MURDOCH DOES A BORAT

Demonstrating once again that reporters can't trust a single source -- even if the source is as estimable as the chairman of News Corp -- news organizations on Thursday quickly spread the word that 20th Century Fox was planning a sequel to its 2000 hit Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. During a conference call on Thursday morning, Rupert Murdoch said that after Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen completes the forthcoming Bruno for Universal, "then he'll come back and do a Borat 2" for Fox. "He's signed up to do a sequel for us." (He added that he had seen the original film three times and "laughed like hell.") Murdoch's announcement was news to 20th Century Fox itself, which, after reports of the deal hit the news wires, released a statement through a spokesman saying that while there had been "casual discussions" with Cohen about a sequel, "it remains too preliminary to discuss."

DISNEY TO RELEASE TOY STORY 3 IN 2009

John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Disney Animation, has apparently dropped his opposition to a second Toy Story sequel, confirming Thursday that Toy Story 3 is currently being developed for release in 2009. He said it will be directed by Lee Unkrich, co-director of Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. One of Lasseter's first acts following the Disney-Pixar merger last year was to scrap Disney's separate plans for sequels to Pixar's hits. In an interview with Fortune, he said at the time, "I loved these characters that we have created. They're like family, like children. And if we didn't get a deal, Disney would own our children. Who knew what they would do? These were the people that put out Cinderella II." On Thursday, Lasseter remarked, "The greatest thing about the merger of the two companies is that the creators of Toy Story 1 and 2 can make 3 with the story that we wanted."

LASSETER'S STOCK OPTIONS AT PIXAR BEING PROBED

Steve Jobs's signature appeared on an employment contract between his Pixar Animation and director John Lasseter on March 20, 2001 that included a stock-options grant dated Dec. 6, 2000, a date that marked the yearly low for the stock, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Friday), citing a person familiar with the matter. By the time the contract was signed in March, the stock had already risen 24 percent. In reporting on the deal, which has drawn the attention of the SEC, the Journalremarked that "it remains unclear what role, if any, Mr. Jobs played in selecting the prior grant date." The revelation comes at a time when federal prosecutors are investigating whether Pixar and Job's Apple computer company had improperly backdated options deals with company higher-ups.

2007 BERLIN FESTIVAL OPENS

The Berlin Film Festival -- the Berlinale -- opened Thursday night with a biopic of French singer Edith Piaf, La Vie en Rose, starring Marion Cotillard as Piaf, who died in 1963 at the age of 47. It is one of 22 films entered in competition for the festival's top award, the Golden Bear. Among the others are Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd, Steven Soderbergh's The Good German, and Gregory Nava's Bordertown. The winner will be announced on Feb. 17 by a jury headed by screenwriter Paul Schrader.

MOVIE REVIEWS: HANNIBAL RISING

Despite the title, Hannibal Rising has nothing to do with the conqueror Hannibal who climbed the Alps, but it certainly is finding itself under attack like the original Hannibal was. Virtually all the critics have lampooned this newest film featuring the Silence of the Lambs' Hannibal Lecter character. Writes Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star: "Clearly, no movie that contains the line 'You ate my sister' can be all bad, but Hannibal Rising ... certainly tries its darndest." A bit of ghoulishness colors Misha Davenport's review in the Chicago Sun-Times, which complains: "There aren't any twists or surprises and that's like being served a plate of fava beans and a glass of Chianti without the liver." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News predicts that the movie will serve as "the final nail in the franchise's coffin." And Kyle Smith concludes in the New York Post: "It's enough to make you eat your heart out."

MOVIE REVIEWS: NORBIT

Makeup and effects man Rick Baker, most famous for turning men into apes on screen, is getting as much attention in the reviews for Norbit as its star, Eddie Murphy. The makeup he has created for Murphy allows the comedian to play three different characters, including a fat female character. "Mr. Murphy appears to have been encased in foam rubber and dressed in Dolce & Gabbana for Elephants," writes A.O. Smith in the New York Times. "Eddie Murphy's new Rasputia is the reigning queen of simulated adiposity," writes Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Even critics who hate the movie appear to love the makeup. "The one star for this review goes to the folks responsible for the makeup and visual effects," comments Teresa Budasi in the Chicago Sun-Times. Indeed, the movie itself -- and Murphy in particular -- are on the receiving end of some awful reviews. "Stunningly unfunny," comments Lisa Kennedy in the Denver Post. And Lou Lumenick in the New York Post concludes his review by remarking that it amounts to "another crude, sloppy paycheck job for an actor who doesn't need the money -- and who proved in Dreamgirls that he is capable of far better."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.