Julia Roberts Movie: Disaster Forces Name Change

Steven Soderbergh | John Lennon Tribute | Chubby Checker | Oscars

Julia Roberts Movie: Disaster Forces Name Change

It was bound to happen. A movie all set to go before the cameras has had to make a last minute switch.

How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire, the next film by Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic), is the much-anticipated project in question. Of course, after everything that's happened in the last few weeks, there wasn't much choice.

The film stars Julia Roberts, Catherine Keener, Blair Underwood, Mary McCormack, David Hyde Pierce, and David Duchovny. It was supposed to start filming next month on high-quality video. The release was set for March, believe it or not. The whole thing was supposed to be a spiritual cousin of Soderbergh's first movie, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which was shot for next to nothing some 12 years ago.

I am told that the new name is The Art of Negotiating a Turn. As in driving. As in a metaphor for love and relationships.

Apparently the film's story, which is still a secret, hinged on a manual called, "How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire" to which the main characters refer. It gave tips like close the windows, stay down near the ground, etc.

The new title, I guess, would replace the hotel advice with a driving manual — like how to not skid when turning into a curve, pump the brakes, etc. Also a metaphor for relationships.

I'm sure that however Soderbergh and producer Scott Kramer revise this, it will all work out. They certainly know what they're doing.

Yoko Ono Gets Her Widow's Revenge

"I'm not supposed to say anything." That's what 26-year-old Sean Ono Lennon said onstage last night at Radio City Music Hall. Hard to imagine his father saying something like that, let alone obeying such a command. But Sean — who performed admirably in three songs by his late father, John — is clearly under command by his steely mother Yoko Ono. This must be what it's like to grow up without a father.

Come Together, the TNT tribute to the words and music of John Lennon, was indeed more Yoko Ono's show than anyone else's, including John. In two hours we saw nothing of the young, pre-Yoko John, heard not a mention of the Beatles or any of their individual members. Ono, who designed this spectacle, made the videos and the songs her own, a fascistic rending of her memory of John Lennon.

Where was John's elder son, Julian? Or anyone who had anything to do with Lennon or the Beatles? Absent all, and glaringly so. Ono the historian is a recidivist, the worst kind of chronicler. Sitting in the audience, watching her new Prozacky-wacky grin from ear to ear, one couldn't help but wonder what John would think of this mishmash of a night.

There were some lovely moments, granted. Cyndi Lauper singing "Strawberry Fields Forever" caught the audience by surprise it was so good. I liked Shaggy on "Come Together" and Marc Anthony's incredible range on "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Sean acquitted himself well on "This Boy" as part of a trio, and then on "Julia" solo. He was singing about his grandmother, John's troubled mother, but instead dedicated the song to Yoko. Does she fancy herself John's mother as well as his wife? At least she had the good taste not to bring the boyfriend of 20 or so years, Sam Havadtoy.

Kevin Spacey, not satisfied with 2 Oscars, actually managed to steal the show from Yoko and friends with his own surprise rendition of "Mind Games." And what could have been a more appropriate choice for such an enigmatic guy?

The worst moment: Shelby Lynne murdering "Mother." Great legs do not make a great singer all the time.

Come Together lacked John's humor and spontaneity. For all the blathering about peace, Yoko did not extend a branch of it to his son or his former mates. But there are worse things than listening to a couple of hours of Lennon & McCartney. No matter what happens, the music remains. The songs are solid. Nothing seems to harm them.

A New Twist for Hall of Fame: Chubby Wants to Check In

Just a couple of weeks ago I told you that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation gave only $3,000 last year to indigent musicians and no money at all to their Cleveland museum. Meanwhile director Suzan Evans Hochberg gets a whopping $300,000 a year to put together the annual induction dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel have each been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Chubby Checker, the man who invented the Twist, is still out in the cold.

And he's not happy about it. This year again, Checker — whose real name is Ernest Evans — will be snubbed. Chubby, who's quite svelte (it's just a nickname) turns 60 today. He brought the Twist, the Pony, the Fly, and the Shake to American dancehalls in the 1960s. Something you might not know: Checker's recording of  "The Twist" was a hit twice in that decade. He also recorded "The Peppermint Twist" and was a mainstay of American Bandstand.

Checker wants a statue of himself placed in the courtyard at the Cleveland Museum. Considering all the other nonsense concerning the museum I say, "Why not?"

"Dancing apart to the beat is the single most important thing in rock 'n' roll," said Checker. "Before me, rock 'n' roll didn't even have a dance. I gave them three or four."

Checker is not asking to be in the Hall of Fame itself; Hank Ballard and the Midniters, who first performed "The Twist," are already in.

"No one can claim anything else like this," Checker told me. He's not surprised about the shenanigans reported in this column about the foundation either. "The record business is corrupt. What else do you expect?"

As life happens, I met Chubby Checker 15 years ago in a talk show greenroom in Los Angeles. I haven't spoken to him in all that time, but he remembered it vividly when I reminded him yesterday. How's that?

"I'm a nice guy. And you know, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame never had a nice guy like me go up against them."

So happy birthday, Chubby Checker, and good luck in your mission.

Oscar Field Shaking Out Early

Martin Scorsese may be on his way to his first Oscar for Best Picture. Early word on Gangs of New York starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent. It also helps that so far the Best Picture category is otherwise wide open, with few exciting prospects. So far Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, Michael Mann's Ali and Lasse Hallstrom's The Shipping News are getting buzz, but no one's seen them yet. I liked Robert Altman's Gosford Park, but it's unclear how it will be marketed or if the Academy voters can be persuaded to fall for this wonderful ensemble piece. From earlier this year there's only Memento, but the distribution was so small that the prospect of an Academy campaign looks doubtful. (Rent this movie, folks. It's worth it.)

If Scorsese pulls off this coup, at long last, there should be some interesting crowd on the stage. In addition to Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, the executive producers of Gangs are Alberto and Maurizio Grimaldi. The former is first cousin to the prince of Monaco, Rainier, who himself is the widower of Grace Kelly and an international man of mystery. Alberto's son Maurizio is a photographer who got screen credit because he's a Grimaldi. With the spirit of Grace Kelly invoked, the Academy should be in a swoon. And that's something to look forward to.