Jacko's Passport | 'War of the Worlds' | 'Murderball'

Jacko's Passport Returned, but He Stays

So Michael Jackson has his passport back, and it wasn’t missing or lost after all.

That's the word from Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Eric Rainey — although there’s still no confirmation from Jackson’s camp, despite repeated calls.

Rainey says the passport was turned over last Friday, June 17, to Jesus Castillo, a private investigator for Jackson’s defense attorney Thomas Mesereau. Earlier that day, four days after Jackson's June 13 acquittal, Judge Rodney Melville signed an order that the passport be returned to Jackson.

Sources close to Jackson complained about the time lag when the passport was not immediately turned over after his acquittal. At least two of them claimed the passport had been lost by the District Attorney’s office.

The DA's office says it didn't have the passport, and Sgt. Rainey has confirmed that. We defer to the sergeant on this one.

There had been some confusion about who had the passport when the trial ended and who had had it throughout the trial. Rainey told me he wasn’t sure whose possession it had been in before his office turned it over to Castillo.

Sources say the passport was kept in the District Attorney’s office as part of evidence, although the DA's spokeswoman says it was not.

Paramount Bans Print Press From 'War of Worlds' Premiere

It looks like no daily print press from New York City will be allowed into tonight's Manhattan premiere of "War of the Worlds" — no New York Post, no Daily News and no New York Times.

Paramount Pictures, which promised to turn over a new leaf when it replaced head Sherry Lansing with Brad Grey, is looking a lot like its old self. Here's to the new boss — same as the old boss.

Unless journalists get general tickets and make their way in as guests, there'll be no "items" in the papers about this Steven Spielberg premiere.

This would be most unlike a Spielberg release, but apparently, Paramount's wishes — i.e., Tom Cruise’s wishes — supersede those of the most successful Hollywood director in history.

Most of this has to do with all three papers' skeptical coverage of the insta-romance between Cruise and Katie Holmes.

However, in the case of the Times, I'm told, it also has to do with the paper of record's coverage of Breck Eisner 's "Sahara."

You remember "Sahara," don't you? If so, skip further below.

If you're interested, I'm told the Times' response is in the form of a poem that appears in today's "Boldface" column.

All in all, this would be a good time for the distributor of Tim Hines' rival, straight-to-video, period-piece version of "The War of the Worlds" to do a big DVD mailing.

"War of the Worlds" is also presenting some other nasty issues for journalists.

Any writer entering an advance screening of it is being asked — no, told — to sign an agreement saying he won't review the film before its wide opening next Wednesday.

I have to admit that I e-mailed in such a statement, only to be denied admission anyway. So much for playing ball.

It's not like we could give much away anyhow. "War of the Worlds" adheres closely to the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells. Its ending is a known quantity, and the full text is a Google search away, but I doubt many people at Paramount are aware of that.

The movie's ending may be what's at issue. You can go to Amazon.com, search for the Tor edition of the book, click on "Search inside" and type in 195.

That's the last page of the book, and you can see what happens. Or, of course, you could read the whole thing.

Several foreign reviews and a few people who've seen the film here say the movie ends too quietly and without a big enough bang to create a blockbuster effect.

A few rogue reviews have popped up despite Paramount's efforts. But I didn't notice a mention of it on aintitcoolnews.com. Interesting.

Still, I remain a steadfast Spielberg fan. I loved "Minority Report" and "Catch Me If You Can." There was much to like about "The Terminal" as well.

I can only hope that Spielberg and his steadfast personal publicist, Marv Levy, feel there's too much at stake here to try to pull rank with Paramount or Cruise.

Oh, poor Paramount. We thought the tide was changing. Certainly after the debacle surrounding "Sahara," you would have though there would be a new welcoming.

"Sahara," which starred Cruise's "ex" Penelope Cruz and her new love interest Matthew McConaughey, cost $130 million to make, not counting promotional costs of another $25 million.

The box office? It made $67,842,203 in the U.S. and $39,300,000 abroad. That's a worldwide total of $107,142,203.

The studio cannot afford that sort of loss with "War of the Worlds," which also cost about $130 million, with at least $50 million more for promotion.

The latter amount, by the way, is what filmgoers are paying so Cruise can put up his huge entourage in five-star hotels around the world.

Paramount has some promising releases coming this fall, including Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown," which has a terrific trailer, set to Elton John's beautiful "My Father's Gun," on the aforementioned aintitcoolnews.com.

But films need press support and, at this rate, filmmakers must surely wonder if the enthusiasms of just "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider" — both produced by Paramount Television — will be enough to do the trick.

'Murderball' Stands Tall

Yes, that was Winona Ryder, looking lovely and just like Audrey Hepburn in a vintage black gown last night.

The occasion was the premiere of the award-winning Sundance documentary "Murderball," which is just about to be released by ThinkFilms.

Ryder is supporting the release because one of its three creators, Henry Alex Rubin, was an assistant director on "Girl, Interrupted."

Ryder is so plucky, in fact, that she walked several long New York City blocks from the screening at Chelsea West Theater to the Marquee nightclub in very high, pointy stiletto heels. She'll be feeling it today. And she could have had a car!

"Murderball" is an unflinching, naked look at Paralympic athletes who play violent indoor quad rugby in specially designed wheelchairs.

The players are either missing limbs, or the ones they have don't work. You want to look away, but Rubin and his partners won't let you.

Instead, the guys from "Murderball" form the most engaging ensemble cast of the year so far — and they're not even actors.

Mark Zupan is the default star — watch him turn into a sex symbol — but my favorite of the bunch is the overly intense and fascinating Coach Joe Soares. My guess is someone will make a movie about just him as soon as they see him here.

My prediction: "Murderball" could be the breakout hit of the dreary summer, the way "Bend It Like Beckham" was in 2003. It is so uncontrived and devoid of cynicism that audiences who get to see it will not stop talking about it.