How do you get people to come see your movie? Load it with stars.
Last night, $13 million worth of tickets were sold for Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven remake starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and a lot of other stars. The Warner Bros. release should make close to $40 million by tomorrow night.
Not bad for Warners, which is riding high on Harry Potter and will soon really hit the jackpot with Lord of the Rings through its New Line Cinema.
The studio was awash in red ink up until November 16th. Studio heads must be very pleased right now.
And so should Soderbergh. Ocean's Eleven isn't great, but it's very entertaining. That means that the director of movies ranging from The Limey to Traffic to Erin Brockovich is on a roll.
This is also good news for Clooney and Pitt, who have not been in huge moneymakers recently. Pitt in particular could be resurrected career-wise on these High C's. Soderbergh's next film, called Full Frontal, also has an all-star cast. It should come out next fall.
I told you a couple of weeks ago that Sean Penn's movie I Am Sam was denied access to original masters of Beatles songs for its soundtrack. Instead, the producers were forced to order up a bunch of cover versions of the songs by other artists.
This is in keeping with the Beatles' strict policy that their actual records are not used in motion pictures and do not turn up on soundtracks or compilations.
I also told you that another movie was trying desperately to get clearance on two Beatles songs. I promised the makers of the film that I wouldn't say anything until it was finalized. Now I can tell you we will not be hearing the dulcet tones of Paul, John, George, and Ringo in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums when it opens next week.
Anderson is already known for his terrific soundtrack on Rushmore, which featured a lot of Cat Stevens numbers a la Harold and Maude. For Tenenbaums, his other choices include songs by Nico and The Velvet Underground.
Originally, Anderson and his great soundtrack adviser Randy Poster had opened the film with the Fab Four singing "Hey Jude." Later in the movie they used a version of "I'm Looking Through You" from the Beatles' Anthology album to illustrate a point.
The songs were used in the version of the movie shown at Lincoln Center in September for the New York Film Festival. At the time, Anderson did say that the songs weren't final.
Nevertheless, Poster — who's the go-to-guy in the movie biz for soundtracks — hoped for the best. Unfortunately, even he could not persuade the reps of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr to change their minds.
When Lawrence Kasdan wanted Beatle songs for The Big Chill way back in 1982, he was turned down. That was the beginning of pop songs from the sixties being included on soundtracks, and the policy has remained in place. "Hey Jude" in particular is considered sacrosanct.
So what did Anderson do? He had Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly and famously of the group Devo, compose instrumental versions of the songs and substituted them. Mothersbaugh already wrote the score for the rest of the movie, and I'm told it works nicely.
I've got it on good authority that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has made its decisions about who will be inducted and who won't.
Surprise! Just as this column predicted some months ago, both The Ramones and the Talking Heads are in. But it's not such a surprise is it? Both groups recorded for Sire Records and were discovered by the Rock Hall of Fame's co-chairman Seymour Stein. He's not going to leave them out. It will be interesting to see if Stein was able to force in the Sex Pistols, who also recorded on Sire.
Unfortunately, Sire Records — part of Warner Music — is teetering right now and could be axed before the annual Rock Hall dinner and salute in March. "I just hope Sire is still around when they give the awards," sniffed my source.
Other possible inductees this year: The Dells, Brenda Lee, Patti Smith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, AC/DC, Jackson Browne, The Chantels, The "5" Royales, Isaac Hayes, Gram Parsons, and Gene Pitney. My guess is Stein and Jann Wenner, who controls the inductees, will probably pick from that group: Smith, Browne, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Dells — the latter as a perfunctory nod to R&B. The doo-wop groups, Pitney and Parsons will probably be passed over.
And still no word on whether Chubby Checker's request to have a statue of himself place in the front courtyard of the Cleveland Museum will be honored.
I've seen so many new movies in so few days, my head is spinning. I'm hearing others in the entertainment press start to moan: Too much, too much in too short a time.
Of course, only that phony National Board of Review, er, Senior Citizen Fans, didn't tire of the experience. They didn't have to see all the December movies.
Everyone wants to know: which is the Best Picture? I've seen Ali, The Shipping News, A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings, The Royal Tenenbaums, Vanilla Sky, and I Am Sam so far. And so far, the jury is out. Some are better than others and a couple, the latter two and Lord of the Rings, have been discussed in this space.
What I can tell you is that regardless of the movies' overall product, we've all seen lots of great performances. In fact the lists for Best Actor/Actress etc. are a lot longer than the ones for Best Film.
Last night I saw an early screening of The Shipping News, which features an outstanding lead performance by Kevin Spacey. He joins a list of actors which might include Will Smith (Ali), Russell Crowe (Beautiful Mind), Guy Pearce (Memento), Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), Gene Hackman (Tenenbaums), Billy Bob Thornton (The Man Who Wasn't There) and Denzel Washington (Training Day).
But remember this now: so far no single film has captured anyone's imagination. There is no American Beauty or Cider House Rules or Shakespeare in Love that's gotten the hardcore reviewers and interviewers really jazzed up. Of course, The Shipping News is just starting to be screened, and I'm told that the few legit members of the NBR made a last minute push for it, only to be rebuffed by the Moulin Rouge squad. Start spreading that News.
Gerald Levin announced his retirement on Wednesday morning as head of AOL Time Warner. But on Tuesday night he gave no indication that he was leaving when he showed up at a NARAS dinner to honor New York Heroes. Levin was there to toast Linda Moran, who ran the Warner Music Group for him for years.
Other honorees were Carole King, Russell Simmons, and the group Kiss. In the crowd: Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty with his beautiful wife Marisol, Motown legend Mary Wilson, and Reverend Run from Run DMC, who happens to be Russell Simmons' brother.
Levin wore his trademark open collar dress shirt and T-shirt, and he worked the room like nothing in his life was different. People will be talking for years to come about his reign as the head of the company Steve Ross created, but I'll say this about Levin: He is one of the nicest guys around, a real gentleman, and he will be missed in this new millennium of business.
He said of Moran, now the head of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, "She started on September 8, 1970 and we've been working for her ever since. She's the most loved person in the music business."
Frances Preston, the head of BMI, described traveling with Moran — who still consults for Warner's and hopefully will be used by the new administration for her expertise — as like "being with a politician. She's a Rolodex on speed."
Moran, whose husband Mike who worked on Elvis Presley's records in the 1970s, said: "I still get to go home and sleep with Elvis Presley's recording engineer every night."