THUMBS DOWN FOR HITCHER

Only one film, the horror flick The Hitcher, debuted in wide release at the box office over the weekend, and it performed weakly, taking in an estimated $8.3 million on 2,831 screens ($2,932 per screen). Meanwhile, some of the Golden Globe winners that had previously been seen in only a handful of theaters moved into wider distribution and performed strongly. Pan's Labyrinth spread into 609 theaters and took in $4.7 million ($7,758 per screen). Universal's Children of Men upped its theater count to 1,100, bringing in $3.8 million ($3,455 per screen). After 17 weeks in release, The Queen widened into 1,586 theaters where it wound up with $3.6 million ($2,289 per screen). Babel, which won the Golden Globe for best picture, expanded to 889 theaters and grossed $2.3 million ($2,569 per screen). And The Last King of Scotland spread to 495 theaters, grossing $1.8 million ($3,545 per screen). Meanwhile, last weekend's winners continued to hold up well. Stomp the Yard kept its place at the top of the box office with $13.3 million in 2,051 venues, edging out Night at the Museum with $13 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Stomp the Yard, $13.3 million; 2. Night at the Museum, $13 million; 3. Dreamgirls, $8.7 million; 4. The Hitcher, $8.2 million; 5. The Pursuit of Happyness, $6.7 million; 6. Freedom Writers, $5.6 million; 7. Pan's Labyrinth, $4.7 million; 8. Children of Men, $3.7 million; 9. The Queen, $3.7 million; 10. Arthur and The Invisibles, $3.1 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE HITCHER

The Hitcher was not screened in advance for critics -- for good reason, it would appear. When they finally did take a look at it -- after buying tickets at the box office just like everyone else -- they drubbed it. "The mix of mystical solemnity and chain-reaction slapstick suggests a Road Runner cartoon directed by John Woo," wrote Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. Most critics compare the film with the 1986 original, which also drew some caustic reviews. Peter Howell in the Toronto Star commented, "The movie doesn't make a lick of sense, but then neither did he original." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe wrote: "No one's going to argue that the 1986 psycho-thriller "The Hitcher" was a pillar of world cinema, but it had a scuzzy originality. The remake, by default, lacks even that. I don't think I've seen a movie with less reason to exist." Kyle Smith in the New York Post said that the best line he heard while watching the movie came from a person in the audience. "When the lovers go to a motel and watch [the Alfred Hitchcock classic] The Birds on TV, a guy yelled, 'Better movie!'"

PGA LETS SUNSHINE IN

In a surprise decision, the Producers Guild of America on Saturday voted the low-budget independent film Little Miss Sunshine its Darryl F. Zanuck award for best feature film of 2006. The film won out over Babel, The Departed, Dreamgirls, and The Queen. Sunshine, which cost only $12 million to make, was picked up by Fox Searchlight during the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Its five producers, Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger, and Ron Yerxa, accepted the award. If it is nominated for a best picture Oscar on Tuesday, it will be required to limit the number of producer credits to three. But speaking to the crowd at the Century Plaza Hotel, Yerxa thanked the PGA for crediting all five. "We did different things at different times, and we had a great working relationship," he said.

LOOKING TO BE DISCOVERED? EISNER IS LOOKING FOR YOU

Former Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner has allied with United Talent Agency to create an online video website aimed at showcasing unknown -- and unrepresented -- talent. It will become part of Veoh, an Internet operator that Eisner has invested in. The site is expected to attract the cream of the crop of amateur filmmakers who currently display high-quality videos on YouTube. In a statement, Veoh CEO Dimitry Shapiro said that he expected that the site will eventually become "the new gateway for talent discovery in Hollywood." Separately, today's (Monday) New York Times reported that Eisner has teamed up with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner to develop another video-sharing website focusing on celebrities. The site, accessible via Veoh or Usmagazine.com, will principally offer content from Wenner's Us magazine, augmented by clips submitted by visitors to the site. Janice Min, editor in chief of Us, told the Times that the website will specifically target women in their 20s and 30s.

SUNDANCE FILM SEEKS PROBE OF ABU GHRAIB

Rory Kennedy, who was born after her father, Senator Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968, has expressed the hope that her documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which is competing at this year's Sundance Film Festival, will result in an investigation to determine who was responsible for the torture and humiliation meted out at the Iraqi prison in 2004. In an interview Saturday with Reuters in Park City, UT, Kennedy said that she interviewed 15 people who either participated in the torture of prisoners or witnessed it and "what each of them told me is they did it because they were told to do it and everyone else was doing it." She said that their comments were "in stark contrast" to administration claims that the torture was carried out by "nine bad apples." The film is due to be released in theaters and on HBO next month. Meanwhile, The Weinstein Company has reportedly bought the Iraq war drama Grace Is Gone for $4 million, starring John Cusack as a man whose wife is killed in combat and who takes their two young daughters on a road trip before breaking the news to them. In an interview with today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times, Harvey Weinstein called Grace, "a mainstream movie that makes people feel what the war is all about."

CONNERY MAY CHUCK RETIREMENT FOR INDY SEQUEL

Sean Connery is considering stepping out of retirement to appear in the planned Indiana Jones sequel as the principal character's father. In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Connery acknowledged that he had already been approached by George Lucas about appearing in the as-yet-untitled film and that he is seriously considering doing so. However, he added, "At the moment, there's nothing decided. I haven't got the script. Everything depends on the script." Connery has not appeared in a movie since The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2002 during which he admittedly clashed repeatedly with the director. He said last August that the time had come for him to retire "because of my rather unfortunate last movie. ... The cost to me in terms of frustration and avoiding going to jail for murder cannot have continued."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.