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Spencer Gifts ups Carey

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Spencer Gifts has promoted Gene Carey to president and chief operating officer, reporting to John Hacala, who was upped to chairman and CEO earlier this year. Spencer Gifts is a division of Universal Studios. Carey has been with Spencer Gifts since 1988 and most recently served as executive VP, a position he has held since… Read more »

U jilts quartet of exex

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Around the studio, it’s being called the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. The long-rumored shakeup continued at Universal Pictures when four creative executives were fired on Friday, Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. Those given pinkslips were Ed Wacek, Judi Farkas, Katlin Krier and VP of creative and story department (and 10-year U veteran) Monika Skerbelis. That follows… Read more »

Canadian minister mulls capping U.S. TV prices

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The amount Canadian broadcasters pay for rights to U.S. TV programs could be capped to prevent bidding wars if recent musings by Canadian Heritage minister Sheila Copps become government policy.

Review: ‘Playback’

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Playback (Court Theatre; 89 seats; $ 20 top) Phillip Nemy presents a comedy in one act by Charlie Peters. Directed by Leslie Ferreira; set design, Thomas Walsh; costume design, Merrily Murray-Walsh; lighting design, Alison Ford; video design, Dennis Diamond; sound design, Alicia Allen. Opened Jan. 24, 1997; reviewed Feb. 1; runs through Feb. 23. Running time: 1 hour, 20 min.) Cast: Fred Sanders (Henry Jones), Richard R. Ruccolo (Nick Crane), Dey Young (Valerie Jones), Mel Green (Playback), Kari Leigh Floyd (Catherine Smith-Smith), Al Rossi (Andre Dvornichek). Writer Charlie Peters tackles academic political correctness with an uneven mix of theatrical tones and styles in a production that features generally lackluster acting performances and weak production values. Henry Jones (Fred Sanders) is an ambitious professor at the mythical Sackville College who aspires to a deanship and is willing to navigate even the most treacherous shoals of political correctness to achieve his goal. He is divorcing his wife Valerie (Dey Young), who has long bridled under the strictures of academic wifedom, and taken up with student activist Catherine Smith-Smith (Kari Leigh Floyd), whose mother hyphenated her maiden name when she married another Smith. The current tempest-in-a-teapot at Sackville (there is always some tempest-in-a-teapot at places like Sackville) is a prominently displayed mural by angry young painter Nick Crane (Richard R. Ruccolo) that depicts the college’s chief benefactor, Andre Dvornichek (Al Rossi), naked with a lighted cigar protruding from his butt. While the campus is in an uproar over issues of censorship, freedom of speech, political art and big donor money, professor Jones sees an opportunity to advance his career by bringing the angry young painter and fat cat donor to some agreement. The intention of playwright Peters is clearly to take farcical aim at the fractious and often superficial debates on college campuses today, as well as the generally mindless exchanges that pass for debate in the media. However, he misses the mark by creating characters that are themselves shallow and cliched. Professor Jones, for example, is a cookie-cutter version of the academic wimp, while artist Crane might as well be carrying a sign reading “Angry Young Artist” around his neck. Good farce, while undeniably broad, is built on the foundation of specific, believable characters, and none of Peters’ characters rise to that level. The one exception is the character called Playback (Mel Green), a kind of Mephistophelean figment of Jones’ imagination,a monster in the machine who cleans away all the underbrush of deconstruction and semiotics and simply spews the ugly truth for all to hear. Much of the charm of the role, however, stems from Green’s colorful and energetic performance rather from Peters’ writing. Direction by Leslie Ferreira does not help the plodding script. The performers seem to miss important connections both with one another and with the material. The production values are also rather weak. The transitions to and from video are awkward, and the entire production feels under-rehearsed. Sets by Thomas Walsh add little to the subtext of the piece, and are often quite distracting. —Hoyt Hilsman

Review: ‘Murder in My Mind’

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Murder in My Mind (Wed. (19), 9-11 p.m., CBS) Filmed in Vancouver, B.C., by Judy Palnick Prods. in association with CBS Prods. Executive producer, Judy Palnick; producer George W. Perkins; co-producer, Tom Swale; director, Robert Iscove; writer, Swale; camera, Jan Kiesser; production design, Jillian Scott; editor, Susan B. Browdy; sound, Rob Young; music, Michael Colombier; casting, Karen Hendel, Kim Williams, Michelle Allen. Cast: Nicollette Sheridan, Stacy Keach, Peter Coyote, Peter Outerbridge, Ian Tracy, Peter Flemming, David Kaye, Stellina Rusich, Shawn McDonald, William Taylor. Nicollette Sheridan adds glamour and sex to this ripoff of the hit “Silence of the Lambs” and the flop “Unforgettable,” but the slickly made “Murder in My Mind’s” whodunit format will keep auds hooked until the last 40 minutes, when they figure out the killer and go on a channel-surfing safari. Sheridan is a rookie FBI agent put on the case of a serial rapist/killer. Her boss, Stacy Keach, isn’t thrilled to have a rookie, let alone one who’s blonde, gorgeous and a woman, on this particularly repugnant job, but he’s forced to add her to the team. Meanwhile, Sheridan’s doctor-researcher boyfriend Peter Coyote is experimenting with transplanted memory in lab mice. His experiments work brilliantly, but the government won’t let him try them on humans. But, Sheridan implores, the last victim of the killer she’s tracking is merely comatose, not dead, and gee, couldn’t Coyote take some of those brain cells and plant them into Sheridan’s head? And then Sheridan could see the killer? Hmmmmm? Without much persuasion, Coyote performs the procedure, and soon Sheridan is not only finding valuable clues to the killer’s ID, she’s also living out the victim’s wild love life (here’s where Sheridan’s looks and figure come in handy). The writers have taken the best parts of “Lambs” and the compelling concept of “Unforgettable” and injected a heavy dose of sex, as well as some unwanted silliness, above which pro Sheridan rises. Director Robert Iscove keeps pic moving at a brisk pace and stages Sheridan’s “memories” in an intriguing manner, protecting the mystery. Camerawork by Jan Kiesser is aces, and the gloomy lighting, rainy location shots , art direction by Eric Norlin, and Jillian Scott’s production design fit together effectively to evoke a heavy atmosphere. Tape reviewed was a rough cut, with music and sound effects missing. — Carole Horst

‘Kings’ on directors’ list of docu nominations

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Muhammad Ali and William Shakespeare will jump into the ring with a few others as subjects of the Directors Guild of America nominations for best docu director for 1996. Leon Gast’s “When We Were Kings” from Gramercy Pictures documents Ali’s career as a heavyweight champion and an outspoken critic. Gast is nominated for the first… Read more »

120 pix set for Santa Barbara Festival

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The 12th annual Santa Barbara Film Festival, which will unspool March 6-16, has firmed 120 features, docus and shorts for its lineup, including 14 world premieres. The fest, which has been expanded to run 11 days, will also feature tributes to a number of celebrated screen personalities, including Debbie Reynolds, James Woods, Dennis Hopper, Barbara… Read more »

AUSTRALIA

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Spelling Entertainment Group’s Republic Pictures Home Video has inked a 10-year deal giving exclusive Australia and New Zealand video distribution rights to its catalog of 1,400 films and TV programs to Aussie video distribber Network Entertainment. The deal, which follows a similar pact between Republic and Polygram for the same catalog of 20,000 programming hours… Read more »

SPC takes ‘Tango Lesson’

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NEW YORK — The buying spree continued last week at Sony Pictures Classics with the acquisition of all North American and Mexican rights to Sally Potter’s “The Tango Lesson.” “Tango” is a sexy account of Potter’s romantic involvement with Argentina tango dancer Pablo Veron and her effort to direct a film about the Latin art… Read more »