Sean Penn Gets Shanghai'd by The Beatles

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Sean Penn Gets Shanghai'd by The Beatles

A movie made in 1985 is coming back to haunt Sean Penn. It's the cause of trouble for his new film I Am Sam

As I told you yesterday, Penn's new movie — in which he plays a retarded man fighting to keep custody of his 7-year-old daughter — has several Beatles' songs in it. But none are original recordings. They are all cover versions, recorded by various artists like Aimee Mann and Michael Penn

You'd think a whole movie of Beatles songs would be welcomed by the Fab Three — George, Paul and Ringo — and Yoko. Good box office sales would mean extra dough in their coffers. 

But one Beatle in particular has it in for Penn. And that's George Harrison. The otherwise peaceful Beatle has a long memory, and it takes him back to Shanghai Surprise, the film he produced starring Penn with his then wife Madonna

Shanghai Surprise, which was released on January 1, 1986, may have been the worst movie of the 80s. It was drubbed by critics and ignored by the audience. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, for example, called it: "Awesome in its awfulness, momentous in its ineptness, and shattering in its stupidity." 

The making of Shanghai Surprise was such an ordeal that George — who'd previously had successes with his Handmade Film company — dropped out of the movie business altogether. The film took in a measly $2.3 million at the box office. It cost around $40 million to make. 

Certainly one issue at the time was Penn's insistence on playing the part of a con man with a "Ratso Rizzo" type voice. He uses a similar voice in I Am Sam

According to my sources, and there are more than one believe me, when Penn approached the Beatles for use of their master recordings in I Am Sam, the answer that came back was an instant and resounding "No." 

"George has not forgotten Shanghai Surprise," said my source. "He made it clear that Sean was not to get the songs." 

If Penn had gotten the Beatles master recordings for his movie, it would have been a precedent anyway. There are virtually no instances of this happening. When Lawrence Kasdan wanted Beatles songs for The Big Chill back in 1982, he was also rejected. 

Currently another film — which I've promised not to reveal at the moment — has used two Beatles recordings on its soundtrack for screening purposes only. I know the producers of this film are crossing their fingers and toes that they get permission. 

As for Penn, his Sam must make do with new versions of Strawberry Fields, Two of Us, Across the Universe and other classics. If you want to hear the original versions, as usual, you have to buy the Beatles' albums. They didn't get to be billionaires by being stupid, you know.

Traffic Director Goes Full Frontal  

First it was called How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire. Then, as I reported here first, Steven Soderbergh's new movie had a title change to The Art of Negotiating a Turn. Now I can tell you this non-sequel sequel to Sex, Lies, and Videotape has been renamed Full Frontal. What's it about? No one knows. But the movie does star David Duchovny, David Hyde Pierce, and Soderbergh's new personal movie star, Julia Roberts.

Bo Dietl Plays One Tough Cop in Crisis  

My pal Bonnie Timmermann had quite a day on Monday. Bonnie, you should know, is the number one casting director for movies. Her credits include Dirty Dancing, The Insider, Pearl Harbor, Bull Durham — many, many unforgettable films. 

But on Monday, Bonnie really needed to find a hero, and fast. Her mom, Shirley, lives just a few blocks from the spot where the American Airlines flight went down in Belle Harbor, Queens. When Bonnie tried to call her mom and make sure she was alright, she discovered all the phone lines had gone down instantly. She panicked, of course, like any good daughter. And then like any good casting director she got on the phone. 

Bonnie found Bo Dietl, the former New York City cop and now famous private detective. (Stephen Baldwin played him in One Tough Cop.) 

Dietl immediately scooped her up and, armed with all kinds of identification, and the pair charged out to Belle Harbor. "If he hadn't had the right papers we'd never have gotten through," Bonnie told me yesterday. As it was, Shirley was OK, but rattled, and she returned with Bonnie and Bo to Manhattan unscathed.

Superman Gets Super Turn Out for Charity  

Christopher Reeve, looking great and sounding better than ever, was out at two events in a row this week. First, he appeared as a presenter at the Creative Coalition dinner on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday he hosted his own charity dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria for his Paralysis Foundation. 

Among the stars who turned out to help Chris at the black tie event: Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Richard Belzer. But really the biggest stars at this annual evening were Chris and Dana Reeve, who are absolute heroes in the war on finding a cure for paralyzing injuries. Many of the guests at the dinner were tuxedo'd, gowned, active, people who just happened to be in a wheelchair. The Reeves have given them hope and legitimacy. 

If you want to learn about the foundation, or make a contribution, here's the address and phone: 500 Morris Avenue, Springfield, NJ 07081, (973) 379-2690, (973) 912-9433.

Tori Amos, Collective Soul Hit by Economy

I've always liked the group Collective Soul. They've had a bunch of hits like "The World I Know," "Shine" and "December," which are radio staples. 

Tori Amos is no slouch either, with about 5 million albums sold and a lot of fans. She plays the piano and sings simultaneously, which makes her a savant these days. 

Nevertheless, yesterday Atlantic Records — part of the Warner Music Group — dropped both acts from its roster. Also dropped was an act I don't know, called Poe. I'm told Amos will wind up on Sony Epic, while Collective Soul will shop for a new deal. 

But with the record business ailing and staffs getting cut to the bone, this should be the tip of the iceberg. This will be especially true at Warner and Atlantic, where hits have been scarce and red ink is flooding the offices. 

Scary, huh? But the record companies have done this to themselves. While the top executives live in mansions and ride around in limos, the artists have suffered. Very few new acts with sustained careers have come along in the last decade. And record companies continue to sell new CDs for $16-$20. Fans know CDs cost about a $1 to make, and teenagers especially don't have that kind of money. I wonder when the record companies will wake up?

Bedroom Eyes Success

I keep getting asked, where are the good movies, the big dramas, the American Beauty or Cider House Rules of this year? On Monday I will tell you all about Todd Field's In the Bedroom, which opens next week and is going to generate a lot of talk. Not only does it revive the careers of Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei, but it gives us the first really important film of 2001.

Congrats: Fox Channel Beats CNN

We don't ever really toot our own horn, but I should point out that our very own Fox News Channel has beaten CNN in primetime ratings. It's the first time since the Sept.11 World Trade Center Attacks. 

According to reports, Fox averages 1 million households to CNN's 931,000. Not bad, considering Fox is in 11 million fewer homes than CNN.

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