CHERNIN LEAVING NEWS CORP

Peter Chernin plans to step down as president and COO of News Corp when his contract expires this summer, the company announced late Monday. In a statement, News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch indicated that he does not intend to replace Chernin but will himself take over many of Chernin's tasks and assign others to top company executives. "We are fortunate to have such a strong and seasoned group of leaders at our Fox companies and we are confident that our success will continue," Murdoch said in a statement. It was not clear what additional role Murdoch's children might play in any reorganization, but Murdoch has made it clear that he would like one of them to succeed him upon his retirement or death. (He has also pointed out that he expects to continue as head of the company for a long time. Murdoch is 78; his mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, recently celebrated her 100th birthday.) Chernin and Murdoch reportedly had finalized his departure over the weekend. On Sunday Chernin attended the Academy Awards ceremonies where Slumdog Millionaire, distributed by News Corp's Fox Searchlight, won the best picture Oscar. In his own statement on Monday, Chernin called Murdoch "one of the true visionary leaders of our time" but he did not discuss his own future plans. Under the terms of his contract, News Corp is obligated to give Chernin a six-year production deal under which he would produce two movies a year and receive numerous perks, including 50 hours' use of a company plane and daily use of a company car and driver.

WATCHMEN PREMIERES IN LONDON

After a hectic history of rewrites, studio rejections, budget heedlessness, and legal wrangling, the $120-million Watchman had its premiere in London Monday. Based on the graphic novels by British writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons, the movie is regarded as a superhero flick like none before it. In his review in the London Times, Kevin Maher wrote: "It's not for the faint-hearted -- and, despite the preponderance of Spandex outfits, capes and costumes, not for kids either. Limbs are broken, bones are smashed and skulls split." Or as Britain's Guardian newspaper put it: "This is an [R-rated] superhero movie which makes last year's famously brooding Batman sequel The Dark Knight look like Alvin and the Chipmunks." Steve Anglesey remarked similarly in the London Daily Mirror: "Watchmen is unlikely to steal Slumdog Millionaire's tagline of 'the feel-Good Movie of the year!' but it's searing, spectacular and simply unmissable." On Time magazine's website, columnist Matt Selman commented, "It's a serious freak-out. ... Watching the visual world of the Watchmen movie unfold was one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had. Not film experiences. Just EXPERIENCES." On the Huffington Post blog, entertainment writer Mike Ragogna concludes: "It will demand your attention and intelligence as it entertains; it's sophisticated and sensationally sophomoric; and for those ... without any expectations or knowledge of the comic's storyline or historical importance, this really will be a blast." But Robbie Collin wrote on the News of the World website: "This two-and-a-half-hour wannabe pop culture epic isn't the worst superhero movie ever made, mind. But it IS one of the most spirit-crushingly disappointing. Because this time round, it was supposed to be all so different. We were promised darkness. We were promised maturity. But what we've got, is 163 minutes of tin-ear dialogue and absurd violence."

MADEA SLAPS PUNDITS

In what must certainly have come as a shock to box-office pundits, Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail earned a spectacular $41.03 million over the weekend, nearly twice what the most optimistic forecasters had predicted, final figures released by Media by Numbers indicated Monday. (The movie was not screened for critics, who viewed it over the weekend. In his review in the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote: "Mr. Perry dutifully gives his audience what it wants, but you can't help feeling that he might also have more to offer: more coherent narratives, smoother direction, better movies. Still, as long as he has Madea -- a force of nature and now something of a pop-culture institution -- he might not need any of that.") At the same time, last week's winner, Friday the 13th plummeted 81 percent to land in sixth place. The claymation-animated Coraline held up in its third week, taking the second position in the top ten with $411.43 million. The only other new film to open wide, the cheerleading comedy Fired Up, had little to cheer about as it landed in ninth place with just $5.48 million. (However, it reportedly cost only $10 million to produce.) Overall, the box office tallied $119,620,161 in ticket sales, versus $90,028,794 a year ago, a 32.87-percent increase. For the year, box-office revenue is up 23.2 percent, while attendance is up 21.4 percent.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, Lionsgate, $41,030,947, (New); 2. Coraline, Focus, $11,432,124, 3 Wks. ($53,766,843); 3. Taken, 20th Century Fox, $11,281,262, 4 Wks. ($95,034,161); 4. He's Just Not That Into You, Warner Bros., $8,558,225, 3 Wks. ($70,100,901); 5. Slumdog Millionaire, Fox Searchlight, $8,384,680, 15 Wks. ($98,354,395); 6. Friday the 13th, Warner Bros., $7,942,472, 2 Wks. ($55,119,663); 7. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Sony, $6,821,377, 6 Wks. ($121,200,930); 8. Confessions of a Shopaholic, Disney, $6,742,778, 2 Wks. ($27,378,049); 9. Fired Up, Sony, $5,483,778, (New); 10. The International, Sony, $4463916, 2 Wks. ($17,031,200).

ART HOUSE DISTRIBUTOR NEW YORKER FILMS SHUTS DOWN

Foreign and independent film distributor New Yorker Films is going out of business after 44 years, the New York Times reported today (Tuesday), calling the company "one of the most influential" in its field. Dan Talbot, the 82-year-old founder of the company told the newspaper that he was crushed by the demise of the company. "I nurtured this," he said. "These films are like babies." Village Voice critic J. Hoberman remarked that New Yorker Films "was the preeminent distributor of foreign art films in the United States from the mid-1960s really into the '80s. ... And for much of the time [it] was the only game in town."