LION FOR SALE?

MGM Tuesday denied published speculation that it had retained Goldman Sachs to explore a possible sale. In a statement, the studio couched its denial in language that appeared to some to fortify the rumors, saying that while it had indeed retained Goldman Sachs it was doing so "to explore enhancements to MGM's long-term capital structure." At the same time, it insisted that its present owners, "are pleased with the company's current momentum and are committed to the future growth of the studio." But analysts were not so sure about the company's current ability to acquire financing for its production slate given the sluggish economy and suggested that the rumors about a possible sale will only make the studio's efforts to raise cash even more difficult. Nevertheless, other analysts pointed out that MGM -- like most other studios -- had already reduced its production schedule after going full bore earlier in the year in anticipation of a possible actors' strike.

ONLY TWO MOVIES SHOOTING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Only two major studio films are currently being shot in Southern California, DreamWorks' Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Sony's Angels & Demons, the Los Angeles Times observed today (Tuesday), blaming the production slowdown partly on scheduling decisions made a year ago in preparation for a possible actors strike. Most of the films set for release during the coming year have already been filmed, the newspaper noted. "We had 17 films in production between January and June, which is unheard of," Donna Langley, president of production for Universal, told the Times. The newspaper also observed that production is likely to accelerate next month, since many studios have now concluded that an actors strike is unlikely.

GERMAN EXTRAS SUE UA

Eleven German extras who were injured during the filming of United Artists' Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise, have sued the studio for $11 million, claiming that production personnel were aware that the World War II-era trucks that they were riding in were unsafe. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Ariane Bluttner, the extras' lawyer, said, "The studio knew the trucks were rickety. ... There had even been an internal memo about the railings." The magazine observed that although the extras had signed waivers before agreeing to participate in the scene, their lawyers could still make a case of malice that would override the waivers.

SECOND WEEK OF CLAPS FOR THUNDER

Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder held on to the box office crown for the second week in a row as it earned $16.3 million to bring its total to $65.7 million. Most analysts expect it to remain on top over the upcoming Labor Day weekend, which is generally the only major holiday of the year that does not attract big business for exhibitors. Tropic Thunder beat out The House Bunny, which placed second with $14.5 million, but beat Thunder on a per theater basis. Universal's Death Race opened in third place with $12.6 million. Slipping to fourth place was Warner Bros.' The Dark Night, which added another $10.5 million to its total -- which has now reached $489.4 million and will likely to cross the $500-million mark over next weekend. Rounding out the top five was Star Wars: the Clone Wars with just $5.7 million in its second week, making it the first bona fide Star Wars flop. The top-12 films of the weekend grossed $88.5 million, off less than half a percent from the $88.8 million that the box office counted during the comparable week a year ago.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Tropic Thunder, Paramount, $16,272,195, 2 Wks. ($65,839,915); 2. The House Bunny, Sony, $14,533,702, (New); 3. Death Race, Universal, $12,621,090, (New); 4. The Dark Knight, Warner Bros., $10,542,424, 6 Wks. ($489,416,885); 5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Warner Bros., $5,661,456, 2 Wks. ($24,999,054); 6. Pineapple Express, Sony, $5,452,163, 3 Wks. ($73,780,191); 7. Mirrors, Fox, $5,010,663, 2 Wks. ($20,211,066); 8. Mamma Mia!, Universal, $4,314,840, 6 Wks. ($124,469,900); 9. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Universal, $4,177,950, 4 Wks. ($93,921,245); 10. The Longshots, MGM, $4,080,687, (New).

CELEBS ARRIVE FOR VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

The 65th annual Venice Film Festival is due to open on Wednesday with a screening of the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading. Stars George Clooney and Brad Pitt are expected to attend. The film, however, is not among the 21 films entered in the official competition. Also expected to attend the festival -- and screenings of films they'll be appearing in -- are Kim Basinger, Charlize Theron, Mickey Rourke, Debra Winger, and French actress Juliette Binoche. The seven-member jury is headed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.