MGM UNITES WITH CRUISE

MGM is bringing United Artists back from history and handing it over to Tom Cruise and his production partner, Paula Wagner, to run it. The company, once again manifesting its determination to remain an independent entity following its acquisition by an investment consortium that included Sony Films, said that Cruise and Wagner were being given a "substantial ownership" of UA and would have full control over the company's production slate. In what was regarded as a slap at Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, who had declared only last week that he had cut his company's ties to Cruise because "stars don't make a picture, the script does," the MGM announcement said that it wanted to recognize "what made UA great in the first place -- studio management by creative talent who can best encourage and support other creative talent." UA was founded by actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith in 1919. "We welcome the opportunity to contribute to that legacy," said Cruise in a statement. Redstone issued a statement, too, saying, "I wish Tom and his associates the greatest good fortune on their new venture."

CHRISTMAS SEASON STARTS THIS WEEKEND AT BOX OFFICE

The Walt Disney Co. is hoping that Santa Claus will be clambering down the box-office's chimney this weekend to find family audiences waiting to greet him. But The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause doesn't have the family audience to itself. It will be competing against Paramount's animated Flushed Away from Britain's Aardman Entertainment, the company responsible for the Wallace & Gromit cartoons. Also vying for attention will be the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy Borat and last week's winner, the horror flick Saw III.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE SANTA CLAUSE 3

"We're getting a turkey and a ham for the holidays," writes Kyle Smith in the New York Post, referring to The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and its star, Tim Allen. In this movie, Smith comments, Santa "is so dumb he should be demoted to cleaning up after Geoffrey the Giraffe at Toys 'R' Us." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times dismisses the movie with a three-paragraph review that is possibly the shortest she's ever written, ending with the comment, "It's squeaky clean, but you might die of boredom." And Nathaniel Bell in the Los Angeles Daily News writes it off as "holiday filler, stuffed with unearned emotion and trite sentimentality." (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a notice saying that it was not posting a review of the movie because it was not "screened in advance for critics." It was not clear why some critics were able to view the movie while others were not.)

MOVIE REVIEWS: FLUSHED AWAY

There is an inherent danger in titling a movie Flushed Away, and it is evident in the reviews. "Is the title all too prescient?" asks Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post, before concluding that it "delivers a good story and spellbinding action to kids and a nearly nonstop barrage of laughs for their adult companions." Likewise Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News says that it "rivals Cars for the year's most visually exciting cartoon." Indeed Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comments that the movie offers "more invention and laughs in its first 15 minutes than in Cars and Monster House put together." Lisa Kennedy writes in the Denver Post that while "a title like Flushed Away is its own best warning ... this energetic treat does what animated features ought to. It plunges us into a world we could never inhabit without the aid of wisecracking animals, inventive computer-graphics wizards and gifted writers." On the other hand, a number of reviewers suggest that the film ought to be flushed away. Among them is Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune who calls the film's animation "uninspired" and the movie itself "forgettable." And in her review, Christy Lemire of the Associated Press remarks that the film "simply lacks the simple, delicate charm" of previous Aardman features. "It's too frantic, too loud -- which makes it too much like every other all-star, animated, talking-animal movie that's come out this year," she concludes.

MOVIE REVIEWS: BORAT

No critic would call the humor in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan inoffensive. In fact, most suggest that there's something in the film that will offend just about everyone. Especially those innocents who were set up by Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays Borat, to appear in the film. "They wind up confused and stammering, often unmasked as boorish, bigoted or, at the very least, not so bright," writes Bob Townsend in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, he adds, "Be warned: Viewers of Borat are made to feel almost as uncomfortable. ... He makes us squirm until we laugh and laugh until we squirm, holding up a mirror to our darkest fears and prejudices." Lou Lumenick of the New York Post is certainly not averse to squirming. "I can't wait to see Borat, which has twice as many laughs as all of this year's other movie comedies combined, for a fourth time," he writes. That's his opening line. His closing one: "This is the finest and most thoughtful comedy released so far this century." Clearly, the powers-that-be in Kazakhstan are not going to be happy with the reviews of this movie. "That the government of Kazakhstan has taken umbrage over Borat is just the icing on the cupcake of a pretty good joke. What makes the film lift off into the ether, though, is Baron Cohen's skills as a master ironist and physical comedian," comments Ty Burr in the Boston Globe. In his review in the Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern wonders whether all the pre-release publicity the film has received will result in it becoming a monster hit. "Probably so, though who knows?" he writes. "We've become a society that dotes on outrageousness, but also processes it into media Velveeta." And Manohla Dargis in the New York Times suggests that Cohen's outrageousness is the real stuff: "The brilliance of Borat is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy," she writes.

Brian B.