Controversial movie now has a distributor

THE MOVIE “Hounddog” has been recut since people first booed it at Sundance and religious groups began talking about having young Dakota Fanning’s mother arrested for letting her child appear in the low-budget Southern Gothic film with a rape scene. Distributors faded away.

Eighteen months later, Dakota, 14, says, “It’s just a movie and it’s called acting. What drew me to it was that my character shows people that you can overcome adversity in life and it doesn’t define you … I wanted to do the film because I thought it might help one person that this has happened to, overcome adversity in their lives.”

The movie now has a distributor. Writer Sukhdev Sandhu reminds us that other young actresses have played roles over their heads — he mentions Brooke Shields in “Pretty Baby,” Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver,” Sue Lyon in “Lolita.” They all survived.

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AND NOW for something entirely musical. I hate to brag, but about a year ago I recommended to you “Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville, USA,” produced by Randy “American Idol” Jackson under the aegis of those smarties — David Simone and Winston Simone. (They are not related, believe it or not, but these men are definite throwbacks to the good old hot recording days when David Geffen made his billions.)

Well, now the Simones’ “Motown” record has been nominated for two big Grammys — best R&B album and R&B song of the year. We’ll see how this turns out on Feb. 8. And I hope we’ll see Randy Jackson onstage accepting and performing. Remember, you read it here first.

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I ASKED perspicacious record producer David Simone if he is still reaping the whirlwind from his big hit “Who Let the Dogs Out?” He laughed: “That was yesterday.”

Then I inquired after his dynamic wife, TV producer Shelley Ross. She was last in our sights helping endurance artist David Blaine make headlines. And then, like almost everyone else who has tried to make a go of it over there, she was fired from her high-powered job at the top of “Good Morning America.”

Now Shelley Ross is talking about Nik Wallenda, of the 7th-generation circus family. This young 28-year-old family man set two world records on the “Today” show in October. He walked on a wire from Newark’s Prudential Center, 13 stories high, for a remarkable 280 feet. Then he rode a bike back across the high wire and landed in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was the highest, longest ride ever on a high wire.

Wallenda will kiss his wife and children bye-bye and next attempt to be the first man to walk on a high wire across the Grand Canyon. He’ll be 1,800 feet off the ground — twice as high as the World Trade Center Towers. He already has his permits and Shelley will produce this latest stunt.

She believes that in a time of economic downturn, people want escape, with the likes of Evel Knievel and Houdini. She’ll give us a new Wallenda hero!

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THE POPULAR columnist Dominick Dunne thrives on hot crime stories, and between the O. J. Simpson verdict and Sunny Von Bulow’s death recently, the CNN star has been revitalized. He seems to be recovering from his pre-Thanksgiving hospital stint and is probably in his Hadlyme, Conn., house now, writing and recouping as you read this … Maybe you didn’t catch my raves for Liza Minnelli at the Palace on the web and in Daily Variety. But I’m telling you, this show is so polished, so elegant and Liza is such dynamite that at 62 I think she has surpassed her young reputation. Her closing was supposed to be Dec. 28 but they have extended to Jan. 4. Don’t miss it!…And in London, her sister Lorna Luft is appearing as the Wicked Witch of the West in a stage version of “The Wizard of Oz.” Did Judy Garland realize she was handing down such a legacy?

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THE RECENTLY revamped and revitalized Riviera Resort and Spa is fast becoming the new magnet for celebs who want to get out of Los Angeles, but not get too far from glitz and glamour.

The latest star bedazzled by the bright orange walls, white lacquered furniture and the gorgeous chandeliers in the Grand Ballroom is Barry Manilow. He visited a month ago, and so enjoyed his stay that he returned again for a small dinner party with friends. Manilow loves the history and sentiment of the Riviera. It was a well-known stomping ground for Frank Sinatra. Barry recorded his own tribute album to Sinatra a few years ago, and it remains one of his proudest achievements. (Especially when the disc got a thumbs up from Nancy Sinatra, who called Barry and said, “You nailed it.”)

When Barry first arrived at the Riviera, he said to a pal, “I feel Frank’s vibe!”

Barry also admitted he might record another Sinatra-themed CD, and even perform some numbers live at the Riviera, although he thinks Frank’s “vibe” might be “too close for comfort, like he was looking over my shoulder, listening to every note.”

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FOR NEWS junkies, the best TV watching right now is CNN’s Campbell Brown, who has turned all Gutsy and Opinionated. She has her own hour, “No Bull, No Bias,” and when she really gets the bit in her teeth, there is hair-tossing, nostril-flaring, snarling and dramatic pronouncements not enjoyed since the salad days of Susan Hayward.

Campbell’s a riot, and entitled to her drama, but I am so weary of TV pundits and so-called journalists who insist on having “personality.” I say, just give me the news. I’ll make up my own mind.

If you want world news without ego or showmanship, check out the BBC. It is a blessed relief.

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