Despite the fact that it will be playing in about a quarter of the theaters showing Paramount/Dreamworks' Night at the Museum, analysts are predicting that the musical Dreamgirls has a fighting chance of unseating the Ben Stiller fantasy-comedy as the box-office leader this weekend. Dreamgirls opened to a staggering $8.5 million on Christmas day, but it has not come close to equaling Museum's mid-week grosses. (On Wednesday, it was only fourth on the list, behind Museum, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Charlotte's Web.) Picturehouse, created by New Line and HBO Films, is also releasing Pan's Labyrinth during the last weekend of the year when it can qualify for Oscar nominations. Among a virtual glut of artsy films being put out in limited release this weekend is Roberto Benigni's (Life Is Beautiful) The Tiger and the Snow.


Guillermo del Toro is the latest Mexican director (the others are Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu) to be showered with praise by critics as Oscar contenders are unveiled at the end of the year. His Pan's Labyrinth, which combines magic and realism is receiving downright ecstatic praise from some critics. "This is fabulous filmmaking in every sense of the word," writes Gene Seymour in Newsday. A.O. Scott in the New York Times comments, "If this is magic realism, it is also the work of a real magician. ... Pan's Labyrinth is a swift and accessible entertainment, blunt in its power and exquisite in its effects." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times calls the director a "visionary" who has created "a dark and disturbing fairy tale for adults that's been thought out to the nth degree and resonates with the irresistible inevitability of a timeless myth." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post writes that "for me, nothing this year comes close to being as utterly unforgettable as Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth ... the year's best movie. Honest." Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune describes it as "an incredible achievement." And Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News concludes: "A critic trots out the word 'masterpiece' at his own peril, but there it is."


If Pan's Labyrinth is receiving some of the best reviews of the year, Roberto Benigni's The Tiger and the Snow is receiving some of the worst. The first feature set in war-torn Iraq, it's being called by Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times, "a scorching affront to Italians, Iraqis and the intelligence of movie audiences everywhere." Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News writes that the movie is virtually an updated version of Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, but is "built on a teetering pile of pratfalls. ... Zany where it should be charming, self-congratulatory where it should be generous, this misguided project looks for love in all the wrong places." Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times calls the film "shameless, utterly predictable and grimly unfunny nonsense" and says that it consolidates Benigni's position "as the most self-indulgent and altogether insufferable showoff in the movies." And V.A. Musetto in the New York Post predicts that the movie, unlike Life Is Beautiful, which won three Oscars, won't be on anybody's awards list this year. "The only award Benigni's misconceived and unfunny The Tiger and the Snow could possibly win is for Worst Movie of 2006," he writes.


Martin Scorsese's The Departed has received the best-picture award from the Chicago Film Critics Association. The film also received awards for best director and adapted screenplay (William Monahan). Helen Mirren received the best actress award for her performance as The Queen while Forest Whitaker drew the actor award for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.


Although it was originally described as "bullet proof," the encryption code devised to prevent the copying of high-definition DVD's using Toshiba's HD DVD system may have been broken. Reports appearing on several tech websites Thursday said that a hacker calling himself Muslix64 posted information on how to crack the Advanced Access Content System codes. A video that he posted on YouTube describes his technique. In it, he shows how he decrypted such films as Van Helsing and Full Metal Jacket and promised more information on January 2.
Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.