ELEPHANT STALKERS

There's no consensus among box-office prognosticators on which film will likely emerge as the top box-office draw over the weekend. Four new films will be entering the fray, hoping to displace Horton Hears a Who!, which has held the top spot for the past two weeks and could do so again, with many kids winding up their Easter-week holiday. No film is expected to take in more than $20 million in ticket sales, however. Each film has a lot going against it. The Weinstein Co.'s Superhero Movie, which many analysts predict will come out ahead, was not even screened for critics and faces the possibility of a boycott and/or picketing by angry Star Wars fans, who object to the Weinsteins' handling of the unreleased film Fanboys. The drama 21, about young math whizzes who tackle the odds in Las Vegas, may have a lot going for it in terms of story and stars, but not in general awareness, according to tracking surveys, or reviews. The R-rated Stop Loss may also have some glamorous stars, but films about the Iraq war have been roadside bombs at the box office. The PG-rated comedy Run, Fat Boy, Run comes to the U.S. after a successful run in the U.K., where it was produced, but British comedies traditionally struggle at the U.S. box office.

MOVIE REVIEWS: STOP-LOSS

Critics are suggesting that Stop-Loss, from Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce, is unlike any antiwar film ever produced, certainly unlike any about the Iraq or Afghan wars. A.O. Scott in the New York Times offers an almost tortured description of the movie. It is, he writes, "not only an earnest, issue-driven narrative, but also a feverish entertainment, a passionate, at times overwrought melodrama gaudy with violent actions and emotions. The sober, mournful piety that has characterized a lot of the other fictional features about Iraq ... is almost entirely missing from Stop-Loss. ... Not that the movie is unsentimental -- far from it -- but its messy, chaotic welter of feeling has a tang of authenticity. Instead of high-minded indignation or sorrow, it runs on earthier fuel: sweat, blood, beer, testosterone, loud music and an ideologically indeterminate, freewheeling sense of rage." Likewise Jan Stewart in Newsday writes that the movie "builds a cumulative power and sense of urgency that can't be denied." Much of the credit for the film's success is being attributed to the performance of Ryan Philippe, in the role of a soldier who resists orders to return to the Middle East. Philippe plays his character, says Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, "not as a flawed hero but as a man with real and serious psychological problems trying to survive in a world of moral collapse." John Anderson in the Washington Post agrees: "Phillippe does a fine job translating the unspeakable anger of a soldier into action, expressing it physically instead of verbally," he writes. On the other hand, Amy Biancolli in the Houston Chronicle comments that the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq "deserve a better movie" and faults Philippe for being unable "to broadcast inner torment. Oh, he'll yell when he needs to, he'll wince on cue ... but that roiling substratum of psychological pain just refuses to surface." And Kyle Smith, the lone, outspoken political conservative among the country's major newspaper critics, takes dead aim at the movie, calling it facetiously, "a highly patriotic film, if you happen to dream of the restored caliphate as you sleep in your Osama bin Laden pajamas. Its message is that the good guys are U.S. soldiers who decide to desert."

MOVIE REVIEWS: 21

21 craps out with many of the nation's critics. "A feature-length bore about some smarty-pants who take Vegas for a ride" is how Manohla Dargis describes it in the New York Times. Claudia Puig in USA Today sums up: "21 does not offer audiences a winning hand." Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune remarks, "While you may stick with the film--it's a slick time-waster--you never believe it. It feels hoked-up and pumped-up and phony." And Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail calls it "a big cheat of a movie."

REDSTONE AND CRUISE PATCH THINGS UP

Commenting that in Hollywood, "doing business with your enemies is inevitable," the Wall Street Journal reported today (Friday) that Viacom chief Sumner Redstone and Tom Cruise got together for a friendly luncheon in Beverly Hills Thursday. Redstone, who booted Cruise off the Paramount lot two years ago and criticized Cruise's behavior during his interviews to promote Mission: Impossible III, told the Journal following the meeting that the two had "agreed the past is the past and we would put it behind us and renew our relationship." A spokesman for Cruise declined to comment.

BLU-RAY SALES PASS 9-MILLION MARK

Sales of Blu-ray titles passed the 9-million mark during the week ending March 16, HMR Research said Thursday. The San Francisco-based research firm said that from the high-definition format's launch in mid-2006 to the first of the year, Blu-ray sales totaled 6 million units but added 3 million more during the first 11 weeks of this year alone. Recent sales have been propelled by strong demand for Oscar-winning movie No Country for Old Men, which sold 68,000 copies in its first week, making it the top seller of the year in its initial week. Sales were also boosted by the official demise in February of the competing HD DVD format.
Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.