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Hollywood Digest

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Dec. 20, 2002 at 3:49 PM
BOX-OFFICE PREVIEW

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is the big story going into weekend at the U.S. box office.

The second of writer-director Peter Jackson's movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's literary classic is already a bona fide hit, grossing $26 million on its opening day Wednesday. Box-office analysts project a potential gross of more than $100 million by Sunday night.

"The Two Towers" looks like it will easily surpass the numbers put up last year by "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," which took in $18.2 million when it opened on Wednesday and grossed $75.1 million over its first five days.

Hollywood sends three other major releases to market this weekend -- "Gangs of New York," "Two Weeks Notice" and "The Wild Thornberrys Movie."

Like "The Two Towers," "Gangs of New York" was nominated Thursday for a Golden Globe for best drama movie. However, "Gangs" is not likely to benefit from the same sort of "want-to-see" factor that "The Two Towers" has had going for it in the year since "Fellowship" became one of the biggest hits of 2001.

Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant are getting decent notices for the romantic comedy "Two Weeks Notice," and Bullock had success two years ago with a Christmas release of the romantic comedy "Miss Congeniality."

Children's movies have had a spotty record in 2002, ranging from major hits like "Ice Age" to major misses like "Treasure Planet." However, "The Wild Thornberrys" is a substantial TV hit for Nickelodeon and school is out after Friday in most places, so Paramount has high expectations for its new release.


THE MOUSE AND THE FROG

The Walt Disney Co. may have finally decided to make its move and put an offer on the table to buy the Jim Henson Co.

According to a report in Daily Variety, Henson and auctioneer Allen & Co. have received bids from children's entertainment mogul Haim Saban and the investment firm Evercore Partners -- and possibly from several other groups, including Classic Media, which licenses children's entertainment characters including Lamb Chop.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Disney was still considering whether to try to bring Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear into the house that Mickey Mouse built. The paper said if Disney does make an offer, it will be well below the $150 million that the company offered for Henson more than a decade ago.

EM.TV, which currently owns Henson, needs to wrap up the sale in fairly short order as part of a plan to meet a loan payment that comes due at the end of the year, Variety said.


CASTING NOTES

Lauren Bacall and Nicole Kidman will reportedly co-star in "Birth," the story of a 10-year-old boy who falls in love with an older woman.

The Hollywood Reporter said Bacall and Kidman -- who recently worked together on writer-director Lars von Trier's "Dogville" -- will play a mother and daughter in the new movie.

The Reporter also said that Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon will star in a CBS TV movie about Jerri Nielsen, the doctor whose battle against breast cancer -- while she was stranded at the South Pole in 1999 -- transfixed and inspired the public.

"Ice Bound" is based on Nielsen's book "Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole."


MATTHEW MODINE'S NEXT

Matthew Modine will make his first network TV series appearance when he guest-stars on "The West Wing" in January.

Modine ("Full Metal Jacket," "And the Band Played On") will play an old high school friend of C.J. Cregg's (Allison Janney), who has made a killing in the dot.com world. They meet up at a 20-year high school reunion.


'CATCHY' CREDITS

You might call the opening credits for the new Leonardo DiCaprio-Tom Hanks movie "Catch Me if You Can" a case of "state-of-the-art retro."

The movie is set in the '60s, when movie credits first began to feature a style of animation best represented by "The Pink Panther." As audiences settle in to watch Steven Spielberg's newest picture, they'll see a three-minute animated sequence that suggests a style that was in vogue three-decades ago -- but that has been produced using the latest in animation technologies.

The sequence is the work production of Nexus Productions, which also produces animation for TV, commercials and music videos, and has made credit sequences for other movies as well. The London-based company has created effects for U2's "Pop Mart" world tour, for the animated comedy sketch show "Monkey Dust" and for the British Broadcast Corp.

Nexus also produced international versions of the credit sequences specifically for the French, Spanish and Italian releases of "Catch Me if You Can."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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