DE FACTO STRIKE HITS HOLLYWOOD

Independent movie producers who are required by their backers to purchase completion bonds to guarantee that their films will get done have been told by insurance companies that they will not do business with them unless their movies can be finished by June 15, two weeks before the actors' contract with producers expires, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday). Producer Paul Schiff (Rushmore) told the newspaper that he was forced to shelve three movies because he couldn't finish them by the June deadline. Producer James Stern (I'm Not There) added, "Whether or not a strike happens, for our purposes it's happeneing. ... It's a big deal."

NEW LINE GOES OUT WITH THE BUZZER

Amounting to a case of being kicked while they were down, departing New Line Cinema executives learned Monday that their latest film, Semi-Pro, starring Will Ferrell, had earned just $15.3 million during its opening weekend. The figure was about half what some box-office analysts had predicted the movie would earn. Only last week Time Warner announced that it would be shutting down most of New Line's operations, incorporating them into those of its other film studio, Warner Bros., and laying off some 600 employees, including the studio's co-chairmen. Semi-Pro wasn't the only film that fouled out. In its second week, Sony's Vantage Point slipped to $12.8 million, the only other film to finish in double digits. Paramount's The Spiderwick Chronicles slid to third place in its third week with $8.7 million. Sony's The Other Boleyn Girl opened in fourth place with $8.2 millioin, while Fox's Jumper rounded out the top five with $7.6 million.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Semi-Pro, New Line, $15,075,114, (New); 2. Vantage Point, Sony/Col, $12,819,245, 2 Wks. ($40,823,745); 3. The Spiderwick Chronicles, Paramount, $8,700,378, 3 Wks. ($55,028,942); 4. The Other Boleyn Girl, Sony, $8,203,061, (New); 5. Jumper, 20th Century Fox, $7,568,462, 3 Wks. ($66,790,968); 6. Step Up 2 the Streets, Disney, $5,742,479, 3 Wks. ($48,621,711); 7. Fool's Gold, Warner Bros., $4,418,229, 4 Wks. ($58,800,790); 8. No Country for Old Men, Miramax, $4,114,994, 16 Wks. ($69,680,625); 9. Penelope, Summit Ent. $3,802,144, (New); 10. Definitely, Maybe, Universal, $3,382,005, 3 Wks. ($26,650,585).

APPLE UNABLE TO FIND MOVIES FOR ITS NEW RENTAL SERVICE

Apple has been unable to make good on its January 15 promise to have 1,000 movies available for rent at its iTunes Store by the end of February. According to MacWorld magazine, Apple is currently offering only 351 titles for rent on the site. In fact, the magazine said, if all of the films listed for either purchase or rent are added together, Apple has only 770 available for downloading. By contrast Netflix has 6,000 titles available. Meanwhile Amazon has indicated that it is getting few takers for movies being offered on its Unbox service. It is asking customers to complete a survey asking what improvements would induce them to increase their use of Unbox.

HD DVD ON SALE -- CHEAP

It's the season for picking up movies on HD DVD at fire-sale prices. Circuit City has become the first major retailer to announce that it is closing out its stock of the now obsolete high-definition format by offering two free HD DVD titles for every three purchased at regular prices. The chain has also slashed prices of HD DVD players to just $129. The players also improve the quality of conventional DVD discs played on them. Speaking with Video Business magazine, Circuit City spokesman Jim Babb said, "We are in clearance mode, and we expect to go through the remaining inventory in the next few weeks." Meanwhile, Sony indicated that it intends to increase production and marketing of its Blu-ray players and software, taking advantage of retailers' plans to move Blu-ray product into the space it now devotes to the HD DVD.

OSCAR WINNER COTILLARD APOLOGIZES

Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard maintains that her comments about the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were "taken completely out context and [have] been crafted into a story that has no merit." Appearing on the syndicated TV show Access Hollywood, Cotillard was asked about her 2007 comments in which she appeared to suggest that the attacks were staged. "At no point did I intend to contest the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most tragic days in all of history," she said. "Nonetheless, I sincerely regret if my comments offended or hurt anyone."

AWAY FROM HER BIG WINNER AT CANADA'S GENIE AWARDS

First-time Canadian film director Sarah Polley was showered with awards and praise Monday night as her film Away From Her captured seven awards, including best actor (Gordon Pinsent), best actress (Julie Christie), and best director, at Canada's version of the Oscars, the Genie Awards. The awards presentations also turned out to be an effective platform for opponents of proposed Canadian legislation that would deny tax credits to any film regarded as offensive. Host Sandra Oh remarked that the bill would result in a comeback for censorship, adding: "I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound very Canadian to me."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.