STAR WARS: THE TOY BATTLE

In what is regarded as an unparalleled promotion involving the toy chain Toys 'R' Us and a production company, the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars will be accompanied by a July 26 midnight opening of Star Wars "boutiques" at more than 225 of the toy retailer's outlets. Noting that Star Wars toys have been a hit at Toys 'R' Us stores since 1977, the company said that it also plans to promote the August 15 release of the film with a countdown clock in every store, "so fans can count the minutes to each of this year's continuing galactic milestones, including the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the premiere of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series on Cartoon Network and the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on DVD." The company also indicated that some products timed for the movie's release will be available exclusively at Toys 'R' Us and at a website the company plans to launch on July 26 to promote the toys, http://www.Toysrus.com/StarWars. They include two LEGO starships and several space and land vehicles that appear in the movie, created by Hasbro.

BLOCKBUSTER'S CIRCUIT CITY BUY SHORT-CIRCUITED

Executives of Blockbuster have determined what many analysts had concluded from the beginning -- that its offer to buy Circuit City Stores would not be in its best interests. On Tuesday the video rental firm announced that it had withdrawn its offer to buy the home electronics chain "based on market conditions and the completion of our initial due diligence process." However, it maintained, that it continues to believe in the strategic merit of bringing "media content and electronic devices together under one brand." Blockbuster shares rose 12 percent to $2.84 at midday (Wednesday), while Circuit City shares were down 14 percent to $2.19.

MOVIE REVIEWS: KIT KITTDREDGE

Parents will have plenty of choice when it comes to family films over the July 4th holiday. In addition to last weekend's hit WALL-E and the earlier release Kung Fu Panda, the Abigail Breslin starrer Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is opening wide today, after showing in a handful of theaters during the previous two weeks. The movie, aimed at girls who have latched on to the books, magazines, and dolls associated with the character, is not expected to become any sort of threat to the earlier releases, even though it's receiving some surprisingly strong reviews. Indeed, Roger Ebert concedes that since he was aware that the movie was based on the American Girl products, he had expected "some kind of banal product placement." What he got instead, he says is a "miracle" -- a movie that "has a great look, engaging performances, real substance and even a few whispers of political ideas, all surrounding the freshness and charm of Abigail Breslin, who was 11 when it was filmed." Several critics observe that parents are likely to enjoy the film as much as -- or even more than -- their kids. Rafer Guzmán in Newsday calls it "a kiddie film that's worth an adult ticket, too." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post even goes further, calling it "one of the 10 best American movies released so far this year." Not all critics are so pleasantly stricken. Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer says that the film is "admirable, always, pleasant in passages, but never fully engages ... episodic and pleasant instead of emotional and poignant."

MOVIE REVIEWS: HANCOCK (2)

Additional reviews for Hancock, starring Will Smith, are appearing today (Wednesday) following the movie's release in some cities Tuesday night. And, for the most part, they are no more enthusiastic than the initial ones. Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post writes that the movie "turns out to be one of the strangest freak shows to arrive since the mermaid, the monkey-faced boy and Rip the wonder peanut. In fact, the most powerful amusement it generates is trying to figure out what thinking went behind it, what executive leap of faith justified its reportedly $150 million budget." Like other critics Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun, enjoyed the opening of the film but was disappointed with the rest of it and particularly the ending twist. "If only they had found a way to untwist their story, they might have come up with an ending that didn't leave audiences feeling screwed," he writes. And Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle concludes: "Hancock is more intelligent than most summer blockbusters and features at its center a thought-out and committed performance by Will Smith. But in the end it's merely almost good."

HOW TO PROMOTE A DEAD ACTOR FOR AN OSCAR?

Although Warner Bros. marketing executives may have difficulty finding a tasteful way to promote the late Heath Ledger for an Oscar next year, it is virtually certain that his performance in the upcoming The Dark Knight will garner a nomination, Media by Numbers President Paul Dergarabedian told ABC News. Dergarabedian observed that Ledger's performance as The Joker in the latest Batman movie is a stand-out. "When he's on screen, you cannot take your eyes off him. And when he's off screen, you can't wait till he reappears on screen," Dergarabedian said. Before Ledger's death, he indicated, "There was this idea before that maybe he was a long shot to get a nomination. Now, if he were not to get a nomination, that would be a surprise." He acknowledged that hyping Ledger for an Oscar could prove tricky. "There's no way you're going to mount a best supporting actor campaign that has any vim or vigor and not look like you're picking the bones. The best thing to do is submit his name and leave it alone. Let the performance speak for itself."

SINGAPORE CENSOR GROUP OKAYS LOVE GURU

Concerned that Mike Myers's The Love Guru might offend Singapore's Hindu residents, who comprise about 6 percent of the population, the island nation's Board of Film Censors asked for advice from the official Films Consultative Panel, headed by Vijay Chandran. On Tuesday, the panel announced its unanimous conclusion that the movie "does not denigrate any religion." On the other hand, it also concluded that it "contains crude, sexual humor" and therefore should be rated NC16 -- which would bar children under the age of 16 from seeing it. As for the much-publicized protests by some Hindu groups in the U.S. over the movie, Chandran told the Singapore Straits Times, "We thought it was much ado about nothing." The film is due to open in Singapore on Sept. 4.

Brian B.