Gotham City, it seems, still needs a hero. Ben Affleck, currently seen in "Dogma" and the upcoming "Boiler Room," is the latest name to be linked with the "Batman" movies.
According to gossip columnist Liz Smith, Affleck is a "major contender" to play the Caped Crusader in Warner Bros.' latest "Batman" film. The franchise bottomed out in 1997 when Joel Schumacher's "Batman and Robin" earned a (relatively) disappointing $107.3 million at the box office. Batstar George Clooney joked that he may have killed the series.
But au contraire: Warner Bros. is reportedly considering two concepts for the latest sequel: One based on the animated WB show "Batman Beyond," in which an older Bruce Wayne passes his Batsuit to a teen-ager, and another based on the comic miniseries "Batman Year One," which traced Wayne's initial transformation into the Dark Knight. Affleck likely wouldn't fill the job if the first concept flies, since he's too old to be the teen-ager and too young to be a middle-aged Batman. Still, at 27, Affleck would be the youngest of the new-wave Batmen -- Michael Keaton was 37 when he first donned the cowl, Val Kilmer was 35 and Clooney was 36.
HELMING 'TOMB RAIDER': The name Lara Croft doesn't mean much in the movie world -- yet. But the video-game heroine soon will, thanks to Paramount's push to bring her to the big screen. According to Variety, the studio is in advanced talks with Simon West ("Con Air") to direct "Tomb Raider," based on Eidos Interactive's best-selling video games of the same name. Croft's buxom sexiness is the force behind "Tomb Raider's" popularity, and names such as Elizabeth Hurley and Sandra Bullock have been tossed around as possible candidates. The film, on Paramount's fast track, has yet to announce a start date.
COSTNER'S DARK SIDE: Kevin Costner, the quintessential American hero, looks to play a baddie in the indie film "3,000 Miles to Graceland" for Franchise Pictures. According to the Hollywood Reporter, director Demian Lichenstein has been courting Costner to play the killer role for some time, and Costner's reps are trying to fit the picture into his schedule.
IT'S ALL GREEK TO MANN: Golden Globe nominee Michael Mann ("The Insider") is in negotiations to direct "Gates of Fire" for Universal Pictures. Based on Steven Pressfield's Greek epic novel, the film follows the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. when 300 Spartan warriors held back rampaging soldiers from the Persian Empire for six days before being massacred. No start date has been set.
SICK DAY: Nicolas Cage's new film "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" is currently minus a director. Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") has dropped out of the production due to illness. The drama, based on Louis de Bernieres' 1994 novel, is about an Italian captain, played by Cage, who has a tumultuous affair with the local doctor's daughter. Universal Pictures and Working Title Films have set the production to begin in April and are now courting director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") to helm the film.
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston can relax; they are now surpassed in the couples rumor mill by the betrothed Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. So we're here to quash some buzzings and entertain you with others.
The latest rumor is that Zeta-Jones wants to take Douglas' name after they wed, according to the New York Daily News. Does this make her Catherine Douglas or Catherine Zeta-Douglas? We're not sure. But while we find out, we can tell you that she's not converting to Judaism, according to Douglas.
"I have had no formal religious training myself, and there has never been any debate with Catherine about it. Religion has not entered into the equation. Our child will be raised the same way I was," Douglas, 55, told London's Mirror.
He also admits that he misplaced her engagement ring before he proposed New Year's Eve. When Douglas couldn't find the sparkler in his luggage, he was "sure someone had stolen it," but Zeta-Jones, 30, remembered seeing him fumbling with a box at their hotel room in Wales over Christmas. Douglas called the hotel and asked housekeeping if they'd found a box, and lo and behold, it was there. It was shipped to Aspen, Colo., where he proposed at his resort. Kudos to the FedEx people for going above and beyond the call of duty.
A SHAGADELIC LAUGH: "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me's" Mike Myers and "American Beauty's" Annette Bening took funniest film actor and actress honors at the American Comedy Awards on Sunday night at Los Angeles' Shrine Exposition Center. The awards will be telecast March 23 on Fox.
Funniest motion picture went to "Analyze This," a mob comedy starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal, topping more offbeat nominees such as "American Beauty" and "Being John Malkovich."
Steve Martin was honored with a career achievement award. Said Myers, "I like Steve Martin because he's silly and smart, smart and silly."
MAKING PEACE: Before "Red Planet" opens Nov. 10 -- pushed back from June 16 -- Tom Sizemore would like to clear the air concerning reported rifts he had with co-star Val Kilmer.
"Val and I are friends," the 36-year-old actor told USA Today. "A lot of people say nasty things about him. ... We did 'Heat,' and he was sweet to me. We're together (in 'Red Planet') from Page 6 to the end, every day, for 16 hours. And we've had a really good time. "
Earlier reports said the two considered taking out restraining orders on the set. Kilmer says, "The idea that Tom and I have taken out restraining orders ... is completely untrue. I have known Tom for many years and have the utmost respect for him as a person and actor."
MAKING PEACE, PART II: Madonna, after giving some 65 interviews promoting her upcoming film "The Next Best Thing," finished her interview with Rosie O'Donnell and decided she had more good-doing to do. So the Material Girl popped on over to "Saturday Night Live" studios, where fellow diva Jennifer Lopez was rehearsing her musical number for this week's show. The two reportedly greeted each other warmly and laughed off rumors that Madonna snubbed Lopez at Donatella Versace's New Year's Eve bash over Lopez's criticism of her acting abilities in a Movieline.
OBITS: French director Claude Autant-Lara, known for his right-wing political stances and jabs at bourgeois society, died Saturday at age 98. Autant-Lara directed more than 30 films, many of them classics of 1940s and 1950s French cinema ...
John Vincent Imbragulio, a music executive who produced the rock 'n' roll single "Sea Cruise" among others, died Friday at age 74. Imbragulio owned Ace Records, Ace Music Publishers and Avanti Records ...
Todd Karns, who played James Stewart's younger brother in died Saturday of cancer at age 79. Karns' character, Harry Bailey, made the memorable toast in the film's final scene, saying "To my big brother, George. The richest man in town!" ...
Doris Kenner-Jackson, member of the Shirelles, died Friday of breast cancer. She was 58. The Shirelles, which also included Shirley Alston Reeves, Beverly Lee and the late Addie "Micki" Harris, had many hits in the early 1960s, including "Soldier Boy" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."
QUICK TAKES: Add Clint Eastwood to the roster of presenters at this year's Academy Awards on March 26 in Los Angeles. Eastwood picked up Best Picture and Best Director awards for 1992's "Unforgiven." ...
... Phylicia Rashad (CBS' "Cosby") has made plans to renovate the Brainerd Institute, a historic black school where her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, graduated ...
Paul Newman ran into a little car trouble at the 24 Hours of Daytona race Saturday. His Porsche blew an engine and was retired only eight hours into the race. Luckily, the 75-year-old Newman was not in the car when it blew; likely he was off hand-gliding or preparing for the running of the bulls.
After nearly a week of trying to make contact with the $165 million Mars Polar Lander, scientists and NASA officials have all but given up the mission as a failure. Never an industry to shy away from big-money crap shoots, the motion picture community is putting a great deal of faith in a pair of Mars-related pictures that it hopes will generate substantially more interest and success than the recent NASA fiasco.
Disney is putting a great deal of time and strength behind its summer 2000 offering "Mission to Mars." Directed by Brian DePalma and starring Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Kim Delaney and Jerry O'Connell, "Mars" surrounds a seemingly failed manned mission to the red planet. As rescue operations are put in place, it is quickly discovered that an even greater menace may be waiting for them on Mars.
Competing for summer box office bucks in the Mars arena will be Warner Bros.' "Red Planet." Directed by Antony Hoffman and slated for a June 16 bow, "Red Planet" stars Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore and Terence Stamp in the story of a disastrous journey to Mars. While exploring the planet, most of the crew becomes stranded, leaving the ship's captain to decide whether to return to Earth without them or attempt a near-impossible rescue.
Much like the battle of the volcanoes a few years back, 2000 is shaping up to be the war for Martian domination. Yet while the interest in the current Mars debacle is something studio folks are not likely to overlook as the marketing machines begin to rev around these two high-profile features, Exhibitor Relations' Paul Dergarabedian is quick to point out that timing is still everything.
"I don't think [the Mars probe news] will have much effect on these films," he said. "Events in the news need to be timely to really have much impact on a film's success. Certainly it puts Mars in the minds of people."
With both studios taking a decidedly futuristic approach (both missions are manned, and the lives of the crew are quickly put in extreme danger), the films are hoping to bring audiences a great deal closer to the action than even a working space probe could ever dream of. Though the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's apparent failure and the fates of the crews in both films seem questionable, space exploration in cinema should still be a slam-dunk.
"People love this stuff," said Dergarabedian. "They eat it up. Each of these films has its strong selling points and will be marketed in their own special way."
As to the possibility that too much Mars might spell disaster for both at the box office, Dergarabedian sees no such reason to fret.
"Look at "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," he said. "These films came out very close to one another and still did tremendous business. Films with similar subject matter can do really well at the box office."
"Mission to Mars" is expected to launch March 10, and "Red Planet" expects to blast off June 16.