HALLOWEEN ARRIVES EARLY

If Labor Day is a holiday that produces about as much additional business at the box office as Flag Day, maybe an early arrival of Halloween could set things right. Box-office analysts are predicting that the R-rated remake of the 1978 slasher flick will do about $20 million at the box office -- not bad for the holiday that occurs just as school vacation ends. The film is expected to lift morale at The Weinstein Co., whose Dimension subsidiary is releasing the film with MGM. To date, the record of the company, which the Weinsteins created after walking away from Disney and Miramax, the company that they also founded, has been dismal. Halloween was not generally screened for critics, but somehow Bob Strauss of the Los Angeles Daily News got a look at it. He called it "over-the-top and freak-show-disgusting." Meanwhile, last weekend's winner, Superbad, is expected to slip to second place after two weeks at the top. Analysts are predicting it will earn $13-17 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: DEATH SENTENCE

The vigilante thriller Death Sentence, starring Kevin Bacon, appears to have something for everybody, Roger Ebert, who gives the film three and a half stars, observes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "There is a courtroom scene of true surprise and suspense, and some other effective moments," he writes, "but basically this is a movie about a lot of people shooting at each other, and during the parts I liked, the action audience will probably go out to get popcorn, or a tattoo or something." Meredith Goldstein in the Boston Globe reacts similarly, writing, "The cynics will slap their foreheads, the squeamish will cover their eyes, but the revenge movie fanatics should be nice and satisfied after the whole ordeal." Most other critics, however, are not so generous. Claudia Puig in USA Today calls it "despicably hypocritical." To Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun, it's "grandiose, grimly silly." Similarly, Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning News calls it, "shallow, clumsy and just plain dumb." Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes it as "this cheesy exploitation drama." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News comments, "Throughout his prolific career, actor Kevin Bacon has never been acknowledged with a major award. But if there is any justice, he'll soon have a Golden Raspberry on his mantel."

LAW APPEARS TO BE ALL THUMBS

Although "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" can't be trademarked by Roger Ebert or anyone else, for that matter, since the gesture originated in ancient Rome, "two thumbs up" or "two thumbs down" can be, a legal expert argues. And there's the rub, according to Chicago Tribune entertainment writer Mark Caro, writing in today's (Friday) edition and quoting intellectual property expert E. Leonard Rubin. "Disney cannot use ['Two Thumbs Up']," Rubin told Caro, "but people on television during the show, I believe, are not prohibited from using a gesture thumbs-up or a gesture thumbs-down: 'I liked it,' 'I didn't like it.'"

MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO TRYING TO EXTORT MONEY FROM TOM CRUISE

A man who claimed to have 7,600 stolen photographs taken at Tom Cruise's wedding to Katie Holmes in Italy last year and who had offered to sell them to the actor for $1.2-1.3 billion to keep them out of the press, has agreed to plead guilty to extortion, the Associated Press reported, citing court documents unsealed on Thursday. Under the plea agreement, the man, David Hans Schmidt, could be sentenced to two years in prison and fined $250,000.

ANG LEE SIDESTEPS CONTROVERSIES OVER HIS LATEST FILM

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) sidestepped a couple of controversies when they were raised at the Venice Film Festival Thursday. Attending the festival to promote his upcoming NC-17-rated Lust, Caution, Lee feigned political innocence when asked about a complaint lodged by the Taiwan government over the festival's decision to designate the film as coming from "Taiwan, China." "I don't really have that much to say," Lee told reporters. "They seem to be changing it from one to the other. Once you find out, please let me know." Later, when asked whether the two stars were actually engaging in sex during a torrid scene in the movie, Lee answered obliquely with a question of his own. "Have you seen the film?" he asked.

CANADA WARNS ACTORS: ANTI-SMOKING LAWS TO BE ENFORCED

The government of the Ontario has let it be known that it will not tolerate Hollywood movie stars flouting the Canadian province's anti-smoking laws. Asked by the Canadian CanWest News Service about last year's incident in which Sean Penn smoked a cigarette at a news conference while promoting his latest film, Jim Watson, Ontario's Minister of Health Promotion, said, "No one is above the law, and just because you happen to be famous or in the movies doesn't mean you can snub our laws and endanger people in the process," In last year's incident, Penn himself was not punished, but the Sutton Place Hotel, where the news conference was held, was fined $600 for failing to enforce the smoking ban. Watson said Thursday that he has asked the film festival to make visitors aware of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, which bars smoking indoors at all public places. Penn is due to return to the festival next week as the director of Into the Wild.Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.