News, Oct. 23: Disney Pulls Plug on Affleck Comedy, MPAA Close to Screener Ban Resolution, Gibson Finds Distributor for “Passion,” More…

Top Story: Disney Pulls Plug on Affleck Comedy

The Walt Disney Co. pulled the plug Monday on its Ben Affleck matrimonial comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past–just four weeks before it was set to begin production. The film was to star Affleck as a bachelor attending his younger brother’s wedding, where he is visited by the ghosts of his past girlfriends. I Spy director Betty Thomas was on board to helm. Although Disney declined to comment on its decision to scrap the project, The Hollywood Reporter suggested Thursday that the film’s estimated high cost as well as Affleck‘s tarnished image were possible contributing factors. Since the box office flop of Affleck‘s turkey Gigli, which co-starred his “pretty girlfriend” Jennifer Lopez, the celebrity couple appears to be suffering from a Bennifer backlash. Miramax Films, for example, recently decided to spin the advertising for its upcoming film Jersey Girl around director Kevin Smith instead of Affleck and Lopez, and pushed the film’s release from November to March 2004. Disney, however, will still have to pay Affleck whether the film gets made or not since the actor signed a pay-or-play deal. Affleck‘s next feature, the John Woo sci-fi thriller Paycheck, hits theaters Dec. 25.

Courteney Cox Arquette May Be Pregnant

Friends star Courteney Cox Arquette, who told Barbara Walters in an interview for ABC’s 20/20 last week that that she and husband David Arquette are having trouble conceiving, could be pregnant. According to Us magazine, Arquette‘s brother Alexis let the news slip while taping the Sharon Osbourne talk show Monday for an episode set to air Nov. 7. The couple’s publicist Cindy Guagenti told USA Today Tuesday: “We’re not commenting. When they’re pregnant and ready to announce it, they will.” Cox, who suffered several miscarriages and has tried in vitro fertilization, told the paper earlier this month: “It’ll happen.”

Ron Howard Wins Outstanding Achievement Award

Director Ron Howard received an outstanding achievement in directing award Monday at the seventh annual Hollywood Film Festival’s “Hollywood Awards” ceremony in Beverly Hills, Calif. The winners of this year’s festival, which honors independent filmmakers and established Hollywood professionals, were chosen by public voting online. The public’s favorites were Gore Verbinski‘s Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp (actor), Diane Lane (actress) Geoffrey Rush (supporting actor) and Alison Lohman (supporting actress). Scarlett Johansson, star of Lost in Translation, and Orlando Bloom, star of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Pirates of the Caribbean, each received breakthrough acting awards.

MPAA Close to Screener Ban Resolution

Major studio executives are reviewing a draft press release that would announce a partial lifting of the Hollywood’s controversial “screener” ban, which has mushroomed into a crisis since it was first announced four weeks ago. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the proposal under consideration by the Motion Picture Association of America would let Oscar voters to receive screeners once they agree to a series of conditions, which include keeping the tapes in their homes and not lending them to friends and relatives. The ban was initially introduced by the MPAA in an effort to thwart piracy but has since faced growing opposition, including from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Gibson Finds Distributor for Passion

Mel Gibson has found an independent distributor for his controversial religious flick, The Passion of Christ. The film, hailed by Christian organizations but reviled by Jewish groups, will be distributed in the United Sates by Newmarket Films, Reuters reports. The Passion of Christ, formerly known as The Passion, has been viewed as anti-Semitic for its portrayal of Jewish officials and angry Jewish mobs as being the ones responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, played by Jim Caviezel. Gibson, a devout Catholic, reportedly paid $20 million to $25 million of his own money to make the film and has denied that it is anti-Semitic. The film could be released in February 2004.

Clay Aiken’s Measure of a Man Tops Charts

American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken‘s first album, Measure of a Man, debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. According to Nielsen SoundScan data issued Wednesday, RCA sold 613,000 copies in the United States in its first week. Aiken‘s album has sold more than twice as many as fellow ex-Idol Kelly Clarkson, whose debut album Thankful bowed at No. 1 with 297,000 units. Aiken‘s former No. 1 single, “This Is the Night,” spent two weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100 in June and the track “This Is the Night” has already sold 912,000 copies.

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith Dead of Apparent Suicide

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, who earned an Oscar nomination and widespread notice for his 1997 single “Miss Misery” from the film Good Will Hunting, died in an apparent suicide Tuesday in his Los Angeles home. Smith‘s live-in girlfriend discovered the body of the 34-year-old musician.