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Nicole Kidman in Chains

Nicole in Chains John Lennon MusicalRocco's Partner

Nicole Kidman in Chains

Nicole Kidman's new, unusual film, "Dogville," won the night last night as far as star power and movie quality is concerned.

Kidman's three-hour Lars von Trier extravaganza screened in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan before Kidman, legendary actress Lauren Bacall, indie-movie star Patricia Clarkson and veteran actor Ben Gazzara, plus hot newcomers such as Gael García Bernal and Sam Rockwell, as well as artist-director Julian Schnabel.

Kidman, dressed in elegant black with silver cuffs, stole the night as usual, graciously working the press line and giving her all for what has to be the most psychedelic movie on her resumé.

I do know that she did it for von Trier — who does not travel from his native Denmark — but also for Interview magazine's Ingrid Sischy, who hosted the afterparty.

"Dogville" is the kind of film we used to love in the '70s, but now — with everyone checking box-office receipts every 10 seconds — is harder to get into theatres. Its length is daunting, and so is the concept. There are no real sets, and it looks like a theatrically staged play when it begins.

But this film — which every cinephile in the world will see, and then buy on DVD — is hugely involving, with a lot of drama and a real sense of humor.

It also boasts a terrific cast — Bacall, Gazzara, Clarkson, Chloe Sevigny, Stellan Skarsgård, Zeljko Ivanek and Blair Brown — with an unexpectedly great performance by Paul Bettany as the hero and maybe Nicole's love interest.

There's also a big payoff at the end with James Caan as Kidman's dad, a force to be reckoned with. After all these years, Caan is back. Who'da thunk it? With his TV show "Las Vegas" and this film, it's like he never went away.

"Dogville" has met with some criticism as being anti-American. It's not. It's an allegory, very much a rethinking of stories like "Our Town" and "The Lottery."

It also has one of the strongest scripts I can recall, with John Hurt narrating throughout the three hours. Kidman gives her best performance since "The Hours." If enough people see "Dogville," it's possible she will return to the Academy Awards next winter.

But it's to Kidman's and Bettany's credit that they pull this project off: They are never boring, always interesting, and make their characters — as well as the entire "Dogville" scenario — mesmerizing. You never take your eyes off of them.

And Kidman — well, you'll have to see it to understand — spends a great deal of the film with a kind of weird makeshift bear trap around her neck as she drags a weight. It's Nicole, in chains.

Today, Nicole is off to the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas with Glenn Close and Bette Midler, where they will show off scenes from their upcoming "The Stepford Wives." Then it's back to New York to continue shooting "The Interpreter."

Where are her children? On spring holiday with ex-husband Tom Cruise.

And yes, I know Bruce Springsteen made the party last night downtown for the Coen brothers' latest, a tepid remake of  "The Ladykillers" starring Tom Hanks. But even his appearance may not be enough for Disney, which is now handling mostly lukewarm-to-negative reviews for this oddball comedy.

Yesterday the Hollywood Reporter said that Hanks delivers "his most perplexing performance" and that the movie feels "out of kilter." With all of Disney's corporate problems so public, you'd think they'd be straining to make good public relations these days.

Alas, 'tis not the case. All I can say is, remember "The Alamo." It's only a few weeks away.

John Lennon Musical Revving Up

I told you here first, almost a year ago, that the music of John Lennon is heading to Broadway. Now I can tell you that show, directed by Don Scardino, will have a private workshop in a couple of weeks so that Yoko Ono and others involved can determine where it stands.

No casting has begun yet, and right now the big choice looming over the producers is whether or not to hire a book writer. Eric Overmeyer was supposed to supply a storyline for the show, but he told insiders recently that work Scardino has done stringing together Lennon's songs may be all they need.

What will be really interesting is seeing whether there's any reference to the Beatles or to Paul McCartney. When TNT had their live Lennon tribute in 2001, almost all of Lennon's pre-solo work was avoided or ignored.

Rocco's Partner: His Reality Show Was Jail

I'm continually surprised by stories here in the New York press about celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito and his ongoing legal battles with partner Jeffrey Chodorow. The pair went into business together for the NBC show "The Restaurant," but are now suing each other.

Chodorow is accusing DiSpirito of not running the business properly. But hey, wait a minute, Mr. Chodorow. In 1996, the United States of America took you to court because they thought you weren't running Braniff Airlines properly.

The result was that Chodorow spent four months in a federal prison and was put on three years' probation for lying to the Department of Transportation and bankrupting the airline not once, but twice, eventually killing it off for good.

Chodorow only escaped serving more jail time because he claimed his 10-year-old son had Tourette's Syndrome and needed him at home. Three years later the same kid was featured in the New York Times as an amateur wine expert in his dad's restaurant.

As if that weren't enough: Last April, Rush & Molloy reported in the New York Daily News that Chodorow's name was on the liquor license for a strip club in Manhattan that featured an escort service.

Maybe next time Rocco needs partners he'll do a little research. These stories are spicier than his sauces!

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