Escalating the battle for the family audience, Fox Filmed Entertainment has lured Walden Media, the production company responsible for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, away from the Walt Disney Co. "Disney needed us less than other companies that are striving to get into that area," David Weil, chief executive of Anschutz Film Group, Walden's parent company, told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times. "Fox recognized that their needs and our interests overlapped." The newspaper said that Walden executives met with four studios before signing with Fox. Under the deal, Fox will release five or six Walden-produced movies annually, beginning with Mr. Magorium's Emporium,starring Dustin Hoffman, next year. Walden is owned by Phillip Anschutz, who also owns the Regal Theatres chain, the nation's largest, as well as Staples Center in Los Angeles and the L.A. Kings hockey team.


Strong performances by its filmed entertainment unit -- in particular, the blockbuster performance of 20th Century Fox's X-Men: The Last Standand Ice Age: The Meltdown -- sent News Corp's profits soaring during its fourth quarter, the company reported Tuesday. In a conference call, News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch remarked, "This should put to rest any remaining doubts about the sustainability of our film business." In its SEC filing, News Corp reported that its net income rose to $852 million from $717 million during the same quarter a year ago -- a 19-percent rise. Those figures included a $134-million gain from the sale of radio stations in the Netherlands and Germany. The company also reported rising profits in virtually every division, including its Fox broadcast network and its Fox News cable network. A conspicuous exception was its newspaper group, which saw profits drop to $170 million from $252 million, and it HarperCollins book publisher, which reported a $6-million loss against $12 million in profits a year ago.


Virtually every critic is remarking in reviews of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center that this is not your typical Oliver Stone movie. No conspiracies. No politics. No anger. No controversy. Indeed, writes Amy Biancolli in the Houston Chronicle, "Oliver Stone has made a film that is unrecognizable as an Oliver Stone film. Beyond a manifest passion for the material, nothing about World Trade Center suggests Stone is its director." Likewise, Phillip Wuntch observes in the Dallas Morning News,"Stone keeps reins on his own political agenda and directs what's possibly his only film that will play comfortably in the reputed heartland." Nevertheless, A.O. Scott in the New York Times argues that Stone may have been the ideal director for this project. "There is really no other American director who can move so swiftly and emphatically from intimate to epic scale, saturating even quiet moments with fierce emotion. He edits like a maestro conducting Beethoven, coaxing images and sequences into a state of agitated eloquence," Scott writes. Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes the film as "stunning in its simplicity and aching details" that "honestly and honorably earns its emotions." The film also has some significant detractors. Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times writes that it jibes with "the business-as-usual norms of sentimental studio moviemaking" and thereby winds up feeling "forced, manufactured and largely -- but not entirely -- unconvincing." And Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journalcomments that the movie "manages to give truth the ring of hackneyed fiction."


In what must seem to many like one of the oddest product-placement deals for an action film, the British underwear company Sunspel, which uses a coat of arms as its insignia, has announced that it will provide Daniel Craig's boxer shorts in the upcoming James Bond film, Casino Royale. "This is a major deal for us so everyone is really excited. There's a lot of interest in the film so we know there's going to be a lot of interest in Sunspel," a Sunspel spokeswoman said in a news release. The questions naturally arise: how will anyone know what sort of underwear Craig will be wearing? And, even if he's shot inelegantly in his shorts, how will anyone be able to read the label? (This wouldn't be the first deal of its kind. In Back to the Future a female character deduces that the male lead's name must be Calvin Klein because "it's written all over your underwear.")