright reports that while in Iraq, Dollard stole liquid Valium from a pharmacy and got some of the troops high, and that he may have provoked an attack on U.S. troops when he stole a banner from a mosque. (The article about Dollard isn't just extraordinary for its content but its size: If the typical Vanity Fair piece is a Mini Cooper, this one is equivalent to a block-long caravan of Humvees.)

For one-time Hustler writer Wright, the story was another step into the kind of show-business success that many magazine writers only dream about. Already, Wright's book on his experiences as a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with the Marines is being made into an HBO miniseries. Now his Dollard story has been optioned by filmmaker Tony Scott (director of Spy Games, Man on Fire, and Domino). Wright has been hired to write the script—with Dollard as his partner. This may seem improbable since Dollard has told at least one friend that Wright's story is packed with embellishments and inaccuracies.

That friend is Andrew Breitbart, a right-leaning Matt Drudge associate who hopes that Dollard will find financial backers for his still-unfinished documentary. He told Slate that he believes the film will justly portray the Marines as "the heroes of our time ... fighting the battle for Western civilization as we know it."