Weekend box office never sleeps, does it?

It’s certainly not resting this very busy weekend when the return of Mr. “Greed is Good” himself and a bunch of 3-D fantasy owls will battle for the #1 spot, with any number of other interesting things happening on the sidelines.

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The smart money seems to be pretty positive that “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” will earn in the neighborhood of $20 million and so may end up winning the weekend. At least that’s what I’m reading via jolly Carl DiOrio and the more circumspect Ben Fritz.

The audience for the latest from Oliver Stone skews fairly older, not only because it’s a topical thriller from the bombastic but literate Stone, but because it’s a sequel to a hit movie that is — shockingly for some of us — old enough that 24 year-old co-star Shia LaBeouf was barely a toddler when it first came out. That may help with the film’s longevity since older audiences tend to take their time seeing a new movie. Also, a bit of extra publicity from Gekko-man Michael Douglas‘s well-publicized upbeat battle with cancer might add to awareness over the long term. The reviews, which also have a somewhat stronger effect on older viewers, are only meh-to-okay with somewhat better response from more blue-state-centric “top critics.”

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Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

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Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.

Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”  “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.

That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001’s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.

Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)

Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.

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It’s time for another end of week movie news dump. Yay.

Yup, with Cannes going on and the early-early summer movie season happening, things are hopping.

* Nikkie Finke broke the news this morning of the latest chapter in the never-ending tale of the battle over the rights to the character of “Superman.” It seems DC is countersuing lawyer Marc Toberoff on the grounds of conflict of interest. Sure does sound like “hardball” but that’s what happens when millions of dollars are at stake.

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* It never ends. It just never, ever ends. A new alleged victim has come forward claiming that Roman Polanski raped her during the eighties when she was sixteen. (The terms used in the article are “sexually abused” in “the worst possible way” — I have no clue how that could not be rape, at the very least, if true). The woman is being represented by, naturally, Gloria Allred.

At this time, there’s no corroborating evidence beyond the charges. If there is, I think it’s curtains for Polanski and he’ll find himself suddenly and justifiably all-but friendless in Hollywood. It’s one thing to have one extremely nasty episode in your past, it’s quite another to be a serial sexual predator.

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A chat with Alex Gibney

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There’s no doubt that Alex Gibney is on a historic roll as a documentarian. Within only a few years, he’s been involved with probably the largest number of popular and influential documentaries of any single human being not named Michael Moore. Those works would include the outstanding “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and the equally strong, and Oscar winning, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about American use of torture in the “war on terror.” Gibney has also made his share of more historically themed documentaries, including “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.” He was also involved as a producer in two of the other most important and controversial documentaries of recent years, the Iraq-war expose, “No End in Sight” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

If Gibney’s past output is hugely impressive, however, his upcoming list of films is dizzying. At the recently wrapped Tribeca Film Festival in New York, he premiered as a “work in progress,” a new and apparently very revealing, look at former New York state governor, attorney general, and Wall Street watchdog Eliot Spitzer and the sex scandal that drove him from office. He also has a segment in the upcoming film version of the super-hot bestseller, Freakonomics, as well as new films about two very different cultural legends: bicyclist Lance Armstrong and author/super-hippie Ken Kesey of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Merry Pranksters fame.

There’s also the recently completed “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” and the film Gibney was promoting at his publicist’s L.A. office one recent afternoon, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” It’s a work of amazing journalistic detail that also works very hard to be lively and accessible.

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Even if I felt that Gibney didn’t quite master that “accessible and lively” aspect too consistently this time around, his “Casino Jack” reviews so far have been great overall. He’s certainly a filmmaker to be reckoned with and one with an outstanding body of work behind him and much, much more to come. Not my idea of a lazy person.

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Old dogs, new tricks, and Matt!

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You’re pre-weekend box-offfice preview will be up bright and early tomorrow morning, but first I have a couple of what Rachel Maddow calls “Holy Mackeral stories.” Both of them involve old movie reliables trying new stuff, and somehow Matt Damon is involved in both movies.

* Back in 1955, Clint Eastwood had uncredited bit parts in two sci-fi monster/horror flicks from director Jack Arnold, “Revenge of the Creature” (the sequel to the 3-D hit, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”) and “Tarantula.” Since then, he’s somehow managed to steer clear of anything remotely fantastical either as an actor or a director — until now. “Hereafter” is being kept under wraps but the story is said to be in the same general ballpark as “The Sixth Sense.” It’s being written by Peter Morgan, also a first-timer in tales of the supernatural, though the playwright/screenwriter of “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen” is also branching out genre wise with the 23rd James Bond movie. As suggested above, the star will be Matt Damon, who has been around the supernatural before. However, I suspect this film won’t have a whole lot in common either with Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated “The Brothers Grimm” or Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.”

All of this is not to say that director Eastwood can’t do scary. His 1971 directorial debut, the witty and suspenseful “Play Misty for Me,” was pretty thoroughly grounded in our reality but had some definite terror elements.

* Now, Michael Douglas found himself in a pretty similar predicament to Eastwood’s “Misty,” character in the 1987 hit, “Fatal Attraction,” but there’s pretty much no similarities in anything he’s done before with his next project. I don’t know how I’ve missed it, but the actor commonly associated with such super-macho characters as Gordan Gekko (soon to be reprised in the upcoming “Wall Street” sequel) and ultra-horny cop Nick Curran of “Basic Instinct” will be playing Liberace, the glitzy pop-classical concert pianist for whom the word “flamboyant” might have been coined. Directing the film will be Steven Soderbergh, returning to his nonfiction well that earned him one of his biggest commercial successes with “Erin Brokovich” and, he hopes again, with this week’s wide release of the fact-based comedy, “The Informant.”

Just to tie things up in a nice ribbon, as reported by People — who somehow found a picture of Michael Douglas looking oddly like Liberace might have looked later in life — “Informant” star Matt Damon will play Liberace’s longtime partner who ultimately sued the Las Vegas star in a palimony suit. I’m not sure it’s fair to say he “outed” Liberace. This will not, of course, be the first time that Matt Damon has played a gay character. That would be “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

And, now, a moment of vintage Liberace. Definitely not with Matt Damon.

  

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