Nicole Kidman | Clooney, Cheadle | Jacko: No Money | Elvis or Petty? Cat Stevens or 'Hair'? | Keys vs. Groban; Joran Makes Few Sparks | Cast Away

Nicole Kidman's Compass Points to Success

"The Golden Compass" is here. After being treated to tantalizing bits and pieces, I’ve seen the whole movie, a sumptuous two-hour adventure that has as much to do with being anti-Christian or Catholic as "Flipper." So much for that.

No, "The Golden Compass" is not "The Lord of the Rings." It can’t be. For one, it has a female protagonist, Lyra, 11, played by Dakota Blue Richards, who nevertheless is serious enough to carry the day when she has to and then get out of the way for big explosions and fight scenes when the boys and men arrive.

But still: The first part of a trilogy based on Philip Pullman’s "His Dark Materials" series is a visual knockout, extremely captivating and a sci-fi feast for everyone 12 and up.

"The Golden Compass" also gives Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, previously trapped in the awful "The Invasion" this year, a chance to redeem themselves nicely. It turns out that they make a good onscreen couple after all, even though they’re really not onscreen together in "Compass."

Kidman, in particular, is back to business, slithering around, having a grand time as Mrs. Coulter, the nominal villain in little Lyra’s bizarre world where everyone has a "daemon" or talking animal by their side that represents their personality.

Lyra’s daemon is a wildcat that can become a lion, while Kidman’s is a sleek, dangerous monkey, and Craig’s is a snow leopard. Yes, the animals all talk and are wise and wily and a lot of fun as they morph from one to another.

Aside from the people and the smaller talking animals, the other main characters in "The Golden Compass" are a large, armored polar bear, Sam Elliott as a cowboy and Simon McBurney as a scheming clergyman who initiates the film by trying to kill Craig’s Lord Asriel, who Lyra thinks is her uncle.

Lyra thwarts the clergyman’s assassination attempt, thereby bringing his wrath. (I think this is where the anti-Christian stuff comes from.) It’s what sets all the characters on their path.

"The Golden Compass" is a fable, and it can only be viewed as such. Like "The Lord of the Rings," it’s about an object everyone wants — in this case, the compass — which has mystical powers and promise of salvation. (The compass actually is a lot more interesting than the ring.)

And while all the performances are spot on, I think the Oscars and other awards entities are going to be more interested in the technical stuff. Visual effects and production design are haunting and magnificent.

Like "The Chronicles of Narnia," "Compass" is meant to entertain and disturb children of all ages. Director Chris Weitz has done just that, although this film is hardly lighthearted. It gets very dark and a little violent, especially during a gladiator-like showdown between the polar bears.

More importantly, "The Golden Compass" is a large-scale thoughtful fantasy, something to get lost in during a holiday film season when there’s a lot more realistic doom and gloom to contemplate.

Clooney, Cheadle to Get Award From Nobel Winners

Actors Don Cheadle and George Clooney, who’ve campaigned vociferously to help the people of Darfur in Sudan, are getting a big award next month.

The 8th World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates will give the actors each the 2007 Peace Summit Award when they meet in Rome on Dec. 15.

Why not? Cheadle produced the documentary "Darfur Now." He and Clooney have traveled the world and even spoken at the United Nations to try and end the Darfur suffering. Last spring they raised $9 million to make commercials and raise awareness about the genocide in Sudan.

Just to make it more official, Archbishop Desmond Tutu sings their praises on the Web site www.thecommunity.org. He says of Clooney and Cheadle: "They inspire us all and show that every person, in every walk of life, can do something to help make the world a better place."

Not only that, they didn’t even take any children home as souvenirs!

Jacko: No Money to Pay Court-Ordered Debts

Michael Jackson’s slowly deteriorating financial situation gets worse this coming Friday morning in Los Angeles.

Jackson’s lawyers will have to explain to a judge why they didn’t meet a Nov. 15 deadline to pay the singer’s former manager Dieter Wiesner $3.8 million from a settlement agreed to in September.

I can tell you why now, though: Jackson is in Las Vegas on Tuesday, still homeless and certainly not planning any tour with the Jackson 5, as erroneously reported on Monday.

And: Jackson’s finances are so imperiled that he has been waiting for refinancing to come through on his $300 million loan with Fortress Investments. His lawyers thought they’d pay the Wiesner settlement from cash derived in that refinancing.

But so far there is no refinancing. Barclays Bank has not come through and neither has anyone else. Jackson has walked into the middle of the credit crisis in banking, and because of that he has no cash. None. Zero. Zip. He can’t pay agreed-upon settlements and so, Wiesner’s lawyer, Howard King, is going to court to get the money.

Good luck. Sources say Jackson’s so-far unpaid attorney, Thomas Mundell, in Los Angeles, and Gregory Cross, in Washington, D.C., are trying to hold off King and Wiesner from entering a judgment on Friday.

They think it will somehow scare off Jackson’s potential, unnamed new financiers. But it’s still unclear if there are any new money people to take Fortress’ place. Sources say Cross has three different groups coming in. Maybe.

At the same time, Jackson remains in default on that separate $23 million loan from Fortress using Neverland as security. I am told Jackson will probably just let Neverland go to foreclosure in January.

"He doesn't want to go back there and he doesn't care," a source said.

OK. But if Neverland sells for less than the full amount of the loan, Jackson will be responsible for the balance with Fortress. He will be sued for it. He doesn’t get that.

Elvis or Tom Petty? Cat Stevens or 'Hair'?

Ballots are being mailed this week for the next inductees in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Since Linda Moran and Hal David took over the SHOF a few years ago they’ve simply made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame look ridiculous. Their choices every year are exactly right, and the show they put on courtesy of producer Phil Ramone is a lesson in perfection.

This year, voters have several names to choose from on their ballots. In the category of non-performers, the choices are Desmond Child ("Livin' La Vida Loca"); Albert Hammond ("It Never Rains in Southern California"); Graham Gouldman ("I’m Not in Love"); Mark James ("Suspicious Minds"); Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast"); Billy Sherrill ("Stand By Your Man"); Chip Taylor ("Wild Thing "); and the teams of Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart ("Come a Little Bit Closer"); Roger Cook/Roger Greenaway ("Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress"); Sandy Linzer/Denny Randell ("Workin' My Way Back to You"); Galt MacDermot/James Rado/Gerome Ragni ("Hair"); and Paul Vance/Lee Pockriss ("Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini").

In the performing category, the potential nominees present a competitive group. They include Elvis Costello; Peter Gabriel; David Gates; Robert Lamm/James Pankow (of Chicago fame); Mick Jones/Lou Gramm (Foreigner); and John Densmore/Robby Krieger/Ray Manzarek/Jim Morrison (The Doors). Tom Petty and John Sebastian are in the running along with Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), the Jon Bon Jovi/Richie Sambora team and Steve Winwood.

Who am I voting for? I don’t think I’m supposed to say until the voting is done. But I am partial to the MacDermot/Rado team who wrote "Hair" and to the guys from Chicago, who’ve been totally stiffed by the Rock Hall and Jann Wenner. (Yes, we are still boycotting Rolling Stone.) It’s just one man’s opinion. I’ll be curious to see for whom the other voters cast their ballots.

Keys vs. Groban, Jodin Makes Few Sparks

The CD chart is still being counted, but over at hitsdailydouble.com, Alicia Keys and Josh Groban are neck and neck for a first-place finish.

Groban’s is a Christmas album, while Keys set records last week for debuting at No. 1 with 724,000 copies of "As I Am" sold.

This week they are so far each around 150,000 — but the final numbers won’t be in until later Tuesday.

Meantime, Jive Records looks like it's struggling with all its new releases, not just Britney Spears’ disappearing "Blackout." Albums by "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown are also not posting hoped-for numbers. Sparks, an "American Idol" winner, should do only 100,000 copies in her debut week. Goes to show you: Those "AI" kids need Clive Davis, or it just doesn’t work.

Cast Away

Did you know that while they’re busy recruiting celebs such as Will Smith and maybe Usher, Scientology is also making films and commercials to lure in regular folks?

They even have their own in-house production team and casting director — longtime member Kyra Duckhorn. (Great name!) Scientology casting calls regularly appear in "breakdowns" out in L.A. This week’s is titled "Person Giving a Lecture" and is described: "Featured / Male / Caucasian / 45-55. We see a man giving a lecture. We need someone about 6'0-6'2, fair skin, red or blond hair and about a suit size 42-44. Needs to have long hands & fingers."

Yes, fingers are a must!