It’s crazy-time in Tinseltown.

The Incredible Hulk

* I’ll get to some actual criminal matters below, but to me Kevin Feige of Marvel Productions is being criminally weird and unintelligent in how he’s handled the issue of the re-casting of the Hulk for “The Avengers” superhero-team flick being written and directed by Joss Whedon.  Whether or not the issue that led to the parting of the ways was strictly the failure of financial negotiations or some kind of fight between Feige and Edward Norton, there was simply no earthly logical reason for Feige to allude to that in a statement given to Hitfix with some rather nasty coded language, to wit:

We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H., Chris E., Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.

Given the fact that writer-director Whedon has a famously strong creative vision and is not known for loving it when his stuff gets rewritten, and Norton’s status as a strong-willed actor who often rewrites his films (and is pretty good at it), it would be easy to imagine that there was some kind of creative tussle predating this. However, that only creative conflicts appear to be mishegas that happened on Norton’s Hulk movie. According to an understandably angry response from Norton’s agent, the meeting between him and Whedon was a success and, as far as I know, no one has contested that point.

Edward Norton is beautiful when he's angryRegardless, even if the meeting had gone very badly indeed and even if Norton had made unreasonable demands, you still don’t talk about that stuff in a public statement. You simply say that an agreement was not in the offing, but that Norton is a fine actor and film-maker and you’re very sorry you won’t be working together this time around.

What Marvel had to gain from this kind of statement is beyond a mystery to me. Ironically, the purportedly irksome Norton — whose behavior on “The Incredible Hulk” sounds pretty reasonable to me, overall — issued a very traditional kind of statement today on his Facebook page which the Whedon-fans over at Whedonesque have characterized as “classy.” So, who won this PR battle?

Oh, and with Marvel supposedly scrambling for some kind of massive Comicon photo op where all the Avengers (Jackson and Downey included?) appear on stage with Whedon or suchlike, the first official rumor of the new Hulk is out. It’s Joaquin Phoenix who is either a nut or simply playing one in a staged documentary by Casey Affeck. Interesting. Maybe it really is just a rumor.

* In other news, it appears that Roman Polanski’s legal troubles are over for now. Switzerland has refused extradition and the L.A. D.A. office’s long string of debacles involving celebrities accused of serious crimes continues. Even though it’s the somewhat selfish response of a movie fan, I can’t help but agree with Anne Thompson on that level. On another level, commenter Tom Brueggeman does a good job of cutting through the rampant emotionalism and pretty much speaks for me.

Was Polanski punished enough? Quite possibly not, but that’s not the issue and the case was bungled from the start, as only L.A. knows how to bungle this kind of case and is apparently set to continue bungling as if this is its own particular Vietnam or Afghanistan. It’s important to remember that, more often than not in our world, justice is an ideal, not a reality.

That aside, I feel sorry for people who can’t enjoy Polanski’s films because of this. It’s important to separate artists from their work to some degree. Phil Spector’s records are no less sweet for what he did, and he actually killed someone. Even with the worst possible interpretation of Polanski’s life, he remains a great movie artist and a vastly less serious criminal than some Nobel Peace Prize winners.


* Just in case you’re worried that we’re running out of celebrity legal cases, have no fear, Mel Gibson is here. There’s a new tape. This one avoids racism, but otherwise, it’s a freaking doozy.  Threatening people with death is against the law, by the way.

* If you’re looking for an example of film-maker actually taking some legal lumps for wrongdoing, John McTiernan might be your man. The helmer of the original — and actually really good — “Die Hard” as well as “The Hunt for Red October” and the first, non-plural “Predator” pleaded guilty to perjury and lying to the FBI today. (I didn’t know you could go to jail simply for lying, not under oath, even to a G-Person. Kind of creepy, actually.) As usual, it’s the cover-up that gets people in trouble.