Caine busy, tired from full sked

GOOD MORNING: Michael Caine admits, “I’m tired” — so he’s only lined up the following work sked: a February start for three months in Vietnam and Australia on “The Quiet American,” followed by “Boswell for the Defense” in London, then “Ashes to Ashes” in Las Vegas and London. And the past year has seen him star in “Quills,” “Miss Congeniality,” “Shiner,” “Quick Sand” and “Last Orders.” “I’ll never do a year like that again,” he says, but allows, “I’m in great shape,” as he and wife Shakira are off today to vacation (pre-“Quiet American”) in Mauritius and Bali. Thursday night, he ran “Miss Congeniality” at home for his family. And Wednesday night, in Covent Garden, he hosted a screening of “Chocolat” for Lasse Hallstrom — who couldn’t make it. Caine, you’ll recall, won the supporting actor Oscar for the Hallstrom-directed “Cider House Rules” — which was also a Miramax film … In the “Quiet American” remake, Caine reprises the Times reporter role played in the original by Michael Redgrave; Brendan Fraser is in the Audie Murphy role. Phillip Noyce directs this version, Joe Mankiewicz the original. This one will have a tougher approach, Caine promises. He will be in every scene — and sez he will not be able to attend the Oscars as the presenter of this year’s supporting actress winner per tradition. However — if he’s nominated for any of the above, I’ll ask him again if he’ll wing over. Caine, as comfortable in drama or comedy, admits he “needed fun” after “Quills” and “Shiner” and that’s why he relished “Miss Congeniality.” Also because of Sandra Bullock: “She’s funny, sexy, smart, and you can’t beat all that.” He’ll segue back to comedy in “Ashes to Ashes,” playing an undertaker in London with Danny DeVito digging the same duties in Las Vegas. This will follow Caine’s heavy courtroom dramatics of the 17th-century-set “Boswell for the Defense” for Bruce Beresford. But Caine has lightened part of his workload — he’s sold all of his (eight) restaurants — in the U.S. and London.

WHY DID LARRY GELBART VIEW “Traffic” and “Before Night Falls” with particular interest? To watch the work, respectively, of Benicio Del Toro and Javier Bardem. One of ’em may star in “Pancho Villa,” which Gelbart will exec produce and is writing the original screenplay for producers Joshua Maurer and Mark Gordon. They’ll make it under the aegis of HBO Films prez Colin Callender. HBO’s where Larry loves to work. I’ve never heard Gelbart more excited about a project. And after hearing some of the plans for the biopic, I am anxiously awaiting the finished product. Gelbart hopes to film in Mexico. And, as in “Traffic,” Spanish occasionally will be spoken and English subtitles will be used. Villa spoke perfect English — but scenes requiring him to talk to his troops (and others) will be appropriately in Spanish. And Gelbart says backgrounds will be appropriately darker so the subtitles are fully legible. Villa’s colorful life included chapters in which he made two films in association with D.W. Griffith and Harry Aitken of Mutual Films, allowing them to put their cameras in the thick of battle. The pix: “The Life of General Villa” and “The Outlaw’s Revenge.” This was a historical and cinematic first! And shows how Villa, with uncanny foresight, realized the propaganda value of motion pictures in promoting his political goals — and the inherent, even hilarious madness in mixing moviemaking with war making. “It’s not a ‘Wag the Chihuahua’ story,” says Gelbart, who discovered that research has provided factual material “more amazing and entertaining than any attempt at fiction might provide.” That includes action and violence, comedy that gets darker and — sex that gets sexier. The interest in Villa continues very much alive on both sides of the border. There’ll be no resemblance to the 1934 “Viva Villa” — which starred Wallace Beery and was directed by Jack Conway, scripted by Ben Hecht. That cast included Leo Carillo, Fay Wray, Donald Cook, Stuart Erwin, Katherine De Mille and Joseph Schildkraut. It was reviewed by Variety‘s founder Abel Green, who called it “a corking Western” and also said it “augurs much for ultimate profit from the Latin market, notably the Mexican fans.”

THE NRA’S CHARLTON HESTON is among those who will be invited by Felisa Vanoff to attend a cocktail reception for Michael Beard, president of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, here from D.C. Feb. 1 at the Vanoff residence … William Shatner hosts the dedication of the new Nerine Shatner Friendly House, Sunday at its new location in West L.A. The facility helps women suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction to re-establish themselves in the community. Shatner’s wife died in August 1999 … Rob Reiner joins his dad, Carl, and producer Mark Krantz on Monday’s TV Crix Assn. panel promoting the PBS Feb. 28 airing of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize — which was won this year by Reiner pere … Alex Hyde-White, son of Wilfred H-W., and John Putch, son of Bill P. and Jean Stapleton, preem their pic “Pursuit of Happiness” Wednesday at the Palm Springs Film Fest. The pic stars Frank Whaley, Annabeth Gish, Amy Jo Johnson, Jean Gross, and Jean Stapleton cameos as Whaley’s mom … Monday at the House of Blues, Joy Graysen sings her tolerance tune, “Greater Than the Sun,” in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. … Patti Page is enjoying a resurgence with her new single, “One Less Rose in Texas,” which she began dedicating with “There’ll be one less rose in Texas when you’re gone” during her concerts last fall. And it’s on her new CD, “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” which she’ll sell on QVC Monday, five days before the George W. inauguration.

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