A lot of recording artists sue their old labels for back royalties and deserve to get them. But Michael Jackson may not fit into that category.
Jackson filed suit on Friday against Motown, which is now part of the Universal Music Group, claiming twenty-plus years of malfeasance in the accounting department. He claims that since a 1980 settlement with Motown he hasn't been paid properly and that his name, image, and likeness, as well as that of the Jackson 5, have been used without his permission.
This should be interesting. For one thing, Universal Music Group might have been a place for Jackson to go for a new record contract once his current problems with Sony are settled. On top of that, his personal manager and close friend, John McClain, works for UMG as a DreamWorks Records executive.
(Here's the back story in case you're interested: Polygram bought Motown from Berry Gordy years ago. Then Polygram merged with MCA, and they re-named the company Universal Music Group. Just FYI. When DreamWorks was founded by Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg, they became a label at UMG. Other UMG labels are Island DefJam, Interscope and Geffen Records.)
However, I am told by a former Jackson family company employee that Michael may be barking up the wrong tree with Motown.
"That deal was in cement when it was drawn up. It was the deal that allowed the Jacksons to go to [what was then] Columbia/Epic Records. The family actually had to pay Motown $2 million to get out of there."
So the question is posed: Has Michael sued Universal in hopes of a settlement? And would that settlement be a new record contract? If Jackson has some validity to his claims, one could see UMG's Doug Morris announcing a new three album deal with him. "Extortion" is such an ugly word. They would call it "doing business."
Some of the writing in the updated version of The In-Laws is conventional and not that interesting. But some of it is very, very funny. A little schizophrenic? Perhaps. But the answer is that comic genius Albert Brooks worked for months with the film's director as a script doctor.
He told me so last night at the film's elegant premiere.
"Look," he said, "I worked and worked and worked on it. We had to get it right. And I think we did. My favorite line is when my character is told by the villain that he's gay. And I say, Well, that's a big issue."
Brooks is right, and if you listen carefully through the film you will hear Brooks' smart comic patter. It's like a little gift hidden inside a box stuffed with old tissue paper.
The best news from Saturday night's premiere of The In-Laws remake is that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones' three-week-old baby isn't keeping the couple up in the middle of the night.
"I can afford a nanny!" Douglas said as a bit of joshing. "Seriously, it hasn't been a problem so far."
Indeed, the Oscar-winning actor looked rested, tan and blond. Zeta-Jones, however, was not at the premiere. I'll bet she was napping.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cast at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the film was present: Brooks, Candice Bergen, Robin Tunney, as well as the younger actors such as up-and-coming Ryan Reynolds.
They were joined at the screening by Meg Ryan, who came with writers Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi. Meg Ryan, dear tabloid readers and editors, looked sensational, just like a movie star.
The In-Laws is a remake of a solid 1979 comedy of the same name that starred Peter Falk and Alan Arkin as a spy and a dentist, respectively, whose children are getting married. Andrew Bergman wrote the script and Arthur Hiller directed.
The original movie wasn't an Oscar winner, but it worked and holds up pretty well. Let's just say that no matter how big a hit this In-Laws may become, the original will prevail over time.
The updated version now portrays the spy dad as a junior James Bond. To illustrate that, the producers used Paul McCartney's 1973 hit Bond theme "Live and Let Die" as their own opening musical number while Douglas and Tunney are busy outwitting bad guys.
For the life of me, I can't figure out why they did this. They say this version of the song is special because it's a never-heard version, but sounds just the same.
McCartney also has two more songs in the film: "I'm Carrying," a forgotten, lovely ballad from 1976, and "A Little Love," a cut widely heard on bootlegs from his Ram era circa 1971 but never before included on a commercial release.
Also from the McCartney oeuvre is Badfinger's "No Matter What." None of these tracks really fit the film, but if you're a fan, they're a lot of fun to hear.
Oscar nominees and real-life couple Salma Hayek and Edward Norton had a real dilemma yesterday afternoon. We should all be so challenged: Their movie premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival started at exactly the same time, 4 p.m. Hayek directed The Maldonado Miracle. Norton starred in a remake of The Italian Job. What would they do?
This is what they did: They went to the premiere of Miracle with members of their families and the Miracle cast and crew. In other words: Norton skipped The Italian Job premiere. He didn't say why, but actions speak louder than words.
Paramount forced Norton to do the Job contractually even though he didn't want to. There's good buzz on the film, but I guess the bad feelings were never mollified.
Peter Fonda and Mare Winningham are the stars of Miracle, and they were each at the premiere along with the rest of the cast. The film was produced by Showtime and will air in September. Salma made the movie after finishing Frida, when most actors would be going away to points unknown.
Was she any good as a director? Fonda, who's got a long list of credits, told me: "I told Salma next time I don't even need to read the script — just send a plane ticket and I'm there. She's that good."
Fonda is pretty damn good himself as a local priest who must adjudicate over the miracle of a Christ statue suddenly bearing bloody tears. As in Ulee's Gold, Fonda now has a Zen-like presence on film that recalls his father, Henry Fonda, but also shows a deepened maturity. I do think he has yet to have his biggest success. It's still out there.
Salma took questions from the audience after the screening, which was met with enthusiastic cheering. She talked about little tricks she made up for herself to get through the shoot, and practical jokes the cast played on each other.
"It was the best six weeks of my life," she said. "Considering that I never thought of directing. I was at Showtime for a meeting and they asked me to direct. I said 'no,' went into the bathroom and cried. No one has ever handed me anything me in my life. Then I came out and said 'yes.'"
When the movie airs in September, by the way, it will mark the singing debut of Norton, who vocalizes the song that closes the movie.
Just a reminder — the amazing pop singer Julia Fordham is doing us a big favor on the East Coast this week. Tonight she plays Annapolis, Md., then comes to New York for two nights at Joe's Pub. Then it's down to Alexandria, Va., on the 17th. If you haven't seen her, this is your chance. And do check out her new album, Concrete Love, which includes a duet with India.Arie.