No new films are scheduled to open wide this weekend, leaving a clear field for National Treasure: Book of Secrets, starring Nicolas Cage, to repeat as the No. 1 film. Traditionally, films that open over the Christmas holiday do not suffer the usual decline of 50-percent or more in ticket sales during their second weekend. Treasure, which opened with $44.8 million over the three-day weekend last week, is expected to take in $35-40 million this weekend. I Am Legendis almost certain to repeat in second place but could be overtaken by Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, which opened on Christmas Day.


Opening in limited release this weekend is the John Sayles film Honeydripper, starring Danny Glover, Gary Clark Jr., and Charles Dutton. Its title derives from the Southern blues club, whose survival in 1950 Alabama, is at the heart of the tale. Kyle Smith in the New York Post suggests that the movie "won't draw a much bigger audience than that club." Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News writes that the movie "simmers without ever really sizzling." Although the movie features a nearly all-black cast, there are no negative references here to such things as lynchings, rapes, and the Klan, comments Rafer Guzman in Newsday. "There's so much charm and life in The Honeydripper that it makes the bygone South seem like a delightful place to be," he remarks, adding dryly, "It surely was, for some." Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times, however, writes that such issues are "percolating below the surface" of the movie and suggests that the authentic blues music of the time is recommendation enough to see it. "Music may be Honeydripper's most indelible element and Sayles and longtime collaborator, composer Mason Daring, seamlessly incorporate several original songs alongside the soundtrack's period tunes. All of the musical performers with the exception of Glover are actual musicians and the level of authenticity elevates the film.," he says.


Organizers of the Berlin Film Festival have landedFilth and Wisdom, which marks Madonna's directorial debut, for the Feb. 7-17 event. The film, however, will not screen in competition but rather in the Panorama section, which generally showcases the work of first-time directors dealing with issue-oriented topics. Filth and Wisdomis reportedly a short film -- of about 30 minutes -- that deals with Madonna's own "life experiences." She has declined to discuss its content further. The Berlinale press office did not indicate whether she will come to Berlin to present the movie.


Hollywood studios are expected to report a grand total of $9.7 billion in ticket sales for 2007, a rise of about 4 percent from last year, according to Media by Numbers. But the box-office tracking service noted that gains were due to higher ticket prices, not increased admissions. Moreover, it was only in the past several weeks that the box office posted significant gains, with such movies as I Am Legendand National Treasure pushing weekly sales 30 percent or more above last year's. "Those movies really turned things around, giving us a nice boost at the very end of the year," Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers, told Reuters. Total admissions for the year remained flat at 1.42 billion, down significantly from the 1.6 billion posted in 2002.


As part of 20th Century Fox's agreement to permit its latest DVD releases to be available for "rent" on Apple's iTunes Store, the studio has also agreed to employ Apple's Fairplay copy protection scheme that will allow its DVDs to be transferred to Apple's video iPods (and presumably iPhones), according to published reports. Analysts are unsure whether the deal is likely to mark a turning point in mobile video. Relatively few full-length features have been downloaded from movie websites, including Apple's iTunes, largely because of the rather complicated process of finding them followed by the tedious wait, sometimes taking half a day or more on standard 700 MB broadband connections, to download them.