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FLASHES

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GOLD FISH: For a band that’s sustained more potshots than Pearl Harbor, Hootie & the Blowfish are remarkably optimistic about the critics. Cracked Rear View remains in the top 10, but the South Carolina quartet have polished off an as-yet-untitled second platter — and are actually eager to hear what the pundits say when it comes out this spring. ”A lot of people don’t understand us yet, and the second album will help — especially with critics,” says guitarist Mark Bryan. ”You can hear in the songwriting that we’ve grown up.” Much of Cracked — which has sold 11 million copies — was written when the Blowfish were barely out of their teens, while the new album ”is over-25 material,” explains Bryan. ”Hopefully, the critics who didn’t like the first record will see the growth, see what we’re all about, and say, ‘Hey, these guys are legit.’ ”Fishful thinking?

— Jeff Gordinier

WORLD NEWS: Watching twentysomethings fight over Puck is one thing; watching them live out the trauma of a high school reunion in prime time is something else. But that’s exactly what Real World producers Jon Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim have planned for their latest foray into the wonderful world of voyeurism. ”We had a research team track down friends who had something terrible happen their senior year,” says Murray. The proposed two-hour NBC special will feature one lucky high school class of ’86 as they slouch toward their 10-year reunion. (Of course, they’ll be financially compensated for this national invasion of privacy.) ”It’s going to be performance without a net,” says Murray, who’s hoping to find a class without people like him. ”I had the good sense to skip my 10th reunion.”

— Jessica Shaw

COMMON SENSE: Maybe it’s our fixation with all things Jane Austen that’s fueling Sense and Sensibility’s Oscar buzz (see page 16). Or is it just Oscar winner Emma Thompson, who always makes sense no matter what she does on screen? The soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Branagh chalks up the film’s success (so far it’s grossed $2.2 million in New York and L.A.) to (1) knowing her limitations and (2) a girdle. ”People asked if I wanted to direct Sense,” she explains. ”I think it would have been a little much: ‘She’s adapted it! She’s starring in it! She’s directing!’ Anyway, how can you direct in a corset?” So sensible.

— Cindy Pearlman

FAST FORWARD: What was true in 1986’s Top Gun still holds today — Tom Cruise has a need for speed, though for slightly different reasons. On the set of the upcoming Mission: Impossible, a costar reports that Cruise moved so fast he was practically a blur. ”As soon as he finishes work — bing! He’s gone,” says Jon Voight. The actor’s lightning getaways so intrigued Voight that one day he followed Cruise as he dashed away. ”I realized he had found the exact route to his trailer,” reveals Voight. ”He’s round the corner, behind the garbage cans, and [in there] like voom!” And what was Cruise doing with his spare time? According to Voight, he spent it with his kids — Connor, 11 months, and Isabella, 3 — who were living nearby with their mom, Nicole Kidman. ”On the set, you’d hear assistants whispering ‘It’s 2:15. Tom is putting Connor to sleep,’ ” says Voight. ”He’s a tremendous father.”

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