i>SICKO GETTING EARLY RELEASE

In an apparent reaction to the posting of high-quality digital prints of Michael Moore's Sicko on several peer-to-peer websites (Moore has suggested that the piracy was undertaken in order to sabotage the film.) the Weinstein Co. announced Tuesday that it will open the film in New York on Friday, a week earlier than originally scheduled, and provide sneak previews in 43 theaters in virtually all the top 30 markets. It will face another strong "message" film -- A Mighty Heart, starring Angelina Jolie as the wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Perle. A standing ovation followed the screening of Sicko at its New York premiere on Monday. Mixed reviews followed on Tuesday. Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News called it "Moore's most assured, least antagonistic and potentially most important film" to date. Gene Seymour in Newsday commented, "What's most striking about Sicko is how composed, even serene it is compared with Michael Moore's previous acts of cinematic insurgency." But the New York Post's lively conservative critic Kyle Smith called it "political slapstick that could have been made by a third Farrelly brother or a fourth Stooge."

LORD OF THE RINGS STAGE VERSION OPENS IN LONDON

The $25-million stage production of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings which opened in London's West End Tuesday night was no match for Peter Jackson's film version, several London critics observed today (Wednesday). Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph called the production "a thumping great flop. I took my 14-year-old son along, who enjoyed Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings films and is, I would guess, exactly the age and sex this show needs to attract in order to survive. Unfortunately, he hated it even more than I did, sitting with his head in his hands in those moments when he wasn't tittering at the ponderous inanities of the script and the triteness of the lyrics." Michael Coveney on the British website Whatsonstage.com commented, "The movie, irresistibly, is as much about the fight for friendship as the fight for freedom. Here, an audience is invited to share in a fight to solve a series of staging problems." Kieron Quirke in the Evening Standard described the show as "an empty-headed and messy extravaganza that will appall established fans." On the other hand, Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian, "Having dipped only briefly into the original trilogy and the Peter Jackson movies, I entered Drury Lane [theater district] as innocent as any hairy-toed hobbit. I emerged three and a quarter hours later ... hugely impressed." The London Times' critic, Sam Marlowe, wrote: "The show has charm, wit and jaw-dropping theatrical brio; crucially, it also has real emotional heft."

MARC FORSTER TO HELM NEXT 007 MOVIE

Marc Forster, whose films include Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Monster's Ball, has been signed by producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli to direct the 22nd James Bond movie, Sony Pictures Entertainment and MGM announced Tuesday. The companies said that Daniel Craig will return in the role of Bond. In a statement, Forster said, "The new direction that the Bond character has taken offers a director a host of new possibilities." Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-chairman Amy Pascal commented that Forster's previous films show "that he will bring to this film all the elements Bond audiences expect -- action, humor, suspense, and thrills." The title of the film has not been disclosed.

WILL CHURCHGOERS TURN OUT FOR EVAN ALMIGHTY?

For the first time since Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, a distributor will be courting the church-going audience with the release of Universal's $200-million Evan Almighty -- reportedly the most costly comedy ever made -- this weekend. Today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times observed that in recent years, studios have avoided making films with content aimed at the faithful. (Gibson's Passion was self-financed; Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia played down the religious themes, although the studio heavily marketed the film to churchgoers.) However, the Times observed, "If Evan Almighty turns into a summer hit, as several competing studio executives predict, the movie could put Hollywood back in the business of making big-budget movies that intentionally embrace sacred subjects." According to the newspaper, Universal has partnered with Grace Hill Media, the marketing firm that several studios are using to bring the film to the attention of the country's estimated 200,000 churches. It has conservatively estimated that the movie will earn $40 million on opening weekend.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.