Neal Travis’ Chocolat -Induced Hallucination

New Yorkers who take their Oscar betting seriously may have choked on their coffee while skimming Neal Travis’ New York Post column on Jan. 4. The fourth item, entitled “‘Gigi’ Whiz!,” concerned Leslie Caron, the 69-year-old French star of 50’s musicals An American in Paris and Gigi . Ms. Caron currently appears in Miramax’s holiday offering , Chocolat , a film that, Mr. Travis wrote, “entranced” him, just as it did “everyone else who’s had the chance to see [it].” He went on to declare Chocolat “[Miramax co-chairman] Harvey Weinstein’s secret weapon at the Oscars in March.” More specifically, Mr. Travis surmised that Ms. Caron, whom he described as “one of [the film’s] stars,” will “certainly make a rare Hollywood appearance if she gets nominated.”

The suggestion that Ms. Caron could be up for an Oscar of any kind may come as a surprise to “everyone else who’s had the chance to see” Chocolat , since her character, Madame Audel, has fewer than five lines of dialogue and appears in approximately five scenes–mostly walking down the street. (Though director Lasse Hallström does crank an Irish jig out of the still-lithesome beauty, who has danced with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Rudolf Nureyev.)

The Transom called Mr. Travis at his Bridgehampton home the day the item ran to ask him which part of Ms. Caron’s performance made him believe she was an Oscar threat. “I’m trying to think; what was she in that?” he replied somewhat foggily. “There was dear old Judi Dench … She wasn’t the secretary … I’m trying to remember….” Stumped, Mr. Travis explained that “Harvey [Weinstein] just throws everyone out there [for Oscar consideration],” adding that “they sent me a screening copy and her name was on the back” as Oscar-worthy.

Sending screeners to Academy members and journalists is now standard practice, and Miramax has been banking heavily on the warmly reviewed Chocolat, especially after the box-office tanking of All the Pretty Horses. Mr. Travis did assure The Transom that he had seen Chocolat in front of the fire on New Year’s Eve and “adored it.”

When The Transom reminded Mr. Travis that Ms. Caron’s part is minuscule, he wasn’t fazed. “I’ve got a hunch that she will [get nominated],” he said with confidence, pointing out that Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love , Miramax’s greatest Oscar triumph, in which “she was on-screen for seven minutes.” True, true. But to be fair, Dame Judi did speak during those seven minutes.

A Miramax representative said that Ms. Caron’s name is not listed on the back of the Chocolat screener, nor is she featured in “for your consideration” ads in trade publications like Variety. But the company’s Web site, under a link that reads “Academy and Guild Members Click Here,” lists Ms. Caron along with six other Chocolat actors (including Juliette Binoche and Ms. Dench, both of whom were nominated for Golden Globes last month) and mentions in her brief bio that she’s been nominated for Oscars twice before.

Watch your back, Catherine Zeta-Jones!

– Rebecca Traister

A Bit of Benicio

Benicio Del Toro, awash in praise and Oscar hype with the release of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, was looking deeply hot and rather hungry at the cocktail party following a screening of the film at the Screening Room in Tribeca on Jan. 4. He was nodding vigorously at Chazz Palminteri, who was coolly encased in what looked like a leather warm-up suit. Mr. Palminteri, star of A Bronx Tale and Bullets Over Broadway , was cautioning the newly minted heartthrob about the perils of believing–or even glancing at–reviews of his work. “It’s no good to read them,” said Mr. Palminteri with gusto. “Even the good ones. Especially the good ones–’cause they just set you up for the bad ones.”

Mr. Del Toro, who has received nary a whimper of complaint about his performance as Mexican drug-buster Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez in Traffic , smiled ruefully and admitted that he has received some nasty ink (perhaps flashing back to the Alicia Silverstone-produced doozy Excess Baggage ). “They’ve fucked me up!” he said with a shake of his shaggy head. “They have fucked me up.” Mr. Del Toro, who began his slow-burn ascent as the marble-mouthed Fenster in The Usual Suspects , has long kept a low profile. But despite the fact that he looked at the gaggle of reporters waiting to keep him from popping another portobello tidbit in his mouth as though he were having his thumbs put in a vise, Mr. Del Toro claimed not to mind the Oscar feeding frenzy. “It is satisfying. I don’t take it for granted. Whether I get nominated or not, people saying that I could be feels nice,” he mumbled.


Punk-Rock Primate

With his thick goatee and thicker gut, guitarist Dave Schneider, 34, looks like a cross between a Gen-X Santa Claus and a Boston Bruins goalie. How fitting, then, that his hockey-themed punk band, the Zambonis, does a healthy Christmas mail-order business on the Web. Albums like Play-Off Fever!, featuring such songs as “Lost My Teeth” and “Hockey Holidays,” apparently make a novel stocking-stuffer for puckish dads in Duluth.

Not only is it currently hockey season, but Mr. Schneider has a girlfriend who actually lets him watch the games. “She completely understands. We turn off the Independent Film Channel,” he told The Transom. With Mario Lemieux back in action, Mr. Schneider is fired up about this year’s N.H.L. From his home in Connecticut, he pronounced the present state of affairs “awesome.”

But one day not long ago, awesome turned to weird. Out of the blue, a fan e-mailed him: “It was like, ‘Hey, congratulations on the movie you guys made!'” he said. “I started getting a whole slew of e-mails.” Mr. Schneider was a little bemused, especially since he didn’t recall making any films. “I was like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ So I did a little investigating and I found this movie.”

It was MVP: Most Valuable Primate , the heart-warming story of a hockey-playing chimpanzee named Jack whose on- and off-ice theatrics whip a ragtag but spirited bunch of Canucks into hockey stars. Bernie the chimp stars as Jack, and Dave Thomas, Canada’s comic laureate, does a cameo. (The film is not to be confused with director Robert Vince’s previous chef d’oeuvre, Air Bud , a.k.a. MVP: Most Valuable Pooch , about a basketball-playing golden retriever named Buddy whose ability to slam-dunk lifts his ragtag but spirited team to victory.)

Mr. Schneider’s fans naturally attributed the idea to the Zambonis, because their biggest hit is called “Hockey Monkey,” about … a monkey that plays hockey.

Did Mr. Vince filch Mr. Schneider’s idea? “I don’t think anyone in the band ever said that,” Mr. Schneider replied. “I mean, some of the fans were saying that. But it’s hearsay. All I know is we wrote the song three years ago.”

Mr. Vince denied any malfeasance: “I never heard of the song until after the movie was all mixed,” he told The Transom on the phone from Los Angeles, adding, “The Zambonis aren’t very popular–you never hear them on the radio.”

The worst part of the experience, according to Mr. Schneider, “was that the songs they had on the soundtrack were so bad–like Gino Vannelli, only worse.” Brahm Wenger, who worked with Mr. Vince on Air Bud and its sequels, supervised the original music–mostly sappy pop numbers like “Whoa, Don’t Go There” and “Coolest Looking Dude on Ice.”

Mr. Schneider’s only consolation was that someone from hockey apparel giant CCM had tipped off Mr. Vince and his staff to “Hockey Monkey” before he had and, according to him, “They said they’ve been singing it the last three weeks. It was stuck in their heads.”

Mr. Vince reported, “When I heard it, it was actually quite funny. I was shocked that such a thing existed. If I’d have known about the song earlier, I’d almost certainly have put it in the movie–had they been reasonable about the price.”

Mr. Vince did strike a deal with Mr. Schneider after some “tough negotiation”: During this winter’s N.H.L. tour, Bernie the chimp has skated onto the ice to the pumping power chords of “Hockey Monkey.”

Mr. Schneider was pretty satisfied with the way things turned out–though he complained that “we haven’t gotten paid yet.” For now, he’s hoping for a Most Valuable Primate II. Mr. Vince said he would “absolutely” consider the Zambonis for the soundtrack should he do a sequel.

In the end, Mr. Schneider admitted, “I guess it wasn’t a snub.” After all, the Zambonis and Mr. Vince have a lot in common. “I mean, we’re all for monkeys playing sports. Especially hockey.”

–Ian Blecher

The Original Survivor

Don’t expect to see Tina Louise on one of those newfangled reality-TV shows anytime soon–it seems the self-proclaimed ” biiiig -city girl” prefers taking the Madison Avenue bus to spearing fish.

“Oh, honey, the only island I love is Manhattan! Don’t take me away!” Ms. Louise told The Transom when we caught up with her on Jan. 8 at Caroline’s, the comedy club, where the Blue Light Theater Company was hosting a benefit. She had just finished listening to cabaret singers K.T. Sullivan and James Naughton and was sitting in a front-row banquette, her curvaceous self in a wine-colored velvet gown, her rusty locks in a shaggy, shoulder-length ‘do. Despite her experience as Ginger, the slinky, shipwrecked movie star on Gilligan’s Island , the sixtysomething actress put to rest any notions that she might be an asset to Hollywood castaways when The Transom asked if she had any advice to offer the novices who land themselves on one of the Gilligan’s Islands of the new millennium.

“No,” she replied simply, and then added, referring to the Survivor cast, “They don’t seem like novices to me. I mean, everybody seems to have a life before they get involved in these shows, you know, so I wouldn’t say they were novices. I mean, they’re probably more accomplished than I was, in terms of islands. I’m not an island person. I love to read, and I love museums, and I’m just diametrically the opposite. I’ve published a book.”

– Beth Broome Neal Travis’ Chocolat -Induced Hallucination