Did Warner Bros. blow Clint Eastwood's latest release, Blood Work?
The answer, from where I sit, would have to be yes with a capital Y. And why is the question. Why didn't they have a New York premiere or do anything to promote or market Eastwood? Why does Warner treat films like cans of soup?
Blood Work, with no advance buzz or help from the studio, took in a paltry $7.5 million over the weekend.
Was it screened in New York for the press? As I like to say, with Warner Bros. you have to be smart enough to guess when their movies are available because they're not going to tell you.
This has happened to Eastwood before at Warner. He's had a long relationship with the studio, including Dirty Harry and his classic 1993 multiple Oscar winner Unforgiven. But in 1999, Warner typically sank Eastwood's True Crime.
He told me a few months later: "I didn't think [True Crime] would be vastly commercial but it was a terrible release job and lacked studio support. I let them [Warner] get away with releasing it the way they did and it was the worst release I ever had, in the '90s at least. But you never know what's going to capture the public's imagination."
True Crime, which was released in March 1999, had an opening weekend take of $5.6 million. By May it had taken in only $16 million total.
Based on those numbers, you'd think Eastwood's appeal was done. But his next film, Space Cowboys, also with Warner, opened at $18 million and finished a little over $90 million. Based on that success, you'd have thought the studio would be eager to make something out of Blood Work.
The film, when it was seen by reviewers, got mostly good notices. It's based on a popular bestseller and features a strong supporting cast including Anjelica Huston, Jeff Daniels and Dylan Walsh -- not sexy, particularly, but dependable "get and up go people," as Eastwood calls them, who can act the hell out of a good script. In this case, the words were supplied by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Payback) -- no slouch, in other words.
Meanwhile, on Friday Warner trots out Eddie Murphy's new comedy, The Adventures of Pluto Nash. The film boasts six writers including one who seems to have the title of "re-writer." Last Sunday's double-truck ads for Pluto were suspiciously devoid of any advance quotes -- even from the usual-suspect blurbmeisters like Susan Granger, Paul Wunder and Jeff Craig.
Michael Jackson thinks he's living in his own episode of This Old House -- only no one's told the contractor who's helped him to do his renovations.
According to papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week in the case of a former business manager who's suing Jackson for $14 million, Jackson owes a lot of money to the man who built and maintains Neverland Ranch.
Two years ago, according to papers obtained by this column, Jackson owed Tony Urquidez Construction of Santa Ynez, Calif., $75,000. A memo from one of Jackson's accountants to one of his lawyers, found in the papers, indicates that the construction company is intending to place a lien on the famed Neverland Valley Ranch if they're not paid within a week.
Now I am told by sources in Santa Ynez that Jackson owes the company, which built Neverland from the ground up 16 years ago, "at least $200,000. The last few years Jackson always owed money, it went up and down and he eventually paid his bills. But in the last couple of years it's been very bad and since the first of this year, nothing."
The amount Jackson has owed Urquidez at any one time is said to have been as much as a half-million dollars or more.
Urquidez is said to have built the movie theatre, much of the Neverland Zoo, the guardhouse at the front gate, and many of the attractions on the property.
"A lot of Michael's accounts here are shut down," said one local businessman in Santa Ynez County. "It's kind of a joke."
Back in 2000, owner Tony Urquidez was so angry at Jackson that he was considering putting the King of Pop on an installation plan to get his money. According to the court papers, accountant Michelle D'Angelo writes in a memo on July 8, 2000, that Urquidez will put off "all mechanical liens" if Jackson will just agree to a schedule of payments.
Urquidez told me yesterday afternoon that he was advised by "Michael's people" in Santa Ynez not to speak with the press, and declined comment. But a source close to him told me: "Michael's a nice guy. He and Tony have always been on good terms. But when Michael owes him money, he doesn't hear from him. All he wants is to be paid."
The court papers I'm referring to have come to light because of a lawsuit filed by Myung-Ho Lee, who ran Michael's Jackson International from 1998 through 2001.
Lee, a respected Korean businessman and lawyer, claims in his papers that on Oct. 13, 2001, Jackson signed an agreement acknowledging that he owed Lee $12 million plus interest for work performed. Lee said the pair met at a witnessed meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Jackson countered in his court papers that he never signed any such agreement.
But in the new papers filed by Lee's attorneys, a handwriting expert has signed an affidavit swearing that the signature on the document matches the countless others of Jackson's included in the volumes of papers. (Because Lee was in Korea during most of this time, he and Jackson have a hefty fax correspondence -- most of it is Jackson extolling Lee's virtues.)
The two sides are scheduled to meet in court on Aug. 30 for their next round. At that time a judge will decide if Lee can attach Jackson's assets as a hedge against the $12 million-plus.