Ray Romano Wants to Stay on the Air

Ray RomanoN.Y. Times and Jacko | Mario Van Peebles | Sundance

Ray Romano Wants to Stay on the Air

Ray Romano told me last night he hopes his hit TV show, "Everybody Loves Raymond," will return to CBS next fall.

There was speculation that the show was going to wrap up its run in May. But Romano — who was at the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of his first motion picture, "Eulogy" — says it's a matter of the show's writers coming up with acceptable storylines.

"It's not about money," he said, "and it has nothing to do with starting a film career. This movie has no impact on the decision, believe me. But we all feel a little burned out."

Romano won't have to worry if "Raymond" doesn't continue. "Eulogy" turns out to be a hilarious hit, a dark comedy with an all-star cast that never lets up. Just imagine a group as diverse as Romano, Debra Winger, Hank Azaria, Kelly Preston, Glenne Headly, Piper Laurie, Jesse Bradford and the sensational Zooey Deschanel as members of an extended and incredibly dysfunctional Rhode Island family who gather to bury their dead father (played to the hilt by Rip Torn).

Writer-director Michael Clancy, who says he's sold every script he's written in the last 12 years but never got anything onto the screen, has at last become an "overnight sensation" with "Eulogy." The whole movie hums with laughs, and the entire endeavor is unusually consistent right through to the end.

The members of the Collins family include a lesbian (Preston) and her life partner (Famke Janssen), a repressed housewife with Sapphic longings (Winger), a failed child star (Azaria) and a goofy, hapless lawyer raising twin 14-year-old sons by himself (Romano, with the scene-stealing Garcia twins).

Lions Gate says it will release "Eulogy" on May 21, but I can tell you now that this thing is going to be a big, big hit with audiences going back for seconds just to catch all the jokes. Winger, who is no day at the beach, by all accounts, when making a film, really gets a huge comeback here in a different arena — comedy — with excellent results.

All Sundance screenings are followed by a Q&A session with the director and cast, and many of these are desultory affairs. But the one for "Eulogy" was truly funny, with Romano bouncing one-liners off Clancy, who turns out to be quite amusing and witty. It was a good sign that Clancy's humor is real, and that the Farrelly brothers may now have some stiff competition at the box office.

N.Y. Times Copies Us, One Year Later

I'm sorry, I am not trying to get the New York Times' Sharon Waxman fired. It's not her fault that she keeps getting fed bad information. Or old information.

Today, Waxman has a huge story about NBC executives offering to pre-empt their planned special about Michael Jackson's plastic surgery last February if Jackson would give them an interview. They offered him $5 million.

This would be a great scoop except that this column was devoted to this story in its entirety back on February 18, 2003. It was all reported here including the names of the executives, the memos involved, everything.

I can't say this is Waxman's fault, and I'm not out to point fingers. But is no one at the New York Times doing any fact checking? Can't anyone take a quick look to see what's already run on a subject? If you go to Yahoo! and type in the words "Jackson" and "Graboff," the very first entry is a link to our column from February 18, 2003. It's that easy.

As for my complaints about Waxman's reporting on the Jackson story, all I can say is I know who's feeding her this stuff, and I know why. I can't name the source, or even explain why the material is being repurposed. But really, soon we're going to ask the Times to put the Fox copyright on their stories.

Mario Van Peebles: Success at Last

You know, eventually, most questions in Hollywood are answered. One of those questions has always been: How is it that Mario Van Peebles, who looks a good 15 years younger than his age — 47 — has spent his career largely mired in B-movies, TV shows and fringe stuff?

The son of groundbreaking black director Melvin Van Peebles did direct his own hit, "New Jack City," in 1991, but overall he has not been on the A-list.

Last night everything may have changed for Van Peebles, who has directed and stars in "Gettin' the Man's Foot Outta Your Baadasssss!," the story of how his father created the black indie film.

The elder Peebles, already known for his hit satire, "Watermelon Man," decided to make his controversial drama "Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song" in 1971. Mario, then 13, stuck to his father like glue, and even got to play a scene in which he lost his virginity. Father and son became inseparable, and the film became a cult classic.

Now Mario has made "Baadassss!," in which he plays Melvin and recalls lovingly but with lots of edginess the making of that film 34 years ago. The film is filled with excellent supporting actors, including the unexpectedly comedic Joy Bryant (the beautiful girl from "Antwone Fisher"), Saul Rubinek, Paul Rodriguez, Vincent Schiavelli, Nia Long, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier, and most weirdly, Adam West — TV's one-time "Batman" — who gets to show off more of his derriere than Robin ever saw — or so we hope — during those costume changes on the Batpole.

But it's Mario's movie, and his performance as his father is as much an impersonation as it is his own creation of a character called Melvin Van Peebles. (The "van" seems to have been added at some point by the father. "These people have never met me. They think Melvin Van Peebles is some white Dutch guy," the character says at one point.)

With a little riffing off "Bowfinger," Mario recounts the making of "Sweet Sweetback," its initial failure, and ultimate leap to cult status. His love for his father is evident, but it never colors the reality of the elder Van Peebles's idiosyncrasies.

As Mario said after the movie screened — and earned a huge standing ovation at the Eccles Theatre: "I told my father I might want to use some footage from the original movie. And he said, 'That's fine, as long as you pay for it.'"

Melvin, now 72, is no pushover. He makes that abundantly clear, and it comes through in the movie.

I wouldn't be surprised if Mario gets himself an Oscar nomination this year for acting, if not directing. At last this big question has been answered, and it's a happy resolution. Mario Van Peebles is not just a pretty face with six-pack abs. He's got the chops. He's almost as much of a "Basdasssss!" as his dad. Almost.

Sundance Sales and Stars

With many of the films shown here already snapped up, it seemed last night that Warner Independent would be making a deal for "We Don't Live Here Anymore," a "relationship" movie starring Mark Ruffalo and Naomi Watts. The stars, Watts with boyfriend Heath Ledger, partied last night while awaiting an announcement. ...

Kyle MacLachlan is getting raves all over town for his performance as Cary Grant in "Touch of Pink." ...

Not so beloved is "Marie and Bruce" starring Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick. It's been universally panned on the buzz circuit despite having two big stars. ...

Lots of complaints about the traffic in Park City. Word is that the number of visitors has doubled since last year, with a whole new subculture of partygoers who are clogging the sidewalks and having nothing whatsoever to do with the films being shown (hello, Paris Hilton!). All over town you hear this mantra: "Who are all these people?" ...

The Creative Coalition honored New Line's Mark Ordesky as a visionary last night in a very moving ceremony. Ordesky oversaw all three "Lord of the Rings" movies. Sean Astin did the presentation and there were a lot of tears in Ordesky's acceptance speech. If "Return of the King" wins Best Picture at the Globes or Oscars, though, Ordesky is not eligible to go on stage. I hope the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy will reconsider this. Without Ordesky, these films would not have been made, or made so well.