COURT SPLITS SUPERMAN IN HALF

In the latest round of court battles between Time Warner's Warner Bros. and DC Comics divisions on the one hand and the estate of Jerry Siegel, Superman's co-creator, on the other, a California court has ruled that the estate owns the rights to all of the Superman trappings that appeared in the first two weeks of the daily Superman comic strips and portions of the early Action Comics and Superman comic books. Later elements of the Superman story, the court ruled, were created by other employees of the comic book companies, including his ability to fly and to see through walls, and the Lex Luthor, Perry White, and Jimmy Olsen characters. In a joint statement, Warner Bros. and DC comics said that they "are pleased that the court has affirmed that the vast majority of key elements associated with the Superman character that were developed after Action Comics No. 1 are not part of the copyrights that the plaintiffs have recaptured and therefore remain solely owned by DC Comics." However, the split copyright is likely to halt any future Superman film or TV project for the time being. As Hervé St. Louis observed on his ComicBookBin.com website: "Essentially, to afford Superman's creators extended rights over a character they created in 1939, the character, has been rendered unusable except by legal dictum and an army of lawyers pocketing tons of money for each negotiation." However, under copyright law, the entire rights to Superman reverts to the Siegels in 2013. The other Superman co-creator, Joel Schuster, left no heirs.

DISTRICT 9 EXPECTED TO WIN WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

Riding the wave of intense Internet buzz, Sony Picture's sci-fi flick District 9 is expected to prevail over four other newcomers this weekend as well as last week's champ, Paramount's G.I. Joe. The film tells the story of aliens from outerspace who become refugees in South Africa. Likewise, in the romance domain, Warner Bros./New Line's The Time Traveler's Wife is expected to prevail over last week's No. 2 film, Julie & Julia. Three other films that are opening wide target other sectors of the audience. There's Disney's English-language version of the worldwide animated hit Ponyo from legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. There's the teen musical Bandslam from Summit Entertainment and Walden Media, and there's the Jerry Piven comedy The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, from Paramount Vantage. The latter three are expected to earn less than $9-12 million. District 9 is expected to come in at around $25-30 million, while The Time Traveler's Wife is likely to earn $15-20 million, according to box-office forecasters.

MOVIE REVIEWS: DISTRICT 9

Extra terrestrials have landed in movie theaters again, and they're being welcomed by critics -- most of them, anyway. "This is the most imaginative science-fiction movie to come along in years," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News praises it as "a memorable, monstrous fable that's consistently gripping." Rafer Guzmán in Newsday describes it as "a refreshing blast of original filmmaking." A.O. Scott writes in the New York Times that the movie does not use a heavy hand in drawing similarities between the plight of the aliens who have landed in South Africa and the natives who once lived there under apartheid rule. "Instead, in the best B-movie tradition, they embed their ideas in an ingenious, propulsive and suspenseful genre entertainment, one that respects your intelligence even as it makes your eyes pop (and, once in a while, your stomach turn)." Lisa Kennedy in the Denver Post calls it an instant sci-fi "classic." The Chicago Sun-Times's Roger Ebert gives the movie three stars, apparently because he likes two-thirds of the movie. "But the third act is disappointing," he writes, "involving standard shoot-out action. ... Despite its creativity, the movie remains space opera and avoids the higher realms of science-fiction." Likewise Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer expresses disappointment that the movie "devolves into just another video-game shoot 'em up." And Kyle Smith in the New York Post writes off the entire second half, noting that in the end what you have is a movie that is "too tongue-in-cheek to be thrilling, not funny enough to be a comedy."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE "Preposterous" is the way Roger Ebert describes The Time Traveler's Wife in the Chicago Sun-Times. "If you allow yourself to think for one moment of the paradoxes, contradictions and logical difficulties involved, you will be lost. The movie supports no objective thought." Yet he finds much to like in the performances of Eric Bana as the time traveler and Rachel McAdams as his wife. They "play their roles straight and seriously, have a pleasant chemistry, and sort of involved me in spite of myself." Peter Howell in the Toronto Star remarks that the movie "would amount to little more than a (vanishing) hill of beans where it not for the strong connections between Bana and McAdams, who rise above the shaky material with performances worthy of the Oscar contender this movie aches to be." On the other hand, Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun writes that both Bana and McAdams are so strenuously and generically ardent here, I wondered what they were thinking of when they were miming passion and woe: a favorite pet? A high school crush? Or maybe some missing pages from the book?" Joanne Kaufman in the Wall Street Journal offers little sympathy, however. "Mr. Bana, who seems to have two modes of acting, shaven and unshaven, and the ill-used Ms. McAdams don't generate much heat. But clearly, the two of them are suffering mightily. Their situation is hopeless and so is their dialogue." But Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle figures that despite its clumsiness, the movie "does something significant. It takes, as its subjects, the sadness and grandeur of life and the mystery of time, and it offers a full experience to those who find its wavelength."

MOVIE REVIEWS: PONYO Critics by and large have always been taken with the artistry of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. So have overseas audiences, who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to see his films, which include 1997's Princess Mononoke, 2001's Spirited Away and 2004's Howl's Moving Castle. Not so in the U.S. But his latest film, Ponyo, a retelling of "The Little Mermaid" story is getting a great send-off from critics. (It is still unlikely to become a big hit, even though it is being released by Disney and has an impressive cast doing the voices. It's being released in fewer than a thousand theaters.) "There is a word to describe Ponyo," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, and that word is magical. This poetic, visually breathtaking work by the greatest of all animators has such deep charm that adults and children will both be touched. It's wonderful and never even seems to try: It unfolds fantastically." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post says that no one is going to mistake the movie for Disney's version of "The Little Mermaid." "This exquisite pastel-colored, eye-popping example of hand-drawn animation is still very Japanese, aimed most specifically at children around the world -- but with a storytelling sophistication that adults will savor." Greg Quill in the Toronto Star predicts that Ponyo will become Miyazaki's "break-through" film for North American audiences."It's a wonderful place that Miyazaki creates," he writes, "an alternatively sweet and savage world that defies physics and common sense, as imaginative and impossible in its own way as Jules Verne's sci-fi fantasies or Maurice Sendak's animal kingdom." And Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times suggests that what the film lacks in theater locations it could make up for in repeat business. "You'll be planning to see Ponyo twice before you've finished seeing it once," he remarks. "Five minutes into this magical film you'll be making lists of the individuals of every age you can expose to the very special mixture of fantasy and folklore, adventure and affection, that make up the enchanted vision of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki."

BAD DAY AT REDBOX

If you are in the business of renting videos to the public, Thursday was not a good day. Warner Bros. joined 20th Century Fox and Universal in announcing that from October 1, it will no longer provide new DVDs to kiosk operator Redbox until 28 days after they are released. The studio, which like its competitors, has seen DVD sales drastically fall off as more and more consumers opt for the $1-dollar-a-night kiosk rentals and cheap subscriptions with Netflix, also stated that it wants to renegotiate its deal with Netflix with the aim of implementing a revenue-sharing arrangement with the online rental outfit. Some analysts questioned whether the tactic would be effective, since both Redbox and Netflix could simply send their employees to a local Wal-Mart or Best Buy to purchase copies at retail prices if the studios won't provide them wholesale. Coincidentally on the same day Blockbuster, the nation's largest brick-and-mortar rental chain, reported that its revenue had plunged 22 percent in the last quarter, another indication that consumers are seeking the cheapest rental prices and are forgoing the luxury of browsing in the big blue stores.