Today in film and television: Steven Soderbergh explains himself to paranoid Hunger Games fans, Sopranos star James Gandolfini books his HBO return, and the critics did not care for Madonna's latest effort as a director.

  • Steven Soderbergh has done some odd and curious things of late, but he hasn't wrestled directing duties on the adaptation of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games away from Garry Ross. Or so he claims. Considering how the director's yo-yoed between retirement, unretirement, and a movie about Channing Tatum's days as a male stripper in recent months, we're not sure what to believe. Here's what we know: early last month, IndieWire broke the news that Soderbergh was joining the production as a second unit director. That seems unusual, but as the IndieWire story notes, the two are friends. Soderbergh produced Ross's directorial debut Pleasantville, and Ross--who came up as writer--is said to look over Soderbergh's scripts fairly frequently. Also, the film's March 23 release date is locked, which makes a speedy shoot essential. As Soderbergh tells Moviefone, none of this context prevented a "fucking firestorm" of questions and speculation from fans and bloggers. "'Why is he here?' 'What's going on?' 'Is the movie in trouble?' 'Is he directing footage from the second one?'" recalled Soderbergh.."All of this crazy-ass speculation." He says the real reason he took the job is because Ross called him up and asked him to. We buy that. Can't Steven Soderbergh do favors anymore without having his motives questioned? [Moviefone via The Hollywood Reporter]
  • How do you solve a problem like W.E, Madonna's scathingly reviewed second attempt at directing? It's a question the Weinstein Company is going to have to find an answer to, now that the singer's film about Wallis Simpson, the woman Edward VII abdicated the throne to marry, after the critical drubbing its taking after yesterday's premiere at the Venice film festival. The Guardian's Xan Brooks called it "a primped and simpering folly, preening and fatally mishandled, the turkey that dreamed it was a diamond,” while Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter observed that."the film most closely resembles a sumptuous documentary about a young beauty on an exclusive shopping expedition." Tough news for a project that The Weinstein Company scheduled for domestic release December 9, smack in the middle of "the coming Oscar corridor," writes Nikki Finke. She says that while Harvey Weinstein has publicly championed the project, she expects the company to "wind up just dumping W.E. into North American theaters, put little marketing push behind it after the first weekend, and instead focus on the real Oscar possibles which the studio has this year." [Deadline]
  • James Gandolfini is returning to his old HBO stomping grounds, striking a deal with the network to produce and possibly star in a series based on Nicholas Johnson's book Big Dead Place, about the author's working for the U.S. Antarctic Program. Deadline says the series will be "tragicomic," which is HBO-speak for "dramedy." [Deadline]
  • The producers of the 2004 sleeper hit Napoleon Dynamite are suing Fox Searchlight for "at least $10 million" in unpaid video royalties, reports Variety. The suit claims that when Fox Searchlight won the bidding war for the film at the Sundance film festival in 2004, the the producers were assured that their "net royalty rate on homevid sales would be 25% of net profits. Instead, the suit says, it was only 9.66%." It was only when the film began to break out that the producers "received a document from Fox that defined net proceeds." Film Independent's Legal Ease blog has its own definition of net proceeds: "$0." A more detailed explanation:

"'Defined net proceeds' is one of a few terms used to describe what the studios used to call 'net profits.' The studios got sued over the years by writers and other participants in 'net profits' on some of the most profitable films which never generated any 'net profits.' Since these particular 'net profits' have nothing to do with real profits, every studio changed its terminology to avoid using the word 'profits.' That’s why it’s now called defined net proceeds...'Actual breakeven' is another term, and there are others. A more accurate descriptive term would have been 'an artificial mathematical formula designed to produce a negative number in all but a few unusual circumstances.'"

So remember: always take the gross. Always. [Variety and Film Independent]