Exclusive: Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' Plans

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Published October 17, 2007

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Jacko's 'Thriller' Plans | Affleck Actress Gone | J-Lo Hits New Low; Soaps Sudsed by P&G

Exclusive: Jacko's 'Thriller' Plans

At last, there’s some real news concerning Michael Jackson and his plans for recording and releasing material.

So far, Jackson has no plans for a new album, but his die-hard fans will be happy to hear what else is happening.

Jackson is involved in putting together a 25th anniversary edition of his best-selling album, "Thriller." Those with long memories will recall that "Thriller" is considered the biggest-selling pop album of all time, succeeding Carole King’s "Tapestry" and Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon" and breaking every record it came near.

Jackson’s new music attorney, Peter Lopez, told me on Tuesday that about four of the original "Thriller" tracks are being remixed as "extras" for the CD package. Kanye West, Akon and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas are supposed to be doing that work. The songs are "Billie Jean," "The Girl Is Mine," "Wanna Be Starting Something" and "Pretty Young Thing."

In addition, Lopez says that four tracks left off "Thriller" in 1983 will be included. Jackson’s longtime producer Bruce Swedien, who no longer works with the pop star, told me that one track he knows of is a killer. It’s called "Don’t Be Messin’ Around." Swedien doesn’t know any of the other tracks left off the album but said there may be some out there.

The whole "Thriller" project is an attempt to resurrect Jackson’s moribund career at a time when he continues to be in financial peril. This column confirmed on Tuesday that Jackson is in hot water again. He owes a $5 million interest payment to Fortress Trust, the publicly traded hedge fund that bought his $272 million loan from Bank of America in April 2005. The payment is due on Oct. 31.

According to my sources, Fortress, however, already has tried to sell the loan, which was refinanced to $325 million in April 2006. A new lender appeared a few weeks ago but since has disappeared. Whether Fortress keeps the loan or sells it, Jackson will have to refinance before Halloween to stay afloat.

My sources say that should happen, but Jackson’s debt load just continues to increase with no hope of ever being reduced.

What’s more, Jackson has no immediate solution to make money. Many older pop stars have found gold in live performances. Elton John, Celine Dion, Gladys Knight and Bette Midler, for example, have made Las Vegas their headquarters. But Lopez, the new attorney, tells me the beleaguered pop star has no interest in touring or performing. "He feels he’s done that," Lopez said.

"Thriller 25" will be issued by Sony because it’s part of that catalog. But Jackson has no recording contract and, frankly, no interest from record companies.

However, as I reported on Monday, Prince Abdulla of Bahrain is suing Jackson for $7 million because he has a signed agreement to issue two Jackson albums on a joint venture record label. Jackson is not honoring that agreement, the prince claims.

So perhaps — nothing is ever definite in Jackson’s world — we will see the new "Thriller" in early 2008. This news explains what Akon, will.i.am and West have been doing with Jackson, who still is living in the Northern Virginia area and traveling to New York occasionally instead of returning to his Neverland Valley Ranch in Los Olivos, Calif.

Meanwhile, in other Jackson legal news, the singer has lost another case to former attorneys seeking unpaid fees. A judge has ruled that Jackson owes Brent Ayscough about $420,000.

I’m told that Jackson’s East Coast attorneys also have settled another case, brought by attorney Brian Oxman, self-appointed Jackson family spokesman, for about $1 million. Of course, settled doesn’t mean collected. All of these come under the heading of accounts payable.

Affleck Actress Gone, Baby, Gone

The movie premiere in Boston on Monday for Ben Affleck’s "Gone Baby Gone" was minus one cast member. Jill Quigg, a local young woman who plays Dottie, the foul-mouthed best friend of Amy Ryan’s Helene, was indisposed — i.e. incarcerated, and unable to attend.

Quigg, whom Affleck met while shooting in Boston, is not a professional actress. But using her forceful personality — seen on screen — she talked her way into playing Dottie.

Unfortunately, Quigg’s real-life demons are preventing her from enjoying the film’s publicity. Too bad: She has a great moment early on when she announces the neighbors are keeping a "visual" for a missing child. She means "vigil."

"Gone Baby Gone" got its New York premiere last night in New York, with Affleck, who co-wrote the script from Dennis Lehane’s novel, there with brother Casey, who stars in the film, and their parents, Tim and Chris.

Also on hand: Ryan, who’s wonderful as the trashy, rather hateful Helene; Mark Margolis, who also plays David Duchovny’s dad on "Californication,"— as a memorable drug addict; and Matt Maher, who is believably lowdown in this film about a walk on Boston’s dark side.

The film also has some tremendous performances from Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, Morgan Freeman and Titus Welliver. The casting throughout is spot-on, as is the cinematography thanks to the always amazing John Toll.

Like Lehane’s "Mystic River," "Gone Baby Gone" is another tale from East Boston of people living tough lives. Helene is a drug addict and single mother whose 4-year-old daughter, Amanda, has been kidnapped. Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan are local private detectives (and boyfriend and girlfriend) asked to join the search by Helene’s sister-in-law, Bea (Madigan at her best).

At first it seems like an easy case to solve. The child was abducted by a drug dealer from whom Helene and her boyfriend stole $130,000. But nothing is quite as it seems.

Lehane’s material is so solid that perhaps no one can make a bad movie from it. But I do think Affleck’s film is kind of a little miracle for a first-time director. Absolved of playing himself on screen, as he’s done in his last 99 films, the Boston actor is able to bring his intelligence and quick-study to "Gone Baby Gone." The movie never bogs down and remains faithful to Lehane’s book.

Ben also is smart enough to see that his little brother is the young movie star of the moment. As in "Jesse James," Casey Affleck simply astounds. Physically small and aided by a cracking voice that bears no immediate locale, Casey tackles the main role of Patrick and becomes a leading man.

Where in "Jesse James" his Robert Ford is great character work, Patrick more often than not is the straight man among a den of thieves and nuts. These back-to-back roles are the best resume an actor could have. Casey Affleck’s going to have quite a career.

J-Lo Hits New Low; Soaps Sudsed by P&G

Jennifer Lopez’s "Brave" CD sold 55,000 copies and finished at No. 11 in its debut week. In other words: It’s over, and so is J-Lo’s recording career.

A good actress and never a singer, Lopez had her moment as invented diva. But truly, the center could not hold. A Sony Music insider says the album was part of her existing deal and that a lot of money was not spent on "Brave" overall.

Lopez, now rumored to be four months pregnant with twins, will have bigger issues to deal with soon. Whether she will lip-synch lullabies is a whole other column. …

Procter & Gamble once had 10 soaps on the air. Now it has two left, "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light," and they’re determined to kill them off, too.

On Tuesday, it announced the shows would be filmed like the reality program "The Hills" starting in January. P&G already has hobbled the shows with cut budgets and no sets. Now it will opt for handheld cameras and exteriors shot off sets to save money. It’s a recipe for disaster and I suspect they know it.

It’s too bad: The P&G soaps have been launching pads for Kevin Bacon, Morgan Freeman, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, Susan Sullivan, Steven Weber, Kate Capshaw, Tamara Tunie, Justin Chambers, Brad Pitt and dozens upon dozens more.

P&G can afford anything. It's one of the world’s richest corporations. This cost-cutting just makes it look kind of pathetic. It should just sell the shows if it doesn't want them. …

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