Miramax | Neverland | Passings

Miramax's 'Great Raid': Not Bad

Miramax's "The Great Raid," three years and $75 million later, is here at last.

John Dahl, more famous for films noir such as "The Last Seduction," "Red Rock West" and "Rounders," directed it.

Joseph Fiennes (of "Shakespeare in Love" and "Elizabeth" fame) is the star, and Mark Consuelos (husband of Kelly Ripa and formerly on "All My Children") makes his big-screen, big-budget debut.

"The Great Raid" has been on release schedules at Miramax more often than Paris Hilton has been in the tabloids. You'd have thought it was a turkey, right? Wrong.

It's no "Saving Private Ryan," but "The Great Raid" is a solid World War II movie, told artfully and well. It also happens to look great, which is no mean feat.

Last night Miramax — or what's left of it — gave "The Great Raid" a premiere on the USS Intrepid, docked off Manhattan's West Side.

Former U.S. senator from Georgia Max Cleland, a real American hero, was the guest of honor. He spoke eloquently from his wheelchair after telling me that he would back Sen. John Kerry in another run for the presidency in 2008.

"There's a lot of support for Kerry, and we'll get it right this time," he said.

Harvey Weinstein introduced himself as "co-president of Miramax ... for the next 40 days," and got a big laugh.

On October 1, he and his brother Bob will launch The Weinstein Company, with a billion dollars in financing and at least one certain Oscar-caliber movie, Stephen Frears' "Mrs. Henderson Presents."

Eminem was supposed to show up, either at the party or the screening or both. Needless to say, he was a no-show, which was just fine.

But you'll be interested to know it was his people who called Miramax to set up the appearance, I'm told.

"He needs publicity for his new album," someone said. We'll have to look into that.

Ripa came with Consuelos, even though she had to leave early to do that morning show she does, the one with Regis Philbin. Mark told me he'll be her guest co-host on Friday, substituting for Regis.

"I have to remember not to use any curse words," he told me. "I'm always forgetting not to use the F-word."

Consuelos, in addition to "The Great Raid," stars in the Lifetime series "Missing."

But let's cut to Fiennes. In the fall of 1998, he was the toast of the town. I reminded him last night that at the premiere of "Shakespeare in Love," a swanky affair at the Carlyle, he looked like a deer in the headlights of a Mack truck.

How times have changed! Last night Fiennes could not have been more different. He took pictures with anyone, talked to everyone and even invited some friends (Joel Hopkins, the director of a terrific 2001 indie film called "Jump Tomorrow," and his wife).

Back then, the press thought Fiennes was kind of a cold fish. Did he know it, looking back?

"I came from the world of the theater," he said, "and I didn't know anything about this. I was very concerned about doing the publicity."

He admitted he was a bit scared. Now Fiennes has a more daunting prospect ahead of him: he's about to co-star on stage on London's West End with his brother Ralph's longtime lady friend, Francesca Annis.

"Epitaph for George Dillon" is a recently rediscovered play by John Osborne ("Look Back in Anger") and Anthony Creighton.

Fiennes and Annis have a love scene. But it's the wrong Fiennes. Rehearsals start in a few days, even though Annis and the other Fiennes have gone on holiday to Italy first.

"I've got to get home and start memorizing my lines," Joseph said, as fans at the party swarmed him. He took pictures with each and every one.

And what of Dahl? Well, he's alive, and "The Great Raid" comes out Friday. But he's going back to film noir. War was hell.

Neverland = Wasteland

No one's home at Neverland.

Michael Jackson's 2,700-acre ranch and amusement park is empty of visitors, sources tell me. The once populated theme park has come to a standstill. Gone are the celebrities, the fans and the children's groups that used to come through on a steady basis.

Jackson, of course, is in Bahrain, with no plans to return anytime soon.

Up at the ranch, though, it's just the remaining employees who come and go on a daily basis. Their estimated number is down to around 50, down from a high of 120 in Jackson's heyday. Several employees quit during the last few weeks of the trial this spring.

No family members are at Neverland, either. As I reported earlier this week, Jackson's protégé, Omer Bhatti, 20, has joined him in Bahrain as his assistant.

Among the remaining Neverland employees is a new head of security. His name, ironically, is Bashir, same as the man whose documentary had a role in Jackson's trial.

This Bashir, whose last name is Muhammad, is said to be a member of the Nation of Islam. He is not too popular among the staff, from what I'm told.

Said one longtime staffer: "He thinks he knows everything and likes to stick his nose in where it's not wanted. At first he thought he was going to come in and clean house, but he's calmed down since then."

Neverland regulars do not have any idea when their master may return from Bahrain. In the meantime, some repairs are going forward.

But Neverland, according to my sources, is in bad shape, and really not spiffy enough to entertain anyone. One of the trains still doesn't work, for example.

"We're all just waiting to see what happens," said one of the dwindled staff.

Passings: Judy Rossner, Barbara Bel Geddes

We lost two great ladies yesterday.

One was a friend of mine from way back. Judy Rossner, who was 70 when she passed away Tuesday night, wrote the famous novel "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," which became the famous movie of the same name.

Judy tapped into the zeitgeist of single New York in the pre-AIDS '70s, and things were never the same. Women are still looking for Mr. Goodbar, and New York nightlife — though tamed by time and disease — still reflects Judy's perceptions.

Judy's other terrific novels included "August," which addressed all the New York shrinks who took the month off, and "Attachments," about two pairs of Siamese twins (this was long before the Farrelly brothers).

She was a founding member of the Writers Room in Greenwich Village, where I met her in the early '80s. But by the end of the decade, she was suffering from numerous illnesses that caused problems with her memory.

One member of the Room said yesterday that it was remarkable that Judy had become a world-known best-selling author. She pulled herself up by the bootstraps and was totally self-made.

She was serious about her work in a way that many fiction writers today, I think, are not. She didn't have time to waste on roman à clefs; Judy had psyches to tap into. That's why her work will last long after most contemporary New York fiction.

Barbara Bel Geddes died yesterday at age 82. You know her as Miss Ellie from "Dallas." But rent Hitchock's "Vertigo" to see her as a young beauty.

Bel Geddes, whose father Norman Bel Geddes was a famous industrial designer, was a class act.

In the mid-'80s, when I was a book publicist, I sent her a book about heart bypasses — she'd had one that year — and she sent back a personal handwritten thank-you note. I've kept it all this time because it was so nice and unexpected.

By the way, she was the only cast member of all those '80s nighttime soaps to win an Emmy award. Rest in peace.