BOX OFFICE It will be an action packed weekend at the box office, as three new fast paced popcorn pics – ”Vertical Limit,” ”Dungeons & Dragons,” and ”Proof of Life” hit movie theaters nationwide. But it’s likely that Universal’s ”How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will continue to wrest the bulk of box office bounty. Acrophobic ”Vertical” is expected to entice extreme sports oriented guys, while ”D & D” is skewed toward younger audiences familiar with the popular role playing game. The Meg Ryan/ Russell Crowe film ”Proof,” meanwhile, will no doubt draw heavily on older crowds who spend their time perusing Page Six. But none of those films have the proven mass appeal of the Jim Carrey blockbuster ”Grinch.” Toronto Film Festival winner ”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” also opens Friday in limited release.
APPEARANCE Michael Jackson is coming out – of his mansion. He’s reportedly planning to play a Dec. 19 gig in New York City. The King of Pop will join Destiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera, and Ricky Martin for a Madison Square Garden charity show, ”Miracle on 34th Street,” according to the NYC radio station WKTU. Tickets for the event have been sold out for months, but the station is still giving away a handful of passes. (Note: Jackson’s reps have yet to confirm his appearance.) Meanwhile, the unquestioningly faithful and the unabashedly prurient should check out an essay by the Gloved One published Friday on Beliefnet. In it, Jackson talks about how, until 1991, he would dress up as a fat man in order to mingle with the public and sell Jehovah’s Witness magazines. ”The funny thing is, no adults ever suspected who this strange bearded man was. But the children, with their extra intuition, knew right away,” he writes. ”Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I would find myself trailed by eight or nine children by my second round of the shopping mall. They would follow and whisper and giggle, but they wouldn’t reveal my secret to their parents. They were my little aides.” We have no comment.
ANNIVERSARY Yoko Ono is marking the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s death (Friday, Dec. 8) with anti- gun billboards posted throughout New York City. Sean Lennon has issued a press release in which he discusses his anger over his father’s untimely death. Miramax, meanwhile, is cashing in on the event with the rerelease Friday of the Beatles’ classic flick, ”Hard Days Night.”
THE WEDDING As promised, here’s the latest dish on Madonna’s Dec. 22 wedding: It’s rumored that Madge and her Guy will tie the knot Buddhist style. The ever intrepid Sun tabloid quoted a ”close friend” of the Material Mom as saying, ”Madonna is a devout follower of Buddhism and she wants the whole thing to have a Buddhist feel.” Which explains why they chose to get hitched at a Scottish cathedral!
MUSIC NEWS Lil’ Kim wants everyone to know that she is not part of Nelly’s Cash Money Millionaires tour. In fact, she never was! Though advertisers have used her indomitable mug to sell tix for the event, Kim pulled out long before it began. A spokesperson for her record company told Launch that they are unsure why the tour bosses are continuing to tout her presence. Perhaps they should call it the Cash Now, Questions Later tour.
CASTING ”The Simpsons”’ Hank Azaria could be replacing Robert Downey Jr. in the showbiz comedy ”America’s Sweethearts”. The actor is in negotiations to take the role of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ lover in the ensemble flick, according to Variety. The film also stars Julia Roberts, John Cusack, and Billy Crystal…. Mel Gibson is inking out a deal for his next heroic role. The aging Aussie stud is in negotiations to reteam with ”Braveheart” screenwriter Randall Wallace for a Vietnam drama titled ”Lost Patrol,” Variety reports. Gosh, we’re not sure the war hero role is really right for him…. Courtney Love is working out a deal to star as turn of the century showgirl Texas Guinan in a biopic called ”Hello Suckers.” Shouldn’t that be the title of LOVE’s biopic?
ARRESTS Michael Moriarty, one of the original cast members of ”Law & Order,” had his own day in court recently. He appeared before a Canadian judge to face charges for allegedly striking a female companion in a restaurant last month. The four time Emmy nominee told the judge that an unidentified friend – rather than a lawyer – would represent him. He did not enter a plea and was ordered to return to court on Dec. 14, according to the Associated Press.
DEATH Werner Klemperer, Col. Klink of TV’s classic ”Hogan’s Heroes” died from cancer this week. Klemperer fled Nazi Germany in 1930, and took the role of the bumbling German prison commandant in the 1960s. He won two Emmy awards for his portrayal of Klink. He was 80.