Speaking of lawsuits over movies that made a lot of money in the early months of 2004 …

People reports that Benedict Fitzgerald, co-writer of The Passion of the Christ (2004), is suing writer-director Mel Gibson for $5 million:

In the 21-page complaint filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Benedict Fitzgerald accuses Gibson of fraud, breach of contract and unfair business practices.

“Gibson preyed monetarily on Ben, taking advantage of his unbridled enthusiasm for the project and with full cognizance of Ben’s fundamental personal and spiritual beliefs,” the lawsuit says.

Fitzgerald claims Gibson, who also takes a screenwriting credit on the 2004 film, engaged in a “chronic and conspiratorial pattern of deceit,” telling Fitzgerald he’d be working on a small, $4 million to $7 million project that would yield little money for Fitzgerald and none for Gibson.

Although by some accounts the film grossed over $600 million worldwide, Fitzgerald complains he was paid $75,000 and that he had to borrow $200,000 from Gibson for expenses.

Incidentally, it was just over a year ago that I linked to an item on a film that Fitzgerald was developing called Myriam, Mother of the Christ. At the time, the film was “slated to bow around Easter 2008″, but those plans evidently didn’t pan out. I wonder what stage that project is at, now, or if it is still in the works.

FEB 12 UPDATE: The Associated Press adds this detail:

Fitzgerald also alleged Gibson promised he wouldn’t receive any money from the film and any profit would be distributed to people who worked on the movie.

Gibson stated he didn’t want “money on the back of what he considered a personal gift to his (Roman Catholic) faith,” the lawsuit said.

So, um, the question has to be asked: What is Fitzgerald planning to do with the money, if he should win the lawsuit?

New difficulties for New Line and The Hobbit

New Line Cinema famously settled its legal dispute with The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson late last year. But as far as I can tell, the lawsuit filed by Saul Zaentz, who owns the film rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, is still a going concern. And now, the Associated Press reports that the studio is facing yet another lawsuit — this time, from the Tolkien estate, the HarperCollins publishing company, and possibly others:

The plaintiffs seek more than $150 million in compensatory damages, unspecified punitive damages and a court order giving the Tolkien estate the right to terminate any rights New Line may have to make films based on other works by the author, including “The Hobbit.”

Such an order would scuttle plans New Line has in the works to make a two-film prequel based on “The Hobbit.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has posted its own report on the rumours surrounding the possibility that New Line might be shut down by parent company Time Warner and/or folded into the regular Warner Brothers movie studio, which would “add to an already heavy slate of films that have strained the studio’s resources.” Would Warner, which still has at least two more Harry Potter films in the wings, commit to yet another major fantasy duo? Or, seeing all the legal problems that they might inherit from New Line, would they decide it wasn’t worth the extra hassle?

Make of all that what you will.

(Hat tip to Jeffrey Overstreet at The Looking Closer Journal for the Associated Press story.)

Canadian box-office stats — February 10

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Rambo — CDN $4,090,000 — N.AM $36,876,490 — 11.1%
27 Dresses — CDN $6,570,000 — N.AM $65,078,461 — 10.1%
Untraceable — CDN $2,240,000 — N.AM $24,320,956 — 9.2%
Juno — CDN $10,710,000 — N.AM $117,506,107 — 9.1%

The Bucket List — CDN $6,350,000 — N.AM $74,995,446 — 8.5%
Cloverfield — CDN $6,330,000 — N.AM $76,040,905 — 8.3%
Meet the Spartans — CDN $2,640,000 — N.AM $33,950,850 — 7.8%
Fool’s Gold — CDN $1,550,000 — N.AM $21,589,295 — 7.2%
The Eye — CDN $1,330,000 — N.AM $21,418,982 — 6.2%
Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour — CDN $979,372 — N.AM $53,177,568 — 1.8%

A couple of discrepancies: Untraceable and Cloverfield were #7 and #9 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #11 and #12 in North America as a whole), while Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins and There Will Be Blood were #2 and #10 on the North American chart, respectively.

Noah’s Ark cartoon still being produced in 3-D

Four months ago, I passed along a news story to the effect that the French studio Gaumont was making a 3-D animated film about Noah’s Ark called Rock the Boat. Today, Variety reports that the studio wasn’t actually committed to the 3-D aspect of the film until this past week — but now that they have committed to it, they think this could have ramifications all across Europe:

In a groundbreaking decision on one of Europe’s flagship productions, Gaumont announced Wednesday at the Berlin fest that it will produce its $35 million animated feature “Rock the Boat” in digital 3-D.

Gaumont, the Gallic studio, had toyed with the move for several months.

But spectacular $31 million opening for Disney 3-D “Hannah Montana” swayed its decision, Loic Trocme, Gaumont head of sales and acquisitions, said at the European Film Market Sunday.

“Boat” will not be Europe’s first 3-D movie — Ben Stassen’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” a 3-D IMAX movie, screens at this EFM, with Summit onboard for U.S. distribution — but pic is likely to be one of the biggest 3-D films now in production.

A year into production, “Boat” has been slated as a CGI-animated feature, skedded for 2010. “After ‘Hannah Montana,’ 3-D was no longer just an option. CGI is now commonplace,” Trocme said. “Two years from now, we’ll need to deliver something fresh and new.”

Gaumont’s 3-D move assures that digital cinemas that can screen 3-D films will roll out over Europe by 2010. . . .

Billed as “Some Like It Hot” meets “Titanic,” “Boat” turns on the adventures of a porcupine and cheetah who, since their species are already represented on Noah’s Ark, disguise themselves as a fictitious hybrid — porceetahs — to gain passage. . . .

Incidentally, this film is slated to come out the same year as Toy Story 3, which is also supposed to be in digital 3-D. So there is a definite trend here, and I can only hope that Vancouver will have at least one of those newfangled digital 3-D theatres by then.

Victor Morton on 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Oh my. I knew I loved Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days when I saw it at the local film festival four months ago, and I knew I really regretted not being able to see it a second time before writing my second, longer review of the film last month for CT Movies. But now Victor Morton has seen it a second time and posted two new appraisals of it at his Rightwing Film Geek blog, and I am deeply, deeply in awe, both of the film itself and of Morton’s analysis of it. In this first, brief post, he pays specific attention to the film’s final scene, and in this second, longer post, he re-evaluates claims he had made about the film when he first saw it in September, and he offers some dazzling interpretations of the film’s visual compositions — its use of mirrors, its use of vehicles moving in opposite directions, etc. — and how they lend themselves to the movie’s moral themes. I am so, so glad this film is coming back to Vancouver in April. I can’t wait to see it again.

The darker side of the Sherman brothers.

The other day, Jim Hill complained that far too many Disney DVDs feature interviews with Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, the two guys who composed the bulk of the music for Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) and several other Disney projects, as well as the non-Disney films Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Charlotte’s Web (1973). In his write-up on the brand new “special edition” of The Aristocats (1970), Hill wrote:

It’s hard to get all that excited about the meager assortment of “Bonus Material” that Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has placed on this DVD. I mean, yet another interview with Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman? Zzzzz …

Don’t me wrong, folks. I grew up listening to the Sherman Brothers. So I love these guys and greatly admire their work. But that said, when you watch as many WDSHE releases as I do, it seems like Dick & Bob are interviewed for every single DVD that Disney puts out. And — to be honest — I’m getting kind of tired of looking at these guys.

Well, maybe this story from today’s Variety will spice things up, then — or maybe it will just add to the Sherman fatigue:

. . . Disney is financing a documentary that will reveal the darker side of the venerable songwriting team of Robert and Richard Sherman.

Jeff and Gregg Sherman, sons of Robert and Richard, respectively, are directing “The Boys” and will produce. Ben Stiller’s Red Hour will exec produce with Permut Presentations’ David Permut. Steve Longi is co-producer.

Stiller hopes to use the docu as the template for a feature biopic that would allow him to play Robert Sherman. Disney has committed only to make and release the docu at this point. The picture will be ready for release late this year.

While they crafted scores of cheerful tunes such as “You’re Sixteen, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine,” and “It’s a Small World,” the Shermans had a complex relationship that became so strained that cousins Jeff and Gregg didn’t know each other even though they grew up just seven blocks apart.

After meeting, the cousins, who are screenwriters, decided to make a film that would explore the spectacular career and split of the Shermans. . . .

Let’s see if the Sherman brothers do an interview for this DVD!

And hey, if Ben Stiller ends up playing Robert (the one on the left in the above photo), who will play Richard? Owen Wilson?