Clooney and Renee Ooze Charm | Rockers Divorce | Madonna Documentary Directed by Her Gardner | MGM: Lion Sleeps Tonight; Soaps in a Lather

Clooney and Renee Ooze Charm

George Clooney has a new movie opening this week called "Leatherheads." Maybe you’ve seen the ads. It stars Clooney, who directed it, and Renee Zellweger with John Krasinski of "The Office."

Clooney was so enamored of his Coen Brothers stint in "O Brother Where Art Thou" that he tried to evoke the same kind of goofy 1920s mentality by sending up the early days of pro football.

The title refers to the leather helmets worn by the players. It’s a wonder there weren’t more head injuries and concussions, frankly, considering the flimsiness of the material. The same can be said of this screenplay. Several more drafts would have helped enormously, and I’m not talking about college drafts.

So the amazing thing is that "Leatherheads" is incredibly likable in many ways. Clooney and Zellweger have a lot of chemistry, which George emphasizes in the direction. You get the feeling the actors are making the script snappier as they go along. Renee is sexy and cute and plays the Girl Friday reporter with some modern touches.

Clooney really wants to make a Preston Sturges film here, and he nearly pulls it together. Production design is excellent and looks expensive. That helps enormously. For the first half of the film, George manages to get his cast revved up and in the mindset of a Sturges film.

Krasinski is the big, dumb football dude whom Zellweger is trying to unmask as tarting up his World War I resume. But Clooney needs Krasinski to make his team a success, so he doesn’t want Renee to tamper with his celebrity.

Unfortunately, the plot device becomes so convoluted in the second half that you kind of glaze over as the principals try to unravel it. You wonder, "Did all this make sense to these people when they were shooting it? Isn’t the shortest distance between two points a straight line?"

Luckily, George and Renee exude so much charm that you don’t mind watching them wrap it all up. There also are a few inside jokes. The owner of Renee’s newspaper is a heavyweight named Harvey, a nod to Mr. Weinstein, the man who gave Clooney his first directorial job in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and helped get Renee her Oscar in "Cold Mountain."

Clooney’s producing partner, Grant Heslov, plays a radio broadcaster, and the amazing Randy Newman, who wrote the movie’s wonderful New Orleans jazz-based score, has a cameo as a piano player.

Rockers Divorce

Scott Weiland — remember him? He was the drug-addicted lead singer from Stone Temple Pilots in the '90s. After his many rehab stints and calamities, he formed Velvet Revolver with Slash and two other abandoned members of Guns N' Roses. Alas, even Velvet Revolver couldn't settle Weiland down. They bounced him this week for "erratic behavior," which in the old days was an employment requisite for a rocker.

Anyway, Weiland is fighting back. He's just issued a statement through his publicist. Here goes — but I think the worst thing he reveals is that Slash's real name is Saul Hudson:

"After reading the comment by Duff, Matt, Dave and the illustrious “GUITAR HERO,” Saul Hudson, "a.k.a Slash, I find it humorous that the so called four “founding members” of Velvet Revolver, better known to themselves as “the Project” before I officially named the band, would decide to move on without me after I had already claimed the group dead in the water on March 20 in Glasgow.

"In response to Slash’s comment regarding my commitment, I have to say it is a blatant and tired excuse to cover up the truth. The truth of the matter is that the band had not gotten along on multiple levels for some time. On a musical level, there were moments of joy, inspiration, fun…at times, but let’s not forget the multiple trips to rehab every member of the band had taken (with the exception of one member, no need to mention his name).

"Personally speaking" — editor's note, this is different than publicly speaking — "I choose to look forward to the future and performing with a group of friends I have known my entire life, people who have always had my back. This also speaks to my commitment to my music and my fellow band mates in STP and to the fans who I feel would much rather watch a group of musicians who enjoy being together as opposed to a handful of discontents who at one time used to call themselves a gang.

p.s. don’t be fooled by veiled trickery

p.p.s good hunting lads, I think Sebastian Bach would be a fantastic choice."

Madonna Documentary Directed by Her Gardner

A very air-brushed Madonna is on the cover of the new Vanity Fair extolling the virtues of charity and her new album, etc.

She talks about her upcoming documentary about "saving" Malawi orphans. What she doesn’t say is that the film was made by her gardener, Nathan Rissman. She promoted him to documentary filmmaker when he showed her little films of her kids, according to several accounts. Among the four associate producers is a member of the Kabbalah hierarchy, Philippe van den Bossche.

The film, which has a Web site and may be shown to the unwitting at the Cannes Film Festival, features a huge dose of Kabbalah via its Spirituality for Kids curriculum. The Kabbalah program is featured in the film and on the Web site, and so is the group’s "director of research and training," someone named Heath Grant, PhD. What’s his PhD in? Grant says in the accompanying video, "Criminology." OK, whatever.

But here’s the more pressing question: Where is the $3.7 million Madonna and friends say they collected on Feb. 6 at their Gucci/Kabbalah/UNICEF event?

Madonna’s celebrity friends all turned out for the event, and some of them may have even written checks. Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, etc. showed up, got their pictures taken and carried on about helping African orphans.

But where is the money? I told you then that Madonna’s charity, Raising Malawi, was a front for Philip Berg’s Kabbalah Center in Hollywood. His son, Michael, is the Raising Malawi founder. They bring adult Malawians to Los Angeles, inculcate them in Kabbalah, which is not Judaism but an invention of Berg’s, then send them back to teach it to the orphans.

So far, though, Raising Malawi remains unregistered and unrecognized as a charity. I noticed that back on Feb. 6, when a press release was issued — and picked up without question by wire services and lazy press. It said that the money was going to "the Gucci Foundation, a registered charity."

Well, there’s no Gucci Foundation, according to the registered charities bureau of New York state and according to guidestar.com. If there is a Gucci Foundation, it exists in some esoteric registry. There’s no paperwork on it in any of the places where charities are registered.

Of course, that leaves Berg’s Kabbalah Center, which hides under the Spirituality for Kids banner. According to its 2006 federal tax filing, SFK has over $11 million in assets. Van den Bossche gets a salary of $136,577 a year. Grant gets $93,723.

The Bergs — and Madonna — like to say that Spirituality for Kids, which is now the basis for the Malawi program, is separate from Kabbalah. But according to the 2006 filing, SFK transferred a whopping $5 million into the Kabbalah Children’s Academy that year.

MGM: Lion Sleeps Tonight; Soaps in a Lather

Ailing MGM loses Rick Sands, the guy they thought could turn it around. Rick, whom I have not talked to yet, came from Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. But I’m told he couldn’t deal with the mediocrity and chaos. No doubt the crazy MGM-United Artists deal with Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner didn’t help. MGM started announcing people coming in over Rick two weeks ago. He’s already gone, they say. Smart and popular, Rick will wind up with a real movie company soon. …

The craziness at daytime dramas — soap operas — is continuing in a new direction. This one bears watching. Susan Flannery, the Emmy-winning veteran star of "The Bold and the Beautiful," apparently is at the center of a controversy concerning which union — SAG or AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — will cover soap actors once the two unions split.

Flannery, according to many sources, went to SAG with complaints about AFTRA. Other actors from her show may have joined her in this insurgency.

Certainly, soap actors get the worst treatment and are lowest on every totem pole. Recently, Procter & Gamble kicked out its biggest star, Martha Byrne, after 25 years, from CBS’ "As the World Turns" when she asked to be guaranteed a number of episodes in the coming year.

At the same time, P&G’s "Guiding Light" on CBS has been turned into a debacle. To save money, they’ve eliminated most sets and camera crew, letting handheld video operators film the actors outdoors and then edit the material on site. The result is the biggest mess ever seen on professional television, production-wise.

The "Guiding Light" actors should be protesting via their union. The question is: Which one, SAG or AFTRA?