Exclusive: First Review of 'King Arthur'

The King's Man | P. Diddy's Patsy | Music Exec's Threats Denied

Exclusive: First Review of 'King Arthur'

You may not be able to pronounce the name Ioan Gruffudd, but lots of women can.

Gruffudd, who is strikingly handsome, has been cast to play Dr. Reed Richards (he's Mr. Fantastic, the elastic guy) in the next big Marvel Comics adaptation, "The Fantastic Four."

In the meantime, Gruffudd's fans — many of whom showed up last night for the big premiere of "King Arthur" — will have to settle for him in the Disney/Touchstone production as Lancelot.

These women turned up in droves for Gruffudd, who now lives in Los Angeles with British actress Alice Evans, herself a breakthrough star about to happen.

Clive Owen plays King Arthur himself in Antoine Fuqua's retelling of the Knights of the Roundtable, and David Franzoni — who wrote the script for "Gladiator" and "Amistad," among others — supplied the slightly ponderous and sometimes confusing screenplay here.

Keira Knightley, the 19-year-old "it" girl of 2004, enters the fray about halfway through the movie as a pumped-up Guinevere who's more Linda Hamilton from "Terminator 2" than Liv Tyler from "Lord of the Rings."

Disney is counting on "King Arthur," produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, to change its luck after a string of flops, the Pixar and Miramax ordeals and the embarrassment of seeing rejected "Fahrenheit 9/11" break all records for documentaries. They may be on the right track.

Unlike all other recent Disney releases, "Arthur" is not bad. It contains one spectacular set piece in which Arthur and his knights lure the invading enemy across a frozen lake and turn them into ice cubes. It's just about worth the whole price of admission, with terrific cinematography and a music score that only seems to help instead of hinder.

Of course, "King Arthur" is based on a legend, not actual history, so naysayers will have a hard time criticizing it. Nevertheless, the movie strays from the conventional Arthurian tale, and that's where it gets into trouble.

"King Arthur" is also underplayed in spots where it should be more glamorous, making even the many dialogue-less fight scenes feel like a long game of Risk instead of a walloping good time.

Owen is an excellent Arthur, but Fuqua's direction doesn't allow him to be as heroic as Russell Crowe was in "Gladiator." He's more intellectual, as is most everyone else, so there are fewer thrills in "Arthur" than might have been. (That doesn't include Ray Winstone, as Bors, in a first for a Disney film, describing the size of his genitals to the other knights with glee. Jiminy Cricket!)

Nevertheless, Disney put on the dog last night, bussing the Ziegfeld audience uptown to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The hushed chapel looked like it could have been a cathedral from the movie's time period. Actors from "Medieval Times" jousted and played the lute while the cast and friends dined on more modern and tasty fare.

Bruckheimer and Disney execs, agents and managers were all there, as was one of my favorite people, Spanish actor Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls"). He sported a custom-made T-shirt that read "Stop Wars" mimicking the "Star Wars" logo.

The church was also outfitted with the actual roundtable and chairs from the film — quite elaborate and beautiful — which prompted questions among publicists and stars about who was supposed to sit where. Nothing's changed in 1,600 years, it seems.

P. Diddy's Patsy in $7M Deal

Good news! The expression "he can't get arrested" — i.e., your career is over — is about to take on new meaning.

Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, the rapper currently serving a prison sentence stemming from the famous Sean "Puffy" Combs/P. Diddy shoot-and-run case from 1999, is getting $7 million from Island/Def JamRecords, still a division of Doug Morris's Universal Music Group — all still owned by Vivendi.

That's right: Barrow's reward for his prison sentence is $7 million. He's releasing his first record from prison on August 10. It's called "Godfather Buried Alive," and will be issued on his very own label, called Gangland Records. Isn't that great?

Is it a coincidence that Combs/P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean John, Broadway star and marathon runner, also has a deal at Island/Def Jam? Maybe.

Combs released one Shyne album after the 1999 debacle that included him and then-fiancée Jennifer Lopez skipping out after a shootout in a New York City nightclub, and running 11 red lights with a registered firearm in their SUV. But then Combs' record label, Bad Boy, was dumped by BMG and moved to Universal Music Group.

Shyne's 10-year prison sentence was for gun possession and assault. He can't be released from prison until 2009, so at least this gives him something to do while that $7 million collects interest.

Of course, that $7 million is more than Hillary Clinton got for her memoirs and almost as much as Bill did. In fact, it's pretty much more than any educated, unincarcerated author of any book on any subject has ever received.

There was a lot of complaining about the Clintons getting so much when their deals were announced. So far, I haven't heard a peep over a convicted felon getting $7 million. I guess all those struggling singers, writers and rappers who can't get deals will now feel compelled to commit crimes.

Vivendi, of course, is no stranger to scandals involving crime. Last week, the company's former CEO, Jean-Marie Messier, was arrested by French authorities who are investigating a massive share buyback in which Vivendi allegedly spent over $1.2 billion (U.S.) to prop up its own share price in the weeks following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Earlier this year, Vivendi sold off its Universal Pictures group to NBC and General Electric. Surprisingly, they were not interested in acquiring Universal Music Group, which has made a name for itself by selling millions of copies of rap records.

Denied: Music Exec's Threats to Billboard

New Warner Music Group chief Lyor Cohen, who previously ran Island/Def Jam, told me last week he never threatened the publisher of Billboard.

But that's what's alleged in a new complaint filed by former Billboard editor-in-chief Keith Girard and senior editor Samantha Chang in a lawsuit that has rocked the record industry.

According to Girard, Billboard publisher John Kilcullen, who is named in the complaint, received the threat right after Billboard ran a detailed accounting of Cohen's travails stemming from another lawsuit — the one in which TVT Records was originally awarded $132 million against Universal/Island/DefJam for interfering with its business. The article appeared in Billboard on March 30.

In paragraph 44, page 14 of the complaint, Girard and Chang claim: "Kilcullen told Girard that the executive had complained to him about the article and had threatened that Warner Music Group would boycott Billboard if it continued to cover the story. Kilcullen told Girard that, because of Billboard's deteriorating financial condition, he must stop covering the story."

The executive, unnamed in the complaint, is also identified as having recently left Universal for Warner, and has been reported in other media outlets as being Cohen.

Cohen told me, however, that he has never spoken to or met Kilcullen. Cohen and his publicist also insisted to me that there was obviously no boycott of Billboard by Warner, since articles continued to appear in the trade paper about the record company.

No article since the Cohen feature, however, has cast much of a negative light on Warner, however.

Cohen was found liable for $56 million, one half of a $132 million lawsuit Universal Music Group lost to TVT Records last year.

An appeals court reduced Cohen's personal liability to $3 million, and the Universal portion to $24 million. The case is being appealed, but at the same time Universal is suing its insurers, claiming that they were responsible for indemnification.

Subsequently, Cohen left his post at Island/Def Jam and took over running of the new Warner Music Group, which Edgar Bronfman, Jr. and a group of investors bought from Time Warner. Bronfman had previously tried to buy Vivendi's Universal assets that went to NBC, after selling his family's parent company, Seagram's, which had bought Universal, to Vivendi (see above).

The complaint by Girard and Chang, which also includes a sexual-harassment charge, also claims that Kilcullen told Girard in May 2004 not to not publish any articles, editorials or cartoons that might "piss off" the major record companies and cause them to withhold advertising.

Girard says he was told that if he didn't comply, he would be fired. Which he was, anyway.