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This Ain't a 'Toon for the Tots

IN THE KNOW / A LOOK AT THE WEEK AHEAD

May 12, 1997|Times Staff Writers and Contributors

Curious about that demonic figure looming over the horizon of the Sunset Strip? Never heard of Spawn? HBO is counting on teenage and college-age kids to be very aware of who this super-cool hellion is. Created by former "Spider-Man" artist-turned-publisher and action figure maven Todd McFarlane, "Spawn" is currently one of the hottest comic book characters in terms of sales and toys, rivaled only by the X-Men. The character is now the focal point of both HBO's animation division and a live-action, special effects-driven feature film from New Line Cinema this August starring Michael Jai White. HBO's "Spawn," a three-week series premiering Friday at midnight, is no Disney cartoon. There's profanity, ultra-violence, kinky sex and plenty of demonic and Mafia lowlifes. But the series is mostly the story of a bad man trying to redeem himself. Al Simmons, a former CIA assassin resurrected from the dead, makes a deal with the devil to see his wife, Wanda, one last time. He discovers that each interaction with pure evil has a dire price: his soul. Simmons, his former human form burnt to a crisp, comes back from the dead as Spawn (short for Hellspawn), a demonic creature in training to become the general of Hell's Army for the impending holy war between the nether world and heaven. What makes Simmons different, and a threat that both heaven and hell want neutralized, is that he's a fighting machine with a moral conscious, one who can sway the direction of the ultimate battle. With Keith David ("Dead Presidents") providing the grumbling voice of the twisted warrior, each week involves the character leaning more about how he was murdered, what has happened to his wife and family, and--with the opposing advice of the demonic clown and the mysterious Cogliostro--what heaven and hell have in store.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. . . . Staying Alive?

How do the Bee Gees fit into today's pop music landscape? They will get some indication this week when first-week SoundScan sales figures are released for the trio's new album, "Still Waters." In an unstable time for the record industry, when new artists such as LeAnn Rimes and No Doubt break through to sell millions of records while seemingly sure bets such as R.E.M. and U2 struggle to retain their audience, the timing may be right for a group that fell out of favor during the anti-disco backlash nearly two decades ago but has recently been riding a wave of newfound respect and admiration, including its induction last week into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Bee Gees haven't had a Top 10 album since 1983's "Staying Alive" soundtrack, but none of their last three albums--1987's "E-S-P," 1989's "One" and 1993's "Size Isn't Everything"--has been accompanied by such a groundswell of support for the brothers Gibb. Their induction into the rock hall was only the latest in a string of accolades they've received in the last year, including induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and lifetime achievement honors at the Brit Awards, the American Music Awards and the World Music Awards. A documentary about the brothers--Barry, 49, and twins Maurice and Robin, 47--is due in June, and they'll start a U.S. tour in the fall. "We are in fact the enigma with the stigma," Barry said last week during the brothers' induction speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "But we've come out on the other side."

How to Care for a One-Week-Old Studio

Michael Kuhn, president of Polygram Filmed Entertainment, doesn't know whether he deserves congratulations or commiseration. "I'm expecting two babies--more than anyone should suffer in a week," he said. Kuhn's first child--a boy, he and wife Caroline are told--is a week late in arriving. The other infant is Polygram Films, a distribution and marketing company born seven days ago after a 6-year gestation. With an eye toward becoming a major studio, the company responsible for hits such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Fargo" and "The Usual Suspects," plans to send up to 16 wide-release movies into the marketplace by the year 2000. Its Gramercy Pictures division will continue to distribute lower-budget, more specialized fare. "Polygram is a huge company and we don't want to be a small player," Kuhn says. "Distribution is both the most lucrative area and the riskiest, which is why we left it for last. We're already in 60% to 70% of the international market, but America is the toughest nut to crack. The U.S. is the shop window for the rest of the world, so it's important that you be in charge of dressing it. Barney's wouldn't give their windows to Saks to arrange."

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