STILLER WINS, BUT SLY MAKES CREDIBLE COMEBACK

Going into the final rounds of the holiday battle at the box office today (Monday), Ben Stiller's Night at the Museum was pounding Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa. The Stiller comedy has earned an estimated $30.8 million through Sunday while the Stallone boxing drama had earned $22.1 million. (That figure also included receipts for Wednesday and Thursday; Friday-through-Sunday receipts were put at $12.5 million). Last weekend's winner, The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith, also put up a good fight, earning $15 million over the weekend,to bring its 10-day total to $53.3 million. Two other newcomers did only so-so-to-poor business: Universal's CIA drama The Good Shepherd raked in $10 million to place fourth, while Warner Bros.' football flick We Are Marshall managed only to bring in $6.6 million, placing sixth. But Mel Gibson's Apocalypto suffered its own apocalypse over the weekend, plunging off the top-ten list after debuting in first place two weeks ago. The movie earned just $3 million over the weekend.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Night at the Museum, $30.8 million; 2. The Pursuit of Happyness, $15 million; 3. Rocky Balboa, $12.5 million; 4. The Good Shepherd, $10 million; 5. Charlotte's Web, $8 million; 6. Eragon, $7.15 million; 7. We Are Marshall, $6.6 million; 8. Happy Feet, $5.1 million; 9. The Holiday, $5 million; 10. The Nativity Story, $4.65 million.

CASINO BREAKS THE BANK -- ER, RECORD

Sony/MGM's Casino Royale has become the fourth movie of the year to pass the $300-million mark in overseas ticket sales. According to Daily Variety, the film took in an additional $14.5 million over the weekend, bringing its total foreign gross to $304.4 million, thereby joining Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Da Vinci Code and Ice Age: The Meltdown as members of the $300-million club. With its North American gross of about $144 million, Casino can now claim a worldwide total of $448 million, making it the highest earner of any James Bond movie in history.

MOVIE REVIEWS: CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER

Opening in 60 U.S. cities, Sony Pictures Classics' Curse of the Golden Flower performed solidly, it unspectacularly over the weekend. The film, China's costliest ever, earned $489,000 -- or $8,150 per theater. The lush historical drama, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li, opened to mixed reviews. Critics generally praised the dazzling costumes and overall look of the film, but some puzzled over the plot and performances. "It's all too ludicrous to absorb, but it's luscious to watch," Gene Seymour concluded in Newsday. To Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post, the movie "is a feast, an over-the-top, all stops-pulled-out lollapalooza that means to play kitschy and grand at once." Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News reached the same conclusion, writing: "The production is so grandly satisfying that even when you're laughing at the screen ... you still can't help but be blown away by the stunning excess of it all." Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail called the film "huge on spectacle but as devoid of delight as a Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic." But Bruce Westbrook in the Houston Chronicle simply groused, "Curse of the Golden Flower is cursed, all right -- cursed by bloated spectacle." On the other hand, Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times wrote that the film "achieves a kind of operatic delirium, opening the floodgates of image and melodrama until the line between tragedy and black comedy is all but erased." Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times called it "great news" for admirers of previous Zhang/Gong films (two two parted company ten years ago). In the new film, he wrote, "Zhang celebrates the breathtaking beauty of Gong while fully tapping her resources of talent." Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer described it as an "eye-popping masterpiece and also refers to the "operatic emotions conveyed by its cast," while Claudia Puig in USA Today called it "the year's most operatic and visually lavish film." And Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune referred to Curse as "an incredible film" that unfolds "with a dark, stylized brilliance and an almost insane excess that will bewilder a good part of the audience and exhilarate others. ... It really is like almost nothing you've seen before."

Brian B.