TIGHT RACE AT BOX OFFICE PREDICTED

Box office analysts are having a tough time figuring out which film is likely to come out on top this weekend. Several figure that the George Clooney starrer Michael Clayton, which opened in limited release a week ago, is likely to take the lead this week, despite the fact that it is likely to see a significant drop in the major cities where it played. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman said, "We have a very solid shot at (winning) the weekend, but it's certainly going to be a close race. I expect to be there at the finish line, but it's all up to the movie gods now." The strongest competition is likely to come from Sony's crime drama We Own the Night, starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Cate Blanchett, is likely to draw an older crowd, while Disney's The Game Plan, which dropped only 28 percent last week, could also remain among the top contenders.

MOVIE REVIEWS: WE OWN THE NIGHT

The crime drama We Own the Night is getting mostly so-so reviews from critics. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times writes somewhat unenthusiastically that "the film is made with confidence and energy and is well acted by the principals." But Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News comments that the plot quickly "goes wrong" and "turns into something barely at the level of a TV cop show." Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail takes a middle position. "For most viewers, the film will probably be a trade-off," he writes. "Some clichéd plotting is balanced by some splendid set-pieces." Or as Peter Howell puts it in the rival Toronto Star: ""It's not that it's so terrible, but it is terribly similar to so many other police dramas at the movies and on TV."

MOVIE REVIEWS: ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE

Critics are removing a bit of the sheen from Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Cate Blanchett in the title role, or as Manohla Dargis remarks in the New York Times, "as David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust period." Dargis writes that the movie is "reductive, distorted and deliriously far-fetched, but the gowns are fabulous." Likewise, Joe Morgenstern comments in the Wall Street Journal, "When you see Cate Blanchett in one fantastical gown after another, you understand why Elizabeth's reign was golden." But that may be one of the problems of the film, Roger Ebert observes in the Chicago Sun-Times. The movie, he writes, "is weighed down by its splendor. There are scenes where the costumes are so sumptuous, the sets so vast, the music so insistent, that we lose sight of the humans behind the dazzle of the production." Still, Blanchett receives a polite round of applause from critics for her performance. As Carrie Rickey writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Blanchett commands the screen as she commands the royal navy. Her unforced majesty makes a so-so film worth watching."

INCONVENIENT RULING FOR NOBEL WINNER GORE

Two significant verdicts on Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth have been delivered within 24 hours of one another. On Wednesday, a British judge ruled that the documentary on global warming, although "broadly accurate," contained errors and exaggerations that violated British laws intended to bar the promotion of political views in schools. On Thursday, Gore was announced as the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, largely for his efforts to focus the world's attention on global warming with the film. In a statement today (Friday), Gore said, "The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."

CATHOLIC LEAGUE PROTESTS GOLDEN COMPASS

Two months before the scheduled release of New Line Cinema's The Golden Compass, the Catholic League has launched an all-out assault on the fantasy film. The League, the largest Catholic lay organization in the U.S., has produced a 25-page pamphlet, titled "The Golden Compass: Unmasked," that it is selling on its website for $5.00 per copy, which damns the film as a pernicious effort to indoctrinate children into atheistic beliefs. Acknowledging that the film itself is unlikely to contain offensive material, Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a statement, "If unsuspecting Christian parents take their children to see the movie, they may very well find it engaging and then buy Pullman's books for Christmas. That's the problem. We are fighting a deceitful stealth campaign on the part of the film's producers." Pullman has acknowledged his anti-religious stance but critics have said that his books present little that is likely to offend believers. Stephen Whitty, critic for the Newark, NJ Star Ledger wrote Thursday that he had read C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, which contain Christian imagery while attending a Catholic parochial school as a child and later read them to his Jewish children. "But that doesn't mean that any of us accepted Lewis's Northern-Irish Protestantism as our own faith. ... I know, for example, that when my children saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe they saw absolutely no obvious Christian imagery in it. I am sure that, when we go to see The Golden Compass, they'll see no atheistic agenda either."

Brian B.