Whitney's Comeback | Kiddie Porn Flick | Awards Shows Disasters | Best of 2007, Pt. 2

Whitney's Comeback in Full Gear

Some good news for a change about Whitney Houston. She made a tremendous comeback last Saturday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, performing several of her hits as if little time had passed.

Were we worried that drugs and alcohol had killed her voice? Yes, indeed. But video and audio from the concert, thanks to fans at the Live & Loud KL 07 show who posted on YouTube, reveal a cheery-looking, healthy Whitney hitting high notes and striking the right chord every time.

Among the songs posted are two difficult ones to sing: "I Will Always Love You" and "I Believe in You and Me." Each time, Whitney is singing with little musical accompaniment. She’s out there on her own and finding her way. On the latter number in particular she sounds like her old self. It’s a brave performance and to be commended.

Whitney also taped some promotional spots for Live & Loud which can be seen on YouTube. Again, she looks clear-eyed and sounds extremely coherent.

Now all Whitney has to do is finish recording her new album for Clive Davis, who will no doubt want to debut something from her on Feb. 9 at his annual pre-Grammy dinner and show.

Maybe Whitney will even team up with Alicia Keys. How refreshing to think that 2008 will be the year that the best singer of her generation will make a sterling comeback after a decade in the wilderness.

Kiddie Porn Movie Given New, Racist Title

"Nothing Is Private," the Alan Ball movie I told you was the feel-awful film of 2007, won’t go away.

But Ball and Warner Independent Pictures have thought of a good way to avoid the bad publicity that came from the Toronto Film Festival screening in September.

For the movie’s premiere at Sundance next month, they’ve changed the title back to the novel upon which the film is loosely based.

Now "Nothing Is Private," a grossly awful film, will be called a name no Arab-American will appreciate for even its irony: "Towelhead."

Can we get more offensive? In the film — written and directed by the usually more sensitive Mr. Ball — actor Aaron Eckhart’s married 39-year-old character rapes a 13-year-old and carries on an affair with her. Their first sexual encounter is one of the most appalling and grimmest, tasteless scenes included in a big-studio movie ever.

The pair are presented as a couple, go out on a date and the girl refers to herself as Eckhart’s girlfriend.

The situation proceeds unabated and in secret for some time until finally the next-door neighbor, played by Toni Collette, calls the cops. But it’s too late, and the audience has been subjected to just as much torture as the girl.

Actress Summer Bishil, who is 19 now and was perhaps just 18 when she shot the movie, plays 13-year-old Jasira. She looks every bit the part, which makes the movie even more disturbing.

To make matters worse, the movie otherwise presents the 13-year-old’s subsequent "sexual awakening" as she moves into a full-time sexual relationship with a boy in her school.

Last year’s Dakota Fanning rape movie, "Hounddog," still sits in limbo without a distributor after its inauspicious premiere at Sundance. "Towelhead," however, was sold to Warner Independent, a division of Time Warner, in Toronto.

Awards Shows Threatened With Disaster

The awards shows set to be broadcast on TV — The Golden Globes, Indie Spirits, Grammys and Oscars — are all in danger now, thanks to the Writers Guild Strike.

I don’t mean because no writers will be there to compose those uncomfortable jokes and scenarios for presenters. No, no.

The real dilemma: The WGA could conceivably picket the shows. And the actors — even the most ambitious nominees — aren’t going to cross those picket lines.

The first show that could be hurt would be the Golden Globes, an odd enterprise anyway. In the old days, when no one cared, the Globes were seen on cable TV on a Saturday night. No one even knew they were on.

Then NBC and Dick Clark Productions figured out the Globes could be like the American Music Awards, another Clark project. They could be the "other" Oscars!

Now NBC pays the Hollywood Foreign Press — an institution often dissected in this column — $6 million a year in tax-free money for the rights to the Golden Globes name. NBC hardly cares who votes for the awards or what their credentials are as long as all the stars show up.

The Globes are now scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 13. I’ve no doubt that the HFPA is starting to sweat. The TV broadcast is the crux of their whole operation. Without it, they are just the American Music Awards for movies.

And they have a bigger problem than the Oscars. The Globes are 50 percent television awards. And television is at the heart of the WGA strike.

Meantime, a rumor Tuesday that the Spirit Awards had obtained a waiver from the Writers Guild turned out to be just that. Insiders tell me no waiver was applied for or granted. There’s still darkness on the edge of town.

Best of 2007, Part 2

On Tuesday, I listed for you my Top 10 picks for the Best Films of the year. Herewith is the rest of the list, in increments of five, for the rest of the week.

"There Will Be Blood" — Paul Thomas Anderson’s remarkable study of greed and corruption contains two amazing performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. But what starts out as a taut, stark portrait goes over the top and then some.

Some people may confuse it with "No Country for Old Men." Frankly, the tag line for "Sweeney Todd" should have been "There will be blood." And lots of it.

"Hairspray" — Adam Shankman’s totally fun adaptation of the Broadway musical is always enjoyable. Queen Latifah steals the film, and James Marsden is a revelation. I hope their work isn’t overlooked.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," Andrew Dominik’s Western, looks like a tribute to Terrence Malick — every frame is drenched in sumptuousness.

It’s long, though, and no one’s seen it. Literally. This is a shame, because Casey Affleck’s depiction of the coward Robert Ford is a tour de force. Academy voters should just fast forward to his scenes if they start to doze. He’s the top of my list for Best Supporting Actor.

"Michael Clayton" — a kind of big-studio film that harkens back to the good old days of paranoid pictures like "The China Syndrome."

Tony Gilroy’s work recalls Alan Pakula, which is high praise. George Clooney demonstrates that movie stars can still be great actors, and Tom Wilkinson gives his usual superb supporting performance.

"Control" — if you aren't a music buff, you might not have heard of Joy Division, the Manchester, U.K., punk band circa 1979. That’s OK. Anton Corbijn made the coolest movie of 2007 retelling the story of the group and its charismatic, troubled leader Ian Curtis.

Sam Riley makes an astonishing debut as Curtis, the genius composer, and Samantha Morton is brilliant as his wife, Deborah. Joe Anderson, from "Across the Universe," turns in a very good supporting showing.

For hip cred this holiday season, this is the movie to see.