In the run-up to the strike by the Writers Guild of America last week, screenwriters rushed completion of dozens of scripts and turned them in to studio executives, receiving in return tens of millions of dollars, the Wall Street Journalreported today (Wednesday). According to the newspaper, which cited people familiar with the matter, the studios promptly cut checks to the writers, with Universal Pictures alone paying out more than $10 million to writers who delivered some 40 scripts. Warner Bros. received an additional 40 last-minute scripts and Sony Pictures, between 30 and 40. Studio executives told the Journalthat while some screenplays were clearly rush jobs, others were close to camera-ready.


A year and a half after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to a chorus of boos, Richard Kelly's Southland Talesis opening tonight (Wednesday) in New York and Los Angeles and in other cities on Friday. Like Kelly's earlier film, Donnie Darko,his new one, vastly reworked since Cannes and containing numerous added special effects, is receiving mixed reviews. But most critics point out that it's also a mixed movie. Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Timesdescribes it as "a political farce, a noir doomsday chiller, a paranoid fantasy, a Saturday Night Live sketch on acid, a musical and an Alex Cox punk rock reverie." She concludes that it is hard "to remain engrossed in a film that's occasionally inspired but ultimately manic and scattered." Lou Lumenick in the New York Postsimply disses it as "incoherent and self indulgent" and a "sprawling mess." On the other hand Jan Stuart in Newsday says that while the film is open to certain criticism, it "contains stuff as uproariously out-there as anything in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and as unnervingly subversive as Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate." Stuart concludes: "I don't know exactly what planet Kelly dwells on or what model of spaceship he's flying, but I'm tickled as punch to go along for the ride." Equally intrigued by the film is Manohla Dargis of the New York Times who describes it as "funny, audacious, messy and feverishly inspired." And, almost as if replying to Lumenick's comment, Dargis remarks that the film "sprawls, at times beautifully, at times maddeningly, but its ambition and pleasures remain undiminished."


Netflix, which many analysts say has been able to keep ahead of Blockbuster with a remarkable system for recommending movies to customers, has not been able to award the $1 million it promised to the first person or team who could come up with a suggestion system that was 10 percent more accurate than its own. But, it said Tuesday, it has awarded a $50,000 "progress prize" to an AT&T Labs group who improved the system by 8.43 percent. Netflix claimed that 27,000 contestants from more than 160 countries have participated in the competition so far. The company said that it will continue to award such prizes until the 10-percent goal is reached.


Former publisher Judith Regan has sued News Corporation alleging that she was fired as head of the ReganBooks imprint following a campaign to smear her reputation. She further asserts in her $100-million lawsuit that she was prompted by top company executives to lie to federal investigators about her affair with former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik in order to protect the presidential aspirations of Rudolph Giuliani, who had appointed Kerik to his post. The entire lawsuit has been posted on TheSmokingGun website.


Angry that Chinese censors ordered graphic sex scenes removed from Ang Lee's Lust, Caution,a Chinese student at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing has filed a lawsuit against the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, alleging that it had infringed on his "consumer rights" and "society's public interest," the Beijing Timesreported today (Wednesday). The student, Dong Yanbin, is demanding that the board apologize and pay him the equivalent of $67 for "psychological damages." Analysts believe that it is unlikely that Chinese courts will accept the case.