WATCHMEN DISPUTE SETTLED

Ending one of Hollywood's most bizarre copyright battles, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox said Thursday that they had settled their feud over Watchmen, thereby allowing the film to open as scheduled on March 6. Although a joint statement did not specify terms of the settlement, published reports, citing sources close to the negotiations, said that Warner Bros. had agreed to pay Fox about $10 million to cover costs of its original development efforts plus legal fees connected with the lawsuit. More significantly, Fox will receive what Daily Variety described as "the equivalent of a movie star's gross participation" that will amount to 5-8 percent of the film's revenue and will also receive a similar cut of the gross for sequels and/or spinoffs.

BUSY HOLIDAY AT BOX OFFICE

Four new wide releases are joining a crowd of films competing at the box office over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. They include the Paramount family film Hotel for Dogs, the Lionsgate horror film My Bloody Valentine 3-D (which was not screened for critics), the Sony comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and Fox Searchlight's musical biopic Notorious. In addition, two high-profile films that had been playing in limited release -- Paramount Vantage's holocaust movie Defiance and Overture's Dustin-Hoffman starrer Last Chance Harvey -- are being moved into wide release, following their limited releases to qualify for Oscar consideration last month. Nevertheless, most box-office analysts are predicting that the film to beat this weekend will be the same film that emerged at the top of the heap last weekend, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino.

MOVIE REVIEWS: NOTORIOUS

A biopic about the life of rapper Biggie Smalls or The Notorious B.I.G. (née Christopher Wallace), who was murdered in 1997 at age 24, is getting mostly a bad rap from critics, who claim that it is primarily interested in enhancing the myths about his life that he himself invented, much of it in his music. Claudia Puig in USA Today comments: "While Notorious is well-made, it mythologizes someone who treated people, particularly women, with disrespect and whose life and art glamorized drug use, promiscuity and violence. It seems an odd choice of film to open just days before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday." Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail skewers the film this way: "This flick smoothes out the roughest edges, drains off the rawness and blandly retraces the narrative arc of every musical biopic since The Jazz Singer." A. O. Scott in the New York Times concludes: "It's half pop fable, half naturalistic docudrama. Not a bad movie, but nowhere near as strong as its soundtrack. It does not explain its hero so much as revel in the memory of his many selves." Glenn Gamboa in Newsday makes the case that "the real-life story ... is far more compelling than this movie." Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News sums up: "Notorious is hagiography with guns, grass and flesh, but it's a kind of whitewash all the same."

MOVIE REVIEWS: PAUL BLART: MALL COP

Film critics agree that Paul Blart: Mall Cop, featuring Kevin James (The King of Queens) in his first starring role in a movie, is not likely to offend anyone. But they disagree on the effect of that result. "Perfectly inoffensive and almost entirely unfunny," is the way Elizabeth Weitzman describes it in the New York Daily News. Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Times writes that the movie is "as sticky and gooey as a Cinnabon cinnamon roll," then notes that "the targeted 'tween audience will lap up James' antics, but for the rest of us, Blart is just empty calories.". On the other hand, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times writes that he was amazed to realize that the movie "isn't 'wholesome' as a code name for 'boring.' It's as slam-bang preposterous as any R-rated comedy you can name. It's just that Paul Blart and the film's other characters don't feel the need to use the f-word as the building block of every sentence." And alluding to the fact that film studios release most of their dregs in January, when ticket sales are generally light, Peter Howell in the Toronto Star writes, "It's surprisingly okay, in a January kind of way."

MOVIE REVIEWS: HOTEL FOR DOGS

Stephen Holden in the New York Times admits in the first paragraph of his review that he has a problem assessing "the cuter-than-cute, sweeter-than sweet" Hotel for Dogs. "After watching the movie," he writes, "only a grouchy critic-- one who shares W. C. Fields's conviction that a man who hates children and dogs can't be all bad -- would shout 'Bah, humbug!' and summon the truant officer and the dog catcher. I wouldn't dream of it, but ..." He then goes on to write pretty much a bah-humbug appraisal of the movie. So does pretty much every other critic. But Betsy Sharkey concludes in the Los Angeles Times: "Ultimately, Hotel for Dogs is a simple story with a few simple lessons woven in: Nothing is disposable, kids don't have to be cynical to be smart, and families can be built out of just about anything. Not such a bad message for a Hollywood movie."

Cinemark Movie Club