A DREAM DEBUT FOR DREAMGIRLS

It only played in 852 theaters during just one day of the four-day holiday weekend, but Dreamgirls managed to place seventh on the list of top box-office performers for the penultimate weekend of the year with a take of $8.7 million. Paramount marketing chief Rob Moore told the Los Angeles Times that the movie had received a 95-percent approval rating on exit polls. "That's the highest I've ever seen, and I've been involved in testing for more than 20 years," he said. Overall, the box office was up some 10 percent over the comparable weekend a year ago, with 20th Century Fox's Night at the Museum leading the field with $43.2 million for the four days, according to Media By Numbers. The film knocked Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness to second place as it grossed $23.1 million. Rocky Balboa's comeback produced $17.3 million in ticket sales. Some analysts expressed surprise that the latest Rocky movie performed as well as it did but noted that it could hardly be regarded as a smash. However, MGM observed that the film had a relatively low production budget and was certain to become a winner for the studio. "This is a nice way for Stallone and for MGM to wrap up the franchise, studio spokesman Paul Pflug told the Los Angeles Daily News. The top ten films for the four-day Christmas holiday weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Night at the Museum, $42.2 million; 2. The Pursuit of Happyness, $23.1 million; 3. Rocky Balboa, $17 million; 4. The Good Shepherd, $13.9 million; 5. Charlotte's Web, $9.5 million; 6. Eragon, $9.3 million; 7. Dreamgirls, $8.9 million; 8. We Are Marshall, $8.6 million; 9. The Holiday, $7 million; 10. Happy Feet, $6.6 million.

ERAGON SWOOPS LOW IN U.S., SOARS OVERSEAS

Although 20th Century Fox's fantasy flick Eragon dropped a whopping 70 percent at the domestic box office, it managed to soar overseas, where it took in $21.9 million, making it the top film over the Christmas weekend, according to Daily Variety. However, unlike the domestic box office where overall revenue was up for the weekend over last year, the foreign box office was soft. Variety noted that if Eragon has been released last year and had taken in the same amount of money, it would have placed fourth.

PIRATES SAVES THE BOX OFFICE

If it hadn't been for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Hollywood would have ended 2006 about the way it did 2005, with the worst box-office performance in a decade, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office trackers Media By Numbers. "One movie can make the difference, not only with a box-office boost but a psychological boost for Hollywood,'' Dergarabedian told the Associated Press on Tuesday. ''You take one or two blockbusters out of the mix, it can really impact the bottom line." Indeed, according to Dergarabedian, admissions rose only 2.6 percent in 2006 pushing box-office revenue up just 4.2 percent, not even enough to offset the 5 percent drop in revenue in 2005. (Revenue is expected to reach $9.3 billion this year, 100 million short of 2004's take.)

SOUL REVIVAL

Just one day after the death of James Brown at age 73 from congestive heart failure, Spike Lee has been signed to direct a biographical movie about the singer, Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday). The trade publication said that the "authorized project" is being developed by Brian Grazer at Paramount, with production likely to begin in 2008.

MOVIE REVIEWS: NOTES ON A SCANDAL

Notes on a Scandal, starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett is opening today (Wednesday), just in time to be considered for Oscar nominations. Several critics are predicting it may receive several, particularly for the performance of Judi Dench as a high-school history teacher who forcefully dominates her students and colleagues and engages in an incendiary relationship with a fellow teacher played by Blanchett, who is likely to get an Oscar nod herself. "When an actress raises the bar of her craft as vertiginously high as Judi Dench, it can be a bit dizzy-making for an audience whenever she insists on topping herself," Jan Stuart comments in Newsday. Blanchett, too, receives much applause. Lou Lumenick writes in the New York Post: "Blanchett, a human chameleon, is dazzling in an Oscar-caliber role that bears no resemblance to the characters she can currently be seen playing with great skill in Babel and The Good German." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News predicts both actresses will make the final ballots. "Dench will end up on the Best Actress ballot and Blanchett with a Supporting Actress nomination," he forecasts, adding, "They are, in fact, co-stars and should be on the same ballot." Not to be discounted is the performance of Bill Nighy, who plays the Blanchett character's husband. Comments Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Though about 99 percent of the praise you'll see in the blurbs for this film will be directed toward Dench and Blanchett, it would be a crime to overlook Nighy's brilliance." The film itself has a number of detractors, however, among them Glenn Whipp of the Los Angeles Daily News who calls it "the year's most overrated" film.

NOTE:

Critics who write flippantly about movies based on real-life tragedies risk offending those who were touched directly or indirectly by them. Those who mocked Titanic, for example, were taken to task in letters-to-the-editor columns by several members of the victims' families for abusing their memories. Indeed, some people felt that the filmmakers themselves showed poor taste in using the disaster as a backdrop for what they regarded as a maudlin love story. Recently, the film We Are Marshall,based on the true story of how a West Virginia town responded to the deaths of an entire high-school football team in 1971,opened with mostly jeering reviews from the major critics. The New York Times review concluded that the film was "nothing if not rah-rah. By the end of the movie, the three words of its title, which become the community's rallying cry, have been shouted into your ears so insistently you will never want to hear them again." The New York Post reviewer took the filmmakers to task for making "no mention of what might make football especially important to a town like this: The prospect of spending the rest of your life loading coal." Had these reviews been written in Huntington, WV, where We Are Marshall was set, the authors would no doubt have been run out of town. As it turned out, we received complaints, mostly from Huntington residents, for remarking in Friday's summary that if audiences react the way the critics had to the movie, it will come crashing down at the box office like the plane at the center of the movie's plot. (On Monday, we additionally remarked that the film had indeed "crashed on takeoff" at the box office.) Our intention was to compress the overall reaction of critics into a single line that also conveyed what the movie was all about, while at the same time drawing attention to the irony of a movie about a plane crash crashing itself. We sincerely regret that this remark hit a raw nerve with some of our readers and acknowledge that we may have been caught up in the overall tone of some of the reviews.

Brian B.