Jacko Fans Jump Ship

Jacko | Ocean's Twelve | Million Dollar Text Message | Butch Walker | Bruce Springsteen

Jacko Fans Jump Ship; Sales in Dumpster

Not much good news for the recently swabbed ex-King of Pop. It seems that even Michael Jackson's hard-core fans have stopped spending money on him.

So far, Jackson's boxed set, "The Ultimate Collection," has not proven to be a sales winner. It's sold 14,000 copies since its release last month. The set sells for about $50 in most places.

This is in contrast to the Beatles' "Capitol Albums Vol. 1," which is similarly priced. Released on the same day as Jackson's set, it has moved 56,000 units so far.

The Jackson debacle is no surprise, but Sony Music can't be happy. It forked over a $3 million advance to Jackson in October for the boxed set. At this rate, total revenue so far is $700,000.

The rest of Jackson's catalog still sells a total of around 15,000 copies a week, mostly deep-discounted copies of the remastered "Thriller."

Polluted 'Ocean's' Makes Waves

Steven Soderbergh's polluted "Ocean's Twelve" tells almost the complete story of studio moviemaking versus indie film production.

The "sequel" to Soderbergh's remake of "Ocean's Eleven" opens Friday with a big, all-star cast, including the director's partner George Clooney and their cliquish group of friends: Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Casey Affleck and, of course, Julia Roberts.

The gang aims to be carefree and breezy like Frank Sinatra's old Rat Pack. More often than not, though, this group comes off as insufferably cute instead of hip and roguish.

Sometimes "Ocean's Twelve" is like one of those Oprah Winfrey shows where the host gushes over the celebrity guests' wealth and good fortune — it's just too much.

In this case, it's almost like "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," as Clooney shows off his magnificent neighboring villas and vistas in Lake Como, Italy.

What the filmmakers think is a clever heist movie comes off instead as a meta-treatise on how fame corrupts actors.

This occurs about halfway through the film when Roberts, who has thus far only been in one or two scenes, actually starts playing herself when her character is asked to impersonate — ahem — Julia Roberts.

Wink, wink. This allows Roberts to riff on herself in a really cool way, so we know she doesn't take Hollywood seriously.

If that wasn't bad enough, Bruce Willis, who plays himself, appears in a hotel lobby and starts talking with "Julia Roberts" about his real-life children, her real-life publicist, by name.

Do we need this? Is this worth $10 a ticket? I think not.

(There's also a patience-trying cameo from "That '70s Show" star Topher Grace, parodying himself too, and an inside joke about Kabbalah. So clever!)

Of course, I thought the same thing when Soderbergh, Roberts and pals inflicted us with his awful "indie" film, "Full Frontal," a couple of years ago.

I mean, really. How dare they? Who are these people?

And here's a better question: What the heck happened to the Soderbergh who made "The Limey" and "King of the Hill" and "Out of Sight"? He's been replaced by the person who made "Solaris" and this unimportant, semi-amusing piffle.

Of course, one change has happened in Soderbergh's life since his days as the indie darling who made "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" for Miramax. He's hooked up with the schlockiest producer a Hollywood studio could summon up: Jerry Weintraub.

The list of forgettable flotsam and jetsam on Weintraub's resume is astounding. It was he, and only he, who gave us such cinema classics as "Troop Beverly Hills," "Listen to Me," "She's Out of Control," "My Stepmother Is an Alien" and "The Gods Must Be Crazy II."

Weintraub would be the first to point out that not all his taste is trash. He raised the money early in his career for Robert Altman's "Nashville" and Barry Levinson's "Diner."

But Weintraub also produced the anti-gay film "Cruising" in 1980, as well as "The Karate Kid" and its three sequels, Sharon Stone's embarrassing duet with Sylvester Stallone in "The Specialist" and one of the all-time great commercial and artistic flops of all time, "The Avengers."

Viewed from this angle, "Ocean's Twelve" is a masterpiece.

Weintraub offers a stellar autobiography in the press notes to his new effort, citing his charitable work and contributions to film history.

This CV, however, has one glaring omission: the story of his ill-fated Weintraub Entertainment Group, which had a short but notorious run from 1986 to 1990.

Emblematic of the late '80s Wall Street/savings-and-loan scandals, Weintraub — enlisting the help of his pal, junk-bond king Michael Milken — raised $461 million in 1987 to fund a movie company.

Weintraub made a bunch of gigantic flops, lost all the investors' money and filed for bankruptcy.

He was lucky, though: Another pal, then Warner co-chief Terry Semel, brought him aboard the Warner mother ship and gave him a production deal. WEG went up in smoke, but Weintraub survived.

It should be noted that his other white knight, Milken, wound up going to jail.

WEG's largest unsecured creditor: the federal government. The Resolution Trust Corporation, the agency responsible for cleaning up the S&L scandals, got stuck with $22.5 million in WEG junk bonds that had been fobbed off on the banks by Milken and other brokers.

Million Dollar Text Message

You think sitting in a regular movie theater is bad, what with people talking and crinkling candy wrappers and such? Well, guess what? It's just as bad in screening rooms these days.

This happened yesterday afternoon during a showing at the Warner Screening Room of Clint Eastwood's very emotional "Million Dollar Baby": An "Access Hollywood" producer, in withdrawal from more important matters concerning Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, opened her phone and started sending text messages! (This was only a day after someone in the same screening room was chowing down on a sandwich during "Ocean's Twelve.")

The producer — who later excused herself by saying she was on deadline — certainly chose her moment. She waited until Hilary Swank was in the middle of a crucial dramatic speech that will probably get her a bunch of awards.

All of a sudden a neon blue light went on, and the woman — who was sitting next to yours truly — began furiously thumbing her keypad.

This reporter had to snap his fingers loudly, which did the trick after merely asking her to turn it off wasn't enough.

I thought that would be the end of it. But, as Boris Badenov used to say, "Who gets blown up? Me!" At the conclusion of the screening, the young magazine editor behind me — who'd earlier been explaining to his friend why comic Dave Chappelle could not be on his cover — railed at me for snapping my fingers.

But let's look on the bright side: At least he wasn't eating.

Butch Walker: An Epic Omission

The Grammy nominations announced yesterday have plenty of terrific choices in different categories, including Alicia Keys, Elvis Costello, Al Green and lots of Ray Charles.

It's all good. Even Bill Clinton got a nod.

But wait: nothing for Butch Walker, whose show I caught on Monday night at the Bowery Ballroom. Epic Records clearly doesn't understand what it has in Walker, a triple-threat hyphenated pop star-producer-songwriter with the soulful voice of an angel.

If Clive Davis' J Records had Walker, he'd have been a multiple Grammy nominee this year for his album "Letters." Instead, Walker, 35, is lost in the industry's black hole.

What's interesting is that Walker sold out the Ballroom instantly, and has a cult following whose members clearly know the words to each of his extremely melodic 45-rpm single-like songs.

At many points during the show, Walker, who sports tattoos of Elvis Presley and Costello (one on each forearm), cut his mike and lets the audience do the work. Is there another act on Epic with such fan recognition? I doubt it.

Walker's predicament reminds me a little of Aimee Mann's. Like that iconoclastic singer, Walker once fronted a group — Marvelous 3 — that had a hit, then took off on his own and faced oblivion. Fans keep his career alive.

But what I saw on Monday was ridiculous. Time for Epic and the record industry to pay attention to this guy. Otherwise, no one can complain about lip-synching bozos and bimbos taking over the biz.

Springsteen Christmas Redux

It's that time of the year again. Bruce Springsteen will do one charity show on Dec. 19 for the Merchants Guild of Asbury Park, New Jersey.

The venue is Harry's Roadhouse Bar, a new watering hole owned by John Dorrian, the owner of the infamous Upper East Side spot Dorrian's Red Hand. (That's where "Preppy Killer" Robert Chambers met Jennifer Levin before he strangled her.)

The Harry's Web site does not list the Springsteen event, but it does have an animated link to information about something called the RAVE Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy). The site also claims that Dorrian is planning on opening more restaurants in Asbury Park.