BUD LIGHTENS UP Saying that his company is trying to "get the mood" of the public, the president of Anheuser-Busch announced Thursday that America's largest brewery would no longer air the Super Bowl commercials that drew widespread criticism this year. Speaking in Miami to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, August Busch IV indicated that the company would be altering the content of its beer ads while it attempts to get a better handle on the public's attitudes. He predicted that the issue of broadcast indecency would become a hotter topic as the nation moved closer to November's presidential election. Nevertheless, while saying that the Budweiser Super Bowl ad featuring a flatulent horse and a Bud Light ad with a crotch-biting dog have been permanently shelved, he noted that the horse ad was voted No. 1 on America Online's poll of favorite Super Bowl spots this year.


Miramax Books has reportedly agreed to pay ABC News doyen Barbara Walters more than $5 million to write her memoirs, Reuters reported Thursday, citing an unnamed source. In an email message to fans, Walters said only that the company had made her "an offer I couldn't refuse." She promised that the book would be "more than a career chronicle," explaining, "Now, I have to look inward and write about myself. It is going to be uncomfortable, I am sure, but I am looking forward to the challenge."


Mel Gibson's Icon Productions has begun sounding out television broadcast and cable companies about licensing his The Passion of the Christ following its theatrical and DVD release, the Hollywood Reporterreported today (Friday). The trade publication said that the movie has already been pitched to the four major networks, as well as HBO and Showtime. Icon is reportedly insisting that the movie be shown without cuts, something advertisers are likely to balk at given the graphic violence depicted in the movie, analysts observed.


Concerned that television reporters and their crews are being targeted for kidnaping by Iraqi resistance groups, two leading British TV news services said Thursday that they plan to pull out of Iraq if the kidnaping crisis continues. Both the BBC and ITN said that the safety of their news teams were of paramount concern. Britain's Guardiannewspaper reported today (Friday) that the security issue has prompted Western news organizations to rely heavily on footage from the Arab all-news channels al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. David Mannion, editor in chief of ITV news, told the newspaper. "There isn't a shortage of material coming out of Iraq. There is a lot of footage coming from very brave Arab TV crews."


ABC News has indicated that it plans to experiment with numerous forms of digital delivery systems to distribute its programming. In an interview with the Online Journalism Review (OJR), Bernard Gershon, head of ABC's Digital Media Group, said that the content is not affected by the various platforms. "The experience will be different but the product will be the same," Gershon said. "However, if you look at it on a [cellular] wireless device, it's going to be about three frames per second, whereas if you look at it through a broadband connection, it's going to be similar to a television experience." ABC has also experimented with producing programs exclusively for the Internet -- in particular, a highly touted "webcast" featuring Sam Donaldson -- but with disappointing results.


Attorneys for David Beckham were unsuccessful Thursday in their efforts to block a televised interview with Rebecca Loos, his onetime personal assistant, who claims that she had an affair with the soccer star. Reviewing her appearance, the London Independent's Robert Hanks wondered whether executives of BSkyB, which broadcast it, got their money's worth -- they reportedly paid her $267,000 -- "and many viewers may have been disappointed by Ms Loos's descent into vagueness once things moved to the bedroom." At one point, she remarked, "It's bad enough to have to talk about this without going into details." Commented Hanks: "Poor love: compelled to tell the world about 'fantastic sex,' with a hundred grand pressed to her head."ARNIE REMEMBERS HIS ROOTS California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed Thursday to halt runaway movie and TV production from the state and to double the number of jobs in the entertainment industry. Speaking at a Sacramento news conference where he announced the appointment of five new members to the California Film Commission, Schwarzenegger said, "For me, the entertainment business is very dear and close to my heart, and as you all know, I would not be standing here if it were not for the entertainment business. ... But what we have experienced over the last few years is a huge exodus of production." Nevertheless, the governor indicated that plans to offer movie producers tax incentives and other favors to encourage them to film in the state would likely be put off during the current year while the state grapples with its continued economic crisis. "It doesn't have to be this year," he said, "but I think as soon as we can identify what the problems are, we can go to the legislators and we can lobby and work on it and have them change their minds to create a more positive business atmosphere in California."


At least the critics, for the most part, are consistent. If they didn't like Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1,they dislike Vol. 2 even less. If they were enthusiastic about Vol. 1, they're downright passionate about Vol. 2. There's little middle ground here. While Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times calls the second Kill Bill installment, "the most voluptuous comic-book movie ever made ... deliciously perverse," across town, at the New York Daily News,Jami Bernard calls the movie "strangely static -- a dulling experience that can safely be admired from afar without it ever engaging the senses. ... Quentin Tarantino has made a movie he could watch all day. But can anyone else?" Well, plenty, it would seem, for most of the reviews are in the vein of John Anderson's in Newsday, which refers to the thriller as "a film of stunning virtuosity and emotional clout ... a powerhouse movie ... [that] may even prove that Quentin Tarantino is as good a director as he has so long been purported to be." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timespraises it as "an exuberant celebration of moviemaking, coasting with heedless joy from one audacious chapter to another, working as irony, working as satire, working as drama, working as pure action." And Manohla Dargis in the Los Angeles Timescalls it "an adrenaline shot to the movie heart, soul and mind." But Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune maintains that Vol. 2, exposes Tarantino's weaknesses, not strengths. "He gives zero indication that he knows how actual kids act in emotionally fraught situations" and in an ending in which "he tries to inject real-life pathos," he exposes how deeply he "is in over his head as he tries to give his four-hour myth a heartbeat." On the other hand, Ty Burr in the Boston Globewrites that the movie shows the director "working at full throttle, using the medium in a way that prompts astonishment, delight, even gratitude. ... The result is insanely good, and the best time I've had at the movies in ages." One critic who panned the first installment does in fact do a 180-degree turn with this one. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journalrecalls that at the end of his review of Vol. 1, he wrote snidely: "The second half will be released at a later date. I can hardly wait." In his latest review, he observes, "Well, I would have waited with great eagerness if I'd known of the pleasures to come."


If My Big Fat Greek Weddingreceived plenty of big, fat barbs from critics for stereotyping Greek-Americans, Connie and Carla, which also was written by and costars Greek's Nia Vardalos, is being castigated by many of them for stereotyping gays. Indeed, Liam Lacey writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "Throughout, the gay characters are as two-dimensional and shrill as the Greek immigrants were in Vardalos's last movie, and the climactic scene is directed with all the art of a multi-car pileup." Philip Kennicott in the Washington Postdescribes it as "a compendium of old jokes, familiar devices and predictable plot twists. It's a grim twist on Some Like It Hot, with a few limp strands of Thelma & Louise all stiffened up with a bit too much Hairspray." And Stephen Holden in the New York Timessays that the movie "shows that Hollywood still gets the jitters about gender-bending." That said, numerous critics suggest that after the success of Vardalos's last movie, she should not be underestimated. John Anderson in Newsdaydescribes her as "the most consistently funny -- and populist -comedy writer in the movies." Wesley Morris in the Boston Globesays that the movie has "the same harmless, middle-of-the-road charm" exhibited in Greek Wedding. And, Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times,once again, the counter-critic, praises Connie and Carlaas "pure, unabashed and unpretentious entertainment of a sort once a staple of the movies but now rare."


Special effects, the usual focal point of movies based on Marvel comic book heroes, are replaced in The Punisherby the abs of its star, Thomas Jane. As Desson Thomas observes in the Washington Post, "It's a rare moment when Jane wears a shirt that isn't conveniently torn. Sometimes he just doesn't wear it at all." But that would appear about all the movie has going for it, judging from most of the reviews. Wesley Morris in the Boston Globedismisses it as "thrill-less garbage that aspires to franchisehood. (Good luck.)" Stephen Cole in the Toronto Globe and Mailcalls it "an overemphatic revenge fantasy devoid of even a trace of excitement or wit." Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionobserves that the ads for the movie proclaim: "The Punishment Begins April 16." She then adds: "And boy, does it. About 1 hour, 59 minutes worth of punishment." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timeswonders "if the filmmakers understand quite how downbeat and dark their movie is?" Most of the critics do let John Travolta, playing a crazed villain again, off the hook. "Travolta is terrific as a bad guy," writes Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post, making his character "almost sympathetic." And Gene Seymour in Newsdaycomments that "Travolta looks riper and sharper in this relatively small role than he has in his recent lead performances."