Bill Murray | DreamWorks | Bettye Lavette

Bill Murray Movie Reunion Gets Ugly

Bill Murray's reunion with his "Lost in Translation" director Sofia Coppola got a little ugly last night.

Coppola had come to the premiere of "Broken Flowers," which Jim Jarmusch directed, and in which Murray plays it straight.

The Oscar-nominated actor was having a great time accepting much deserved kudos from the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Peter Hedges, co-star Jessica Lange and others.

Coppola came and sat on his lap at one point in a friendly gesture. That's when trouble started.

A photographer started snapping pictures, and Murray, who should have had a great night, snapped back. He was down the stairs and out the door in nothing flat.

He could have broken a track record he exited so quickly. Coppola was quick to do the same.

Nevertheless, "Broken Flowers" is a great success for Murray, Lange, Jarmusch, the folks at Focus Features and Creative Artists Agency agent Bart Walker, who helped pull it all together.

Winner of the grand jury prize at Cannes this year, "Broken Flowers" is nevertheless very American, and very much in the vein of Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt."

Murray plays a successful bachelor, a loner with a trail of broken hearts behind him. Thanks to a mysterious anonymous letter he receives, his character — named Don Johnston — goes on a bittersweet symphony of a sentimental journey into his past.

It may be Murray's best performance out of all his recent work, including "Rushmore."

"It's funny that you say that," he told me. "I thought I was done. I thought the last one was the best one."

He means it, too.

Jarmusch got a $10 million budget from Focus's David Linde and James Schamus , and got a supporting cast that's unheard of: Lange, Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton, Frances Conroy, Christopher MacDonald, Chloë Sevigny and Jeffrey Wright. They are a likely bet for the Screen Actors Guild ensemble prize next winter.

What's so nice is that Jarmusch gets out of all of them things that have been hidden or unseen for some time.

Stone, who wants so badly to be taken seriously as an actress, is a gem here. God bless her, she can really act.

Lange gives her earthiest performance in years, and her two main scenes really resonate throughout the movie.

Swinton, who's on screen for about a minute, is unforgettable.

The men hold up their end too. The dinner scene with Murray, Conroy and MacDonald is a classic bit of timing and nuance.

Jarmusch remains a cutting-edge independent director who's never sold out. He's best known for two great movies, "Stranger Than Paradise" (1983) and "Night on Earth" (1991). He's worked with Neil Young and did interesting work in his most recent "Coffee and Cigarettes."

But "Broken Flowers" is, I think, his best and most mature work yet. It's a film for people who haven't gone to the movies this summer or who liked "Crash" and "Batman Begins" and didn't know what to see next.

'Shrek' Creator in Shreds

The chaos at DreamWorks Animation is getting worse.

On Monday, the company filed notice with the Securities and Exchange Commission that on July 22 it materially altered the employment agreements for two top executives in relation to a third executive.

In the filing, DWA said that Katherine Kendrick and Katrina Leslie, general counsel and chief financial officer respectively, would now report to Chairman of the Board of Directors Roger Enrico and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Prior to this change, Kendrick and Leslie reported to Katzenberg and to Ann Daly, the chief operating officer. Now Daly seems to have been relieved of overseeing the other two women.

Perhaps coincidentally, Daly, Kendrick and Leslie are thought to be at the center of an SEC investigation into insider trading at DreamWorks Animation.

I reported in this space two weeks ago that on April 27, 2005, all three women suddenly sold off a total of nearly $5 million in company stock.

Two weeks later, DWA announced revised estimates for DVD sales of "Shrek 2," which sent the stock price plummeting.

Changing these agreements may be an olive-branch offering from DWA to the SEC as the investigation proceeds.

Today, DWA is trading at around $22.60, its all-time low since opening last October around $47.

This is either despite, or because of, a rumor that was floated in the business press Wednesday morning that GE/Universal was in some kind of talks to buy not DWA, but the live-action side of DreamWorks SKG, which is privately held.

That part of DreamWorks is now sitting on a potential disaster with a money-loser in "The Island," a $130 million feature that had a poor first weekend.

But a sale of DreamWorks to GE/Universal, while possible, also seems like a rumor we've heard before. In its early days, DreamWorks often floated that same rumor, and it appeared in print countless times without any result.

More recently, David Geffen, one of the three principals of the company along with Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, said in an interview that the company was probably worth $1 billion.

That may be something of an overstatement, however, considering that, aside from "Shrek" and "Shrek 2," DreamWorks has not had major hit in some time.

All of this is a little dispiriting considering the bravura with which DreamWorks was launched in 1995 by Geffen, Katzenberg and Spielberg. The company has had two Best Picture winners in "American Beauty" and "Gladiator," not to mention several other critical successes with "Saving Private Ryan," "Almost Famous" and "What Lies Beneath."

But something seems to have gone terribly wrong recently. News of this latest SEC filing may or may not be a signal of what's to come next. The company known for "Shrek" may be known as "Shreds" soon.

Letterman Soul

Don't miss it. Tonight, the great and legendary Bettye Lavette appears on "Late Show with David Letterman." She'll be performing a song from her new album, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise." The album is supposed to be amazing.

And don't miss Ellis Hooks' new album, "Godson of Soul." I love Hooks's voice, and Jon Tiven has written and produced for him one heck of a CD.

Trust me: Nobody has the money to send any gifts to deejays on the behalf of Bettye or Ellis. They'll just have to succeed on their own merits.