It could be the recession. Or it could be that DVD buyers are looking at their collection and coming to the realization that few of those discs are coming off their shelves after being viewed once. Whatever the reason, DVD sales are down 13.5 percent for the first half of the year, while rentals are surging. Netflix said Thursday that its overall revenue had risen 21 percent to $408.5 million during the second quarter, while its net grew 22 percent to $34.4 million versus the comparable quarter a year ago. (Kiosk operator Redbox has reported similar growth.) In a conference call with reporters and investors on Thursday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted that half of his company's expenses could be attributed to postage costs. As reported by the Los Angeles Times,Hastings said he is therefore trying to work out arrangements with the studios whereby newer discs could be distributed to subscribers via the Internet. "The long-term vision is that studios get two-thirds of our spending and we don't have to ship as many DVDs," he said.


The grim reality of creating fantasy was driven home by director Peter Jackson during a news conference at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego Thursday. Jackson, the Lord of the Ringsdirector who is now preparing to film The Hobbitas two prequel movies, refused to employ the PC term "little people" to describe the characters in the as-of-now-uncast movie. "We have 13 dwarves to cast" Britain's Empire magazine quoted him as saying. "There's 13 poor guys who are going to be walking around the mountains in summer wearing heavy costumes, sweating under their prosthetic make-up. It's going to be tough. And logistically tough - imagine getting those guys through wardrobe at the beginning of each day and then shooting... They'll be passing out from heat. It's going to be tricky."


Three new films are hitting the multiplexes this weekend, but none is likely to produce blockbuster bucks, analysts generally agree. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Princeis almost certain to rule again, they say. The new challengers are the animated G-Force, from Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer, the R-rated romantic comedy The Ugly Truth, and the horror flick Orphan.Predictions are that the Harry Potter sequel will pull in about $35 million, while the three newcomers will each take in $18-23 million (somewhat lower in the case of Orphan.)


Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesheaps faint praise on G-Force, describing it as "pleasant, inoffensive." "It will possibly be enjoyed by children of all ages," he remarks with hardly a trace of enthusiasm. A.O. Scott in the New York Timessays that it "manages to be fairly entertaining in that exhausting, rackety, late-summer-kiddie-movie way." He goes on toimagine how the project got sold. "If you make a movie that has both robots and rodents, plus a bunch of swaggering catch phrases, a couple of flatulence jokes and a bunch of human actors hopping around pretending to interact with the computer-generated rodents -- well, the pitch makes itself, doesn't it?" What actually emerges from the paring of Jerry Bruckheimer with Walt Disney is, according to Claudia Puig in USA Today,"chases and explosions, plus a distinctly cute and cuddly factor." However, as if in response, Elizabeth Weitzman writes in the New York Daily News,"There's certainly nothing cute 'n' cuddly about the animals" in the film. But "we'd expect nothing less from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who's apparently bent on expanding his action empire into the family market." Stephen Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirercalls the film a "dud" in the first paragraph of his review, but in the next one he asks "Do little kids know what a good movie is?" Maybe they do, Dan Kois in the Washington Postsuggests. He calls the movie "a dispiriting primer on the low regard Hollywood has for the intelligence and curiosity of children -- and the time and money of their parents."


The ugly truth about The Ugly Truthis that most critics hate it. And since most critics are men, many of them are expressing surprise at the high raunch factor in a movie written by women. And they are finding a sympathetic ear from their female colleagues. For example, Manohla Dargis writes in the New York Timesthat the movie represents "a cynical, clumsy, aptly titled attempt to cross the female-oriented romantic comedy with the male-oriented gross-out comedy that is interesting on several levels, none having to do with cinema." Rafer Guzmán in Newsdayagrees, writing: "A romantic comedy written by three women and directed by a man, The Ugly Truth does a disservice to both genders. Its crass sex jokes feel like chum for mentally stunted males, while its dimwitted storyline seems aimed at females who find paperback romances overly nuanced. It's doubtful these demographics even exist outside the filmmakers' cynical imaginations." Similarly Liam Lacey writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "Contrived as a crossover between a female-friendly romantic comedy and a male-targeted, anti-political correctness jab,The Ugly Truth veers between crude and cloying." And Lou Lumenick in the New York Postsums up: "Few recent Hollywood products have been anywhere near as crass and contrived as The Ugly Truth."

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A summary of reviews of Orphan will appear here on Monday.