Cate Blanchett | Ron Howard | The Beatles | Russell Crowe | Sam Moore

Cate Blanchett Rocks, Baby

Cate Blanchett and her husband are big fans of Sonic Youth. That's Thurston Moore's crunchy 20-year-old fringe rock group.

Blanchett, who stars in "The Missing" — Ron Howard's first film since "A Beautiful Mind" – was in town last night for the film's premiere along with co-stars Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jenna Boyd.

Since "The Missing" is a western, Blanchett — who is Australian — plays sort of a female action hero of the plains, a role sure to get her an Oscar nomination for best actress. As an avenging mother, she rides horses, shoots rifles and gets the bad guys.

"I didn't know how to shoot a gun or hold it," she told me after the screening was over. Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Eric Stoltz, Keri Russell and Dominic West — the cad from "Mona Lisa Smile" — were also floating around.

"So my husband said, 'Just hold it the way that Sonic Youth holds their guitars.' And it worked." Did she know she could do any of the stunts she pulls off in the film? "I didn't, and I don't miss having a gun. I do miss the riding," she said.

Blanchett — nominated for best actress in 1999 for "Elizabeth" and robbed for a nomination in 2001 for "Bandits" — could wind up missing awards season if all things don't time out right. She's pregnant with her second child, due in the spring.

That would be a shame, too, because she should be in the Nicole Kidman category now of top-tier actresses. Her other film this year, "Veronica Guerin," showed she could do anything even when the movie doesn't live up to expectations.

Ron Howard's Still a Mayberry Man

As for Howard, forget about the Oscar last year and all his great films, the fact that he co-starred in "The Shootist," John Wayne's last film, and has always wanted to do a western. He's so nice that you forget he grew up in Hollywood as Opie on "The Andy Griffith Show."

Last week he was in a reunion show called "Return to Mayberry" on CBS with Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors. Since "Griffith" has been off the air for, what, 35 years, you'd think he'd be too big now to join in. But take this as a lesson, all you hot shots who cross your first credits off the resume: The director of "Cocoon," "Splash," "Apollo 13" and "Parenthood" never forgets Mayberry.

"It's not like I have to pretend I had a good time back then. It was a great experience. Every episode was like a Frank Capra story," he told me. "And of course we're still friends. I got a call from Andy the morning after the show ran, and he's 77, and probably owns all of North Carolina, but what did he say? ‘Ron, we took the night!' That's what still excites him. Who knows where we go from here?"

Howard, who next reunites with Russell Crowe, his "Beautiful Mind" star, on "Cinderella Man," says growing up in Mayberry is the reason he's able to make each picture he directs a different subject.

"Basically, we did the same story every week for years on 'Andy,'" he said, "so I like the idea of taking on different subjects."

And, as in most other of his films, look for Ron's brother, Clint Howard, the most famous unfamous actor in Hollywood, in a pretty good-sized role in "The Missing" as the local sheriff. Ron's dad, Rance Howard, is a telegraph man. Very Hitchcock, someone said.

"But it's my wife, Cheryl, who's my real good luck," Ron replied. "She was in the first reel I ever shot, and she's in this film, too."

The Beatles Let It Be: Same as It Ever Was

I've been listening to the Beatles' "Let It Be ... Naked" all weekend, and reading the very interesting press materials that accompany it. I think they should have called the album, "Let It Be ... Remade," which would be more in keeping with the artificial nature of this project.

Nevertheless, expect to see the new version of the Beatles' last released album in the top five next Tuesday. It's released tomorrow in the United States.

This was supposed to be the stripped-down version of "Let It Be," denuded of Phil Spector's infamous orchestrations. For 30 years, Paul McCartney has crabbed about Spector's strings and violins on "The Long and Winding Road."

After all, the plan back in 1969 was for an album called "Get Back," but that project was tabled once done, replaced by "Abbey Road," which itself was followed by the Spector-ized "Let It Be." (The group turned over the "Get Back" tapes to him after they broke up.) A lot of Beatles fans have the bootleg "Get Back" and probably assumed that it would officially come out one day.

"Naked" (a terrible title) is, in fact, not "Get Back." It's an idea hatched by producers at Abbey Road to go back to the original tapes, clean them up, give them a "2003" sound, and rearrange the order of the songs.

They dropped two numbers ("Maggie May" and "Dig It"), added one ("Don't Let Me Down"), and shortened "Get Back." An actual version of "Get Back" might have included "Save the Last Dance for Me," "All Things Must Pass" and even "Maybe I'm Amazed." Now that, as McCartney sang, would be something.

On "Naked," "Let It Be" is restored to the original single version heard in the film, which means a different guitar solo in the break that old fogies will recall from the first time they heard it. The only big change, say the producers, is, of course, "The Long and Winding Road."

But a non-Spector version, which I think is preferable, is already available on "Beatles Anthology 3," so this isn't exactly a headline. (From the press notes: Q: So, of the eleven tracks, how many are different takes from what Spector used? A: As a basic take, just 'Long and Winding' ... Q: 'Across the Universe?' A: There wasn't much we could do with it, really.)

The other songs are new edits, patched together from various takes, to make new hybrid versions of songs that were perfectly fine and enjoyable before surgery.

If Apple Records wants to do something more productive than this, they might issue on CD for the first time "Hey Jude (The Beatles Again)", "Rarities," and "Live at Shea Stadium." Those are the "missing" albums in the American catalogue, and ones that the fans would enjoy seeing again.

"Let It Be ... Naked" seems to me like a naked attempt to just make some more dough and let McCartney have the last word on Spector. But here's a thought about Spector, which I've mentioned before. John Lennon and George Harrison must not have minded him so much. They each let him produce their early solo work, including "Imagine" and "All Things Must Pass."

I suspect the idea of a new "Let it Be" will make it a big seller this week, either way. In any case, do check out the Beatles.com, which is actually more interesting than this album reissue.

Crowe Still Commanding the Box Office?

Peter Weir's "Master and Commander" opened well over the weekend, with about a $25 million take, but it was beaten by "Elf," the New Line comedy about Santa's tallest helper.

The former film, if not the actors, is headed to the Oscars, certainly. But has Crowe lost command of the box office? "Gladiator," for example, took in almost $35 million when it was released in May 2000. And "A Beautiful Mind," playing in limited release, did much better overall, hitting $16.5 million on a weekend when it was seen in  2,250 theaters — about 800 fewer than "Master and Commander" is playing in now.

Meanwhile, what to do about "The Matrix: Revolutions"? It seems like the biggest revolution has come from the audience, whose attendance has slowed considerably in one week.

"Revolutions" now has $115 million in the bank domestically, which is about $100 million less than it needs to start showing a profit. Luckily, international audiences haven't been distracted by the lack of plot or dialogue. They've forked over about $130 million total. But here in the U.S., "Revolutions" will take a lot longer than expected to cross the $200 million mark — if it does at all.

Soul Man Has One Life to Sing

Tune into ABC's "One Life to Live" today at 2 p.m. EST. That's when R&B legend Sam "Soul Man" Moore makes a rare appearance as the bartender in the fictional town of Llanview, Pa. The occasion for this is a big dance number set to Moore's song "Plenty Good Lovin'", the title track from his "lost" solo album (you can order it through amazon.com).

I had the pleasure of visiting the set the day of the taping, and the big discussion was about a serial killer on the loose in the town. (The serial killer is actually a cost-cutting device who murders higher-paid actors with long-term contracts.)

One of the actors in the dance episode was distraught "for real" that day because they'd just learned they were next on the hit list. See if you can guess who it is. And dig the fancy steps from Emmy-winning star Robert S. Woods, a Vietnam vet and former dance instructor...