(CASH) RETURNS OF THE ZOMBIES?

Box office analysts expect the Will Smith sci-fi thriller I Am Legend to do more than $50 million at the box office this weekend. Today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times observed, "No one doubts the movie, which cost more than $150 million to make, will open No. 1. The only question is how big it will be." It quoted industry analysts and executives at rival studios as predicting that the film could open with ticket sales as high as $65 million. Almost certain to take second place is 20th Century Fox's family flick Alvin and the Chipmunks, which is expected to take in between $15 million and $20 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: I AM LEGEND

A lot of the reviews of I Am Legend are not about the story or the performances but about the special effects. The film reportedly cost more than $150 million to make, largely due to the intricate, post-apocalyptic effects scenes. Writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "The first third of the movie is a high-octane joy ride through post-apocalyptic Manhattan, and you can't stop asking yourself how they did it. How did they do it? Endless swaths of Fifth Avenue are cleared out and rendered feral, with grass poking through the concrete and herds of deer galloping through the canyons." Roger Ebert begins his review in the Chicago Sun Times this way: "The opening scenes of I Am Legend have special effects so good that they just about compensate for some later special effects that are dicey." Especially dicey, it seems, is the creation of the film's zombies. Claudia Puig in USA Today comments: "The rampaging zombies don't look at all convincing. Instead, they look like escapees from a second-rate video game." Desson Williams in the Washington Post agrees. "They are, quite simply, too superhuman," he writes. "They move too fast and perfectly. They belong in a video game, but not a big movie." Will Smith gets numerous kudos for essentially playing the only character in the movie. (He is after all, the last man on Earth.) "There are not many performers who can make themselves interesting in isolation, without human supporting players," A.O. Scott observes in the New York Times. "But it is the charismatic force of [Smith's] personality that makes his character's radical solitude scary and fascinating, as well as strangely appealing."

MOVIE REVIEWS: ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS

You can almost hear Ross Bagdasarian's chastising "Oh, Alvin!" in the tone of the reviews for Ross Jr.'s Alvin and the Chipmunks. In USA Today Claudia Puig writes, "Sure, rodents are hot this year. But unlike Ratatouille's chef prodigy Remy, these mischief makers bring nothing new to the table." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post acknowledges that he has been a longtime fan of Alvin, "but this partially animated, charm-free atrocity is awful enough to instantly cure any remaining nostalgia for the rodent trio." Andy Webster in New York Times describes the film as another example of Hollywood milking old television properties for nostalgia, and concludes: "This partially animated, charm-free atrocity is awful enough to instantly cure any remaining nostalgia for the rodent trio." But Stephen Cole in the Toronto Globe and Mail remarks that he watched both The Golden Compass and Alvin in theaters packed with 4-12-year-olds, and, he adds, "This reviewer is honor-bound to report that Alvin wins the kids' vote, paws down."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE PERFECT HOLIDAY

According to most critics The Perfect Holiday doesn't come close to living up to its title. Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune describes it as "overplotted and underwhelming" and lacking "any sort of cinematic personality." Queen Latifah gets top billing in the movie, but Ann Hornaday warns in the Washington Post: "This crass seasonal programmer features only enough of its nominal star to avoid being sued by bait-and-switched filmgoers." Rafer Guzman in Newsday dismisses it as "sexist, unfunny and guaranteed to turn you into a grouch." That is indeed what it turned Carrie Rickie of the Philadelphia Inquirer into. Her summation of the movie: "In the annals of Noel films so wincingly, gratingly, insultingly bad that a lump of coal would be vastly preferable."

MOVIE REVIEWS: ATONEMENT

Atonement, whichis getting a wider release this weekend after opening in a handful of theaters, is attracting rave reviews to go along with numerous awards and nominations that were handed out during the past week. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times particularly praises the performance of Keira Knightley and the direction of Joe Wright. Wright, he says, "shows a mastery of nuance and epic, sometimes in adjacent scenes. ... This is one of the year's best films, a certain best picture nominee." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times writes an equally ecstatic review of the movie, based on an acclaimed novel by Ian McEwan. "This is one of the few adaptations that gives a splendid novel the film it deserves," Turan writes. Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post echoes the sentiment: "How fitting, somehow, that a novel so devoted to the precision and passionate love of language be captured in a film that is simply too exquisite for words," she comments. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post concludes his review with four words: "One for the ages." A few reviews are not so gushing. Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star, for example,calls it "handsomely tidy and earnestly dull."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.