BRÜNO: ALMOST FABUOUS

Although some box-office analysts had raised a skeptical eye when Universal estimated that Brüno would wind up with $30.4 million, it turned out that the studio was actually a tad conservative. The movie actually sold $30.6 million in tickets, according to final figures released Monday. Total ticket sales for all films came to $142.5 million, down 6 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago, according to Box Office Mojo. The box-office tracking service said that it was the slowest second weekend in July so far as numbers of tickets sold are concerned since 1991. However, moviegoers are expected to return to the theaters in droves after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens at midnight tonight.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Box Office Mojo (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Brüno, Universal, $30,619,130, (New); 2. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, 20th Century Fox, $27,607,497, 2 Wks. ($119,680,193); 3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Paramount/DreamWorks, $24,213,875, 3 Wks. ($339,221,800); 4. Public Enemies, Universal, $13,794,240, 2 Wks. ($66,221,110); 5. The Proposal, Disney, $10,603,884, 4 Wks. ($113,861,076); 6. The Hangover, Warner Bros., $9,933,238, 6 Wks. ($222,444,906); 7. I Love You, Beth Cooper, 20th Century Fox, $4,919,433, (New); 8. Up, Disney, $4,715,746, 7 Wks. ($273,834,761); 9. My Sister's Keeper, Warner Bros., $4,294,382, 3 Wks. ($35,915,782); 10. Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Sony, $1,543,516, 5 Wks. ($61,437,955).

TWO VERSIONS OF BRÜNO TO SCREEN IN U.K.

Hoping to boost attendance for Brüno in the U.K. and Ireland where it can only be seen by adults 18 and older, Universal plans to release a second version of the movie -- deleting about two minutes of footage that British censors had objected to -- so that it can be seen by anyone over the age of 15. The two versions will play in theaters at the same time, something apparently unprecedented in British cinema history. In a statement, Universal Pictures International President David Kosse said, "Both of these versions will allow many more of Brüno's fans in the U.K. to enjoy the film." No studio executive could remember any other film being released in both "18" and "15" versions. Daily Variety reported today (Tuesday) that the decision to release the two versions was made after U.K. exhibitors reported that they had turned away teenagers last weekend. Nevertheless, Brüno scored the best opening weekend ever for an 18-rated comedy in the U.K. last weekend, despite the fact that its $8.1 million in ticket sales was 8 percent below Borat's. That film had a 15 rating.

TICKETS GOING FAST FOR LATEST POTTER MOVIE

Moviegoers hoping to have an early look at Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which opens at midnight tonight, may have to search hard to find available tickets. Online ticket sellers Fandango said Monday that it had already sold out more than 1,000 showtimes across the country, saying that it has become one of the fastest-selling titles in its nine-year history and currently represents 96 percent of its ticket sales. According to the ticket sellers, 63 percent of the buyers are female and 62 percent said that they plan to see the movie with a group. In a statement, Fandango COO Rick Butler said, "Harry is tracking to match last year's juggernaut, The Dark Knight, in advance ticket sales. ... Showtimes are selling out at a very fast pace, and it's clear that the film's wider blockbuster appeal, solid word-of-mouth and positive Internet buzz on Half-Blood Prince are helping fuel the demand."

MOVIE REVIEWS: HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

Ordinarily reviews count for little when it comes to movie attendance these days. However, a laudable review by the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano may count for a lot, especially in Catholic countries. The newspaper said today (Tuesday) said that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince illuminated the age-old conflict between good and evil and treated the stirrings of adolescent love with "the correct balance." That's a more glowing review than many appearing in the mainstream American press. Typically, U.S. critics note that it helps to have a basic familiarity with the novel on which it is based; indeed, it helps even more to be a rabid fan of the novel. (Critics have made the same observation about all of the other Potter movies, too.) Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes that he "admired" the movie, adding that "it opens and closes well, and has wondrous art design and cinematography as always, only more so." However, he writes, some of the scenes "may be especially valued by devoted students of the Potter saga. They may also be the only ones who fully understand them." Dan Kois in the Washington Post notes that the J.K. Rowling novel offered only one action sequence and focused on romance. "It must have seemed a daunting challenge to adapt for an audience of casual moviegoers who don't know a quaffle from a bezoar." Kyle Smith in the New York Post admits that in most of the Potter movies, "I dumbldoze through them as the suspicious new teacher shows up, the plot shuts off for several minutes of Quidditch and all problems get solved with the same old hocus-pocus. But HP6 is suspenseful and artfully realized." Likewise, Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel calls it "a satisfying film, just coherent enough, just engrossing enough to cover for the tedious by-the-book slog of even the best Harry Potter films." Nancy Churnin advises in the Dallas Morning News: "Be prepared. ... It would behoove viewers to catch up before plunging into a world where everyone speaks fluent Potter-ese, building on long-established relationships. Even the magic, fabulous as it is, is just part of the intricate fabric from which the story is woven." On the other hand, Michael Sragow writes in the Baltimore Sun that the movie "would be a first-rate fantasy even if the audience weren't invested in the fortunes of boy wizard and 'Chosen One' Harry Potter." Besides, as Kenneth Turan observes in the Los Angeles Times, the movies are not really produced for the uninitiated. "It's only the phenomenal success of the books that has made [the film series] possible, that has ensured a loyal audience for each film, an audience that has invested so much emotion, not to mention time, in the ongoing Potter saga that skipping an episode is out of the question. That's a kind of brand loyalty that's all but gone out of style." Spoilers? When it comes to a Potter movie, the critics seem to agree, who cares?

Cinemark Movie Club