DEPP TAKES AIM AT TRANSFORMERS

Will Johnny Depp and his cohorts in Public Enemies be able to shoot down the rampaging Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen over the July 4 holiday? The film, along with Fox's 3D cartoon Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, opens in theaters today (Wednesday), and it's anybody's guess which one will produce the most fireworks. Transformers may have been a $200-million wonder last weekend, but ticket sales fell off far more steeply on Sunday than the studio had expected. By this weekend it could reach the point of audience saturation. At the same time, Johnny Depp is no stranger to box-office treasure troves. His Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is the third-highest-grossing film of all time (behind Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), and his Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is the sixth highest-grossing film. Moreover, no one is willing to call Ice Age 3 out at this point either, despite mixed reviews. Ice Age: The Meltdown, after all, grossed $651.9 million worldwide.

MOVIE REVIEWS: PUBLIC ENEMIES

With Public Enemies, Michael Mann has delivered a drama about a gangster whose name does not end in a vowel that has drawn the kind of praise from critics that they had previously reserved for The Sopranos. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times describes the movie about the last days of John Dillinger as "a grave and beautiful work of art." She adds that it "looks and plays like no other American gangster film I can think of." That is the theme of several other reviews. "You might not think it was possible to make a film about the most famous outlaw of the 1930s without cliches and 'star chemistry' and a film class screenplay structure, but Mann does it," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The beauty and the skill of the filmmaking keep you tightly in its grasp," says Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. Claudia Puig in USA Today comments, "An action film that feels like an epic, Public Enemies is an exciting and stylish slice of Americana." "The film is gripping and efficient," says Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel, noting that Depp as gangster John Dillinger and Christian Bale as G-man Melvin Purvis "make compelling enemies with charisma to burn." And comparing it to its rivals at the box office, Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning News remarks that the movie "appears as an oasis of adult entertainment." On the other hand, Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls the film, "disappointing, curiously uninvolving." Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News faults it for being "underconceived." And Dan Zak in the Washington Post faults Johnny Depp, who "dials down his weirdness to play gangster John Dillinger and, ironically, this choice sinks the movie."

MOVIE REVIEWS: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

The critics are running hot and cold over Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times judges it to be "the best of the three films" in the franchise. Likewise Lou Lumenick in the New York Post remarks that "the third installment ... shows no sign of fatigue." And Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News says that it's "cute enough to engage kids and just smart enough to keep the chaperones entertained." But Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer comments, "One might call this feeble attempt to wring every last nickel from a moderately enjoyable franchise The Crass Menagerie." And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune concludes: "Not bad, not good, Ice Age 3 may be OK enough to do what it was engineered to do, i.e., baby-sit your kid for a while and rake in the dough."

PINK SLIPS RAIN OVER PARAMOUNT

Even as Paramount's top executives were cheering the rise of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to the top of the box office on Tuesday, other executives at the studio were receiving notices that they were no longer needed at the studio. Some 31 pink slips were delivered to executives and production staff Tuesday. A memo to the staff said that the layoffs were intended to streamline the company's leadership. Among the executives let go was Guy Stodel, head of Paramount Vantage, the specialty film division that co-produced 2007's No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood with Disney's Miramax. But except for No Country, other releases by the unit have failed to score at the box office. Last month, Paramount moved Paramount Vantage's marketing, distribution, and physical production departments into the main studio. The latest personnel cuts also came on the same day that it was reported that Paramount was in discussions with Sony and Fox on possibly combining their home video production and distribution operations.

L.A. SCHOOL CHIEF INADVERTENTLY ADDS TO BRÜNO'S PUBLICITY BONANZA

In an action that is certain to draw further media attention to Sacha Baron-Cohen's upcoming Brüno feature, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District has announced that he intends to take "appropriate personnel action" against the principal and athletic director of Birmingham High School for allowing a GQ photo shoot that featured Cohen as Brüno posing with the school's football team. He's wearing football uniform shoulder pads, a scanty pair of red shorts, an athletic cup and little else. "I don't believe that there is a place on any high school in America, including Los Angeles, for photos such as these," Cortines said in a statement. (GQ, the leading men's fashion magazine, is routinely stocked in many high-school libraries.) The parents of the boys signed consent forms for the pictures and the school itself received a $500 payment for the photo shoot. The L.A.Observed.com blog noted that Birmingham's principal wants to break away from the district as a charter school, and the school board is expected to vote on the matter today (Wednesday). Meanwhile, the inventive press agents for Brüno have taken precautions not to allow their client to be upstaged by other comics. The Australian Associated Press reported that when the Australian satirical group The Chaser showed up at the Sydney premiere of the movie on Monday, each member was forced to sign a statement promising not to disrupt the screening. They were then accompanied inside by several guards who remained close by -- just in case.