Rod Stewart's Not Sexy Anymore | Clooney, Pitt and Roberts  | Project Greenlight | Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? 

Rod Stewart's Not Sexy Anymore

Is it a generational shift or just lack of imagination? Atlantic Records has reportedly dropped Rod Stewart, Anita Baker and Sinead O'Connor from its roster according to hitsdailydouble, the industry online newsletter. 

Maybe you didn't care for Sinead after all her antics, but Rod's been with Warner Music Group for 26 years and has given them a raft of hits. Baker, while idle the last several years, is considered a standard bearer and a classic R&B singer in the industry. 

In the case of both of Rod and Anita, they were shifted over to Atlantic from other in house labels. Rod had been on the Warner label, Anita on Elektra. For his most recent album, Rod made the move because the Warner label had become moribund and he was hoping for a lightning strike of excitement. Instead, he's gotten the boot. 

Baker, on the other hand, had moved over to Atlantic from Elektra — where she'd had all her hits include "Giving You the Best That I Got" and "Sweet Love" —  because she didn't care for Elektra chairman Sylvia Rhone. Baker —  whose last recording came out in 1994 —  never even released a recording on Atlantic. Stewart had one. 

Atlantic also made numerous unexpected staff layoffs yesterday. Two days ago I reported that Atlantic VP Jason Flom is expected to earn $40 million or more when Warner Music Group buys out his Lava Records label before the end of December. 

For Atlantic that makes six name artists laid off in less than two weeks. Last week they also dropped Collective Soul, Tori Amos and Poe

All of this turmoil at Atlantic is happening while the company's co-founder and industry legend Ahmet Ertegun, 80, is said to still be fighting some kind of viral infection in a New York hospital. You can't think this news will make him feel much better. 

Clooney, Pitt and Roberts Nearly Drown In Ocean

If you're enamored of the nostalgia of the Rat Pack — and I like to think I am — then Ocean's Eleven was the movie for you. Made in 1960, it starred the whole gang — Frank, Dino, Sammy, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson — with a cameo by Shirley MacLaine. It was a heist movie set in Las Vegas. It didn't make sense, and it wasn't good filmmaking, but it brought together this rowdy gang of real life friends for one more cinematic in-joke. 

The original Ocean's Eleven — the title refers to gang leader Danny Ocean and his eleven henchmen — didn't have much of a script, so director Steven Soderbergh, fresh off his successes with Erin Brockovich and Traffic — told this column last year how he'd gutted the story for his remake and ordered a whole new script. He also plugged in an array of stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon

It should tell you something about the new movie that the best performances come from Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner in secondary, but more interesting roles than any of these whippersnappers. Gould, who enters wearing a loud red and gold Versace robe, might even be cited for doing a Jerry Lewis impersonation — not the Jerk, but the telethon version. Very amusing. 

Which isn't to say I didn't like the new Ocean's Eleven or that it isn't good. Soderbergh has made a very facile, technically charged heist movie. It's intelligent, which is something the original Rat Pack never aspired to. They just had fun, fun, fun. The problem with Clooney and pals is that no one looks like they're having fun. They're grim, grim, grim. 

I think the problem lies in the screenplay, written by someone named Ted Griffin. The writer never develops nine of the 11 main characters. When he finds it impossible to juggle so many people and create personalities for them, he just drops all the balls at once. Imagine that Don Cheadle and Matt Damon — two fine actors — are simply lost in a crowd here. Cheadle, who played Sammy Davis Jr. in HBO's fine Rat Pack movie, adopts a British accent just to have something to do. Damon, obviously operating without a backstory for his character, takes a stab at playing a nerd, then just gives up. 

Soderbergh proved with Traffic that he could handle large repertory companies. So the fault here has to fall to the writer. Compare this film to Robert Altman's excellent new Gosford Park, which has far more speaking parts and manages to flesh out every single one of them. 

Some things have to work here because Soderbergh is our most gifted new generation director. No question about it. Conceding character, he infuses the film with its own personality. Las Vegas looks better than ever, turning at night into a deep Crayola midnight blue with lighted fountains dancing against the sky. His edit suggests the old movie, and movies of the kind circa 1961, while still aiming for a fresh approach. 

As a slight tip of the hat to the Rat Pack, he throws in Dean Martin singing "Mambo Italiano." But it's a movie lacking that very ethnic spice. 

Clooney, Pitt and Roberts wind up starring in a very good Mission: Impossible episode — better than the MI movies, in fact. With Damon as their fourth, the quartet works well as a team knocking over three Vegas casinos, but they do it joylessly and a little too cleanly. I did think Brad Pitt was the standout, though, more relaxed and on his game than in any of his recent movies. Roberts, who usually seems to be enjoying herself on screen, looks more tense than ever in Ocean's, like she's ready to bite someone's head off. 

Will Ocean's Eleven be a hit? Sure, why not. The cast is formidable. But what could have been a romp turns out to be an enervating enterprise. 

Damon, Affleck Greenlight HBO Series 

Meanwhile, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck hosted a screening Tuesday night for Project Greenlight, their new HBO series and Miramax film concept. This is the one where unknown screenwriters were encouraged to send in their scripts. A winner would be chosen from among them and Miramax would make the final film for a million bucks. 

HBO filmed the whole process a la The Real World, including production meetings with the Miramax production staff, candid stuff with Ben and Matt, all adding up to a disarming look inside a motion picture studio. The series starts for 13 episodes on December 2. On March 1, Stolen Summer, the feature directed by Pete Jones, will be released to theatres by Miramax. 

It's sort of like Making of the Band without the music — or the teen age girls. 

The series is worth checking out if only for Affleck cameos. Known to many as a wicked mimic, in this series Affleck gets to show off this talent many times. Particularly funny is his Jay Leno impression. 

Millionaire Drained of Life by ABC 

ABC let it slip yesterday that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? may be ending its prime time run. When entertainment chief Lloyd Braun (yes, the same name as George's loathed high school friend from Seinfeld — not a coincidence) was asked about its future, he replied, "Unsure." 

When Millionaire first aired, it was a phenomenon. Host Regis Philbin was quite right to say on his morning show that he'd saved the network. Millionaire was airing almost every night by the summer, with killer numbers. 

But Philbin wouldn't be wrong at this point to carp about the network squeezing all life out of the show. They used it as a chess piece to knock off competitors, but by doing it they killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Millionaire should have had a better shelf life, and Regis probably deserved better too. In the end, it's a good thing he didn't quit his day job. Just ask Kathie Lee about that.

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