AUGUST GENERATES BOX-OFFICE HEAT

Ordinarily August is the time of year when many young moviegoers realize that they've blown a lot of money on the studios' big blockbusters during the summer and now's the time to cut back. Well, they haven't reached that conclusion this August, which has seen big increases over last year. This past weekend, the top 12 movies earned about $125 million, according to studio estimates -- up 12.3 percent over the comparable weekend. Leading the pack was Sony's District 9, which earned $37 million -- more than the $30-35 million it reportedly cost to produce. In second place was Paramount's G.I. Joe, down 59 percent from last week's opening to $22.5 million. Although it is on the verge of breaking the $100-million mark, some analysts are expressing doubt about the movie's ability to earn enough to justify its reported $175-million budget. In third place was the debuting The Time Traveler's Wife. At $19.2 million, it came in slightly below many forecasts. Three other new films didn't fare so well. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard opened in sixth place with $5.4 million. Disney's U.S.-dubbed version of the Japanese animated feature Ponyo earned $3.5 million on fewer than 1,000 theaters, good enough for ninth place. But Summit Entertainment's teen-oriented Bandslam got clobbered at the box office where it took in just $2.3 million and failed to make the top ten. (See related story.)

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Box Office Mojo:

1. District 9, $37 million; 2. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, $22.5 million; 3. The Time Traveler's Wife, $19.2 million; 4. Julie & Julia, $12.4 million; 5. G-Force, $6.9 million; 6. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, $5.4 million; 7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, $5.2 million; 8. The Ugly Truth, $4.5 million; 9. Ponyo, $3.5 million; 10. 500 Days of Summer, $3 million.

HOW MARKETING CAN MAKE OR BREAK A MOVIE

Sony's marketing department was receiving kudos today (Monday) for its promotional campaign for District 9, a relatively low-budget sci-fi flick that uses minimal special effects, is set in South Africa, and stars relatively unknown actors. Studio marketers had emphasized that the movie was produced by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. They previewed it at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, where it immediately gave rise to intense online discussion -- and quickly "went viral." On the other hand the marketing campaign for Bandslam (see reviews separately) was slammed by some industry observers. On her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog, Nikki Finke commented that the marketing for the movie "was so young that moviegoers thought it was High School Musical when it was closer to School of Rock." She published an email message from an unnamed "Bandslam insider," who wrote that "instead of selling it quirky and cool (a la Juno) they sold it on the Disney channel's Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Michalka. Instead of selling the concept -- band of outcasts like The Commitments -- they Disneyfied this movie with glitter paint. ... There have been literally dozens and dozens of calls today and emails from heads of marketing at different studios saying this may be singly the worst job they've ever seen on a movie whose unique voice deserved to be heard through positioning, title, marketing tie-ins, and knowing your audience."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE GOODS: LIVE HARD, SELL HARD

What hath Airplane and all those gag-a-second movies of the 1980s ultimately wrought? Well, apparently, according to the critics, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. The movie, and the jokes, move at such break-neck speed that it was apparently hard for the reviewers to get a handle on what makes it work (or not work). Instead, they opt for just going along for the ride. In the end, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times allows: "It takes talent to keep so many parts in play and without much letup." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times doesn't attempt to provide a judgment of the movie so much as to summarize the craziness of it (seemingly not an easy task in itself), finally concluding that his summary is "all another way of saying the screenplay moves at a breakneck pace. If a gag doesn't work, another one is on its heels." John Anderson in Newsday apparently finds the whole affair so chaotic that he doesn't even attempt to provide a description of all the goings-on. Instead, he writes, "You know those nice, sweet, domesticated comedies to which one can bring the entire family without fear of embarrassment, disgust or shock and awe? This isn't one of them." But Lou Lumenick in the New York Post writes that although The Goods is "sporadically funny" it "is more often just plain stupid." Similarly, Roger Moore writes in the Orlando Sentinel that the movie -- set in the world of used-car salesmen -- "runs in fits and starts, never quite hitting on all cylinders." Jennie Punter in the Toronto Globe and Mail dismisses it as "a raunchy, fast-paced comedy that, nevertheless, is as flat as the tires on the old Volvo gathering dust in my garage." And Mick LaSalle, in the San Francisco Chronicle, wears his confusion about how to review the movie on his sleeve. Something about the movie, he writes, "feels forgettable, even though, in the moment, it's often very funny. In a way, it's unfair to call a movie forgettable, because about 80 percent of the movies we take seriously are probably also forgettable, at least in the grand scheme. But this one feels forgettable today, which makes it almost interesting -- so forgettable it's practically memorable." Not exactly words to remember when you decide whether to see the movie.

MOVIE REVIEWS: BANDSLAM

Critics are giving Summit Entertainment's latest effort to capture the hearts and dollars of teen moviegoers (it's the company behind the Twilight series) passing grades and polite applause. John Anderson in Newsday calls it "simultaneously shiny and retro, calibrated and uncalculated, familiar and unpredictable." Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News writes that Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame is miscast in this movie, but that given the fact that it's aimed at her HSM fans, it's "considerably cooler than it needs to be." After elaborating on Hudgens's acting shortcomings, Weitzman brings herself up short. "There's really no reason to complain here," she writes, "After all, have you tried finding a PG-rated movie that's appropriately innocent without feeling like a Disney-fied fairy tale?" Indeed, Jason Anderson in the Toronto Star expresses surprise at how cool (for him) the movie turns out to be. "Given that Bandslam is headlined by two products of Disney's star factory [Hudgens and Aly Michalka] ... the movie's abundance of smarts and lack of sheen is a welcome surprise." Similarly, Michael Phillips writes in the Chicago Tribune, "Bandslam is a pretty good movie, and the odds of its being a pretty bad movie were pretty steep." Likewise Roger Ebert concludes in the Chicago Sun-Times: "For what it is, it's charming, and not any more innocuous than it has to be." That's not the way Amy Biancolli sees it in the San Francisco Chronicle, however. She calls Bandslam, "a mostly offbeat family movie with a mostly solid backbeat that isn't as hip as it wants to be."

WEINSTEINS UNDER PRESSURE TO PRODUCE HITS

The Weinstein Bros. are under intense pressure from investors to deliver a hit within the next few months, something that Harvey Weinstein has acknowledged in an interview with Sunday's New York Times. Weinstein told the newspaper that unless he does so by February (when The Weinstein Company releases Hoodwinked 2), "I'll be driving you, or making cheap hamburgers, or selling trailers, or refrigerators, or something. If the slate works, we're right back to plan." The company is set to release Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds on Friday, and, in a separate interview with the Times, Tarantino said, "I've got their undivided attention. ... They want Inglourious Basterds to be a hit even more than I want it to be a hit. Even in the grand scheme of things, it's more important to them than me." The newspaper noted that since splitting from Disney four years ago, the Weinsteins have produced a slew of flops and only a handful of hits. Harvey Weinstein blames the trouble on his being sidetracked by other businesses his company ventured into. "I kind of delegated the process of production and acquisitions," he told the Times. "Yes, I had a say in it, but was I 100 percent concentrating? Absolutely not. I thought I could build the company and delegate authority, and that's where it went wrong."