Full Frontal | Mariah Carey | Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega | Carly Simon | Gavin DeGraw | An American Birthday

Star-Packed Full Frontal a Box-Office Dud 

Did you ever think Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt would make a movie and everyone would ignore it? Well, that's the case with Steven Soderbergh's unintelligible Full Frontal.

Last weekend, in a little over 200 theaters, it made less than $400,000. Its total so far is a million bucks. That isn't even enough to pay Julia's annual hairstyling bill.

What happened? The Miramax release was originally called How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire. It was supposed to be a sequel of sorts to Soderbergh's 1989 Miramax debut Sex, Lies and Videotape.

But from the beginning it was in trouble, especially after Sept. 11. It was then that the title had to be changed for obvious reasons. (An interim title was The Art of Negotiating, and then of course no one had any idea what the movie was about.)

To make matters worse, Full Frontal even includes an imitation of Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein by actor Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) who guzzles Diet Coke and makes reference to "my brother Bob."

Then there's the rest of the cast. Even though Blair Underwood, David Duchovny, Brad Pitt, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, and Terence Stamp all join Roberts in this thing, the plot -- or lack of it -- has made it a complete disaster.

The film is actually a film within a film within a film within a film, and that should tell you everything right there. For Soderbergh this would seem like some kind of inside joke after his run of more admired films like Traffic, Erin Brockovich and The Limey.

Sources say that because Soderbergh is executive producing Confessions of a Dangerous Mind at Miramax with George Clooney making his directing debut, the director was able to throw this little mess in as a side deal.

"Soderberg experimented too much and too much inside for even the insiders. No one wants to be that inside during the summer," says a Miramax source, who indicated that the studio has pretty much abandoned the film. I'm told it will be pulled shortly from theatrical release -- not that it's had such a wide one to begin with.

Filming of Full Frontal took only 18 days. And as a gimmick Soderbergh issued 18 rules to his actors before they started shooting. To name some of them:

1) All sets are practical locations.
2) You will drive yourself to the set. If you are unable to drive yourself, a driver will pick you up, but you will probably become the subject of ridicule. Either way, you must arrive alone.
3) There will be no craft service, so you should arrive on set "having had." Meals will vary in quality.
4) You will pick, provide and maintain your own wardrobe.
5) You will create and maintain your own hair and make-up.
6) There will be no trailers. The company will attempt to provide holding areas near a given location, but don't count on it. If you need to be alone a lot, you're pretty much screwed.
7) Improvisation will be encouraged.
8) You will be interviewed about your character. This material may end up in the film.
9) You will be interviewed about the other characters. This material may end up in the finished film.
10) You will have fun whether you want to or not. If any of these guidelines are problematic for you, stop reading now and send this screenplay back.

A rep for Julia Roberts, who is not the star of Full Frontal by any means, told me yesterday: "This was just a side project for everyone. It only cost $2 million to make, and it will earn its money back. It was never intended to be a big hit."

Meanwhile, over at Miramax's sister division, the money-making Dimension films, the Champagne corks are popping for Spy Kids 2, which is a bona-fide hit.

Mariah's Album Preview a Hit Under Tight Security 

If you were on the Isle of Capri the other day and saw a bunch of crazy Americans splashing in the Blue Grotto, I'll tell you who they were.

It was Mariah Carey and friends including Island Def Jam Records President Lyor Cohen, all celebrating after hearing tracks from Carey's new album. She's been recording in Capri for weeks, and the sessions are said to be a great success.

Some song titles have already hit the Web, including one called "Through the Rain," which may be the title track. I'm told that after playing the songs for European accounts, everyone who was invited to the session -- including Carey -- took a swim in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile it may be hard to get too much info on song titles and credits until right before the December release date. "We don't want what happened last time," a source said, referring to the theft of a Carey song by Jennifer Lopez during production of the Glitter album.

 Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega Show for Friend 

One of my favorite singers, Garland Jeffreys, has organized a wonderful benefit concert in the Hamptons for next Wednesday.

The show -- featuring Jeffreys, Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, and Phoebe Snow -- is for Denis Craine, a local activist and father of five who is suffering from debilitating Lou Gehrig's Disease. Craine is now confined to a wheelchair.

All the proceeds from the show held at East Hampton High School field will go to his family and to his medical bills. If this doesn't show you that the Hamptons are not all rich people backing up over each other, I don't know what will. Call 1-800-477-6849 to buy tickets.

They range from $30-$200. And PS, not only is Dr. John supposed to make a surprise appearance, but there's an outside chance a recently married British pop star from the '60s could stop by as well.

 Carly Simon's Got the Candy 

So there was proud mama Carly Simon last weekend at the Hot Tin Roof nightclub on Martha's Vineyard. I guess she's still a part owner after all these years.

And on stage, her son Ben Taylor with his new group. They've just released an album on sale on the Internet only, just like his sister Sally Taylor. For some reason those Taylor kids are staying away from the major record labels. They've watched their parents (James Taylor is their dad). They've seen fire, and they've seen rain, no doubt.

And Carly? She was busy distributing chocolate truffles to anyone who was waiting for Ben's show.

"She didn't seem very focused," says an observer. "She just went around chatting with strangers and handing out candy."

Carly joined the band on stage, but just to sing backup. She still has stage jitters even in this age of chemical fixes for hangnails.

James' sister Kate, by the way, introduced Ben's group, which is planning to tour sometime this fall. James Taylor, if you didn't know, also released a new album this week with most of his family and ex-wife singing along. It's called October Road.

 Gavin DeGraw: No Alicia Keys 

Gavin DeGraw's third and final show at Joe's Pub on Tuesday night: This is the 25-year-old singer from upstate New York whom J Records is hoping to groom into the next Billy Joel -- or Alicia Keys.

They might have a shot. DeGraw is likeable, lively and handsome, very much all-American and not the least bit objectionable.

But that may be the problem too. He has no edge whatsoever, just a very Michael Bolton-ish voice and a facility for playing keyboards. But what distinguishes him from any number of cabaret singers isn't entirely clear at this point.

He performed cover versions of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" (which oddly seemed to omit the title as a sung chorus) and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" as interpreted by Jeff Buckley.

Those three made a better impression than most of the original songs which, while competent, lacked the melodic hooks that J Records founder Clive Davis is famous for. What can I say? If someone -- Davis, a visionary manager -- could shape DeGraw a little more, they may have a hit. But right now, no obvious singles could be a problem for this talented, if slightly dull, new performer.

 An American Birthday 

Yesterday was my paternal grandmother's 95th birthday. She's not a celebrity to anyone but our family, but it seems like reaching this momentous occasion merits at least a gossip item.

She came to this country in 1913 at age 6, sailing on a ship called the Russia from Russia with most of her nine siblings, her parents and cousins. They spoke no English and only knew a couple of people in New York, where they settled in the Bronx.

Grandma Fritzi is, like so many of her generation, the embodiment of the American dream. She and my grandfather raised a family, built a business and rose to prominence in their community in Bridgeport, Conn.

Today she has few contemporaries to recall her birthday. When we celebrate this afternoon it will be all people much younger who do not share her early memories (although, believe it or not, her next oldest sister is still alive too).

Nevertheless, hers is a legacy of respect and love -- not only from her family but from the subsequent generations who knew her in her capacities running blood banks and scouting groups, and selling orthopedic shoes to Medicaid families in an inner city that crumbled around her.

She may not ever know about this column or this little story, but it would have been a shame not to stop and cite her today, on this momentous occasion. Happy Birthday, Grandma.

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