ZAENTZ RINGS IN JACKSON FOR PREQUELS

As Lord of the Rings fans mounted a protest following word that New Line had dropped Peter Jackson from consideration as director of The Hobbit and another Lord of the Rings prequel, producer Saul Zaentz has given assurances that Jackson will indeed direct the two films. A German website, Elbenwald.de, posted an interview with Zaentz, who acquired the rights to the works of the late Rings writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, in 1976 (the Saul Zaentz Company owns Tolkien Enterprises), in which Zaentz says, "It will definitely be shot by Peter Jackson. ... Next year The Hobbit rights will fall back to my company. I suppose that Peter will wait because he knows that he will make the best deal with us. And he is fed up with the studios: to get his profit share on the Rings trilogy he had to sue New Line. With us, in contrast, he knows that he will be paid fairly and artistically supported without reservation." (The preceding quotation is a translation that appeared on TheHobbit-Movie.com from the German interview posted on Elbenwald.de.)

MAPLE LEAFS ALLOW FILM ABOUT GAY HOCKEY PLAYER

The Toronto Maple Leafs, one of hockey's preeminent teams, has agreed to cooperate in the production of Breakfast With Scot, about the coming-out of a gay player, the Toronto Star reported today (Friday) The team's approval -- they'll allow their uniforms to be worn by the film's actors -- came after the script was green-lighted by the National Hockey League. Leafs general manager John Ferguson told the newspaper: "On our end, we're certainly not trying to make a statement. ... We agreed to host them and we're comfortable with it." The Star described team captain Mats Sundin as "taken aback" by the notion of the movie and quoted him as saying, "There's never been a gay hockey player come out that I know of. ... I'm sure it's going to be talked about."

CHINESE MOVIE PIRATE SENTENCED TO LIFE

In what may be the stiffest penalty yet for movie piracy, a man in China was sentenced to life imprisonment for reportedly operating the country's biggest bootleg DVD ring. The state-operated Xinhua news agency said that the man, Lin Yuehua, and 11 associates were convicted of producing 30 million bootleg DVDs and VCDs in an unnamed foreign country and smuggling them into China between 2002 and 2005. They were said to be worth $23.9 million.

THIS YEAR, THANKSGIVING BIRD IS THE PENGUIN

Families feasted not only on turkeys but also on penguins as the Thanksgiving holiday got underway at the box office. Warner Bros.' animated Happy Feet appeared to ice the No. 1 spot as it took in $7.4 million on Wednesday, well ahead of the James Bond flick, Casino Royale. In third place was the debuting Jerry Bruckheimer sci-fi thriller, Déjà Vu, starring Denzel Washington, with $3.6 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY

Critics are having a tough time figuring out just what to make of Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, based on the Jack Black-Kyle Gass show on HBO. Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times even suggests that it "might best be enjoyed in an enhanced state of consciousness," a film in need of "an herbal supplement, and we aren't talking ginkgo biloba." Of course, the characters in the movie are seen enjoying such supplements, leading Stephen Rae in the Philadelphia Inquirer to remark that it gives "the term 'potty humor' a new meaning." Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune suggests it's probably the real stuff, too. "A large amount of dope is smoked in The Pick of Destiny," he writes, "perhaps the most since the salad days of Cheech & Chong. This may be the problem. Pot rarely helped anybody's comic timing." And Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning News sounds like the straight guy who has just arrived at a pot party. "It's pointless to nitpick a film this ostentatiously loose and loutish, but in the film's execution much of that spirit just comes off as lazy and careless," he comments. Still, Stephen Holden in the New York Times suggests that, approached in the right frame of mind, the film could be viewed as a "jolly rock 'n' roll comedy." He concludes: "As it wobbles from one episode to the next, "The Pick of Destiny" is a garish mess, and some of it feels padded. But it has enough jokes to keep you smiling, and the spirit Mr. Black brings to it is a fervent (and touching) affection for the music he spoofs but obviously adores."

MOVIE REVIEWS: BOBBY

Emilio Estevez's Bobby, which takes place on the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, is an ambitious project, critics agree. Some say, too ambitious. Estevez, writes Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel, "deftly weaves historical footage of the boyish, idealistic campaigner, Bobby, with an old-fashioned Love Boat load of Hollywood types. It's not a terrible movie. But the overreaching shows." Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times makes the identical point: "It's an ambitious film drenched in sincerity and oozing with nostalgia that, despite the energy provided by its title icon via archival footage, falls flat dramatically in nearly every other way." Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News also agrees that Bobby "is more ambitious and earnest than visionary." However, he adds, the film's "guilelessness, and its insistence on telling the stories of regular folks (kitchen workers, campaign volunteers) creates a likable, ground-level feel that compensates for larger flaws." Indeed, A.O. Scott reminds his readers in the New York Times: "Intentions do count for something, and Mr. Estevez's seem to me entirely admirable." And Richard Roeper concludes in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Bobby does a solid job of telling one generation what the world was like in the summer of 1968, and reminding another generation of a time when they believed a politician could change the world."

MOVIE REVIEWS: FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

In the consideration of most critics, Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration, about the annual campaigning for Oscar awards, is funny -- but not so funny as Guest's "mockumentaries" like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. (He also co-wrote and co-starred in the classic This is Spinal Tap.) Those films, writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times, "had a buoyancy and freshness that don't come through here." The problem, several critics suggest, may be in the subject matter itself. "Hollywood has been sent up so many times," writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post, "that it doesn't present quite as fresh a satiric target as amateur theatricals, dog shows and folk music." Guest uses most of his "old repertory gang" for this film, Rick Groen observes in the Toronto Globe and Mail, but with this film, "the target is way too easy and the tone far too smug. This time, they're shooting fish in a barrel with a bazooka and congratulating themselves on their marksmanship." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post also concludes that Consideration is far from being Guest's "best in show." Here, she writes, he "betrays a biliousness that never surfaced in his earlier work, and the effect isn't pretty." Perhaps, Jan Stuart suggests in Newsday, one of the reasons for all the sour reviews is that film critics had anticipated a far more trenchant put-down of Oscar awards mania than Guest delivers. At the press screening, he writes, "This was, after all, a navel-gazing satire about the false allure of word of mouth, how movie-industry hype can take on a life of its own and grow so big that it caves in on itself." And Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal has this word of advice to fans of Guest's previous films: "You'd best lower your expectations."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE HISTORY BOYS

Expectations must certainly have been high for The History Boys, based on the Allan Bennett play that won six Tony awards this year. (The film has the same director, Nicholas Hytner, and cast, headed by Richard Griffiths, who won the Tony for best actor.) Some critics are clearly not disappointed with the changeover. The filmmakers, John Coulbourn writes in the Toronto Sun, "have transformed the award-winning play into an immensely likable, entertaining and -- oh, dear -- often thought-provoking movie." His assessment is not shared by fellow Canadian critic Peter Howell, who writes in the Toronto Star, "The History Boys flunks its most crucial test: the need to properly adapt a stage play to the screen medium." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News observes that the play was applauded for its "sharp repartee," which sounds unnatural on the screen. "You won't find a better example of the strength of a play becoming the weakness of a movie than ... The History Boys," he writes. Likewise Claudia Puig writes in USA Today, "You emerge from the movie wishing you'd seen the Tony-winning play, thinking that the stage is the best medium for this thoughtful classroom drama." On the other hand, Richard Shickel in Time magazine takes an opposite view, calling the movie "an improvement on the original. It has a flow and an intimacy that the often awkward theatrical version lacked." And Stephen Holden in the New York Times also heaps praise on the film, remarking, "The film retains the play's quicksilver pace along with an airiness and cheek that vaguely recall the '60s films of Richard Lester."

Brian B.