For a change, not a single sequel is opening at the box office this weekend. That said, none of the films that are opening is expected to give any of the sequels that arrived earlier any serious competition. Not only that, next week they will have to compete against another sequel that is expected to be a big draw -- Ocean's 13.Analysts say that of the new releases, director Judd Apatow's well-received comedy Knocked Up with Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl has the best chance of making any kind of showing. The only other film that is expected to draw a respectable audience is MGM's Mr. Brooks,featuring Kevin Costner as a serial killer. Each film, however is expected to take in only around $15 million. By contrast, the second weekend of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's Endand the third weekend of Shrek the Thirdare expected to draw about $55 million and $30 million respectively.


Judd Apatow's Knocked Upis receiving far better reviews than any of the big sequels that were released in May. In fact, A.O. Scott in the New York Timescalls it "an instant classic." He writes: "The wonder of Knocked Up is that it never scolds or sneers. It is sharp but not mean, sweet but not soft, and for all its rowdy obscenity it rarely feels coarse or crude. What it does feel is honest: about love, about sex, and above all about the built-in discrepancies between what men and women expect from each other and what they are likely to get." Joe Morgenstern's review in the Wall Street Journalis filled with equal acclaim: "Judd Apatow's high-density, high-intensity comedy of bad (and good) manners is a cause for celebration -- the laugh lines are smart, and they come faster than you can process them. For anyone concerned about the state of mainstream films, this is also an occasion for some wonderment -- at Mr. Apatow's gift for mating the crowd-pleasing raunchiness with a generous spirit, genuine sweetness, uncommon delicacy, zestful social criticism and a moral dimension that provides substance and meaning without ever getting in the way," Morgenstern comments. Claudia Puig in USA Todaycalls Apatow "the new king of comedy" and calls the movie "a perfectly tuned romantic comedy that is consistently funny, whether reveling in bawdiness or laying bare its soul." Kyle Smith in the New York Postdescribes it as "a brilliant comedy disguised as a dumb one." And Michael Booth predicts in the Denver Post: "I doubt you'll see a funnier movie this summer than Knocked Up."


Mixed reviews are greeting Mr. Brooks, often in the critics' same sentences. For example, Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News calls it "totally absurd and equally entertaining." Susan Walker in the Toronto Star remarks: "Quite a few plot lines and character quandaries remain unresolved. And yet the movie makes sense as it stands." Bob Strauss concludes in the Los Angeles Daily News: "Mr. Brooks may be too much to swallow, but it's a rich feast of perverse delicacies." Richard Roeper confesses in the Chicago Sun-Times: "While acknowledging the plot is often a mess, I have to admit I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish." And Ty Burr observes in the Boston Globe: "There are three movies crammed into this one: The first is good, the second is so bad it's good, and the third is just plain bad. That's still three times the bargain most movies offer."


The Walt Disney Company on Thursday denied a report that it plans to release Badder Santa: The Unrated Versionon high-definition video in November. The report had appeared on several websites that track DVD releases. (HighDefDigest.com said that the report emanated from "a retail announcement.") Coming in the wake of Disney's announcement that it plans to abandon its "Buena Vista" banner corporate-wide, the report generated particular interest since it appeared that an unrated movie would be distributed under the Disney name for the first time. However, a Disney spokesman said Thursday that no "new official name" for the company's video distribution unit had been announced and that for the time being it will remain Buena Vista Home Entertainment.


Given the increasing use of digital video recorders, some movie studios are balking at paying high prices for ads to promote the opening of their latest releases when people might skip the ads entirely or watch them after the movie has already opened. "For the studios, the commercial message is timely. It has to be day-specific," Jeff Robinson of Palisades Media Group, which handles buying for a number of movie studios, told today's (Friday) online edition of Advertising Age. Reporting on the growing reluctance of studios to commit large chunks of cash to television marketing, the trade publication observed, "Movie ads that air Thursday nights on big network programs are often designed to get people to attend a movie opening the next day, and so would be worth less if viewed even 48 hours later."