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Lindsay Lohan Walks Out on 'Bill'

Lohan Walks Out on 'Bill' | Meryl Streep | Altman's 'Prairie' Is 'Nashville 2' — Sort Of | Jennifer Aniston Finally Gets a 'Break'

Lindsay Lohan Walks Out on 'Bill'

It’s both good and bad news for teen actress Lindsay Lohan, the most written-about starlet since Elizabeth Taylor was in “National Velvet.”

At last night’s premiere of Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” the word was that Lindsay had just walked away from the movie she was supposed to be shooting right now. Lohan is said to have bolted from “Bill,” an indie feature by first-time directors which also starred Aaron Eckhart and Amanda Peet.

Ironically, “Bill” is being produced by Greene Street Productions’ John Penotti and Fisher Stevens, who also oversaw “Prairie.” But Lohan is said to be concentrating on her next “next” film, the Garry Marshall-directed “Georgia Rule,” starring Jane Fonda and Felicity Huffman.

Someone in Lohan’s crowd told me last night at the overcrowded Hudson Hotel party, “She’s just going to stick to working with big-name directors now.”

Lindsay, by the way, told me that she and Meryl Streep each teared up during Picturehouse Films’ Bob Berney’s opening remarks last night at the Directors Guild Theater before the “Prairie” screening.

Berney read a letter to the star-studded crowd — including Streep, Lohan, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen and Jearlyn Steele, as well as film legend Lauren Bacall, famed writer Kurt Vonnegut and his photographer wife Jill Krementz — from the absent director. It seems that Altman is laid up on the West Coast with a bad flu bug.

“When he said our names, we both cried,” Lindsay said, even after producer Wren Arthur reassured her that Altman only had the flu, and that mixed with his heart medications, the 82-year-old was advised not to get on a plane.

Lindsay did wonder why Woody Harrelson wasn’t at the premiere, since he’d been spotted in Rome. But it was explained that he and his wife Laura had their third baby girl last night.

Lohan and Streep formed a special bond on “Prairie.” If you haven’t heard this apocryphal story yet, let it be repeated: Lohan was more than an hour late to work on her first morning of shooting “Prairie.” Streep pulled her aside and said, “Do you see that man? That’s Robert Altman. You don’t come late to his set.” Lohan was never late again, at least on “Prairie.”

I did get to meet Lohan’s mother, sister and brother last night. Dina Lohan — a real knockout, by the way — is very excited that Michael, age 18, a lacrosse star in high school, has been accepted by both Tufts University and Boston College. Before the family exited the Hudson party for a small dinner at Mr. Chow’s in Tribeca, Dina did tell me that Lindsay’s singing career has been put on hold, thankfully.

Young Lohan does warble a couple of tunes in “Prairie” with a lot of panache, but they are as unlike the two shrill albums she made for Tommy Mottola as possible.

“Universal Music just signed her for three albums,” Dina said, “but it’s going to be under Jimmy Iovine. They have to figure out what to do with her.”

Frankly, if Lindsay can translate her singing style from “Prairie” into something commercial, she might have a second career. And then those first two albums will just be strange collectibles.

Meryl Streep, on Her Knees

You don’t often see the star of a movie — or a multiple Oscar-winner — on her knees in the aisle of a theater at her own premiere.

But there was Meryl Streep, lovely as always in a sheer blue and cream summer dress, kneeling before Kurt Vonnegut last night. It was a sight to behold.

Before and after this extended moment, Streep — one of the most delightful, unpretentious show biz people in the world — was busy working the theater, shaking hands with everyone from NBC’s Brian Williams to producer Bonnie Timmerman.

Every other Hollywood type should take a lesson from this gracious woman, our finest living film actress.

Spotting Vonnegut, she got right down on her knees so that the 83-year-old writer would not have to stand.

“I hear you quoted in every graduation speech,” Streep said to Vonnegut, who rarely attends these functions. “And George Bush Sr. said in one of them that you gave the best graduation speech ever once. He quoted you, too.”

What did he think of George H.W. when they met, I asked?

“I thought he looked like Uncle Sam,” Vonnegut replied.

Garrison Keillor, who wrote “Prairie” from his famous radio show, also stopped by to see Vonnegut and Krementz before the show began (they loved it, by the way, and who wouldn’t?)

They traded a few bon mots, including Keiller’s observation about doing press junket publicity.

“You spend seven minutes with each journalist,” he told me. “It’s like being a prostitute.” Then he added quickly: “Not like I know what that’s like.”

After the screening at the Hudson party, I asked Keillor how he liked the movie.

“It’s painful,” he said.

Really? Everyone seemed to like the film, I replied.

“You asked me, and I told you,” he said. “Altman was working with novice screenwriters [meaning Keillor and his partner]. He had to do a lot of fixing to make our script into a screenplay.”

Altman's Prairie Is 'Nashville 2' — Sort Of

Picturehouse would do well to offer “A Prairie Home Companion” as a companion piece, if not a sequel, to Altman’s signature 1975 classic “Nashville.”

Even if the esteemed filmmaker doesn’t like the idea, this is exactly what he’s done by putting Keillor’s radio drama on film.

While “Prairie” lacks the political underpinnings of “Nashville,” it resembles the earlier film musically and in its interlocking stories of many characters.

Lily Tomlin, who starred in “Nashville,” returns here and nearly steals “Prairie” as Rhonda, sister of Yolanda (Streep), one of the singing Johnson sisters.

Even after all these years, Tomlin is a comic revelation, a deadpan delight. She can do no wrong; she can even sing, and that’s saying a lot, considering that nearly all her scenes are with the equally towering Streep.

The story of “Prairie” revolves around the selling of Keillor’s Minnesota radio station, and the new owner (Tommy Lee Jones) trying to pull the plug on the show after 30 odd years.

So it follows the last performance of “The Prairie Home Companion” on radio, with appearances by the Johnsons, a pair of raunchy singing cowboys (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) and real-life Virginia folk stars Robin and Linda Williams.

Through this, Altman weaves a few stories and a couple of oddball characters who would be right at home in “Nashville,” “A Wedding” or any number of his classic films.

Kevin Kline is another scene stealer as Guy Noir, a self-styled Philip Marlowe-type who works either for the station or Keillor (it’s never explained).

And Virginia Madsen, in her first important role since “Sideways,” plays the sexiest and most agreeable Angel of Death in movie history.

Each are typical Altman types, undefined and mysterious, yet pivotal to the story. “SNL” star Maya Rudolph — pregnant during the shoot with daughter Pearl — also puts in some time as Keillor’s wry radio producer.

(Factoid: Rudolph’s boyfriend is “Magnolia” director and student of the Altman “school” of filmmaking Paul Thomas Anderson, who the film’s insurance company insisted shadow Altman in case he needed help. He didn’t.)

If Altman never makes another movie — and he’s planning one right now, a fictionalized version of the documentary “Hands on a Hard Body” — “Prairie” would be a stunning culmination of all his work. There are so many riffs on other of his films that it’s kind of fun to watch — and interesting at the same time that he remains true to his art some 36 years after “M*A*S*H.”

“Prairie” is more Altman-esque than ever, with overlapping dialogue, overheard comments, encouraged adlibbing and delicious musical numbers.

It’s also his most charming film in years, and one that should not be missed. Streep and Tomlin may very well get Oscar consideration, as their interplay is one of the film’s many gifts. Kevin Kline has some mind-blowing pratfalls, too. Do not miss this film, please!

Jennifer Aniston Finally Gets a 'Break'

On Thursday I said this was Jennifer Aniston’s make or break weekend, with the poorly reviewed “The Break-Up” threatening to impinge on her movie career.

But “The Break-Up” managed to beat “X-Men: The Last Stand” on Friday night and cinch a three-day win with $38 million. “X-Men” came in about $3.5 million lower, although we don’t have to worry about Brett Ratner’s mutants: worldwide the take for is up around $260 million. It’s a monster hit.

“The Break-Up,” so reviled by most critics, made most of its money on Friday and Saturday. Numbers for yesterday were just estimates, but the projection was much lower. This could mean that word of mouth was poor after an initial rush by the US Weekly/Star crowd who were overfed Aniston-Vince Vaughn hype.

What does it all mean? First of all, there are no asterisks in movie stats. You either win a night or a weekend or you don’t. “The Break-Up” won, fair and square. The next questions are, does it have legs? Will people keep going? And, oh yes, is it a good movie?

The answer to all those is likely no. But for right now, that doesn’t matter. A year of pumping Aniston and Vaughn as a couple following the break up of Aniston’s marriage — coupled with the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie affair publicity and their baby’s birth in Namibia — has added up to curiosity translated into ticket sales.

Cynics in the crowd will now point to an eventual announcement of Vaughn and Aniston going their separate ways a la Penelope Cruz and Matthew McConnaughey.

That announcement late last week was brilliant. Of course, the fact that Cruz was the toast of the Cannes Film Festival for 10 days sans MM should have prompted someone to realize she was a single woman.

Her “date” wherever she went was director Pedro Almodovar, who is not interested in gorgeous Penelope for anything more than publicity and friendship.

This stunning beauty actually seemed kind of sad at Cannes. At the official premiere party of “Volver,” she was stuck sitting next to her rude agent all night at dinner.

When I asked her if she would spend at least part of the summer in Texas — where McConnaughey lives — her eyebrow arched as if I were a little nuts, and she replied, “No, no. I don’t think so. I will be in Spain.”

Hey, now that was a clue!

But Cruz was part of the last big publicity-made romance when she and Tom Cruise were assembled in a plant for their “Vanilla Sky” press run.

Like “The Break-Up,” “Vanilla Sky” was bad, but its ingredients were desirable. In the end, even though no one in the world understood a word of the movie, it still grossed $100 million domestically and another $100 million overseas.

Will anyone ever watch it again? Amazon.com currently ranks the DVD at No. 1,500.