Fox's Live Free or Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis, took in $9.1 million when it premiered on Wednesday -- good, but hardly overwhelming -- leading box-office analysts to predict that the stand-out movie this weekend will be the new Disney cartoon starring a rodent whose name is Remy, not Mickey. There is wide disagreement among them about how much Ratatouilleis likely to earn, with many expecting it to be the lowest-grossing movie for a Pixar movie ever, falling below last year's Cars, which debuted with $60.1 million.


Much has been written about the difficulties Disney's marketing executives have had in getting a handle on how to sell Brad Bird's Ratatouille, given its difficult title, adult story line, French setting, etc. But film critics are suggesting that the movie sells itself -- even while they themselves are doing their best to persuade moviegoers to see it. "You should probably just take my word that this one is unmissable," advises Lou Lumenick in the New York Post.In the Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern asks, "Is the world ready for a movie that sees an upwardly mobile rodent in a kitchen as a cause for celebration, rather than extermination? Once you've met the clean little rat in question, and registered the high preposterousness of the premise -- not to mention the elegance of the execution -- the answer is yes." Bird and his fellow animators, writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, have "made Ratatouille so imaginative, good spirited and funny that it not only blurs the line between reality and fantasy, it manages to blur it between species as well." And between age groups, too, Michael Phillips suggests in the Chicago Tribune. "Ratatouille may be rated G, but its sense of humor is more sly, more sophisticated and more interesting than most PG-13 or R-rated comedies at the moment," he writes. Several critics seize about the metaphor of food to describe the movie. "It blends a savory stew of ingredients that, when whisked together, create a wondrously tasty and visually stunning dish," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. Says Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun: "Ratatouille is a sublime dish of a movie, and the company's piece de resistance." And A.O. Scott in the New York Timeshas probably never written a more sterling review for a movie than this one for Ratatouille, which he calls "a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film. It provides the kind of deep, transporting pleasure, at once simple and sophisticated, that movies at their best have always promised."


Since his illness, Roger Ebert has mostly limited his reviews to "important" films that have usually earned his "thumbs up." Not so in the case of Evening, which certainly has a cast of "important" actors, including Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Natasha Richardson, Hugh Dancy, Toni Collette, Glenn Close, and Maryl Streep. "There are few things more depressing than a weeper that doesn't make you weep," he writes at the outset of his review. Most other critics agree. "An impressive pedigree doesn't always guarantee a felicitous outcome," Carina Chocano writes in the opening of her review in the Los Angeles Times. Similarly Ann Hornaday in the Washington Postcomments that the movie "ultimately flattens under the weight of its own pretensions and impeccable pedigree. Indeed, it's so perfectly wrought that you won't believe a word of it." Clearly Kyle Smith in the New York Postis unimpressed by the "pedigree." His review begins this way: "This weeping ladydrama -- this cinematic doily, this chintz wing chair from a P-town antique boutique -- takes us to the oxymoronic world of WASP emotion. It's overstuffed with boring Protestants, understuffed with story and beset by hysterical (in both senses) acting. I'm not going to name any names but ... OK, Glenn Close, Vanessa Redgrave and Hugh Dancy: I've seen more grace and subtlety from a cat tossed into a swimming pool." On the other hand, Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe finds much to praise about the movie and its stars. "Evening is the sort of film certain moviegoers say they want more of during the summer and never get," he writes. "Well, now they've got it: a tony period drama full of the most esteemed stars ... an antidote to summer super-productions. Nothing in Evening blows up. None of the costumes are made of Lycra, and the acting is the only special effect that matters. ... Evening delivers these women in top form."


Movie stars, who are accustomed to receiving the latest hot gadget in advance of its release in the hope that they'll be photographed with it, have been out of luck when it comes to landing Apple's new iPhone, the Los Angeles Timesreported today (Friday). Famed publicist Liz Rosenberg, whose clients include Madonna, Liza Minnelli, and Cher, told the newspaper that she had been unsuccessful trying to get an iPhone for Cher. "Doesn't winning Oscars, Grammys and Emmys entitle her to move to the front of the line?" she asked. But the Timesreport also indicated that Steve Wozniak, who cofounded Apple with Steve Jobs, was planning to queue up in front of an Apple store in San Jose, CA at 4:00 a.m. today in order to get one. (He did say that Jobs had offered to send him one but that it wouldn't arrive until Saturday. "This is more a celebration," he said.)


Anti-smoking groups that have long complained about scenes in movies showing the stars smoking will apparently get a big boost from a new British law that takes effect Sunday barring smoking in enclosed public places. The law will apparently also apply to all film productions in the U.K. Under the law, producers may apply for exemptions in the case of productions where smoking is "integral to the plot or storyline." But London officials recently rejected an application for an exemption in the case of a forthcoming play about Pope John Paul I in which a cardinal is seen smoking, forcing a rewrite of the scene. An actors' union spokesman said later that authorities would only allow exemptions to productions about real-life persons, like Winston Churchill, who were known for their smoking.


German military officials are backing off from their earlier remarks that filmmakers would be barred from shooting scenes at military locations for the forthcoming Valkyrie, about the World War II "generals' plot" to assassinate Hitler, because the star, Tom Cruise, is a Scientologist. Producers had indicated that they wanted to shoot several scenes at the Bedlerblock memorial in Berlin where Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, played by Cruise in the film, plotted the assassination. The German Defense Ministry said Thursday that while it shares part of the building with the memorial tenants, the location is actually run by the Finance Ministry and it would be up to them to decide whether to issue a filming permit.