FEW RAT PACKS FOR RATATOUILLE

Disney executives, with their marketing staff reportedly expressing frustration over the difficulty of promoting Ratatouille, were expressing confidence over the weekend that word-of-mouth will be the key to lifting business for the movie. The Pixar-produced feature, which drew mostly rave reviews on Friday, took in an estimated $47.2 million over the weekend -- good by ordinary standards, but well below the grosses for Pixar's offerings in recent years. "This is a film for anybody from 6 to 96, and in a couple of days everyone is going to be sitting around picnic tables talking about Ratatouille," Disney distribution chief Chuck Viane told the Los Angeles Times. Separately, Viane predicted in an interview with USA Today, "I'm confident we'll be talking about this as one of the biggest movies of the year."

LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD SCORES WITH FILMGOERS

If Ratatouille's box-office receipts were somewhat lower than expected, Live Free and Die Hard's were just the opposite. The fourth Die Hard movie took in $33.2 million to raise its gross (from Wednesday) to $48.2 million. Also debuting strongly was Michael Moore's Sicko, which made the top-ten list with $4.5 million, despite playing in only 441 theaters. The Weinstein Co. plans to expand it to about 650 theaters on Tuesday. But Focus Features' Evening, with an impressive cast of female stars, came in behind Sicko, landing in 10th place with just $3.4 million. Meanwhile, Universal's Evan Almighty dropped from first to third place, bringing in $15 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Ratatouille, $47.2 million; 2. Live Free or Die Hard, $33.15 million; 3. Evan Almighty, $15.1 million; 4. 1408, $10.6 million; 5. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, $9 million; 6. Knocked Up, $7.4 million; 7. Ocean's Thirteen, $6.05 million; 8. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, $5 million; 9. Sicko, $4.5 million; 10. Evening, $3.5 million.

PIRATES NOW CLAIMS MORE THAN $900 MILLION IN BOOTY

By taking in an additional $5 million in domestic ticket sales, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End pushed its worldwide gross past the $900-million mark, bringing it to $904.7 million. Its domestic gross now stands at $295.8 million, putting it in position to cross the $300-million mark in North America by this weekend. Pirates has also become the biggest global release of 2007, overtaking Spider-Man 3, which has grossed $882 million worldwide.

GOOGLE EXEC COURTS HEALTH INSURERS TO COUNTER SICKO

With Sicko drawing overwhelmingly favorable reviews, most of which can be accessed by using Google, an executive of the Silicon Valley wonder has approached the health-care industry, urging it to buy ads that would appear in Google search results for "Michael Moore" and "Sicko." (In one of the reviews, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, who observed that his health insurance "has covered a small fortune in claims" recently but that he himself has also had to pay large sums from savings, noted that the film "is likely to strike home with anyone, left or right, who has had serious illness in the family.") Lauren Turner of the Google Advertising team wrote a review of the movie on the Google Health Advertising Blog in which she commented, "Moore's film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare's interest in patient well-being and care." She then pitched the industry this way: "Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message."

MOVIE REVIEWS: TRANSFORMERS

Michael Bay's Transformers enters an already crowded movie marketplace in many cities today (Monday) in advance of an "official" opening on Tuesday. By and large, it's attracting positive reviews. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times describes the movie as "goofy fun with a lot of stuff that blows up real good, and it has the grace not only to realize how preposterous it is, but to make that into an asset." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times remarks that the movie seems to be "designed as the ultimate in shock-and-awe entertainment." It is, she adds, "part car commercial, part military recruitment ad, a bumper-to-bumper pileup of big cars, big guns and, as befits its recently weaned target demographic, big breasts." Some critics seem amazed by their own enjoyment of the film. For example, Desson Thomson writes in the Washington Post: "Before you dismiss this movie as toy porn for overgrown boys (not that there's anything wrong with that), consider this: Never was this goofy rapture explored with more fun. For the non-Transformer heads among us, who couldn't tell an Autobot from a Decepticon, it's a wonderfully playful experience." And Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel puts it this way: "We knew it would be dumb. But we had no idea it would be so much dumb fun." Lou Lumenick interrupts his review of the movie in the New York Post to remark: "A box-office analyst whom I respect predicts Transformers will be the year's top-grossing flick. If the enthusiastic response I saw at a screening the other night is any indication, predominately male audiences will flock to see some of Hollywood's most lavish special effects ever, climaxing in a battle that destroys much of downtown Los Angeles."

HD DVD PLAYERS TO CONNECT TO THE INTERNET

Toshiba announced Friday that its latest HD DVD players will be able to access the Internet and download bonus high-definition features. In a statement, Toshiba Digital marketing exec Jodi Sally said that the new enhancement will give studios "the ability to develop new and unique content for movie fans, enabling consumers to have an entirely new way to access entertainment and customize their home movie experience that is currently not available with any other format." Toshiba also noted that some HD DVD discs may include locked prerecorded content that can be unlocked online.
Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.