SEX VS. SKULL

No analyst is predicting that the movie version of Sex and the City will beat the second week of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this weekend, but most suggest it will wind up a solid contender at No. 2. Most are predicting that the R-rated movie, which had reportedly cost around $60 million to make, will rake in about half its nut over the weekend, virtually all of it from an adult female and gay male audience. Today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times observed that groups of women who have already purchased tickets for the premiere night tonight are likely to generate a huge opening box office, followed by more moderate business on Saturday and Sunday. The newspaper noted that this weekend's only other wide release, the horror film The Strangers, out to bring in slightly under $10 million, about what it cost to produce.

MOVIE REVIEWS: SEX AND THE CITY (2)

Los Angeles Times critic Carina Chocano observes in her review of Sex and the City that it's difficult to write about it in the face of charges of "gender bias" directed at some critics. Nevertheless she praises co-executive producer Michael Patrick King, who wrote and directed the movie, for doing "some brave, surprising things with it, mining territory that's been all but abandoned by Hollywood." She continues: "For a film that delights in indulging in frivolity at every possible turn, it examines subjects that most movies don't dare graze for their terrifying seriousness. And when it does, the movie handles them with surprising grace, wit and maturity. In other words, it's a movie for grown-ups of all ages." Claudia Puig in USA Today calls it "undeniably satisfying." Jessica Reeves in the Chicago Tribune describes it as "witty, effervescent and unexpectedly thoughtful." But Roger Ebert's review in the Chicago Sun-Times veers 180 degrees in the opposite direction. "I am not the person to review this movie," he begins. It ends this way: "This is probably the exact Sex and the City film that fans of the TV series are lusting for, and it may do $50 million on its opening weekend. I know some nurses who are going to smuggle flasks of Cosmopolitans into the theater on opening night, and have a Gal Party. 'Do you think that's a good idea?' one of them asked me. 'Two flasks,' I said." Not all the criticism is gender defined, however. While Peter Howell in the Toronto Star writes, "It's gratifying to report that ... there are some serious life issues being worked on, in between the heavy breathing and rampant consumerism," Manohla Dargis in the New York Times concludes: "There is something depressingly stunted about this movie; something desperate too."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE STRANGERS

Roger Ebert's opening lines of his review of the horror flick The Strangers is something of a classic and will undoubtedly make his devoted readers rejoice that he has recovered sufficiently from his latest round of operations to resume his regular reviewing tasks again. Consider: "My mistake was to read the interview with the director. At the beginning of my review of The Strangers, I typed my star rating instinctively: 'One star.' I was outraged. I wrote: 'What a waste of a perfectly good first act! And what a maddening, nihilistic, infuriating ending!' I was just getting warmed up. And then, I dunno, I looked up the movie on IMDb and there was a link to an interview with Bryan Bertino, the film's writer and director, and I went there, read it and looked at his photo. He looked to be in his 20s. This was his first film. Bertino had been working as a grip on a peanuts-budget movie when he pitched this screenplay to Rogue Pictures and then was asked to direct it. He gave a friend his grip tools and thought: 'Cool, I'm never going to need this anymore! I'm never using a hammer again.' Then he told the interviewer: 'I still had to buy books on how to direct.' So I thought, Bryan Bertino is a kid, this is his first movie, and as much as I hate it, it's a competent movie that shows he has the chops to be a director. So I gave it 1.5 stars instead of one." (Welcome back, Roger!) Other critics are not so generous. Susan Walker writes in the Toronto Star: "With no plot to speak of, no character development whatsoever, no theme and precious little intrigue, what we have here is simply a pileup of effects. And not especially special effects." Rafer Guzman in Newsday says the movie amounts to nothing more than a "disappointing downer." On the other hand, Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News writes that "Bertino does an excellent job building dread, especially during the first half of the movie. Every silence, pause and sudden noise startles -- and the results, frankly, are more frightening than the graphic torture scenes in movies like Hostel and Saw." And Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times calls it a "highly effective chiller"

COMIC HARVEY KORMAN DEAD AT 81

Actor Harvey Korman, a second-banana comic who appeared in numerous Mel Brooks movies and was featured on The Carol Burnett Show in the 1960s and '70s, died Thursday in Los Angeles at age 81 from complications from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Unlike many comedians who are often dour offstage, his daughter Katherine Korman told the New York Times Thursday, her father "was always funny in real life. ... He would like to see how far he could push the limits, making people laugh. If he were here now, he would want us to be joking."

Brian B.