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Tom Cruise's Runaway Mom 'Dead' to Friends

Tom Cruise's Mom | Leo's Film | Helmut Newton | Elle DeGeneres

Tom Cruise: Runaway Mom 'Dead' Now to Friends

It hasn't been a great week for Tom Cruise, PR-wise.

Perhaps inspired by Cruise's Scientology fundraiser in New York last week, both the Star and US Weekly are featuring Cruise and wife Katie Holmes on their covers. The subject of their stories: a possible divorce, brought about by Katie's frustrations with Scientology.

While Cruise should be worrying about what's left of his career, instead he seems to be digging his heels in deeper when it comes to his religious devotion. He doesn't seem to realize that a whole new generation now associates Cruise with Xenu, aliens and science fiction.

On top of this, word comes to us from Marco Island, Fla., where Tom's mom, Mary Lee Mapother, lived for nearly two decades until exactly a year ago.

As I've reported before, it was roughly a year ago that Tom's mother left her Florida home for Tom's Beverly Hills manse and never returned.

This was a shock to her longtime second husband, Jack South, who accompanied her on a trip to see new baby granddaughter Suri. After going west with Mary Lee, South went south and east. He returned to Florida alone.

Since then, with perhaps one exception, Mary Lee Mapother has not once contacted her many friends in Marco Island.

"She just vanished," says a friend. "It's like there was a death."

Jack South, friends say, has been consoling himself with his children from his first marriage, and with friends who can commiserate with him.

What happened to these people sounds a lot like what happened to Holmes' former friends — including her "Dawson's Creek" castmates — when Holmes went out to be interviewed by Cruise in April 2005 for "Mission: Impossible 3" and never returned home.

Leo Dicaprio: Film With Virginia Tech Overtones

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is branching out. Last night, he debuted the first movie he's produced, an uneven dramatic entry directed by his best friend and "Entourage" star, Kevin Connolly.

The problems with "The Gardener of Eden" are easy to spot, however. Timing may be one of them. That's because "Eden" features a psychotic who the audience fears will become a killer, and a violent episode with a gun near the finale that echoes the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

The movie also features the decapitation of a nice old lady, followed by the desecration of her brain matter by a moronic Israeli deli man in New York.

If that's not enough, one subplot involves a rape investigation. Preposterously, the same girl who's raped is also the niece of the decapitated woman. The explanation: It's a small town.

Lukas Haas, the child star of "Witness" more than 20 years ago, plays the largely unappealing main character, named Adam after the film's screenwriter Adam Davis.

Adam, the character, has a snakey mustache and the kind of negative appeal that Eric Roberts used to employ in his early, unpleasant movies like "Star 80." A little bit of grunge and alienation goes a long way. A lot of it is way too much.

But the main attraction of "Gardener" is the director. Connolly is the likeable manager Eric, aka "E" on "Entourage," the HBO hit comedy (this movie also features a nice turn by Jerry Ferrara, who plays Turtle on that show).

He's also the best friend of DiCaprio, who funded the $5 million film through his IEG Films with Graham King. Connolly said at last night's showing that he's waited "all his life" for the chance to direct a feature. And the fact is, he's got a nice touch with comedy and a good eye.

But the material is wrong-headed. It's coarse where it doesn't need to be, and changes direction too many times.

Plus, "Gardener" has the unfortunate side effect of being too close to the recent real life Virginia Tech tragedy as Haas' Adam heads to a courthouse and retrieves a gun he's implausibly hidden there.

The movie ends in unexpected violence and has a jarring resonance right now. Maybe by the time the public sees it months from now, the Virginia Tech issue will have faded a bit.

PS: After the screening last night, the "Gardener" group headed to Marquee, New York's most annoying nightclub, to celebrate their premiere.

DiCaprio, who was not at the screening, took a prominent banquet, called various adults "buddy" and welcomed Petra Nemcova, Ron Burkle and members of the cast. Leo is looking more and more like a young Clark Gable, or is it Howard Hughes from "The Aviator"?

HBO Loves Helmut Newton's Subjects

As many of us know, Cinemax equals naked women. I mean, they go together like carrots and peas, Lucy and Ethel, and uh, Cinemax and naked women.

So "Helmut and June," made by June Newton, the widow of legendary photographer Helmut Newton, is perfect for the cable channel. They start showing the one-hour film on Monday at 7 p.m.

Last night, "Rush Hour" director Brett Ratner, who executive produced this gem of a documentary, showed it off to friends at the HBO screening room.

No less than Randy Jackson of "American Idol" gave it a thumbs-up, as well as "Capote" director Bennett Miller, famed art world figure Tony Shafrazi and lots of beautiful models who probably wish they'd been photographed by Newton.

June Newton was smart: In 1990 she got herself a video camera and started taping her husband during the peak of his career.

He was then working with Cindy Crawford and many other gorgeous girls, doing ground-breaking work in stills and video.

The result is a fascinating portrait, easy to watch and much appreciated. Helmut Newton was a great artist, and the film gives us a little peek into how he did it.

Elle DeGeneres' Mile-High Club; Dakota Joins 'The Women'

Ellen DeGeneres is about to become a comic on a plane, so to speak. She's filming a segment of her show on a cross-country flight from Los Angeles to New York next Thursday.

I'm told one of her guests will be Rob Lowe. I would guess security will be extra high. But God knows Ellen will be recreating scenes from "Airplane!" and other high-flying classics. ...

Dakota Fanning, fresh from being raped in "Hounddog," is joining Diane English's remake of "The Women." The 12-year-old is set to play Anjelica Huston's granddaughter, I'm told. Other definites for this long-awaited project: Meg Ryan, Candice Bergen, Debra Messing.

Annette Bening, as I predicted would happen when Warren Beatty lunched with the film's producer Mick Jagger, is also in talks. She's perfect for this movie. ...