IF IT'S WEDNESDAY IT MUST BE FRIDAY

Yet another major release -- this one, DreamWorks/Paramount's Tropic Thunder -- is debuting on a Wednesday, raising the question of whether Wednesday is becoming the new Friday so far as film studios are concerned. Last week, analysts speculated that the debut of Pineapple Express had been moved to Wednesday in order to avoid having to compete with the opening of the Summer Olympics. This week, some are speculating that Thunder was moved to Wednesday to get a step up on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is due out on Friday. But Chad Hartigan, an analyst for Exhibitor Relations and its sibling Reel Source, told E! Online that the actual reason is August itself. The studios, he said, are looking to expand the number of days their films are in theaters before the end of the month when kids begin preparing to return to school. That is particularly the case with male teens, who drive the box office during the summer, and it is no coincidence, he suggested, that the Wednesday openers are particularly targeted at them.

MOVIE REVIEWS: TROPIC THUNDER

Advocates for the mentally disabled may be denouncing the Ben Stiller comedy Tropic Thunder. Movie critics, by and large, are not. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert awards the film three and a half stars, writing, "It's the kind of summer comedy that rolls in, makes a lot of people laugh and rolls on to video. It's been a good summer for that." Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News was apparently still chuckling over the film when he wrote, "Fun-impaired critics who complained that last week's Pineapple Express went over the top ought to get a load of this week's R-rated laugh riot, Tropic Thunder. Mount Everest would look like a speck from this one's extreme altitude. Which is exactly how it should be. Ben Stiller's latest sends up all things overblown about Hollywood, and the perfect volume setting for this kind of satire is 11." The Los Angeles Times's Kenneth Turan is a bit more restrained, calling the film "simultaneously smart and dumb, mixing clever satire with way over-the-top raunch and unrelenting profanity." Claudia Puig in USA Today agrees, commenting: "There are some wildly funny scenes, a few leaden ones and others that are scattershot, with humorous satire undercut by over-the-top grisliness. Still, when it's funny, it's really funny." Lou Lumenick sums up in the New York Post: "Tropic Thunder is "all over the place, but it's hard to get too tough on a Hollywood satire that in the end loves Hollywood so much that it's just not going to take any prisoners." But Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail isn't laughing. "Tropic Thunder is an assault in the guise of a comedy," he writes, "Watching it is like getting mugged by a clown. Sure, by my bruised reckoning, there are a few chuckles here, but you'll definitely pay a price for them." And apparently referring to reports that the film cost $150 million to make, Michael Phillips writes in the Chicago Tribune, "In the end Tropic Thunder is an expensive goof about an expensive goof, and the results are very impressive and fancy-looking ... too impressive, really, to fully unleash the humor in the situations."

DEAD STARS TO STAR AGAIN IN MOVIES?

It is now possible to produce a new movie starring Marlon Brando -- a virtual Marlon Brando, according to Neil Dessau, chief marketing officer for Advanced Micro Devices. Unveiling the company's new ATI Radeon graphics card in New York Tuesday, Dessau said that the card will permit directors to control not only the lighting, staging, and dialog of movies digitally but also create virtual actors and easily manipulate their facial expressions. The online edition of Advertising Age quoted Jules Urbach, founder of a firm developing high-quality animation as saying that it is now "possible to bring back actors from the past and realistically put them in new films."

TWO ONLINE MOVIE SERVICES FOLD

Two online movie services, Vongo and ClickStar announced Tuesday that they are shutting down. Vongo, owned by the Starz movie channel, had allowed subscribers to download an unlimited amount of recent movies for $9.99 per month. It said it would develop a similar service that would be offered via the online sites of its cable distributors. ClickStar said in effect that it could not compete with better-funded movie download sites like Amazon, Blockbuster, and Wal-Mart. Chief Technical Officer Sam Edge said in a statement, "With the entry of these well-funded players into our space ... it has become increasingly clear that ClickStar needs to align itself with a key partner to operate within the larger ecosystem. ...We have decided to partner or sell ClickStar."

Brian B.