Jacko's Backo | Red Dragon | P Diddy | Thomas Harris | Natalie Imbruglia

Michael Jackson to Start New Record Label

Jacko's backo. He's starting a new record label with the backing of a company that changed its name today from ID Medical Group to Opus Media.

A music business Web site, Hitsdailydouble.com, speculated that Jackson might be involved when Opus issued a press release today stating that they'd gone into business with a major pop star.

But a check by Fox 411 into the financial filings of ID Medical shows that back in May, when Jackson was freaking out about money and Tommy Mottola, he was busy making the deal with Opus Media's Robert Gordon.

From ID Medical's May SEC filing:

"The Label Agreement contemplates that ToolTrust and MJJ Ventures will form a California Limited Liability Company to operate a music label, tentatively called "Neverland Records." ...

"The Label Agreement provides recording artist Michael J. Jackson with discretion to grant or deny approval of any artist seeking to sign a recording agreement. Mr. Jackson also shall have final approval of all creative elements in connection with master recordings and videos. Ultimately, however, Mr. Jackson's level of participation with the music label (or none at all) shall be determined at his sole discretion. MJJ Ventures may "opt-out" of the Label Agreement if the music label is unable to secure a distribution deal or the music label has not substantially satisfied any material goals set forth in its business plan. Mr. Jackson may opt-out for any reason after three years. In any such case, ToolTrust is obligated to buy out MJJ venture's interest in the music label. "

What's very strange about this endeavor is that ID Medical may be risking its profitable online medical identification business if Jackson's venture proves to be a failure.

According to the same filing:

"The Company is in immediate need of funding to complete the music label venture described above and to carry out day-to-day operations, including funding of the online medical records business. If the Company does not secure financing to sufficiently fund operations, it may lose all amounts paid to MJJ Ventures. There can be no assurance that financing will be available when needed or on terms acceptable to the Company. There can be no assurance that the Company will be able to continue as a going concern, or achieve material revenues and profitable operations."

And here's another update on Michael Jackson's new label: Word is that Jackson's producer Rodney Jerkins will be in charge of the label, which may be distributed by Clive Davis's J Records.

Gordon, the CEO of Opus Media, is excited about his new endeavor with the weird King of Pop.

They met when Jackson tried to get Gordon to direct market his charity single "What More Can I Give?" last year. "Michael had the single and no one at his record company would cooperate and release it," Gordon said. "McDonald's had pledged $30 million to market it, but Sony didn't want it to interfere with Michael's album." 

At last we have an answer for what happened to the infamous single. This column reported the McDonald's connection exclusively last October. 

"We work with a lot of non profits," Gordon continued. "We have access to over a million people we can direct market to. One conversation led to another, and we realized we could market records to those lists ourselves." 

Neverland Records will operate on two levels -- as direct marketing and in record stores, distributed by Clive Davis's J Records. Rodney Jerkins will run the label for Jackson. 

Gordon has not met Jackson, by the way. All the deals were done through Jackson's agents and lawyers. 

And Jacko will not be the only artist on Neverland. "We're talking to three or four platinum selling acts," Gordon said. "Established stars who want to be part of this plan." 

Gordon said he didn't know much about Jackson's financial situation but it didn't matter since an investment bank has signed on to raise the $35 million capitalization. 

Stay tuned, because you know it will only get more interesting.

Anthony Hopkins Bids Goodbye to Hannibal

Red Dragon is the last meal for Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. The Oscar-winning actor first played Hannibal the Cannibal in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs, then revisited the role in last year's Hannibal. On Friday he completes the trilogy with Red Dragon and that's it, he told me at last night's premiere. "People are saying this is the best one," he said, "and I agree. I loved Silence of the Lambs, but this one has something else." 

And no more Hannibal movies? "No more," he said. His next film will probably be for Dragon director Brett Ratner, playing Superman's father Jor-El. 

And what of Red Dragon? A remake of sorts of Michael Mann's much-respected, Manhunter, Dragon is also a prequel to Hannibal Lecter's story. I will tell you that, against all odds, Ratner has made a sensational movie, heads and tails above Hannibal and as good as Lambs in many respects. Lecter is a subsidiary character in Thomas Harris' first novel in the series. Ratner, producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis and screenwriter Ted Tally could have been persuaded to expand the role because of Hopkins. Instead, it turns out that the soupcon of Lecter offered here is plenty, and Hopkins gives a sizzling performance. 

But Dragon is something else -- a terrific ensemble piece with a lot of great actors. Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary Beth Hurt and Mary Louise Parker all do exceptional work as Lecter's first story unfolds.

Fans of Manhunter will see that the beginning and the end of the new movie are quite different than the original; the middle more or less follows the first movie's blueprint. Nevertheless, Ratner has made a supple, suspenseful movie that is thrilling and scary without being as grotesque as Hannibal. He deserves an award for that alone. 

Red Dragon opens Friday, and I've no doubt it will break all October records at the box office. Hannibal did about $75 million on its opening weekend. I expect Dragon to hit around $90 million. It's a bona fide smart piece of entertainment.

Expect some Oscar activity, possibly for Hopkins, Fiennes and Watson. Norton, who carries the film's plot, has the thankless job of being the piece's static hero while everyone else gets to act like there's no tomorrow. His character, Will Graham, may not be as much fun as the psycho killers abounding, but without him Red Dragon wouldn't have a moral compass. 

Universal Pictures threw a post-premiere party at New York's Grand Central Station that reflected the studio's confidence in the movie. The vibe was positive, and the stars mingled publicist-free with the civilian guests. Hopkins signed autographs and took pictures, Ratner entertained hundreds of members of his family from Miami, and Norton hosted 300 paying guests of his family's Enterprise Foundation, which funds low-cost housing in urban areas. The foundation was the brainchild of his late grandfather, the famous urban center builder James Rouse. (South Street Seaport and Faneuil Hall are just two of his creations.) 

P. Diddy Seating Scandal 

For a while it looked like Universal's premiere screening of Red Dragon at the Ziegfeld would be routine stuff --a little chaotic and late starting, but nothing else. When Sean "Puff Daddy P. Diddy" Combs arrived, he wandered around the upstairs lobby and hung around at the rear of the orchestra seating making cell phone calls. 

But peace was not in the cards. Evidently not happy with his assigned tickets, Diddy and friends took over seats that weren't theirs. In fact, they had been assigned to director Brett Ratner's grandparents, who showed up and found Combs reclining in their chairs. 

Security didn't know what to do, and all amounts of reasoning didn't help. Once Combs is in place, he does not move. The elder Ratners were moved to a new location, and Puffy -- who skipped the after party -- was able to relax in his plush velour track suit. 

"His sense of entitlement is unbelievable," said a Universal publicist. But after all, he's hosting the MTV Euro Awards next month. And the Ratners aren't. 

Hannibal Creator Is a Real Person 

We were a little shocked last night to see and to meet Thomas Harris, author of the Hannibal series. Harris, who also wrote the novel Black Sunday, doesn't do press or give interviews. He told me last night that he'd never been to a movie premiere before. I guess he knew this was the last hurrah for Hannibal Lecter, so he might as well. 

"I don't talk shop," he said. Harris, for the record, is about 6 feet tall, a little burly, with white hair that has mostly receded. Aside from not giving interviews he is otherwise very friendly, and looked a little shocked as people like Val Kilmer and Josh Hartnett floated by in the sea of famous faces. 

Harris's lovely wife did posit, "How many writers can say that all of their books have been made into movies, and good ones?" 

So I don't know if he's writing another novel, or if he's had some thoughts about terrorism (Black Sunday is about a terror attack at the Super Bowl). But it was good to know he's a real guy -- and a nice one, too. 

Imbruglia Imbroglio: RCA Sales Disaster 

How is this possible? 

Natalie Imbruglia's debut album sold 2 million copies, according to SoundScan. 

The follow-up, released last March, didn't even sell 10 percent of that number. Only 155,000 copies of White Lilies Island ever made it out of record stores. 

Is it possible that 1.8 million people disliked the first album so much they never wanted to hear her again? 

In my day -- the dinosaur days -- even the most mediocre groups were guaranteed some kind of career once they got a hit. Sure, there were famous one hit wonders -- but they were usually by manufactured or merchandised groups that didn't have a personality. 

Imbruglia looks like she's joining a long list of singer songwriters from the last five years who've been unable to duplicate their initial success. Paula Cole, Duncan Sheik, Lauryn Hill, Dionne Farris and Sophie B. Hawkins are just a few of the others. How strange.

In those dino days, so many artists flourished and had careers. It makes you wonder what would happen to James Taylor or Joni Mitchell if they were starting out today. Even Melanie -- who I guess Imbruglia is closer to in spirit -- had a bunch of hits.

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