Worst Sundance Film | Jackson Pays Neverland Workers | Ledger Covers Cruise | Great Actresses

Worst Sundance Film: Sex and Self-Mutilation

OK, I’ve told you about some very good new films we saw at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, like “American Teen” and “The Wackness.”

But the worst film, the one that easily rivaled Alan Ball’s “Towelhead” from last fall’s Toronto Fest? “Downloading Nancy,” starring Maria Bello, Jason Patric and Rufus Sewell.

Maria, one of my favorite actresses, plays Nancy. She hires a murderous pen pal on the Internet to come and kill her. (I think it’s because she’s depressed.)

While she’s waiting to be offed by Patric, Nancy self-mutilates with a razor blade. She cuts herself all over the place. Not even her shrink, played by “Judging” Amy Brenneman, can talk her out of it. Nancy’s husband, played by British theater star Sewell, has no luck either.

By the time Nancy meets up with Patric’s Louis, she’s cut herself to ribbons and bleeding all over.

When did I walk out, er, escape from the theater? At the point that Louis ties her up in bed. Bello, naked, squirms while Patric cuts her and has sex with her. You can’t imagine all the distributors and journalists I ran into in the lobby. “One woman was crying when she left,” a ticket taker told me.

Why Bello did this movie is a mystery to me. In her other Sundance film this year, "The Yellow Handkerchief," directed by Uduyan Prasad, Bello is simply exceptional. Her performance alongside co-star William Hurt is sexy and vulnerable, and never overstated.

“Downloading Nancy,” although surely titillating, is completely unwatchable. I’m not sure if it’s worse than “Towelhead” — that’s the film in which 35-year-old Aaron Eckhart has sex twice with a 13-year-old girl played by a young-looking 18-year-old actress. But it’s close.

By the way, the movie ends with Patric strangling Bello. Kudos to Ray Liotta, who managed to get out of making this thing before it began. It would have topped his final scenes in Ridley Scott’s “Hannibal,” when Anthony Hopkins dines on his brains. I guess he figured stop while you’re ahead.

Jackson Finally Pays Neverland Workers

Filed with the Santa Barbara County Thursday: a satisfaction of judgment by the temp company that sued Michael Jackson.

Real Staffing Inc. had supplied Jackson with workers at his Neverland Ranch but never got paid. They were part of the late 2005 action by the state against Jackson regarding employees’ back pay and workmen's comp insurance.

This latest payment comes from the refinancing of Jackson’s $300 million loan by HSBC, when they bought out Fortress Investments.

But this doesn’t change Jackson’s pending foreclosure by Fortress on the $23 million loan secured by Neverland. This week, the 90-day period of grace since Jackson’s Oct. 19 default came and went. At any time, Fortress can begin foreclosure proceedings. Jackson’s reps had hired a mortgage broker to try and find a new lender, but no one came along with the money.

Tom Cruise Can Thank Heath Ledger

It’s a morbid thought, but news cycles only run so long anymore. For a scandal to last from Monday to Friday is rare enough. For it to make it through the weekend and start anew the following Monday — well, that’s even more of a long shot.

Tom Cruise’s Scientology videos scandal almost made it. It was two weeks ago Saturday night that this column received an e-mail with a link to a Web site accompanied by a password. On the Web site were eight videos of Tom Cruise, Hollywood superstar, doing commercials for Scientology in 2004. The videos included several interviews.

One video, still not seen anywhere in its entirety, showed Cruise accepting something called the Freedom of Valor Medal from Scientology chief David Miscavige in front a cheering crowd of the faithful at the sect’s Celebrity Center. Cruise salutes Miscavige, praises him as a leader, and then speaks directly to a portrait of founder L. Ron Hubbard as if he were alive.

By Monday, the story of the videos was everywhere. By the end of the week, media from the New York Post to CBS to BBC were linking to some form of the videos. The story threatened to return on Tuesday, since Monday was the Dr. King holiday.

And then, as it happens, the Cruise story was supplanted on Tuesday by something bigger: Heath Ledger’s tragic death. Cruise had been in this position before. He’d often traded off “scandal days” with Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson. etc. But now it was his turn to luck out. The Scientology videos were suddenly of much less interest.

Nevertheless, there was some action on the subject. Actor Jerry O’Connell, a witty TV and movie actor, posted a parody of the videos on YouTube. The parody, complete with “Mission: Impossible” music in the background, has been viewed over 3,000 times since it surfaced.

Cruise has so far acted above all of this, including the Andrew Morton biography currently selling well on amazon.com. It’s No. 16. Cruise is even scheduled to appear on Sunday as a presenter at the Screen Actors Guild awards.

But what effect will this have on his career? That is, if one still exists. Cruise still has to finish filming “Valkryrie,” a problematic film with a $100 million price tag. In the meantime, the Internet is buzzing with message boards and blogs mocking the videos.

Remembering Great Actresses

Along with Heath Ledger, we lost two other wonderful actors this week: Suzanne Pleshette was 70 and Lois Nettleton was 80.

Pleshette’s biggest career achievement was playing Emily, Dr. Bob’s long suffering and richly sarcastic wife on “The Bob Newhart Show.”

In real life, Pleshette was hot stuff. Her first marriage, to Tab Hunter, the teen heartthrob, lasted nine months in 1964. Hot stuff.

In later years, in addition to her acting, Pleshette was known to her neighbors at the Empire West apartments in West Hollywood as Queen Bee. She oversaw the decorating and all amenities of the well-known building populated with stars. She left a lasting legacy there.

Lois Nettleton was one of those actresses who worked in TV and theater constantly but never got the adulation — or awards. She was nominated for three Emmys, but never won one. She won two Daytime Emmys — not for soap operas but for special dramas.

She was so versatile in early TV that the striking blonde — who simmered when she acted fragile and rueful at the same time — played three different characters on “The Fugitive” and five different ones on “Medical Center.” That kind of actor no longer exists in Hollywood — dedicated and talented. She will be missed…