News, March 18: Gandolfini, HBO Drop Lawsuits; War Won’t Disrupt Movie Release Sked, Dire Straits Mark Knopfler Injured in Accident, More…

Top Story: Gandolfini, HBO Play Nice

Both actor James Gandolfini and cable network HBO have decided to let things cool down by dropping their lawsuits against one another, Reuters reports. Gandolfini dismissed his suit Monday so he could begin negotiations for a fifth season of The Sopranos, while HBO officials said they were willing to step back from their $100 million countersuit filed after the actor refused to come back to work unless his salary was hiked to $16 million for a 13-episode season. “The only thing I can say…is that temperatures are taken down and there is an optimism in the air,” Gandolfini‘s spokesman Dan Klores told Reuters early on Monday. Bert Fields, an attorney for HBO, said the cable network was still awaiting formal notice from a Los Angeles court that Gandolfini had withdrawn his lawsuit. Sources close to the negotiations told Reuters Gandolfini also would be required to sign a sworn statement agreeing to the terms of his original contract before new salary negotiations could resume.

Studios Move Ahead With Movie Releases Despite War

Despite the imminent threat of war against Iraq, Hollywood studios are forging ahead with plans to release their top movies over the next few weekends, Variety reports. “Once you start your campaign and sink money into it, it becomes counterproductive to move,” MGM distribution head Erik Lomis explained to Variety, whose film Assassination Tango with Robert Duvall opens March 28. Opening this weekend is Artisan’s Boat Trip, Buena Vista’s animated Piglet’s Big Movie, Miramax’s View From the Top and Warner Bros.’ Dreamcatcher.

Martin Sheen Continues Antiwar Diatribe

In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times published Monday, Martin Sheen defended the rights of Hollywood antiwar activists to express their views, The Associated Press reports, and criticized those who belittle celebrities’ opinions “solely due to our celebrity status.” Sheen admitted celebrity activists do carry a responsibility since their comments would likely receive coverage. “As a result, we are often called to give voice to the voiceless and a presence to the marginalized,” wrote Sheen.

System of a Down Makes Antiwar Video

Hardcore rock band System of a Down wants the video to their song “BOOM!” to help change the way people think about war, AP reports. “We want to make the idea of dropping bombs, of waging war seem as antiquated and ridiculous as it is today for an Afro-American to have to sit at the back of the bus,” guitarist Daron Malakian told AP. The video depicts antiwar rallies across the world and features satirical animation of several leaders including President Bush, Saddam Hussein and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Celebrities To Arrive at Oscars in Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Instead of showing up in fancy stretch limos, celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams will be arriving at the Academy Awards ceremony in fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius, a Global Green USA press release stated Tuesday. “Improving fuel efficiency and conserving energy is a critical part of creating a more peaceful and sustainable world,” Sarandon said in a statement. “Collectively, we have the power to make a shift, to make a difference, today.”

Bets Closed on Chicago

After being inundated with customers betting on the musical Chicago to win the Oscar for Best Picture, a London betting company, Ladbrokes Ltd., is now declining any more wagers in the Best Picture category, Reuters reports. It is still, however, taking bets on many of the other categories.

Meryl Streep Laments Oscar Campaigns

Oscar-winning Meryl Streep reiterated her complaint that the whole idea of Oscar campaigning comes down to money, rather than on the merit of the work of those nominated, to Reuters Monday. “The biggest campaign could be rewarded, and as a result, more money will be thrown at these things,” Streep said. “It’s a business, you know. You can see why they all do it. But in a way, it kind of destroys the integrity of the Academy Awards that they do that.”

Morgan Freeman Gets Star

Veteran actor Morgan Freeman, who is starring in the upcoming Dreamcatcher, will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Tuesday, making his the 2,220th star to grace the famous star-lined Hollywood Boulevard.

Dire Straits Knopfler Injured in Motorcycle Accident

Mark Knopfler, former frontman of rock band Dire Straits, was rushed to a hospital Monday after being injured in a motorcycle accident, Reuters reports. The 53-year-old singer suffered a broken collarbone and six broken ribs when his bike collided with a car in on a London street. A spokeswoman told Reuters Knopfler was in stable condition and had been released from the hospital.