CLOONEY PLAYS PEACEMAKER

After one group of actors released a statement this week siding with the Screen Actors Guild and another group released a statement siding with the American Federation of Labor in their ongoing internecine battle over bargaining strategy with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, George Clooney has stepped in between them. "What we can't do is pit artist against artist," he wrote in an open letter, "because the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Hanks only strengthens the negotiating power of the AMPTP." Clooney suggested that "maybe we could find a way to get what both unions are looking for." He did not indicate how that could be achieved. AFTRA leaders have said that they are satisfied with the results of their negotiations. SAG is calling for members who belong to both unions to vote against ratification of AFTRA's agreement. The existing contract covering members of both unions is due to expire at the end of the day on Monday.

ANALYSTS: WALL-E TO DOMINATE BOX OFFICE

Box office analysts are in undivided agreement that Disney/Pixar's WALL-E will dominate ticket sales this weekend -- but their estimates of the total take range from $50 million to $85 million. Much depends on the audience's acceptance of an animated feature that presents a strong environmental message and is, as several critics observe, often downright melancholy. The film also has very little dialogue, save for the beeping conversations of robots. In addition, it faces stiff competition, not only from the premiering Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, but also a raft of potent holdovers, including a more child-friendly Kung Fu Panda.. Nevertheless, some analysts point out that the very elements that may work against the movie in the U.S. are likely to enhance it abroad, a fact obviously not lost on Disney executives themselves. "WALL-E translates well around the world because of the physical comedy and emotional aspects," Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Group, told Bloomberg News. "Nothing binds it to the United States. It's a creative project that will work in 100 countries around the world." Meanwhile, Wanted, is also expected to debut strongly -- albeit not on the level of WALL-E. The film, in which McAvoy plays an Everyman with super powers (a scene in which he is urged to shoot the wings off a fly has already been heavily lampooned on several Internet sites), is expected to rake in $30-35 million over the weekend.

MOVIE REVIEWS (2): WALL-E

And the critical praise for WALL-E keeps on coming. On Wednesday and Thursday we presented the initial wave of reviews for the Disney/Pixar film. The wave swelled today (Friday) with comments like these: Rafer Guzmán in Newsday: "WALL-E" is pure visual magic." Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal: "I must drop my inhibitions about dropping the M word -- especially since I've already used magnificent -- and call WALL -E the masterpiece that it is." A.O. Scott in the New York Times: "We've grown accustomed to expecting surprises from Pixar, but WALL -E surely breaks new ground." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: "This story told in a different style and with a realistic look could have been a great science-fiction film. For that matter, maybe it is." Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune: "It's remarkable to see any film, in any genre, blend honest sentiment with genuine wit and a visual landscape unlike any other." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe: "The best American film of the year to date."

MOVIE REVIEWS: WANTED

Wanted is another comic-book of a movie likely to go over well at the box office, according to analysts. (In fact it's based on the comic books of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones.) It also goes over well with the critics. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times calls it "an action picture that's exhausting in its relentless violence and its ingenuity in inventing new ways to attack, defend, ambush and annihilate." Kyle Smith in the New York Post says that Wanted will satisfy most audience's wants: "a stunt sundae with stunt sauce on the side and a side order of stunts." Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News predicts that "your adrenal glands will be working overtime." And Claudia Puig in USA Today concludes: "The thrilling stunts and hyperkinetic action scenes are the undisputed stars of this surprisingly entertaining film." On the other hand, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times suggests that all the furious mayhem really signifies not a whole lot. "Beating down the audience is what the crudest entertainments try to do, and in this respect, and in every other, Wanted is nothing new," she writes. And Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle observes: "There are two ways, equally valid, of looking at Wanted: (1) as a go-for-broke action movie of mixed quality and modest but definite entertainment value, or (2) as a sick, sick movie for a sick, sick public." He then goes on to make the case for both viewpoints, concluding, "The sound of cheering you'll hear tonight in the multiplex is not good news."

Brian B.