Madonna getting animated

OUR FAVORITE movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, told us at the “Boffo” book party for Peter Bart that he had a “scoop” on Madonna providing a voice for an upcoming Weinstein Company animated film called “Arthur and the Invisibles.” “Call me, I’ll tell you more!”

Natch, we called instantly the next day, but busy Harvey has been unreachable. So, one way or another, Madonna is not quite through with movies. Although the star says she really wants to direct.

PATTI LuPONE and Michael Cerveris will go on with their merrily gruesome pie-making through Thanksgiving in Broadway’s delicious, dark, avant garde revival of “Sweeney Todd” — directed with wicked bravura by John Doyle. The show, which opened last fall, was nominated for six Tonys including LuPone for Lead Actress in a musical. She didn’t win, but with this long run, she’s having the last laugh. And when she laughs as Mrs. Lovett…well, go see for yourself, she’s sensational.

WHEN YOU catch “Superman Returns” you’ll not only find the muscular charms of Brandon Roush as the new Man of Steel, and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor), the season’s most amusing scenery-chewer, but you’ll see the divine Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive mother. Although she won her Oscar for “On The Waterfront,” as the working class girlfriend of Marlon Brando, Miss Saint achieved sexy immortality in Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest,” deftly and daringly seducing Cary Grant. Another of her classics, John Frankenheimer’s race-car drama, “Grand Prix” arrives on DVD next month. The actress co-starred with James Garner, Yves Montand and Jessica Walter. It still holds up.

ROBERT ALTMAN’S “A Prairie Home Companion” film has sparked “sing along” screenings, at which the audience is given books with lyrics from the movie, and they are then encouraged to sing out, Louise! (This is happening at about one hundred cinemas across the country.) The soundtrack from the movie is climbing various Billboard charts. On Bluegrass it is No. 1.

MONEY DOESN’T assure quality. But certain statistics are impressive no matter the outcome. For instance, the coming stage version of “The Lord of The Rings” will cost close to $50 million! This beats “The Lion King,” although Disney is close to the vest about what that mega-hit cost. (After nine years, “Lion King” is still SRO at its new home, the Minskoff Theater.) Directed by Matthew Warchus with music by India’s AR Rahman and Finland’s folk group Varttina, “Rings” is expected to open on London’s West End next June. In Britain, at least, hopes are high for a smash. “The Lord of The Rings” was voted that country’s most popular book.

HOT TOPICS: Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. in Steven Shainberg’s “Fur,” which is a dark, dazzling, almost magical “Alice In Wonderland” look at the life of the fabled photographer Diane Arbus. Miss Kidman, a star who jumps between big-budget Hollywood and ambitious indies, is said to give the performance of her career, with Downey not far behind. At a recent screening for reps who worked on the film and with the actors, the room exploded into a standing ovation as the final credits rolled. One who was there said, “A more jaded audience you cannot imagine. I have never seen such a thing in my life.” “Fur” will be released in November via Picturehouse.

Also highly thought of by those lucky enough to have seen it is Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain,” a spiritual sci-fi romance spanning a thousand years that stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. (Brad Pitt was originally attached to this Warner Bros. film, but opted instead for “Troy.”) Several cinema mavens spoke of both Aronofsky and Shainberg as “the real hope of the future for the industry. They create out of the box. It makes all this summer blockbuster crap even more depressing.”

And our friend Ben Affleck, who was never meant for “summer blockbuster crap,” is said to redeem himself and then some with his turn in Allen Coulter’s “Hollywoodland” as TV Superman George Reeves, co-starring Diane Lane. A first-peeker critiques: “A performance totally without vanity, the kind of character-driven material he never should have left.”

AND SO now we have heard Paris Hilton’s new single, “Stars Are Blind,” and watched the video.

While I do not think Madonna need worry, Paris (and her technicians) have put out an extremely catchy, bouncy summer song. Kind of irresistible and hard to get out of your head. The video looks a lot like the late Herb Ritts’ work for Madonna, Janet Jackson, Chris Isaak and others. There’s Paris romping on the beach, filmed mostly in evocative, flattering black-and-white. She paws the sand, she paws her hunky playmate and she paws herself. It ain’t Agnes de Mille choreography but you get the message.

Do I foresee a great singing career and a concert tour for Miss Hilton? Hardly. But you can bet she’ll be lip-syncing her way through dance clubs for the rest of the year. That will be more than enough. If this hits as big as expected, Paris will, at last, have something solid — and respectably amusing — on her famous-for-being-famous resume.

MICK JAGGER, after a lifetime of excess, wants to keep on Rolling, now that he has decided it is OK to bop around onstage at age 62 (he once famously said he couldn’t imagine doing it at the age of 45!) At a recent party, Mick searched high and low for something nonalcoholic to drink, a soda. The party, called Quintessentially, was sponsored by Smirnoff, so Jagger might have had a clue soft drinks were off the bar. Still, he kept asking. Finally, he left, parched and irritated. Apparently, the offer of elderflower water didn’t float his boat

JACQUELINE BISSET, still one of the world’s great beauties, is off to the 14th Annual Artfilm — International Film Festival in Trecianske, Slovokia to pick up an Actors Vision Award. The Slovokians will also screen Bisset’s latest movie, “The Physical Education of Girls” directed by John Irvin.

MORE BALKAN honors go to Bob Shaye, producer for the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings,” on July 8. Shaye will be feted at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic for his achievements. Bob founded New Line Cinema 40 years ago.

TIMING IS everything. Just as the news arrived that Barbra Streisand will honor us with a very special, very expensive cross-country display of her vocalizing, author Tom Santopietro’s slim but savvy volume, “The Importance of Being Barbra” hit the bookshelves. Not a peek-a-boo bio, rather a loving, on-target, sometimes critical, look at Barbra’s career. I can’t wait for the second printing, which will surely review Streisand’s coming tour!

BROADWAY’S Best Musical Tony winner, “Jersey Boys” can now boast that its original cast album is a smash. It sold more than any other previous Tony-winning cast album in the week following its win. Ticket sales also went through the roof. The “Jersey Boys” national tour begins in October.

BLONDE POWER: We told you 20th Century Fox just put out its Betty Grable collection on DVD. Now another Fox blonde gets the DVD treatment — Jayne Mansfield. Only three films in the set, but two are classics: “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter.” Jayne is very funny and perfectly cast in both. There was nowhere for Jayne to go, career-wise, with her fabulous over-the-top image, but at her peak, she was so much fun. (Search out “Single Room Furnished,” Jayne’s last film. Low, low budget, but you find Mansfield in some surprisingly moving moments.)

DOCUMENTARY filmmaker Alexandra Isles has come up with a new movie so incredibly lovely that it gives a person hope for the human race. She has filmed what she calls “The Healing Gardens of New York” and you can see it on PBS come July 27. Who knew that New York City is dotted with plots of deserted land from Harlem to Rikers Island, from the Conservancy to the Labyrinth downtown and that all sorts of citizens, high and low (some actually still incarcerated for crimes) have come to love and tend to these gardens? There is even a small garden in Times Square, lovingly taken care of in the midst of car-exhaust and noisy traffic. This is an unusually tranquil film experience with wonderful music. It will take your mind off a lot of nasty things. Don’t miss it!

(E-mail Liz Smith at

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