WHO DIES IN THE CITY?

The revelation by Sex and the City's costar Cynthia Nixon that one of the principal characters will die in the theatrical version, due out on May 30, has touched off a wildfire of speculation on Internet blogs about who the character will be. Rumors that a character would be killed off had been circulating for months. When asked about them at the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas last month, another costar, Sarah Jessica Parker, predicted that people will be "very surprised" by what they see on screen. "There's a seriousness about something that happens in this movie," she added, without directly responding to the question. She added that she thought that writer-director Michael Patrick King "wrote the role of a lifetime for me." Bloggers have speculated about each of the female leads as well as Mr. Big. MSNBC.com's "The Scoop" column published some of the Internet gossip about the film Thursday, concluding that whatever "Nixon was paid for being in the upcoming film version of the hit HBO series, she deserves a raise."

UNIVERSAL PLAYS BLU-RAY CATCH-UP

Universal Studios, the last company to remain exclusively in the HD DVD camp, is now rushing to get its films out in the Blu-ray high-definition video format, following the decision by Toshiba to abandon it. Universal announced Thursday that it plans to release 40 films on Blu-ray disks, most of them previously released for HD DVD, by the end of the year. But illustrating the awkward difficulty for studios to alter direction, Universal's first Blu-ray releases won't come until July 22, with a package of "Mummy" films, including The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and the Scorpion King. The July release is time to coincide with the theatrical release of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Universal will not release a package of television shows until August 26, when Heroes: Season One hits the shelves. It has already been released on HD DVD.

CHURCHGOERS EXPECTED TO LIFT BOX OFFICE FOR EXPELLED

Some analysts are predicting that the same churchgoers who rarely go to the movies but who descended en masse on theaters showing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ could make actor-commentator Ben Stein's documentary Expelled a box-office hit this weekend. The film purportedly documents a conspiracy in U.S. schools directed against those who believe in "intelligent design," that is, creationism. The Los Angeles Times observed today that while the film will likely make "no dent" at the box office despite playing in more than 1,000 theaters, "it could dwarf forecasts with even a fraction of the faith-based crowd" that turned out for Gibson's film. The newspaper quoted Stein himself as saying, "This is David versus Goliath," a reference to the fact that his film will be competing against movies whose marketing costs alone exceed his production and marketing costs together. But University of Minnesota biologist P.Z. Myers told the Times that he was ambushed by the Expelled producers, who, he said, told him that the film was to be titled Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion. Instead, he said, "we get a propaganda film portraying scientists as Nazis." He claims that he himself was expelled from a preview screening of Expelled after one of the film's producers spotted him in line.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM

The traditional violence of martial-arts films has been toned way down for the family film The Forbidden Kingdom, starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Critics are expressing mixed reaction about the results. Kyle Smith in the New York Post says that the film amounts to "chop-socky bordering on chop-schlocky, but it's good-natured myth-making cut into kid-size pieces." Most other critics have a similar take. "The story is thin as a bamboo reed, but it works," writes Rafer Guzmán in Newsday. A.O. Scott in the New York Times offers this lukewarm recommendation: "If you've never seen a movie like this, it might satisfy your curiosity." "Kung fu light," is the way Kenneth Turan describes it in the Los Angeles Times, concluding, "If you've been looking for a martial arts film to take granny and the kids to, this might be the one, but a Jackie Chan-Jet Li collaboration deserves better than that."

MOVIE REVIEWS: FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL

Critics may not be giving Forgetting Sarah Marshall a lot of props for craftsmanship, but they are for daring -- daring to show the star's penis in particular. As Claudia Puig puts it in USA Today: "The good-natured story and likable characters offset the comedy's unevenness. ... An unlikely full-frontal nude scene reminds us that even after Borat's infamous wrestling bout, we can still be put off by the ordinary human form in an awkward and emotionally vulnerable situation." Likewise Glenn Whipp comments in the Los Angeles Daily News, "The sure-footed Sarah will be remembered primarily for Segel's bravery in baring all to the camera." Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail offers this reassurance. "Don't be prudish, 'cause here's the deal: The laugh-out-loud context makes the nudity a hoot." But the film also receives generally positive notices from critics who barely mention the full-frontal scene. "This film is so funny it may be beside the point to complain that, as in many Apatow productions, the writing and direction are still in something of a state of arrested development," writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. Amazingly, few critics even mention the billboard campaign that touched off considerable buzz in its own right. One who does is Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune, who concludes that "unlike its own bluntly nasty ad campaign ... this story of one man's rebound has a heart to go with its comic nerve."

MOVIE REVIEWS: 88 MINUTES

Al Pacino is back in a Jon Avnet thriller, 88 Minutes, and a few critics agree that the film will satisfy expectations, especially if those expectations aren't very high to begin with. Rafer Guzmán in Newsday calls it "fast, sleazy and serviceable -- in other words, totally watchable -- and has one point in its favor: It never tries to pretend it's a class act." That's about the most favorable comment about the movie that any critic allows. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times describes it as "execrable," Stephen Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer, as "maddeningly mediocre," and John DeFore in the Austin American Statesman as "salacious, ludicrously plotted trash." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post writes that it "holds you in a state of acute suspense, keeping you wondering until the very last minute whether this is the worst Al Pacino movie ever made." And Liam Lacey writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail that the film "is such a preposterous mess it's a wonder it ever made it to the theater."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.