Despite continued international efforts to keep the Olympic Games out of politics, Steven Spielberg has withdrawn as artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympics, citing China's failure to use its economic clout to force a resolution of the crisis in Darfur. "Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes, but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing suffering there," Spielberg said in his statement. China provides nearly all of Sudan's oil, thereby effectively "underwriting genocide," according to activists. Spielberg's decision could encourage other U.S. entertainers to boycott Olympics productions. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) New York Timesactor Don Cheadle, who heads the Darfur activist group Not on Our Watch, commented that if actions like Spielberg's, "catch fire, and other people think of boycotting, or refraining, the cumulative effect could be something that potentially could change the calculation of [the Chinese] government."


Celebrity magazines continued to show surprising strength during the second half of 2007, despite the fact that several increased their newsstand prices, according to a report by Audit Bureau of Circulations. Particularly impressive was Us Weekly, which grew 10 percent to more than 1.9 million versus its 2006 sales in the same period even while raising its newsstand price to $3.99 from $3.49. Meanwhile, the British celebrity gossip magazine OK,which debuted in the U.S. in 2005, seemed to make the most of its intense coverage of Britney Spears, boosting its circulation more than 23 percent to 935,000. The leading celebrity magazine, Time Warner's People, saw its circulation decline 3.5 percent to 3.6 million.


Madonna made her debut as a director at the Berlin Film Festival today (Wednesday), receiving a respectful reception for her film Filth and Wisdom. The film, several critics indicated, represented a substantial improvement over her recent work as an actress. Nevertheless, some reviews took her to task for what was described as the movie's fortune-cookie philosophy. At a news conference, she appeared to ignore the criticism, reflecting that is about "ultimate duality" -- as expressed in the title. But she also indicated that she experienced a kind of duality herself as she limited herself to the director's role. Responding to a questioner who noted that she also directs her concert performances, she observed that "I also get to do them. In [film] directing, you live more in your head -- there's no visceral release. It was an adjustment for me to work from my neck up." She also confirmed reports that she is exploring the possibility of releasing Filth and Wisdom not in theaters but on the Internet. "That would be an unconventional way for it to be seen," she said, "and I like doing unconventional things."


A screening at the Berlin Film Festival of Errol Morris's S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure about the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 stunned not a few critics Tuesday night, several of whom suggested that the film could capture the top Golden Bear award. In reporting on the film's premiere, the French news agency Agence France Press observed that the "anemic lineup at the Berlin Film Festival has left critics searching for a challenger to the runaway favorite ... There Will Be Blood," suggesting that S.O.Pmight fill that bill. Blood has already garnered numerous awards, and the Berlin festival -- the Berlinale, as it is known -- has in the past prided itself in rewarding worthy undiscovered films. If S.O.Pshould win, it would surprise on a number of levels. No other documentary has ever been chosen for the main competition in the Berlinale's history. And it would place the non-political festival in the position of rewarding a film that accuses the U.S. of perpetrating torture on innocent civilians, many of whom were allegedly rounded up indiscriminately and imprisoned in the early days of the Iraq war. (Former Army specialist Lynndie England, who was sentenced to three years for her role in the torture, says in the film that she came to realize that many of the prisoners who were tortured were ordinary family men who had no role in the insurgency. She also expresses anger that higher-ups went unpunished.)