COMING: COMPUTER-GENERATED ACTORS

Silicon Valley is on the verge of producing sophisticated software that will allow motion picture companies to create actors on a computer who are visually indistinguishable from real people, San Jose's Mercury News reported today (Thursday). In the words of the newspaper, which closely follows the sofware industry, when software engineers finally achieve what it calls "the holy grail of animation," stars would be able to "keep playing iconic roles even as they aged past the point of believability like Angilina Jolie as Lara Croft or Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter." Rick Bergman, general manager of AMD's graphics products group, told the Mercury News that his company "is getting real close" to producing computer-generated actors that will look identical to real human beings.

AUSTRALIA LOOKING FOR OVERSEAS SUCCESS

Twentieth Century Fox is hoping that Australia follows the same trajectory as Baz Luhrmann's previous film, Moulin Rouge!, which had so-so sales in the U.S. but performed well at the international box office, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today (Thursday). The movie, which cost $130 million to make, has taken in only $44.3 million domestically but has earned $46 million overseas ($16 million in Australia) It opened in first place in Spain, France and Germany last weekend. The SMH quoted a studio spokesman as saying that Fox will receive a 40-percent "refund" of the film's cost through a government subsidy program. Meanwhile, Australia is continuing to take a drubbing from film critics in their end-of-the-year round-ups. In the San Francisco Chronicle, critic Mike LaSalle listed it as "worst film of the year," calling it "a rollicking, rip-roaring bore with obvious special effects, cringe-inducing moments of fake tenderness and a start-and-stop narrative that had more endings than the third Lord of the Rings movie."

IS CALLING SOMEONE GAY DEFAMATORY?

Defending herself against a $60-million defamation lawsuit brought by Anna Nicole Smith's attorney, Howard K. Stern, former Fox News and MSNBC personality Rita Cosby said in court documents that her claim that Stern and Smith's lover, Larry Birkhead, had a homosexual encounter was not defamatory -- "even if false." In court documents posted on TheSmoking Gun.com website on Wednesday, Cosby said that "engaging in a homosexual tryst, even if videotaped, does not reflect poorly on someone and in the 21st century it most certainly is not a 'criminal lewd act.'" Cosby had made the claim about the tryst in her best-selling book about Smith, Blond Ambition." Other documents filed in connection with the case indicate that Hachette Book Group gave Cosby a $485,000 advance and that the book did not sell well, despite its long run on the New York Times best-seller list.

VILLAGE VOICE VET HENTOFF FIRED

Nat Hentoff, who for a half century, has often looked at the pop culture through the prism of liberal politics in New York's Village Voice, has been fired by the alternative weekly, apparently as part of a cost-cutting effort, the New York Times reported. Hentoff, who gave the newspaper his age as "83 and a half," said, "With all due immodesty, I think it doesn't help to lose me because people have told me they read The Voice not only for me, but certainly for me."

MAMMA MIA! BREAKS U.K. DVD RECORD

Twenty-five percent of British households now own a copy of Mamma Mia!, making it the country's biggest selling DVD of all time, the BBC reported today (Thursday), citing the Official Charts Company. Some five million copies of the musical have now been sold. It pushed out the previous No. 1 holder, The Curse of the Black Pearl, which sold 4.7 million copies