AN "INSTANT CLASSIC" OPENS VENICE FILM FEST

The Venice Film Festival opened Wednesday night with several critics predicting that the opening-night film, Joe Wright's Atonement, will not only capture the festival's Golden Lion award but numerous Oscars as well. Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter describes it as "an instant classic" and predicts it will capture "rapturous audiences and major awards." Writing in the London Daily Telegraph, David Gritten praised the film as "a triumph" and forecast that the film will garner numerous awards, especially for stars Keira Knightly and James McAvoy's "impeccable performances" and for Wright's "bravura direction." Gritten concludes: "Truly, here is a British film worth celebrating." Nevertheless, Gritten and other critics question the commercial viability of the movie. Gritten remarked that it "might prove a little too rarefied for large mainstream audiences." Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian wrote, "It is clever, sophisticated: though perhaps multiplex audiences might find it a little too tricksy." Comparing the film to Wright's earlier Pride and Prejudice, Christopher Tookey in the Daily Mail wrote that while that film "was accessible enough to involve a mainstream international audience, I have my doubts about Atonement's ability to do the same." Nevertheless, he remarked, "the film is always gripping." Geoffrey McNab in the Independent calls the movie "a formidable achievement" for director Wright, adding, "The strength of the film lies in its extraordinary visual imagination and in the intensity the young actors bring to their roles." In the Times, James Christopher comments that Knightley's performance gives her "a tilt, at least, at an Oscar nomination." However, he goes on to call the film itself a "grim slog."

ACTOR'S SUICIDE ATTEMPT COULD BE FATAL FOR HIS FILM

Reports that Owen Wilson attempted suicide and remains hospitalized in Los Angeles have thrown plans to market Wilson's latest movie, The Darjeeling Limited, into limbo, Newsweek magazine observed on its website today (Thursday). Chris Thilk of the online Movie Marketing Madness told the magazine, "This is going to have a tremendous impact on the film's marketing. ... If you take Wilson out of the mix, it's not just the loss of a leading man, it would severely impact the movie's brand identity." It is generally assumed that, should Wilson agree to promote the film, interviewers would almost certainly focus on his reported suicide attempt and ignore the movie itself. Longtime celebrity publicist Howard Bragman told Newsweek that if Wilson does agree to do an interview, he should give one only to a high-profile TV show like Today, then dismiss other questions about the matter by telling reporters that he's already addressed it and wants to move on.

WILD HOGS ROARS INTO FIRST PLACE AGAIN

Wild Hogs, from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment,remained the top selling DVD for the second week in a row last week, according to the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales chart. Warner Home Video's 300 remained a distant second. The Disney biker comedy, which piled up $168.2 million in domestic box-office sales earlier this year, earned an additional $7.8 million in DVD rentals, making it the top rental attraction for the week as well.

GIBSON SHUTS DOWN AUSTRALIAN PRODUCTION COMPANY

A movie production company launched by Mel Gibson and Australia's leading talent agency, Shanahan Management, to make movies in Australia featuring some of the country's top stars, including Nicole Kidman, Toni Collette and Geoffrey Rush, has shut down its operations without a single film being produced, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today (Thursday). The newspaper also noted that Gibson had twice previously attempted to launch production ventures in Australia with major partners only to see them fall apart, with their planned productions aborted. Mark Gooder who heads up Australian operations for Gibson's Icon Productions, told the Herald, "Everyone has good intentions to make as many films as they possibly can out of Australia. ... But when it comes down to it, what are those stories that will resonate and travel overseas? ... You talk to any producer and any studio in Australia. Are they all sitting on fantastic material that they're holding back from making? No. I think everyone finds it's a bit of a struggle to find strong material."

Brian B.