News from April 29, 2001

Joltin Joe Lieberman vs. Jack “Boom Boom” Valenti

The Senator, still pissed off he isn’t the Vice Prez, has unveiled his Senate Bill which would allow the FTC to bring civil charges against media firms that don’t abide by voluntary industry codes prohibiting the marketing of adult materials to children. Should the bill pass a house vote, fines for companies that violate the FTC’s regulations could climb as high as $11,000 per offending incident.

MPAA CEO Jack Valenti immediately came out slugging:

“This legislation could be more accurately titled a death-sentence bill for voluntary film ratings. It will put an end to the movie industry’s voluntary film-rating system because it penalizes those distributors who participate in this voluntary system and gives total immunity from any penalties to any producer or distributor who distributes a film without a rating. Lawyers for the movie companies are not going to stand mutely by and allow their clients, all of which are public companies, to be potentially fined for doing what the companies believe are in parents’ best interest. The lawyers are going to counsel their clients to withdraw from voluntary film-rating systems. Is that what the Congress wantsr Is that what parents wantr”

The Recording Industry Association of America also took some jabs at the bill. RIAA general counsel Cary Sherman worried about “constitutional red flags” the bill would raise, claiming it “would have the unintentional result of discouraging participation in the successful Parental Advisory Program.”

An FTC report released last year which slammed Hollywood for marketing adult themed films to a younger audience is the cause of this latest furor. Ironically, the FTC stated in a follow-up report that despite the perception Hollywood is going after the all-important teen market for more adult themed movies, they categorically stated any attempts at prosecution would likely be futile, on First Amendment issues of free speech.

Not that something as trivial as the Constitution is going to stop Lieberman.

In an interesting twist, a spokesman for the Senator stated that the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s voluntary code, lauded in yet another FTC report which was released this past Tuesday, was the only set of guidelines that could qualify for the safe harbor status proviso within Lieberman’s bill, backed by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Herb Kohl and New York Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, which exempts companies from prosecution who abide by an industry code that includes an age-based rating system, prohibits the marketing of adult-rated material to children and punishes non-complying firms. (Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that the very purpose of the 34 year old MPAAr)

On the other side of the same coin… in U.S. District Court here in Colorado on Tuesday (the same day the FTC and Liberman’s camp praised the ESBR), a $5 billion class action lawsuit was filed by victims of the Columbine massacre against AOL Time Warner, Nintendo of America, and Sony Computer Entertainment, amongst 25 companies, claiming the massacre would not have occurred without the marketing of video games, particularly the game “Doom,” which they say influenced the two gunmen.

As I was driving home from work on Tuesday, listening to the local talk radio station, John DeCamp, the Denver-based attorney who filed this case on behalf of the families, was quite adamant in this assertions that first person seek and kill games like Doom and Duke Nukem, where players are rewarded for their destructive ways with accolades and pictures of half naked women, were one of the major reasons Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their killing spree two years ago this week. The lawsuit “seeks literally to change the marketing and distribution of these super-violent video games that take kids…to become addicted and turn them into monster killers,” DeCamp stated in a separate interview on the lawsuit, emphasizing reports of how the Marines in particular have modified versions of Doom to combat train new recruits. Other companies named in the lawsuit, which needed to be filed by Wednesday in order to comply with statue of limitation laws, include ID Software, Atari, Sega of America, Virgin Interactive Media, Activision, Polygram Film Entertainment Distribution, New Line Cinema, and GT Interactive Software.

I’ll let you think about this conundrum over the weekend.

This is all far from over…

Review And Preview

Driven took the checkered flag in this weekend’s box office race, grossing $13.1M on 2,905 circuits. This represents Sylvester Stallone’s first visit to the top of the charts since Copland nearly four years ago. Bridget Jones’s Diary continued its surprising run, taking second place with $7.5M, while Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids continued to bring out the families, holding onto third place in its fifth week with $5.7M. Rounding out the top ten were Along Came A Spider ($5.7M), Crocodile Dundee in L.A. ($4.7M), Blow ($3.3M), Town and Country ($3.1M), The Forsaken ($3M), Joe Dirt ($2.7M) and One Night at McCool’s ($2.6M).

Lions Gate took home the top prize for limited releases, when their release of the Merchant/Ivory film The Golden Bowl (originally scheduled for release last Christmas by Miramax) brought in $96,000 from six theatres, for a robust $16,000 per screen average. Golden Bowl stars Nick Nolte, Anjelica Huston, Uma Thurman and Kate Beckinsale, and is based on the novel by Henry James.

Miramax sent With A Friend Like Harry into nine additional theatres this weekend and saw returns of $88,000, bringing its North American cume to $380,000. Newmarket added 56 runs to Memento, bringing it to 326 screens. Another $1.3M was added, for a seven week total of $7.1M. Wayne Wang’s controversial unrated film The Center of the World added just one screen and saw its box office fall 17%. On eight screens, only $56,000 worth of tickets were sold, taking its total to just $160,000.

This coming weekend sees the unofficial start of the summer box office season with the release of The Mummy Returns. Insiders are anticipating a $50M opening on its 3300 screens.

There are a number of limited releases scheduled to go against Brendan Fraser’s new adventure, the only one of note being Willem Dafoe’s latest, The Pavilion of Women, the first major Chinese film to be made with an American star, opening on eight screens.

Tsui Hark, who saw Sony start a limited rerelease of his 1991 film Once Upon A Time In China this past weekend, will see Sony release his latest Hong Kong actioner Time and Tide on two screens.

Walt Disney’s great nephew Tim Disney will have his directing debut A Question of Faith, which tells the story of a monk whose mental and physical realities are altered after an encounter with the Archangel Gabriel, released into an as yet unspecified number of screens through First Look.

Terry Kinney, co-founder of the Steppenwolf Theatre along with John Malkovich and Gary Sinese and best remembered for his stint as Cell Block 5 Unit Manager Tim McManus on Oz, stars in The Young Girl and the Monsoon, where he plays a photojournalist about to turn 40 who must take of his 13 year old daughter when his ex-wife remarries and goes on an extended honeymoon.

The Shooting Gallery continues their film series with the Japanese import Eureka, a three hour and thirty seven minute examination of the lives of the only three survivors of a busnapping gone wrong.