TERMINATOR IS BACK

This memorial day may be memorable for the congested crowd of blockbusters competing for attention on the marquees of multiplexes. Although attendance is up significantly this year, it's not at all clear whether the audience is growing or whether they're just seeing more movies. This weekend, therefore, is likely to be regarded as a test to determine whether there are enough moviegoers around to justify packing so many blockbusters into theaters all at once. The two latest ones are Terminator Salvation and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, with Terminator getting a jump on the competition in midnight screenings at 322 theaters tonight (Thursday). Critics are also getting out early reviews of the movie, and most of them suggest that Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is occupied with the salvation of California, would likely have done a better job than Christian Bale when it comes to the salvation of humanity. (Schwarzenegger's computer-generated face does turn up on the body of another Austrian bodybuilder in the movie.) As Michael Sragow notes in the Baltimore Sun: "Schwarzenegger had just enough personality and vitality as an actor to glitter as a robot. All the actors in Terminator Salvation work hard, especially Bale, but the machines give the performances." Indeed, many critics suggest that computers have taken over the entire production. Claudia Puig in USA Today concludes: "The predictable story feels as if it were written by a computer program labeled 'sequel.'" Gary Thompson in the Philadelphia Daily News adds: "When machines finally take over the world, they'll probably make movies that look like Terminator Salvation." Kyle Smith in the New York Post writes: "What makes this movie is the digital effects. It's got all the heart of a demolition derby." Which isn't necessarily bad, says A.O. Scott in the New York Times, who praises the film's "reasonably swift storytelling. ... [Director] McG manages speed, impact and the choreography of technomayhem with aplomb and a measure of wit." But Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle disagrees, saying that the action in the movie "isn't really action. It's commotion. It can't be action if nothing happens, and nothing can happen because the commotion doesn't advance the story. The commotion, the explosions, the fireballs function here only to delay action. ... Terminator Salvation looks busy, but it's static. The thing doesn't budge. It's an epic waste of time."

EPIX ISN'T DEAD, STUDIOS INDICATE; IT'S JUST GOING HD

Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate, which announced last January that they planned to launch a subscription service in May that would stream their movies over the Internet -- then seemed to put the project on hold -- now say that the movies will be available in high definition using Akamai Technologies' streaming media service. The studios still have not announced a new start date for the service, called Epix, or disclosed how much the movies will cost viewers.

MPAA APPEALS PIRATE BAY VERDICT -- EVEN THOUGH IT WON

The Motion Picture Association of America apparently is unhappy with the verdict in The Pirate Bay case. Despite the fact that it won, it claims that the fines and sentences -- $4 million, a year in jail -- meted out to the defendants were too small. The website TorrentFreak said Wednesday that both the movie and recording industries plan to appeal the verdict. The defendants are also appealing, claiming that the judge, Tomas Norstrom, belongs to the same Swedish copyright association that includes lawyers for the movie and music industries and that he also is a board member of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property.

EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL SHAKEN BY LOACH PROTEST

British director Ken Loach, whose film Waiting for Eric is regarded as a strong contender in the Cannes Film Festival's competition for the Palme d'Or, has succeeded in persuading the Edinburgh Film Festival to return a $450 grant it had received from the Israeli Embassy. The money would have enabled an Israeli filmmaker, Tali Shalom-Ezer, to travel to the festival to screen her film, Surrogate, a romance with no political messsage. Loach, who vigorously opposed Israel's military action in Lebanon and Gaza, had urged filmgoers to boycott Edinburgh unless the money was returned. "The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable," he said. Festival organizers responded quickly, saying that since Loach spoke "on behalf of the film community, therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli Embassy." That brought an immediate response from Jeremy Isaacs, the former CEO of the British TV network Channel Four, who said that he was "horrified" by the festival's decision and expressed hope that it would be rescinded. Isaacs told the London Times: "Ken Loach has always been critical of censorship of his own work, albeit it was many years in the past. The idea that he should lend himself to the denial of a film-maker's right to show her work is absolutely appalling." Late Wednesday, the festival attempted to short-circuit the controversy by announcing that it would pay for Shalom-Ezer's trip to Edinburgh itself.