Tom Cruise has a big problem. You might say, yeah, I’d like some of those problems: He’s considered the top movie star in the world (by someone, not sure who, but OK, it’s the conventional wisdom); he’s got millions and millions of dollars; he was married to Nicole Kidman; he’s having a baby with the girl from "Dawson’s Creek." Sounds good to the Average Joe.
That’s what Cruise has to count on now: that the typical moviegoer has ignored every public encounter with Cruise in the last year, and that they really just want to see his new installment of "Mission Impossible."
The $200 million-plus popcorn adventure is being released on May 5, and as an added bonus, Cruise’s baby with Katie Holmes is due on or about that day.
It’s the ultimate tie-in, and an amazing achievement considering that one year ago today, Cruise and Holmes did not even know each other.
Do you remember all those times the late wild-man producer Don Simpson used to say Cruise was a genius? He may have been right.
But back to Cruise’s problem: he’s got to sell "M: I3." So far, there’s only a short teaser trailer to go by, and the American version relies heavily on recent Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain.
Hoffman looks good, but Cruise’s role seems vague. The only interesting thing about him is that he has a romantic interest who looks a little like … Holmes.
In the last few days, Cruise has hit a major speed bump in the "M: I3" campaign. Whether it’s true or not, the public now believes that he somehow convinced Comedy Central to pull an episode of "South Park" that mocked him and Scientology.
This comes on the heels of another and similar case of Cruise censorship that swept through the press: that Cruise got the producers of the film "Thank You for Smoking" to clip out Holmes’ sex scene montage before the movie was shown at Sundance.
Whether it’s true or not, Holmes has been completely absent from the "Smoking" publicity, avoiding all the premieres and press junkets.
Add all of this to the last year of Cruise-iana: his jumping around on Oprah’s couch, the fight with Matt Lauer over the history of psychiatry, the fact that Holmes — in signing with Cruise "personal" notes to new Scientology inductees — appears to have been in some way co-opted by Cruise.
The stories are pervasive, and not just in the supermarket tabloids. Michael Jackson can tell you that when you’re a punch line on a sitcom, the party is over.
Last fall, on one of those ABC comedies, one of the characters zinged by another by referring to Cruise as "scary." OK, that’s scary, if you’re about to release a $200 million movie.
Aside from the two previous "Mission: Impossible" movies and "War of the Worlds," Cruise has not been much of a box-office blockbuster.
"War," to set it aside, had the added advantage of being a Steven Spielberg movie with incredible special effects. It took in around $230 million, the same as the "Mission: Impossible" movies.
But regular Cruise dramas have had middling results. "Collateral," "The Last Samurai" and "Vanilla Sky" were each $100 million movies. Of course, you have to remember that Cruise likely got $20 million off the gross on those. That doesn’t leave much of a profit margin.
So "M: I3" suddenly takes on a new importance. Sometime in the next nine days, a PR machine is going to have to rev up. Cruise will be forced to come into full view and submit himself to a lot of questions posed by strangers. You may recall that last year, one of those strangers, quite rudely, squirted him in the face with a water pistol. Cruise responded angrily.
The episode revealed a small tear in his armor. And that was just three weeks after "Oprah," and a few days before the fight with Lauer (my guess is we won’t be seeing a "Mission: Impossible" segment on the "Today" show.)
If the "South Park" business and the missing "Smoking" clip are just the beginning, then either Cruise has to learn to find a new way to deal with the public while he’s out promoting "M: I3," or Hoffman is going to find himself doing more publicity than ever this spring.
Diddy’s protégé, Fonzworth Bentley, will release an album in June. But it won’t be on Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, which desperately needs a hit since the new Warner Music Group put $10 million into it.
No, Bentley’s album will be released on Kanye West’s label, GOOD Music, which is distributed by Sony. Hmm ...
Bentley, the best-dressed man in any direction for 50 yards, told me a little about his upcoming recording last night at the premiere of Spike Lee’s innovative heist picture, "The Inside Man."
Bentley was wearing a custom-made suit and shirt, accented by a wide, red-striped cashmere tie. He was the picture of well-turned out, more Gatsby than either Diddy or Jay-Z at their most bespoke.
The tie, Fonzworth told me, comes from an uptown store called Jay Kos. Custom-made suits start at $2,500.
"It’s a haberdashery. You know what that is?" he asked. "A bakery?" I responded. He was kidding.
(So was I. My gray suit, proudly purchased at the Bernini Outlet in Culver City, Calif., last spring, cost $200. I bought two. My late high school economics teacher used to say, "If you see a haircut for a $1.50, get as many as you can.")
It turns out that Fonzworth plays the violin and writes music. Who knew? Not Sony/Epic’s Charlie Walk.
"He nearly fainted when he heard me," Fonzworth said. He’s still finishing the album, but all the music is written by him. Kanye and Andre 3000 are among the guest performers.
But there is very little sampling, Bentley insists, of other recordings, which is the norm in hip-hop. It’s mostly original, although the single he did with West is based on yet another obscure Natalie Cole record. West has a PhD in obscure soul hits of the '70s.
So why isn’t the album on Bad Boy?
"Kanye heard what I was doing, and really liked it," Bentley said. "I told Diddy and he was like, 'You should go there. They’ll take good care of you.’ Everyone thinks he’s a control freak, but he’s not. That shows it. And we’re like family."
I have a good feeling about Fonzworth Bentley, maybe because of the cashmere tie. But so far, he’s a self-made phenomenon, and he’s kept it all very level. He’s an American success story. I say, let’s root for him.
I was relieved to see that B.B. King’s in New York was full to capacity last night for the Wilson Pickett memorial.
Not only did about 20 members of his family show up, but so did Ben E. King, Southside Johnny, the Commitments, Jimmy Vivino and Wilson’s own band, the Midnight Movers, along with a wild little frontman who shouted out many of Wilson’s hits.
I do feel though that Vaneese Thomas, daughter of Rufus, sister of Carla, stole the show with "I’m in Love." It was the epitome of soul, sung with a voice that channeled everyone from Aretha to Carla and Dinah Washington. Someone put Vaneese Thomas on a regular record label, for God’s sake. She’s the stuff.
And Southside Johnny’s duet with Vivino on "634-5789" made me want to dial that number right then. Luckily, there’s no cell signals in B.B. King’s.
Wilson’s managers, Margo Lewis and Chris Tuthill, did a fine job giving Pickett a sensational send off. After the show, his eldest daughter, wiping away tears, said she hoped no one would forget her father. Well, no one told any of the good stories — how many times Wilson threatened to kill people, tried to, ran amok, got in trouble, and had to get out of it.
But between the legend and the reality — he was second to none in making R&B an art form — I doubt we will ever forget the very wicked Pickett. Amen.