"Dreamgirls" premiered last night at the Ziegfeld in New York — and Jennifer Hudson got a standing ovation in the middle of the movie when she finished singing "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going."
When the film was over, there was another standing O, and the entire audience stood still and watched the main end credits.
Co-star Beyonce was long gone by then. She worked the red carpet, did her publicity and then split with boyfriend Jay-Z. She told me she'd rented a private plane and was ferrying him off for a birthday surprise. Insiders were split on whether they went as far as St. Bart's or only Atlantic City.
But Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Hudson, writer-director Bill Condon and a huge number of Paramount-Viacom officials (starting with Brad Grey) were all in attendance. So were Queen Latifah and a lot of other guests who were bowled over by the film.
Yours truly was also pleasantly surprised, since "Dreamgirls" had been slightly edited and reworked since my initial review on Nov. 15. It's even better now, if that's possible.
After the movie, the crowd headed to Gotham Hall on Broadway, but Foxx and Latifah took a group farther downtown to Gin Lane on 14th Street to keep the celebration going past 1 a.m.
Jamie was in fine form and Queen La had praise for the whole cast, but if anything else happened, we'll have to read about it in the tabloids. Some people have jobs!
At the Gotham, Murphy — sure to be nominated for all the awards in his role as soul singer James "Thunder" Early — told me something interesting.
"That's not my singing voice you hear," he said. "I'm acting. My real voice is like it was on 'Party All the Time' [his hit record from the 1980s]." "It's up here," he said as he gave me a few notes. "But in this, I had to [do] all kinds of singing. That's my character."
Murphy's Early is part James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Marvin Gaye all rolled into one. It turns out Eddie used to live on the same street as Pickett in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. They never really met. But Pickett was such a character that everyone knew him. Legend has it he had to leave town after running his car across the mayor's lawn.
"We knew he was there," Eddie said.
I asked Murphy if he'd ever seen an audience react to a movie like this before.
"Never at a premiere," he said, a little stunned.
He told me he's not going to get excited until (or if) he's nominated for something. So stay tuned, because January should be a wild month for the ex-"Beverly Hills Cop."
More tomorrow on Hudson, who still doesn't realize what's happening, and the rest of the "Dreamgirls" saga.
And here's a little more soul music news: tonight, the great Sam Moore performs "None of Us Are Free" with none other than Sting on "The Charlie Rose Show" (check local listings).
Sting also sings back-up with Sam on "Soul Man," and Sting himself performs two numbers from his "Songs from the Labyrinth" album with lutenist Edin Karamazov. It's a are musical treat for Charlie's show.
Penelope Cruz won the Best Actress award for "Volver" on Sunday night at the European Film Awards. Yesterday I talked with her from Paris before she and director Pedro Almodovar flew to New York for a Vanity Fair photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz (the awards were held in Warsaw, Poland).
There's lots of chatter about Helen Mirren this year, as well as Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet and even Naomi Watts (for "The Painted Veil") and Sienna Miller (for "Factory Girl"), all for Best Actress.
But you know, this is Cruz's year. After trying to make the transition to English-speaking roles, she went back to her roots with "Volver." The decision changed her life.
It doesn't hurt that she is not only beautiful, but magnetic on film. And she can do comedy, at least in Spanish, which makes her even sexier.
And here's a thought: Penelope will probably win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. All the other competitors, with the exception of Streep, are in drama. And Streep — who has shelves full of awards — might even concede that "Volver" is special.
But in Paris, Penelope is only thinking of … jet lag.
"I have all the vitamins and a lot of tricks," she told me. "But coming that way, to New York, I will be in bed like a grandmother by 8 o'clock tomorrow!"
She says she is "addicted to work," but she's still maintaining a private life. She talks to best friend Salma Hayek "every day, about everything."
In the end, though, she is deeply devoted to Almodovar.
"Sharing all this with him is so exciting," she says. "We're like family. And this isn't just a movie. This is a period of my life when I feel like my life is changing. I can really feel the difference. I'm being offered roles I've been fighting to get for the last two years."
So viva Penelope! And if you haven't seen "Volver," by all means, buy a ticket tonight. It's one of the five best films of this or any year!
Maybe you haven't seen "Babel," which rhymes with "babble." You wouldn't be alone.
After about a month, in the widest release it could possibly get, "Babel" is starting to fade at around $16 million. That's a little less than what it made internationally, with around $5 million from Mexico alone, where parts of the film were shot, thanks to its native-son director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
But the truth is "Babel," which is about the lack of communication, is a huge, flailing mess of an ambitious, severely flawed movie.
The surprise, of course, is that if it gets any award action, it won't be for big names Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. They are loss leaders here.
The real stars are the young Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi and a middle-aged Mexican woman named Adriana Barraza. If they weren't in "Babel," it would just be babble. As it is, most of it is rubble.
Babel is Inarritu's attempt at making a faux-Robert Altman movie like "Short Cuts" and filtering it through either "Traffic" or "Magnolia." None of that is a very good idea. What he gets is "Crash" without coherence and chock-full of pretentiousness.
Start up the violins, because a lot of seemingly disconnected people from around the world are about to be linked by a series of implausible events. They will be poignant and dripping with melancholy. Uh oh. Here we go again.
Am I cynical? A little bit. You be the judge.
A Japanese man goes hunting in the Moroccan desert and gives his rifle to his guide as a thank you. The guide's sons use the rifle for target practice on a tourist bus carrying Brad and Cate, who — though they've recently lost a child — leave their two remaining cute blond kids at home in San Diego with their Mexican maid.
When Cate is accidentally shot by the Moroccan kids, the maid is forced to remain with the kids, so she takes them to her son's wedding across the border. Of course, she's an illegal.
Meanwhile, the Japanese man and his teenage daughter are mourning the suicide of their wife and mother, and the daughter is so distraught that she's flashing her nether regions at strange boys and attempting to seduce a police detective.
Why Japan, Morocco, Mexico or San Diego? Why these people? Why not? Maybe Inarritu's point is that it doesn't matter where they come from, it's just a small world. Or maybe it does matter, and we're supposed to figure it out.
But really, unlike "Short Cuts," "Crash" or even Lawrence Kasdan's "Grand Canyon," the interlocking stories in "Babel" don't really have anything to do with each other. Inarritu might as well have picked Peru, Montana, Norway and Indonesia. They would have made just as much sense.
But within the context of these stories there is a lot of emotion. Most of it comes from the two linchpin characters: Chieko, the Japanese girl played by Kikuchi, and Barraza's Amelia the maid. Somehow in the middle of this swirling mess, they rise to the occasion.
I suppose their fates are dependent upon each other, but it doesn't matter. Each actress is a little gem on their own. You're always wondering what's happened to either of them as the action swings all over the place.
Unfortunately, Barraza's situation is undermined by Inarritu's insistence on turning her story into a joke when familiar faces like Michael Pena ("World Trade Center") and Clifton Collins Jr. ("Capote") turn up at the end of her saga. It's a huge misfire. Any more character actors coming? Why not David Strathairn or Cuba Gooding Jr.?
So "Babel," I think, is scratched from the Best Picture list.
While "Dreamgirls," "The Departed" and "The Queen" are looking like cinches, "Babel" really is a long shot. The two other slots? "The Good Shepherd" is a possibility, and so are "Bobby," "Flags of Our Fathers," "World Trade Center" and "Notes on a Scandal."
But the people who made "Babel" should be happy if one of their two fine actresses makes it into the Supporting category, and leave it at that.