Jacko Pays At Last Hour | Mariah Pulls Out the Big Guns | Vin Diesel Wants Respect | Getting Blunt

Jacko Will Pay Wages in 11th Hour

Michael Jackson's representatives waited literally until the 11th hour, but they've agreed to pay 3 months of back wages to Jackson's 69 employees at the Neverland Ranch.

Once the wages have been paid, The California State Department of Industrial Relations says, all fines and penalties will also be due.

A press release said: “The total amount in back-wages paid will be known when the payroll process is completed and we have verified Jackson’s records. DIR will then calculate the total amount in penalties and act to ensure they are paid. Verified back-wage and penalty amounts should be available early next week.”

But employees are not allowed back to work at Neverland until Jackson gets a workmen's compensation plan in place. Right now workers at the ranch — security, etc. — are being supplied by a different company than Jackson's.

My sources say that it was Jackson's sister Janet Jackson who came up with the money at the last minute. Jackson himself has not communicated with any of his employees or the State on this matter.

There are still pressing issues at Neverland,including the problem that the staff's health insurance plan ran out on February 28. It has not been reinstated, and the state can't enforce that. It's up to the employees if they want to work without it.

Mariah Pulls Out the Big Guns

Mariah Carey is not letting any grass grow under her feet, now that she’s a multiple Grammy winner with a monster-selling album.

Carey has added to her arsenal of protectors and defenders none other than New York record biz attorney Allen Grubman — the very same Grubman she fired in 1997 after splitting with her husband, former Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola.

The dope here is that Carey is still using her longtime legal eagle Don Passman, who guided her through the whole "Glitter" debacle and helped negotiate her $50 million payday from EMI Music.

But Carey, I’m told, feels that she was underpaid by Island/Def Jam for her "Emancipation of Mimi" album. The CD is not only the biggest of 2005, but the biggest of her long and illustrious career, selling millions of copies and yielding several hit singles. At a time when the record biz is dead, "Mimi" was the consistent chart seller week after week last year.

Passman, sources say, while good, does not have the inside track Grubman has with Universal Music Group’s Doug Morris. Only Morris can OK what should be a record-setting money deal for Carey. And only Grubman can get Morris to agree to something like that.

Irony abounds here, however: Grubman made his fortune and reputation on his close relationship with Mottola, who managed, recorded and married Carey until she divorced him. When Carey cut ties to Mottola, she cut them to Grubman as well. Bringing Grubman back is a surprise, but it shows that Carey is not fooling around, and isn’t letting personal feelings mix with business.

As a smart guy in the music biz said to me yesterday, "Remember, it isn’t the money, stupid. It’s the money, stupid." Duh! And Mariah is maybe the one artist this year who actually deserves it.

Vin Diesel Wants Respect — and Gets It

Maybe when you hear the name Vin Diesel, you think third-rate action star. Most of the films he’s been associated with — "The Fast and the Furious," "XXX," "The Pacifier" — are not exactly high-quality literature. They’re just throwaway fun.

All that changes this Friday with the release of Sidney Lumet’s "Find Me Guilty." Bob Yari Productions is opening this tasty New York mob drama on about 500 screens, so hurry and make sure you see it so you can say you got there first.

Lumet, who has nothing to prove, has a high standard from films like "Serpico," "Prince of the City," "The Verdict," "Q&A" and the classic "12 Angry Men."

"Find Me Guilty" manages to combine all the great moments of those films, and hits a groove that harkens back to the great "Playhouse 90" TV dramas of the late 1950s. It is just a beautifully done, gritty, realistic and captivating film that no one does anymore. It’s a real movie.

Diesel, who’s almost 39 in real life, plays the late Fat Jack DiNorscio, the real-life mobster who defended himself in the U.S.’s longest Mafia trial. When DiNorscio stood trial, he was in his 50s; he died last year at age 64. The case, with 20 mob defendants, lasted 21 months.

A member of the Lucchese crime family in New Jersey, Jackie, was already in prison on a 30-year sentence when he was indicted as part of this case. The feds offered him a sentence reduction if he’d rat out his pals. Instead, he joined them, and defended himself.

You can guess what happened. Without giving too much away, there is a happy ending — more or less.

Lumet’s cast is flawless; Ron Silver is the sympathetic judge in this massive case, Linus Roache is the prosecutor, Peter Dinklage is the attorney for the other defendants, one of whom is played by the marvelous Alex Rocco, who will always be remembered as "Mo Green" from "The Godfather."

Also featured are Anabella Sciorra, Raul Esparza and Richard Portnow. It’s like a "best of" New York actors.

And each one of them makes an unusual contribution: Dinklage ("The Station Agent"), for example, suffers from dwarfism, but his height is never mentioned in the film and you never think about it. He could be six feet tall. Roache ("Priest," "Wings of the Dove") is a highly regarded English actor, but you’d never know he wasn’t a New York Irishman after seeing him here. Ron Silver does his best work in years with a meaty performance.

Then there is the setting: Lumet is working in his favorite milieu, the courthouse, jail cell, etc. He’s also at the top of his long and fabled game. Working with his "100 Centre St." cinematographer Ron Fortunato, Lumet manages to recall and expand on his greatest scenes from "12 Angry Men" and his other courtroom classics.

I just loved the big panoramas of the defendants and their lawyers dining together, voting on courses of action to take, or simply arguing while the background TV set is to horse racing. You feel like you’re at the movies for a change.

And Lumet is also an expert at turning Diesel’s possibly unlikable mook Jack into an old-fashioned hero — something very "Marty," or "On the Waterfront." Vin Diesel — I mean, yeah, Vin Diesel — seems like he’s channeling Karl Malden, Ernest Borgnine and Marlon Brando all at once.

Last night’s premiere was held at the perfect spot, too — Gallagher’s Steak House on Broadway and West 52nd St. The crowd consisted of a lot of DiNorscio’s family and friends, all of whom loved the movie and were wide-eyed by Diesel’s performance.

"When I heard Vin Diesel was going to play Jackie," one woman said to the actor, "I said, Vin Diesel? Are you kidding? But you were great. He was great," she said to me.

The real Jackie’s oncologist introduced himself to Diesel.

"Jackie loved working with you on the movie," he said. "He knew you had it."

Vin hung out with a bunch of friends at Gallagher’s empty upstairs bar. He grew up in New York, the son of a black father and an Italian mother. His real name, which he doesn’t like to give away, is Mark Vincent. His production company is called One Race.

When he was starting out, he was a bouncer at iffy nightspots like Mars and The Tunnel. Lots of bad things happened in those places. That’s where he picked up the name Diesel.

Now he’s shaking his head. "I can’t believe what people are saying," he told me. "When I was making my movie" — a short film that he got into the 1995 Cannes Film Festival — "I used a book called 'Making Movies' by Sidney Lumet."

"I’ll best that’s the first thing you told him when you met him," I said.

Mark Vincent Diesel, newly minted actor with real credentials, replied with a grin: "And he told me, get ready for the master class."

He gets an A.

Getting Blunt

James Blunt, whose hit "You’re Beautiful" is bigger than a breadbox, plays Webster Hall tonight. His next album should be called "To Be Blunt" or "Hit by a Blunt Object"…

I’m haunted by the extraordinary black and white portraits captured by famed photographer Philip Trager in his newest book, "Faces" (Steidl). Directors of short films would do well to take a look for inspiration…

I did forget to mention that Jann Wenner read the Sex Pistols’ famous handwritten note declining their Rock Hall induction at the show. This is the note I told you about, which states twice, improperly: "Were not coming." We still don’t care. By the way, I do believe that Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ABC, Scritti Politti and Modern English are now all eligible for induction. John Mellencamp’s looking better every day, isn’t he?

Beware those Ides of March, kids!