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Beatty and Penn Teaming Up for Film?

 Warren Beatty, Sean Penn | Billy Joel | USA Films' Promotional Tools | Lizzie Grubman

Beatty and Penn Teaming Up for Film?

Warren Beatty, our old pal and a fan of Fox News to boot (or so I hear), was in New York this week looking every bit the real-deal movie star. He and Sean Penn came east to attend yet another official opening of Penn's investment in Man Ray restaurant, the new hot spot in Chelsea that's got limos up and down previously sedate West 15th St. Penn's other bold-name partners in the place include Johnny Depp and the great singer from Simply Red, Mick Hucknall.

And this is the little bit I was able to glean from Warren: He's going to star in a movie directed by Penn. "I know more details," Beatty said, with a Cheshire-cat smile, "but I don't want to share them just yet." All in good time.

Interesting, since Warren's best pal Jack Nicholson has starred in three Penn flicks including the most recent one, The Pledge, which Nicholson and Penn just screened in Moscow for Vladimir "Two Thumbs Up" Putin. This was a strange but affecting little movie that Warner Bros. obviously didn't know what to do with, so they held it until after the Oscar deadline last year and then abandoned it. Let me tell you: If Penn can get them to re-release it for a couple of weeks in October, Nicholson will get an Oscar nomination. It's his best work in years.

So back to Warren, who also huddled at Man Ray with director Francis Ford Coppola and actor Edward Norton, who joined the group after the premiere of the not-very-thrilling Robert De Niro movie The Score. (Also dipping in and out were Erin Brockovich's movie boyfriend Aaron Eckhart, a scowling David Keith and a peppy Mark Wahlberg.) Norton, a Yale graduate, was worn out, he said, from doing a week of press and was ready to kick back. We did discuss Fight Club, which has found an afterlife on cable. Norton is excellent in it, as he is in most movies, but I like many others did not care for the intense violence of the film. He told me: "Already it's becoming a classic. People didn't appreciate it when it came out."

Penn came to Man Ray with wife actress Robin Wright Penn, and he sported an interesting sort of crewcut. He reminded me of a disagreement we'd had — a fight, really — several years ago, but it was decided, with Beatty as referee, that détente was a better idea than feuding. Penn wants to do more directing, and I think he should. He has an eye and a talent for it, where most actors do not. A few years ago he made several suggestions to Nick Cassavetes' She's So Lovely, which were needed.

(Meantime, one film in which Penn acted — The Weight of Water, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Silkwood's Alice Arlen — continues to sit on the shelf with no release date in sight.)

Beatty also told me he's still hoping to star in Quentin Tarantino's work in progress, called Kill Bill. "I'm going to be in that too!" he declared. As for this spring's Town & Country, Beatty — and this column and others — are now laying it to rest forever. "I approached it just as New Line did. I was a hired hand," he observed, then shrugged. Here is perhaps the final quote ever to be delivered on the film: "If it had been a $35 or $40 million movie, people would have said it was a cute comedy." The End.

Billy Joel's Protecting Himself 

If you want an old pop song in your movie, don't bother asking Billy Joel.

Last winter, Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim wanted to include Joel's "Piano Man" in their documentary Startup.com. In the film, a young dotcommer hears the song on the radio in a New York deli and tells his pals he won't leave until it's over. He sings along to "Piano Man" and it's a sweet moment.

In most docs, music like this is considered "found" because it's playing in the background. But Artisan insisted that the filmmakers "clear" the rights. Since Startup.com was going to the Sundance Film Festival, the pressure was on to make a deal. Initially, Joel's office said no, but at the last minute — literally the night before the film opened at Sundance — they reneged.

Hegedus and Noujaim thought they now had the rights. But when it was announced that Startup.com was going to theatres, Joel reneged. His person in charge of such things snapped at me when I called about the issue. "Billy Joel has five or six songs that we protect," she said. From what? I wondered. The public? The filmmakers, at great expense, went back in and clipped it out to avoid problems. Instead of being in a hip, hit documentary, "Piano Man" goes back to oldie classic rock stations.

Startup.com moves to New York's Village East Cinema and other theaters around the country today.

Friday the 13th — Lucky Us! 

USA Films continues to send out the most ingenious promotional tools for its films. You may recall the Fargo snowglobe and the Nurse Betty syringe-and-first aid kit. Who could forget the fabulous cat o' nine tails whip for One Night at McCool's? We're still enjoying that one! Now add to this collection an Oscar Meyer smores kit — complete with tasty chocolate bars, graham crackers and marshmallow sauce that hasn't sent anyone to the hospital yet. This is accompanied by a macaroni jewelry kit! All for the August release, Wet Hot American Summer. It's more in the Animal House/American Pie vein, but who cares? The snack was dee-licious!

Lizzie: Must Everyone Get Stoned?

How much more can Lizzie Grubman be raked over the coals for her terrible car accident last Friday night? Here in New York she's been on the cover of both the Post and Daily News all week. Meanwhile, over in Europe, Slobodan Milosevic is on trial for mass murder. He hasn't warranted a paragraph in that time.

Time to let it be, as the Beatles sang, and let the judicial system figure out what to do with Lizzie. Yeah, she was nasty to a lot of people in her heyday (which ended last Friday), and now the karma has boomeranged. But more days of this is just unseemly. She's starting to become the main character in Shirley Jackson's famous short story "The Lottery." That woman was stoned by her community and made into a pariah.

It will be interesting to see if Lizzie's peers — the other PR girls who were just as determined if not more so to be superficial, affected and mean — will see this as a call to grow up, or whether the party will just go on as usual. Something tells the clipboards and headsets are already being readied for battle this weekend.

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