Maybe the most controversial film heading to this month's Sundance Film Festival concerns the rape of a 12-year-old girl while Elvis Presley is heard singing in the background.
"HoundDog," written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier, is already getting more advance attention than "Chapter 27," the film about Mark David Chapman murdering John Lennon.
That's because the character played by 12-year-old actress Dakota Fanning, who made her mark six years ago in "I Am Sam," is raped onscreen.
Kampmeier doesn't show the actual rape, but it's quite clear, from sources who've seen the film, that as scripted and directed, the scenes in question are going to cause as big if not bigger uproar than when Brooke Shields played a pre-pubescent prostitute in Louis Malle's classic "Atlantic City."
In a terrific piece in the new Premiere magazine, Fanning's agent, Cindy Osbrink, tells writer Henry Cabot Beck: "I've been working with Dakota since she was five, and this is something we haven't seen her do. Something that really challenged her talent. 'HoundDog' was one of the best experiences of her life, a story that needs to be told, and she tells it with her soul as no one else can."
Apparently there are already a number of Web sites protesting this film, and lots of comments on the Internet Movie Data Base lamenting the potential exploitation of Fanning.
What could do the movie in, though, is the soundtrack of Elvis Presley records. It's unclear whether the Presley estate will approve the licensing of the ultimate pop idol's voice as the film's backdrop, or even if the writers of the song "Hound Dog" — Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller —won't do something to keep their famous composition out of it.
No producers are credited yet for "HoundDog," by the way, but the Premiere article does cite Jen Gatien as having raised funds and lists her as "daughter of New York club owner Peter Gatien."
For the record, Peter Gatien — implicated in the famous nightclub murder of Angel Melendez that was depicted in the Macaulay Culkin movie "Party Monster"— was deported to Canada in 2003. He'd pled guilty in 1999 to not paying $1.9 million in taxes and spent 60 days in jail, after he was acquitted of federal drug charges in 1996.
His many New York clubs, like Limelight and the Tunnel, were the scenes of constant drug raids during their heyday.
Luciano Pavarotti's fight against pancreatic cancer may be more of an uphill battle than anyone thought.
Last month, the international opera star was supposed to be honored in Bergamo, Italy, at a special ceremony. Soon after announcing his appearance, the whole project had to be scuttled.
At the time, Pavarotti's manager said he had been hospitalized and treated but declined to say where or for what.
Now I'm told that the treatment was in a New York hospital, specifically in a rehabilitation center in Manhattan.
"A whole part of a floor was curtained off," says one observer. "No one was allowed to go near it. And everyone was sworn to secrecy."
The word is that 70-year-old Pavarotti's condition is much more serious than has been published. But through all of 2006, the grand singer's medical condition has been treated with the utmost secrecy.
In March of last year, it was announced that he underwent spinal surgery in New York. A few months later, in July, his manager revealed that doctors had found a cancerous mass in Pavarotti's pancreas.
The news in the last couple of days that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are ready to go ahead with "Indiana Jones 4" made headlines. But the story was eerily familiar.
Indeed, this column has told it at least twice.
In January 2003, Lucas told me at the New York Film Critics dinner that he had the story for the movie ready and would likely shoot it "in the next year."
It didn't happen, but then again…
In December 2005, Lucas told me that screenwriter Jeff Nathanson had the screenplay, it was good and that things were moving forward.
Of course, in March 2006, Spielberg told me that after making "Munich" and "War of the Worlds" back to back, he was taking a year off. He mentioned that Nathanson had written the latest draft of the "Indiana Jones 4" script, but he had been succeeded by David Koepp.
"I have David Koepp on it now, and he's my 'closer,'" Spielberg said, using a baseball reference to the pitcher who comes in during the 9th inning and finishes up a winning ball game.
"He wrote 'Spider-Man' and 'War of the Worlds,'" Spielberg added, "so he'll get it done."
Maybe he did, and it will. Or then again, maybe not.
"Casino Royale," the much-ballyhooed James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig, has been twice as successful abroad as it was in the U.S.
So far, the numbers show a decent $150 million take in the U.S. But that makes it no better or worse in this country's theaters than the previous Bond movies starring Pierce Brosnan.
In many ways, the domestic release of "Casino Royale" has reached the Bond audience, but not done much to broaden the franchise's popularity.
The rest of the world, however, is a different story, posting staggering numbers. The international total, according to boxofficemojo.com, is $305 million.
And in Britain, fans are obsessed with the new Bond. In his home country of the United Kingdom the superspy has grossed nearly $90 million. When I was there for the last 10 days, all people seemed to be talking about was "Casino Royale"— to the exclusion of some other movies that American audiences seem more interested in.