MadonnaDenzel Washington | Celebrity Democrats | Sean 'Puffy' Combs  

Madonna's Swept Away Exits Theaters Today

Today is the last day you will be able to see Madonna in Swept Away at a theater. So run, don't walk, because in the future you will be relegated to watching it on your DVD player.

At midnight, Sony's Screen Gems division will pull the plug and remove one of the biggest turkeys in history from its remaining screens after two highly embarrassing weeks.

Not many theaters are involved, since Swept Away was only showing once a day in many locations since last Friday — and that was to empty houses.

The Guy Ritchie-directed disaster is the absolute worst in a series of movies starring Madonna that have ranged from mediocre to mortifying. The movie is more than likely a $40 million write-off for its producer, Matthew Vaughn, who also happens to the husband of supermodel Claudia Schiffer. Vaughn is also the purported son of actor Robert Vaughn.

(He was born, by the way, the same year Carole King's Tapestry album broke chart records, so what do you expect? I have sneakers older than that.)

Still, the bad reviews and lack of audience have not stopped Madonna from plotting her next movie. Reports are that she's writing her own autobiographical comedy. Oy vey! Madonna, please, please, please — cease and desist.

Denzel Hits Home Run as First-Time Director

Well, it's Denzel Washington's year. In March, he won the Oscar for Best Actor for his work in Training Day. Now he's directed his first feature film, and from what I saw yesterday, it's a hit — right out of the ballpark.

Antwone Fisher, which Fox Searchlight (they're related to Foxnews.com by marriage) is releasing for Christmas, is absolutely a 10-hanky tearjerker that launches the careers of young actors Derek Luke and Joy Bryant.

I mean, I hope it launches their careers, since there are few serious roles out there for young black actors.

But in the meantime, we can revel in Washington's triumph. Not only does he direct the film, but he also co-stars in it. I'll tell you now that the film, the director and the actors will be making all the short lists at the end of the year for Best this-and-that.

In fact, I would not be surprised if Derek Luke, the unknown 28-year-old star who previously worked in the gift shop at Sony Studios in Culver City, finds himself with a bunch of nominations. He is a revelation as the title character.

Antwone Fisher, as I told you the other day, is a real person who is now in his 40s. He grew up in foster homes, the subject of horrific abuse. He didn't know his parents; his father died and his mother gave birth to him in prison.

Eventually, he joined the Army, and then became a prison guard. Hating that job, he went to work in security at Sony. He kept pestering studio producer Todd Black to look at the script he'd written about his life. When Black, who was impressed, couldn't get Sony's interest, he sold it to Fox.

Fisher subsequently wrote a book that graphically recalled his story. The screenplay version is "inspired by" the book, with several changes. For one thing, the movie is not graphic about Antwone's child abuse, but conveys it in just enough detail that we get the picture. It's not pretty.

In other hands, with a less talented cast and cinematographer, Antwone Fisher might have come across as a TV movie. But the various elements click, and there is magic. Washington turns out to have a great eye for detail and a real feel for directing. He also isn't bad as Antwone's Navy psychiatrist, a role similar to Robin Williams' in Good Will Hunting or Judd Hirsch's in Ordinary People.

Still, Washington and Luke have a very appealing father-and-son camaraderie, and this is one of the few films I can think of where nearly all the characters are African-American. They don't rap or talk jive, either. They aren't stereotypes, and everyone is treated with respect.

Does that sound boring? It isn't. You will be completely invested in Antwone's story, and even a bit on the edge of your seat to know how it turns out.

Antwone Fisher is the third excellent Christmas release movie I've seen in the last few days. The other two were Rob Marshall's Chicago and Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven.

The latter film and Fisher happen to share a very hot, up-and-coming, Tony-winning actress named Viola Davis. In Heaven, she's the family maid; in Antwone, she's Eva, the mother. She has few lines in either, but has enough of a presence in both that she makes an impression. Look out for her.

I know I promised it for today, but more tomorrow on the exceptional Far From Heaven.

Celebrity Democrats Overschedule Themselves

Next Tuesday will be a difficult night for New York's liberal and celebrity Democrats. In what could be a nightmare for the Hollywood and Washington set, two different big-time events may wind up canceling each other out.

The first is advocacy group the Creative Coalition's big First Amendment gala at the Hammerstein Ballroom, called Seconding the First. This one features Elvis Costello and Lou Reed as well as a slew of A-list stars including Ed Asner, Christopher Reeve and many Sopranos.

At the same time, Art 2002, an auction to raise money for the Democratic Senate campaigns, will be underway with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy as co-hosts at Exit Art on lower Broadway. I call this to your attention because Republicans and Independents are often seen at the Dems's art auctions — the values are incredible for ordinarily expensive pieces.

Puffy Signs New Edition — Remember Them?

Sean Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, made a big deal this week by announcing he'd signed New Edition to his Bad Boy Entertainment. However, he didn't sign Bobby Brown as part of the deal, which means he nabbed five of the group's original six members -- Ralph Tresvant, Ricardo Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronald DeVoe and Johnny Gill.

When Brown split New Edition for a solo career years ago, Bell, Bivins and DeVoe formed the popular group Bell Biv DeVoe.  The new group had one big hit album that I remember fondly, before their career sputtered.

But wait — to what exactly did Puffy sign the reunited NE? Bad Boy Entertainment remains without a label and distribution deal after months and months of drifting.

Expelled from the BMG Bertelsmann family, Bad Boy was supposedly headed to Sony Music. That scenario didn't take, and neither did others with Warners and EMI.

So the question remains: How will Puffy distribute the new CD by these 30-plus-year-old former boy stars?

Meanwhile, the New York Post's Page Six reports that some unknown benefactor is paying for Puffy to have a wildly expensive birthday party in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Nov. 4. Could this be the European brewer said to want to help take Bad Boy independent? I guess we'll have to wait and see.