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'Quantum of Solace' Sets U.K. Record, But Disappoints

Bond 'Solace': First U.S. Review | Scientology's Main Hollywood Wrangler Dies | William Wharton, Author Of ‘Birdy’ | First Wives: Not The Same Old Song | 'Milk' Hurdles, Curdles

Bond 'Solace': First U.S. Review

Here’s the truth about the latest James Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace." It’s not very good.

Quantum opened on Friday in London and Paris, and there was a reason. MGM and Sony were obviously scared that a highly negative reaction in the U.S. would scare off the rest of the world. So they went with Europe first, hoping for the best. In Paris, at least, Friday was a school holiday, meaning kids were flocking to theaters and malls anyway.

By coincidence, I was in Paris on Friday and went with a herd of 16-year-old boys and one 11-year-old, as well as one mother. It was a cold, rainy afternoon, and I had high hopes for a roller coaster ride full of explosions, inexplicable derrying do, some decent quips and memorable lines, even a smidgen of smarmy sex for James with a couple of babes.

What else do we look forward to in James Bond? Readings from Rilke? No. We want gadgets. And a great theme song. And a spectacular opening sequence.

The truth then: we got none of the above, except maybe the Rilke and deep frown lines. Marc Forster, one of our favorite directors from “Finding Neverland” and “Monster’s Ball” has turned James Bond 007 into a meditation on death and trust. He’s made the straight play version of what’s supposed to be a musical comedy.

Let’s start with the music. There couldn’t be a worse, more tuneless song than Alicia Keys’ and Jack White’s “Another Day to Die.” From Shirley Bass to Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, even Duran Duran or Sheena Easton, the people behind James Bond theme songs knew enough to match their pop hit to the original John Barry music, provide a bit of drama and suggest romance. Keys and White, brought in at the last minute to replace the ailing Amy Winehouse, just didn’t get it.

The song is a bad omen, because it follows the shortest, least interesting opening sequence in Bond history. Suffice to say, when it blends into the first notes of the Keys-White song, your first thought will be, That’s it? Yes, that’s it.

The solace James is seeking in quantum, I guess, is all about losing Vesper, the girlfriend from “Casino Royale.” All well and good, but James Bond doesn’t mourn on screen. Paul Haggis and the writers should have known, Bond got over it since we saw him last. The audience did, believe me. Instead we’re left with this problem. Few viewers will recall Eva Green’s Vesper. They won’t much go for the new Bond girls, neither of whom has name marquee value. How about as one of the girls Heidi Klum? Eva Mendes? Audrey Tatou? Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton are fine, but taken together they aren’t special. They’re certainly no Halle Berry.

The secondary cast works well, especially Judi Dench as M, although there’s lots less of her. There’s no Q, and no one to introduce James to new gadgets (this in the time of new gadgets in the real world every hour and blogs galore devoted to them!). Mathieu Amalric is just great and looks right at Mr. Green, the new villain, but as in the whole of the film there’s not a lot of sly dialogue. The Daniel Craig version of Bond isn’t very articulate or quick verbally, hence neither are his opponents. All the parrying is gone.

Quantum of Solace had a huge opening in Britain on Friday — $8 million. We’ll see how it does between now and opening day in America on November 14th. Something tells me once the excitement wears down, the new James Bond is not going to be one of those that anyone wants to see over and over again. In the meantime, I found myself more shaken than stirred by this latest installment.

Scientology's Main Hollywood Wrangler Dies

The Church of Scientology’s biggest magnet for celebrities in Hollywood, acting teacher Milton Katselas, died of a heart attack on October 24 at age 75. Oddly, Katselas’s death didn't make its way into the press until four days later on October 28, in the Los Angeles Times, and then into the New York Times Sunday night.

The New York Times wrotein its obituary: “deserved or not, a faint taint of cultism hung over [Katselas’ acting] school.”

Others quoted in a previous Times article minimized the Scientology connection. But the reality was that Katselas was widely believed to be the group's strongest asset in recruiting actors in Hollywood. Actor Jason Beghe, who left Scientology this year and was recruited through Katselas's class, told this column last April he believed Katselas received "kickbacks" for bringing people in. The charge was never disputed.

Among Katselas' many students who became Scientologists were Jenna Elfman, Jeffrey Tambor, Leah Remini, Catherine Bell, Kelly Preston Travolta, Sofia Milos, and brother and sister Giovanni and Marisa Ribisi. It was Giovanni who brought actor Jason Lee (“My Name is Earl”) into Scientology; Marisa brought in rock singer Beck, whom she subsequently married.

But Katselas’ biggest “score” was actress Anne Archer, Oscar-nominated years ago for “Fatal Attraction.” Archer’s son, Tom Davis, from her first marriage to another Scientologist, actor William B. Davis, is now in charge of its Celebrity Centre in Hollywood. He is also considered the closest friend and confidant of Tom Cruise.

Katselas told the NewYork Times’ Mark Oppenheimer in 2007 that he had reached the celebrated status of “Operating Thetan, Level 5, or O.T. V,” after practicing Scientology since 1965. Oppenheimer’s article was as thorough an investigation into Katselas’ ties to Scientology as there has ever been, strongly linking his Beverly Hills Playhouse to the cadre of actors who’ve joined Scientology over the years.

William Wharton, Author Of ‘Birdy’

I am probably one of the few people in the world who knew the late author William Wharton. I am certainly one of the few who ever interviewed him. The man who wrote the wonderful novels, "Birdy," "Dad," "A Midnight Clear," and "Pride," died on Thursday at age 82 in California.

William Wharton’s real name was Albert DuAime. His friends called him "Bert." An artist — a painter—Bert was a descendant of Main Line Philadelphia Whartons. But he didn’t want fans to know that and protected his true identity for years as if he were Clark Kent. Among his inner circle was his agent Rosalie Siegel, who spent a lot of time keeping the press away from him.

Bert and his wife Rosemary raised four children in Paris where he struggled to make a living as a painter. He also kept a studio in the 11th arrondissement, and wrote on a houseboat on the Seine north of Paris in St. Germain-en-Laye, where he had cages full of birds. I know because I visited him there in the mid 1980s. The Du Aimes weren’t total ex-pats, however. They spent their summers on the Jersey shore in Orange Grove.

"Birdy"—published in 1979— was an over-the-transom "find" at Knopf that became a hit in paperback thanks to the great Bob Wyatt at Avon Books. (I remember when the book first came out from Knopf, Nina Bourne – the head of advertising—didn’t want Bert featured in the Times Book Review. Thank goodness for Bob Wyatt.) Along with "Dad" and "A Midnight Clear," "Birdy" was made into a very good movie.

Because Bert was published so relatively late in life he never really was placed in a literary niche. But he was as much a part of post-World War II writing as Kurt Vonnegut, James Jones, or Joseph Heller. His writing most resembled Vonnegut’s in some ways, and it was clear he’d suffered similar traumas during the war. He told me he was wounded three times with the 87th Division in Germany and lost his sense of balance. That led to visits with Army psychiatrists, which planted the seeds for "Birdy."

Bert’s worst trauma, however, occurred in the late 1980s when his grown daughter, her husband, and two of their three children were killed in a terrible pile up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He and his wife Rosemary wound up raising Kate’s son who’d jumped out of the family car just before they left home that day because he’d forgotten something.

Tonight I found the first letter Bert wrote me in 1980 after a mutual friend made introductions. He was writing "Dad" and said, ironically, "It deals with many things but primarily with the acceptance of death in all its guises. I hope you will like it."

Bert, I did, and I hope you are flying high in the sky, above the clouds, like Birdy. Rest in peace.

First Wives: Not The Same Old Song

Holland-Dozier-Holland are back. Do you know who they are? You do, kids. They wrote like half the hits in the Motown catalog including just about everything by the Four Tops.

They wrote “It’s the same old song, but with different words since you’ve been gone.”

But this is ain’t the same old song. The two Holland brothers (Eddie and Brian) and their partner Lamont Dozier have returned to write the songs for the Broadway musical version of “The First Wives Club.” That was the hit movie with Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler.

In the musical, Saturday Night Live’s underrated star of the 90s Ana Gasteyer, will take the lead role. There’s also a strong possibility that Vanessa Williams will join the cast too despite her arduous schedule in TV’s “Ugly Betty.”

But I digress. The musical is tied to the Web site www.firstwivesworld.com, which is gaining fans and investors. One of these is said to be the savvy producer- actress who’s also the wife of a two time Oscar winning actor.

Meantime, Holland-Dozier-Holland are resurrecting their HDH record label with a new star, Felisa Marasol. Will she be a star? Well, let me put it this way: back in 1969, H-D-H left Motown because they felt underpaid and unappreciated by Berry Gordy (they’re all friends now, but this was back in the day). They started HDH and Invictus Records, and immediately had a dozen hits with Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”) and the Honey Cone (“Want Ads”).

In other words: these guys know what they’re doing.

'Milk' Hurdles, Curdles

There’s an ongoing sort of inside-baseball dispute going on between The Hollywood Reporter and Focus Features regarding the Sean Penn film, “Milk.” Here’s the quick recap: Steven Zeitchek of THR says Focus has been hiding Milk because they’re afraid of backlash a la “Brokeback Mountain.” That film was tipped early to win the Oscar, it made a lot of money, and then lost to “Crash” in the 59th minute.

I’ve heard Milk is excellent, but who would know? It’s only been screened in San Francisco, to gay groups. Screenings here have been limited to long lead press who can’t influence what happens to it. I’ve said for a long time that Focus Features marketing and publicity is a strange gang that needs to be replaced. They live on paranoia and threats. They don’t like the press. Somehow they killed the Kasi Lemmons movie “Talk to Me” before it was even launched. They’ve done it to others.

Zeitchek may be right or he may just be frustrated in dealing with Focus. This is the same company that killed off about 50 million in Burn After Reading ticket sales by opening the first Coen Brothers film after the Oscar winning "No Country for Old Men" in ... Italy! With bad subtitles. Instead of New York, where the Coens are hometown heroes. Only Focus marketing could screw up a release with Clooney, Pitt, and McDormand. Go figure.

P.S.- They did the same thing with a good Colin Farrell caper movie, “In Bruges.” First of all, they actually called it “In Bruges.” No one in America has any idea what that means. If they had just named the Belgium based comedy “Brussels Sprouts,” people would have gone to it. And “Hamlet 2”? How did a hilarious Sundance hit become box office poison? There’s a trend here.