The brow-to-brow duel between Latin divas Salma Hayek and Jennifer Lopez to develop a film based on the life of Kahlo has been highly publicized, and it will be Hayek's "Frida" that is going forward, with her production company, Ventana Rose, making the film.

The picture, with a budget of between $2 million and $5 million, begins filming this week and will be rushed to completion before the strike, for release later this year.

Alfred Molina, who almost steals the spotlight from Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench in Miramax's Oscar-nominated "Chocolat," is beefing up for his next role as the portly, brilliant Mexican artist and husband of artist Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera.

"I am eating potatoes and all kinds of fattening foods to be ready for my role," said Molina, who was spotted snarfing down a huge lunch in Beverly Hills.

Oscar-nominee Geoffrey Rush is also thrilled to be part of the film, although he said his part is small. "Salma is a very smart young woman," said Rush of her savvy in pulling the project together.

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Ang Lee, currently the hottest director in Hollywood, is thrilled with the continued success of his Sony-released film, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Along with $94.5 million in domestic box-office, the film has been racking up pre-Oscar awards, and Lee is favored in the industry to win the Best Director Oscar. He is now working feverishly to make one of two projects happen. "I am hoping to work out the story of magician Harry Houdini with Sony Pictures," he said.

But Lee sees the subject matter as problematic. "Houdini isn't a sympathetic character and wasn't well-liked, and for that reason it will be a difficult film."

Lee said the film will also be expensive. "We will require a big budget for the special effects of Houdini's magic tricks," he said.

The ambitious director also has his eye on making "The Hulk" as a spin-off of the TV series, which would be another big-budget project.

Another hot director is Steven Soderbergh, whose films "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich" are both nominated for Best Picture and have scored him two Best Director nominations.

Soderbergh is now working on the $80 million-budgeted remake of the Rat Pack classic "Ocean's 11," with a stellar cast including Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and George Clooney.

Contributing reporter Anita Talbert can be reached via e-mail at anita@la.com.

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