i>IRON MAN WON'T BE A SPIDER-MAN, ANALYSTS PREDICT

The head of the leading company tracking box-office performance has expressed doubt that this year's blockbusters will reach the heights of those a year ago. Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers, is predicting that ticket sales are likely to drop around 5.6 percent from last summer, when studios raked $4.18 billion, largely on revenue from sequels of previous hits, like Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Shrek. "To get to that level is going to be tough," Dergarabedian told Bloomberg News. Some hint of what lies in store will come following this weekend, when results for Paramount's Iron Man are tallied. Although many box-office forecasters are predicting that the movie will take in a huge $70-80 million, that will only be around half of what Spider-Man 3 wound up with last year when it debuted with $151 million. Today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times suggested that after receiving glowing reviews, which typically are read by older moviegoers, Iron Man could surprise analysts. "The giddiest box-office analysts predict an opening of $100 million for Iron Man," the Times observed. The newspaper described as "harebrained" widespread theorizing that the release of the videogame "Grand Theft Auto IV" will result in movie audiences staying home to play it. "There's no evidence that those consumers are incapable of doing more than one thing in a single weekend," the Times commented.

MOVIE REVIEWS: MADE OF HONOR

The romantic comedy Made of Honor will be the only new film opening wide against Iron Man (which opened Thursday night) this weekend. Some critics seem to agree that it represents effective counter-programming. The New York Times's Stephen Holden remarks that the movie "adds tart satirical flavors to a cotton-candy formula without sabotaging the sugar rush." Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel comments that "fortunately ... [the movie] earns enough goodwill in a clever and sexy opening act to carry it through" to the end. Most other critics, however, suggest that it's merely another rendering of the 1997 film My Best Friend's Wedding, with a gender reversal, and one even compares it, unfavorably, with the classic The Philadelphia Story. He is the Toronto Star's Philip Marchand, who remarks that the audience is not likely to show much interest in the principal character, played by Patrick Dempsey. "Somewhere in the shades of Hollywood, the ghost of Cary Grant is shaking his head," Marchand writes. Kyle Smith in the New York Post calls Dempsey's character "a preening yet uptight jerk," and says that the outcome of the movie -- which character will wind up with whom? -- is never in doubt. "Still," he writes, "there was a certain amount of suspense in the air at the screening of Made of Honor: Would Tom and Hannah realize they're perfect for each other at the altar, or would I burn down the theater first?" Desson Thomson frames his review as if he were writing about a freeway accident. "Actors Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan are trapped in the wreckage of a bad romantic comedy. Observers suggest the vehicle in which they were riding was poorly engineered and believed to be constructed of cheap, recycled material. The severity of their injuries is unclear at this time."

MOVIE REVIEWS: SON OF RAMBOW

Sylvester Stallone has given his endorsement to the British film Son of Rambow [sic], which opens today (Friday) in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The film concerns two boys in the 1980s who discover a video of First Blood and go about making their own version of the movie. Stallone told today's Los Angeles Times that when he first heard about Rambow he "assumed it was going to be a very broad and stylized joke-a-minute comedy at Rambo's expense." But he thought otherwise after he saw it. "The fact that it was so heartwarming is the result of brilliant filmmaking by its creators," Stallone said. Nevertheless writer-director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith disclosed that it took an extraordinary amount of time to obtain the necessary permission to use clips from the Stallone movie in theirs. They said they used the delay as an opportunity to preview the film at film festivals, where "it wasn't being judged on whether it was doing anything at the box office, it was purely whether we made a film that worked. I can't tell you how satisfying that was," Jennings said. Initial reviews have been positive if not enthusiastic. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times calls it "a likable, lightly sticky valentine to childhood." To Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times, it's "a dewy-eyed, plaintive, unafraid-to-be-adorable exercise in stylish nostalgia." And Claudia Puig in USA Today describes it as "surprisingly charming."P>

APPLE TO SELL MOVIES ONLINE AT A LOSS

Apple will be paying Hollywood's leading film studios $16.00 for every movie that it sells online for a dollar less, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Friday), following Apple's announcement that it will begin selling new films on its iTunes store that can be downloaded on the same day they are released on DVD for $14.99. The price disparity was described as a "loss leader" -- an effort by Apple to entice consumers to buy more of its video iPods and its Apple TV, a device that beams movies from a personal computer to a TV set wirelessly. "This is a game changer," Universal Studios Home Entertainment President Craig Kornblau told the Journal. "For all the studios to offer all their movies [on the same date] as DVD, with the most influential marketing company in the digital space, is a very exciting development." (Ironically, Universal's corporate sibling, NBC, recently removed its television shows from the iTunes store.)

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.