Martha Stewart | Billy Preston | John Roberdeaux 

Martha Stewart Chops Up Men in Black

Even on a good day, seeing Martha Stewart pop up in a regular movie would be funny. 

But with everything that's happening in her insider trading scandal, Queen Martha's appearances in Barry Sonnenfeld's Men in Black 2 are particularly delicious. 

The movie, which opens July 3, is too short at 88 minutes and feels like it's missing a third act. Ordinarily, that might be a bad thing, but what there is of Men in Black 2 is so funny and clever that you wind up being thankful for what Sonnenfeld has given us. 

Stewart, who is Sonnenfeld's friend from the Hamptons, makes two appearances in the movie — once in a kind of floating ad (there are a lot of product plugs, Sprint and Burger King being the most egregious) and the other in a clip from her TV show. 

All of this comes as Martha herself came off like a demented Sue Anne Nivens on CBS's Early Show with Jane Clayson on Monday. Clayson, who's never said boo to anyone, suddenly woke up and asked Martha — during her regular cooking segment — about the insider trading business. Stewart replied that she would be "exonerated from this ridiculousness" and then went back to chopping a salad with a big knife. 

Overnight, Clayson was re-born. 

As for Stewart, her appearance in Men in Black 2 even outdoes Michael Jackson, who has a brief cameo at the beginning of the movie as a would-be alien. As I reported here last week, Tiger Woods was originally scheduled for that spot until Jacko strong-armed his way into the film. Sonnenfeld should have stuck to his guns. Jacko, wearing his short wig and a lot of make-up, gets lost amid the other aliens. It's one of the few jokes that doesn't work. 

But there are plenty of other jokes in Men in Black 2 that do work, and they poke fun at Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and even Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein. Spielberg, of course, is the executive producer of Men in Black 2, and the movie has the jauntiness of his some of his past side projects like Gremlins and Poltergeist. 

There's no way of figuring out the plot in Men in Black 2, and you'll have to know something of the main characters from the first film to get it. But Will Smith is less pompous and much looser here than in say, Ali, and Tommy Lee Jones has got his straight man act down pat. The biggest stars of the movie though are Lara Flynn Boyle as an interplanetary temptress (who knew she could do comedy?) and Frank the pug dog detective, who has almost as many lines as the humans. The Academy Awards may have to invent a category this year for Frank and for Yoda from Attack of the Clones for scene stealing in the best sense. 

Fifth Beatle Gets Third Kidney 

Billy Preston was always known as the Fifth Beatle — he played keyboards on "Get Back" and appeared with the Beatles in Let it Be. Now I'm told that on May 10th he had a successful kidney transplant at St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles. 

Preston — whose many hits include "Will It Go Round in Circles," "Nothing from Nothing" and "That's the Way God Planned It" — has not had an easy time of it. Like a lot of other star musicians, he logged some prison time in the last couple of decades after his popularity waned. 

But recently his career has been on the upswing, including touring with Eric Clapton. According to manager Joyce Moore, it was in May 2001 that Preston "had a persistent chronic cough. He kept saying he was cold. He started getting more symptoms, pain in his legs., He couldn't walk. He didn't want to go to a doctor. He finally got so sick that they refused to let him get on a plane." 

Altogether Preston's stay in the hospital, Moore says, was mercifully short. He expects to be out working again in the next couple of months. 

Thin Red Line Producer Dead at Age 45 

I was shocked last night to hear about the death of producer John Roberdeaux. Although there is no formal obit Roberdeaux, according to friends, had a fatal heart attack in the lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel on May 6th. He was 45 years old. 

Roberdeaux was one half of a colorful pair of producing partners — Bobby Geisler being the other. Together these two Southern characters, whom I enjoyed despite their penchant for fancifulness, produced Terrence Malick 's Oscar-nominated Thin Red Line

Unfortunately, their experience with Malick became something of a scandal when a Vanity Fair article revealed that the director had them banned from the set. The enmity on all sides was so bad that Bobby and John were also kept away from Malick during the Oscars. 

In the years since there were more scandals. Always looking for financing, the pair was invariably involved in schemes that ended badly. They were sued for anything they were worth at one point, and it's unclear whether they lost or won or what happened. 

They also had a bunch of projects on the fire which they fully intended to finish cooking. Among them were the film version of The White Hotel, an adaptation of In the Boom Boom Room, and Senator John McCain's life story. 

Whether or not these things would really occur was not the point. Gloria Jones, the widow of Thin Red Line novelist James Jones, gave them the right to make Jones's novel Whistle even knowing what dreamers these guys were. She knew they were passionate, even if they weren't always grounded in reality. 

I see that on May 29th, knowing that Roberdeaux was dead, the New York Times decided to kill him again with a negative article about the McCain project, citing all of the pair's previous adventures in court for no apparent reason. If the intent was to say movie producers are bad people with shady pasts — well, my friends, there'd be no Broadway musical called The Producers or no documentary about Robert Evans called The Kid Stays in the Picture if that were not the case. Great movies have been made by total nut jobs. That's an old story. The fact is, no normal person would be able to put up with the stress. I guess John was more normal than anyone thought. 

I will miss John Roberdeaux tremendously, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to Bobby Geisler. My heart goes out to him. We've shared many fun breakfasts over the last four years at our little local coffee shop, Joe Junior's, here in Greenwich Village. John was a great story teller, very witty and deeply sincere — even when you knew that he and Bobby were hopelessly exaggerating a fact. I just hope McCain, who's a stand-up guy, lets him go ahead and make the movie. He won't find anyone who will care as much about the material.

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