HBO Scores Another Hit

You may have noticed that HBO’s reputation for launching hit series has taken a bit of a hit lately.

I know some folks love "Deadwood" (deadly, I think) and "The Wire" (sorry, fails to hook me), but may I remind you of the self-conscious "K Street?" (Oh, those interminable James Carville/Mary Matalin scenes!) How ’bout the smarmy "Mind of the Married Man"? (All men wanna cheat – now that’s funny, ladies, isn’t it?) Or what of the inexplicable "Carnivale?" (And we’re watching circus freaks why?)

I point these out not to taunt the good folks at HBO, but to say, 'congratulations' on the triumphant return of your creative mojo! HBO’s latest series, "Entourage," is a terrific half-hour comedy loosely based on the life of Mark Wahlberg – yes, six-pack-abs rapper Marky Mark turned big screen hunk ("Boogie Nights," "Three Kings"). Wahlberg is a producer of the show.

Newcomer Adrian Grenier plays the Wahlberg-esque lead role, a hot young actor named Vince Chase, who’s experiencing the rush of Hollywood life with an entourage of buddies from his hometown of Queens, NY. There’s Eric (Kevin Connolly), whose career advice Vince trusts more that his agent’s (played by Jeremy Piven, hilariously rabid as always); half-brother Drama, a C-level actor who’s continuously eclipsed by Vince (kudos to a fabulous Kevin Dillon for taking this role – a gutsy move when comparisons to his real-life relationship with brother Matt Dillon will inevitably be made); and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), the lackey who’s always looking for a good time. Great pedigree behind the scenes includes, most notably, writer Larry Charles of "Seinfeld" fame.

HBO premiered the first two episodes on Wednesday at a theater in Times Square, followed by an after-party at the hot downtown hotel Maritime. A couple of quick observations: The series isn’t even on the air yet – it premieres July 18 – and already the young guys in the show can’t help but act like the hot-shot characters they play! As they filed out of the theater, each either went immediately for his flip-phone or stood surrounded by his own posse of hangers-on. The exception was Kevin Dillon – more seasoned than the others, he had the confidence and old-fashioned charm to show up in a blue and white sear-sucker suit. He’s gracious and kind – really a gentleman. Actually, lead actor Adrian Grenier also seemed sweet. And he is beautiful – in a few weeks he’ll be all over every magazine.

As good as the series is, the big buzz of the night came from an unexpected appearance by someone with no relation to the project whatsoever. Love him or hate him, "Fahrenheit 9/11" director Michael Moore inadvertently stole the show. He walked into the theater with Larry Charles and, let me tell you, those two are hard to miss. Moore, I’m sure you’re aware, is a portly guy who always wears a baseball cap. Charles has a long gray beard – I’m talkin’ ZZ Top, Rip Van Winkle long – and was wearing a blue, one-piece jumpsuit like an auto-mechanic’s and a rainbow-colored Rastifarian beret. Not your average Joes, these two.

Anyway, when the audience spotted Moore walking in, everyone applauded (this was an entertainment industry crowd, most of whom are Moore constituents). Leaving the theater, Moore was mobbed by passersby on 42nd street. Lots of folks asked for his autograph and shook his hand – certainly many more than had approached Mark Wahlberg or anyone else associated with that night’s screening.

I didn’t see Moore at the after-party, but I did see ex-"Friend" David Schwimmer, who came along, I am told, because he’s friendly with the "Entourage" creator, Doug Ellin. Schwimmer’s hair looked weird – he was going for some trendy, wispy look, but I digress. Actor Vincent Curatola, the inimitable Johnny "Sack" on "The Sopranos" and a good friend to Fox News, was also there, with his beautiful wife Maureen.

So, check out "Entourage" on July 18. You’ll find this glimpse of Hollywood excess truly addictive.

Cinema for Adults: "The Clearing"

Caught a screening of "The Clearing," a quiet, suspenseful film in which Robert Redford plays a wealthy executive kidnapped by Willem Dafoe – who once again proves he can play a creepy, hopeless loner just about better than anyone else. As Redford’s wife, Helen Mirren must piece together the mystery of her husband’s abduction – as well as her own weakened marriage – with the aid of intrusive FBI agents.

The film is a slow burn, but it’s refreshing to see a movie that relies solely upon – gasp – dialogue and emotion. Not only are there no special effects, there are also few location changes. This is a film by adults, for adults, which is while I feel a little guilty offering criticism that may seem, well, childish: I fear that the film’s one distraction may be Redford’s appearance. There, I’ve said it – and although I know it’s been said by others before, it’s getting serious! I’m not a fan of plastic surgery, but movie-goers may spend more time analyzing the transformation of Redford’s aging face than the plot twists in the film. I hope I’m wrong. In fact, forget I even brought it up.

Sean Combs: The Bad Boy's Done Good

I’m coming a bit late to this one, but I’ll throw in my two cents anyway. Most of you probably know that it was a big deal here in New York when Sean Combs, aka rapper P. Diddy, made his Broadway debut a few weeks ago in Lorraine Hansberry’s play "A Raisin in the Sun."

With all the bravado that a "Bad Boy" hip-hop star can muster, Combs jumped into the lead role of Walter Lee Younger, originated on stage, and then in film, by the great Sidney Poitier. Reviews for Diddy were generally OK – due mostly, I think, to most critics’ low expectations. Combs is in the show only until July 11, so I caught it before he bails.

I’d have to agree that Diddy did himself proud. Poitier he’s certainly not, but he gave a respectable performance for what is a tough, emotionally charged role. And, boy, Phylicia Rashad deserves that Tony; her pivotal scene simply rips your guts out.

The curtain call was jubilant. A standing ovation, with Combs kissing costars Rashad and Audra McDonald, pumping his fist in the air, and the entire cast clapping with the audience, waving and stamping their feet.

You’ve got to give it to Combs, ever since he beat his gun wrap (but lost his love, Jennifer Lopez), he’s been on serious image patrol: "Monster’s Ball," the Sean John clothing line, MTV’s "Making the Band," his New York Marathon run for charity, and now Broadway – the bad boy's done pretty good.