Feevees vie for ‘Limit’; ‘Seussical’ under siege

Clarification: Friday’s Eastern Standard column implied that Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones intended to put the $1.4 million raised from photo rights to their wedding into a trust fund for his new-born child. Though Douglas declines comment, it is understood the money has long been targeted for the Motion Picture and Television fund, one of Hollywood’s oldest and most respected charities, to which Douglas has been a major donor over the years.

HBO AND SHOWTIME MAY HAVE reached their “Vertical Limit” over Columbia’s upcoming mountain climbing release.

The Gotham-based powerhouse movie cablers are battling over rights to what is shaping up to be a high-altitude blockbuster for Columbia and Sony.

HBO demands the rights to the pic through its output deal with Columbia.

Showtime, however, is moaning that it should have rights through its partial ownership and output deal with Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures.

Phoenix originally created the project through its former exec Marcia Nassiter (who took an exec producer credit on it). Phoenix was supposed to sell it to Columbia and stay on as a producer. Originally, it would have gone to the practically defunct TriStar Pictures, which had its deal with Phoenix and Showtime.

Some sources say that Columbia erroneously put the pic on its production report, even though it was still technically a Phoenix film. As a result of the gaffe, the company automatically set up the pic through Col’s HBO’s deal.

Col, however, claims Phoenix put the film in turnaround, and it scooped up “Vertical Limit” — end of story. Discussions ensued about Phoenix as a potential producer on the pic, but they never came to terms.

Phoenix maintains that, after much wrangling, it has graciously moved out of the morass and taken its name off the pic.

“We had to step back,” said a Phoenix insider. “Otherwise, it puts Sony in breach. Showtime is pissed off and may wind up suing.”

Showtime had no comment on the problem or any potential suits.

Given that “The 6th Day” — Phoenix’s other major release — is not exactly cleaning the box office clock, Medavoy is a little bedraggled over the whole thing.

“Vertical Limit” could have been Phoenix’s most successful yet. If it is the hit that everyone’s expecting, we can expect litigation.

DID THEY DISLIKE GREEN EGGS and ham as children?

Why are the editors of the New York Times and the New York Post so determined to see the death of “Seussical: The Musical”?

The $10.5 million legit effort was raved about after a workshop production in Toronto. But after its road opening in Boston in September, changes in directors and costume designers were made–and the papers reported on the developments with an attitude.

Though the Times and Post run theater news, they don’t often track upcoming plays and musicals as they try out in other cities. They wait until they get to New York to issue the death blow.

One source close to the production says there’s been a dearth of theater news lately, so the stories makes for good copy.

But the Times especially has been unusually cruel. In addition to a major news feature on the troubled musical, film critic A.O. Scott complained in the Times magazine piece that predated the opening: “In order to fill … an evening of theater, the sparse fablelike stories had to be stuffed full of character and incident, and the simple plots warped into conventional psychodramas.”

That sounds alarmingly like a review. And yet the Times, like everyone else (including Daily Variety) wasn’t supposed to review the play officially until today.

John Darnton, cultural editor for the Times, pleaded the Fifth. “I think we began hearing an awful lot of it ahead of time,” he said. “We try to be sure we’re not prejudging it in any way. It may always turn out to be a smash.”

The show is now in the hands of the reviewers, which could be problematic. Daily Variety‘s Charles Isherwood writes in today’s paper: “The show is fitfully charming…. But it’s mighty disappointing nonetheless. The nonsensical verbal humor, simple sentiment and sweet surprise of Seuss are all but smothered under a glitzy and graceless showbiz carapace.”

That bodes ill. Regardless, the show didn’t deserve to be lambasted before it ever opened.

“Jane Eyre: The Musical” took three years of tryouts to make it to the Great White Way, and it has now been postponed to Dec. 10.

And yet we never hear about that in the New York Times or Post. Hmmmm.

IT MUST BE THE POTENTIAL STRIKE. Michael Douglas may have reached an all-time low by selling the “rights” to his wedding Nov. 18. He ended up collecting some $1.4 million from the British mag OK!, which went on to hawk the U.S. rights back to People magazine for $800,000.

Douglas’ excuse is that he put the money in trust for his newborn child with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

He could have easily displaced that “trust” with just one-tenth of a Douglas payday on a single film. That way he might have maintained some credibility. Instead, his child does in fact have $1.4 mil in the bank, but he and Mrs. Zeta-Jones-Douglas look like money-hungry schmucks.

FINE LINE FEATURES REACHED another mini-milestone in this, its 10th year of existence.

Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark,” the company’s big-time gamble, just hit $3.8 million in domestic grosses. That not only makes it von Trier’s highest-grossing U.S. release (ahead of “Breaking the Waves”), it also puts Fine Line in line to be in the black on the pic after all the ancillary streams are paid out (cable, video, pay-per-view and broadcast TV).

Fine Line’s choices of product this year have not been earth-shattering hits, but they have made money and established the company’s name under prexy Mark Ordesky.

Company is expecting additional success with David Mamet’s “State and Main” and Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls.”

Now all it needs is a hit.

VINCENT CANBY, LONG KNOWN for his trenchant and witty film criticism in the New York Times, was remembered as a mischievous lover of film and life at a memorial service at the Museum of Modern Art this week.

More than 300 showed up to remember Canby, including Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein and Sony Pictures Classics co-prexy Marcie Bloom.

Others on hand included Dan Talbot, Andrew Sarris, Uta Hagen, William Styron, David Margulies, Betty Comden, Lois Smith, Arthur Gelb, Joe Lelyveld and Janet Maslin.

Canby displayed his fun-loving side in an interview with Bryant Gumbel for the “Today Show” that was screened at the service. The organizers of the event also screened clips from some of Canby’s favorite movies.

In an era of often meaningless one-liner reviews, Canby will long be remembered as a critic who took the time to analyze and explore the films he reviewed and to write about them with an intelligence that belied a simple star rating.

It should also be remembered that Canby got his start as a film reporter and critic for Variety.

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