Tommy Mottola's Casablanca Records, with no hits and not much to brag about, took another beating this week.
On Monday, pop tart Lindsay Lohan — Mottola's big find for all of 2004 — was caught lip-synching on "Good Morning America."
The Lohan incident is akin to the Ashlee Simpson debacle on "Saturday Night Live," but this gaffe is much worse.
Simpson at least had had an album on the charts for weeks before she was "outed." Lohan's album has been out just out two days now, and the bad word of mouth could kill it fast.
For Mottola this is no joke. He partially funds Casablanca himself, so Lohan's album and its success is crucial to him.
What I don't understand is that Mottola knows real talent better than anyone. Why he would sign an act that obviously has been manufactured for a quick hit? It's beyond me.
For example, Mariah Carey, no matter what her other issues may be, can sing. So can Jessica Simpson, Céline Dion and many other chanteuses with whom Mottola has had business dealings.
He's obviously spent too much time with J-Lo. It's a shame, too. So much money being poured into a fake while really talented singers, writers and performers remain in sales-and-marketing oblivion.
Mottola should do a reality show called "Saved From the Brink," in which he showcases pop stars who have label deals and little public awareness.
He could start with Butch Walker, whom I wrote about in this space yesterday, and include other acts such as Snow Patrol, Keane, Vivian Green, Interpol, Hawthorne Heights, Julia Fordham and Garland Jeffreys. And that's just for starters.
He'll be 75 in March, but Clint Eastwood — maybe Hollywood's first independent director — has made his second film a row that will be an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.
In fact, "Million Dollar Baby" is so exceptional that it guarantees nominations for Eastwood and co-star Hilary Swank in leading roles and Morgan Freeman in a supporting one.
"Million Dollar Baby" is no comedy, however. Its raw dramatic and emotional heft is draining and will leave you completely rocked to the core by the time the credits start rolling.
But this is what a real movie is supposed to do, and Eastwood, who studied the work of Sergio Leone, Sam Fuller and Sam Peckinpah before stepping out on his own, has made a work of art.
The film will now join the small group of great 2004 movies for accolades and awards, including: "Finding Neverland," "Sideways," "Ray," "The Aviator," "The Sea Inside," "The Motorcycle Diaries," "Hotel Rwanda," "House of Flying Daggers," "Bad Education," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Baadasssss!"
Forget about Jude Law. This is the fourth movie of the year to feature young actor Anthony Mackie. I don't think he can be called a newcomer anymore. In February, he headlines an original play on Broadway.
For the rest of the cast and for Eastwood, "Million Dollar Baby" is nothing less than a tour de force.
Eastwood and Freeman, who worked so well together in "Unforgiven," are here so easy with each other that they finish each other's sentences. I asked them about this at the premiere on Sunday night and they agreed.
"We're very comfortable with each other," Freeman acknowledged.
It shows. Eastwood once told me he only liked working with actors who were "get-and-up-go" types. Both Swank and Freeman fit that bill.
"Oh, they really are get-up-and-go types," Eastwood said.
He's a man of few words on stage and off.
What's interesting about this story is that it could very well have turned mawkish and mushy under someone else's direction — but not Eastwood's. Any sign of sentimentality is banished.
Eastwood's character, the owner of a boxing gym, and Freeman's, an ex-fighter who cleans the place and offers advice, are like an old married couple. They sure do speak in a language all their own, and that's the way they operate on all levels. Everything is understood.
Into their lives comes Maggie (Swank), who wants Clint's character to train her to fight.
Eastwood uses his trademark squint and rougher-than-gravel voice to its best advantage here. He becomes Maggie's surrogate father, platonic lover and guardian by degrees as the movie progresses.
And boy, does it ever progress, far beyond the boundaries of even the best boxing films, such as the recent "Girlfight," and into something with much larger ideas and goals.
That Eastwood is able to make the shift from the boxing ring to another level of moral and medical ethics is the real triumph of this amazing movie.
Swank won the Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry" five years ago at age 25. But she's drifted since then, not finding the right material.
Now at 30, and still relatively unaffected by celebrity or its trappings, she proves she is the real thing. Her performance as Maggie will give Annette Bening a real run for her money this year.
I told you this just about 10 days ago too: This is a rematch of the Oscar race from 1999.
Bening's character in "Being Julia" seems like an éclair compared to the hot poker of a life Maggie endures in "Million Dollar Baby." They are equally great performances, but I'm thinking that Swank has pulled off the near-impossible here.
In the end, "Million Dollar Baby" will get nominated for everything at all the award shows. But it may be a little like "The Shawshank Redemption" in that most people will admire the movie, but will have trouble recommending it to friends. It's a difficult, complex, sometimes slow-moving but beautiful masterwork.
If Clint Eastwood stopped right here, his entire career would be sealed in gold and applause.
Actor Kevin Spacey's passion for the life and music of the late Bobby Darin is commendable. But his movie "Beyond the Sea" is a vanity production that should not have been made.
The film premiered last night at the Ziegfeld to a room with lots of empty seats. I do think the word is out: "Beyond the Sea" has an incoherent, non-existent script.
It also has 45-year-old Spacey trying to play Darin, who died in 1973 at age 37. Spacey is a capable, enthusiastic singer, but he cannot overcome the age issue.
He looks as if he's been embalmed most of the time. As the early-1970s Darin, Spacey looks like an old hippie having trouble finding his way from the Haight to Castro St.
Revered record producer Phil Ramone is the only member of the "Sea" team to come off well. His recordings are lush and snappy, giving just the right feel to Darin's swinging rhythms. Every orchestra should sound this good.
Maybe Bobby Darin's story needed to be told on film, but I'd argue that it still hasn't been in this misguided fan letter. Spacey would have been better off filming a concert DVD called "Kevin Spacey Sings Bobby Darin, His Idol."