PLETHORA OF NEW RELEASES FLOODS THEATERS

Eight new films -- count 'em, eight! -- enter the box-office competition this weekend, each on more than 500 screens, which is likely a record. Box-office forecasters are by no means united on which film will come out on top, but the Sony vampire flick 30 Days of Night, directed by David Slade and starring Josh Hartnett and Ben Foster, is generally given a slight edge, if only because of the fact that it is opening in the most number of theaters, 2,855. Gone Baby Gone, directed by Ben Affleck, is also expected to make a strong showing. Both films are R-rated, as are two other dramas, Rendition, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon, and Things We Lost in the Fire, starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro.

MOVIE REVIEWS: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT

No one expects vampire movies to get great reviews and those for 30 Days of Night are no exception. At least it can be said that the movie receives some mild ones. Roger Ebert's in the Chicago Sun-Times is typical. It is, he writes, "a better-than-average example of the genre. ... I award the movie two and a half stars because it is well-made, well-photographed and plausibly acted, and is better than it needs to be." Scott Bowles in USA Today has even nicer things to say about the film, writing that director David Slade "keeps the action moving, the cliches at arm's length and the genre infused with new blood." Of course, there are plenty of other critics who take the movie by the throat. "30 Days of Night makes you feel the cold ... and feel the fangs," writes Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune, "but it also makes you feel like 30 days is a pretty long time." And Kyle Smith concludes in the New York Post: "The movie approaches the final scene with a straight face, but it left the audience giggling spasmodically. This script probably should have gone all the way and thrown in a few quips: If your movie is a joke, at least be intentionally funny."

MOVIE REVIEWS: RENDITION

Gavin Hood's thriller Rendition concerns an Egyptian-born American who suddenly disappears after attending a conference in South Africa. We learn he was arrested by the CIA, then flown to an unnamed country where he is subjected to "expert" torture. A.O. Scott anticipates that the film will likely be attacked as anti-American. "It is, after all, much easier to rant and rave about treacherous Hollywood liberals than to think through the moral and strategic questions raised by some of the policies of the American government," he writes. And while acknowledging that the film "could have used more subtlety," Scott concludes: "But all its clumsy efforts are toward an honest and difficult goal, which is to use the resources of mainstream movie-making to get viewers thinking about a moral crisis that many of us would prefer to ignore." Writing in the New York Daily News, Jack Mathews calls the movie, "one of the most important 'message' movies of the year." Likewise Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail remarks, "Rendition is a rarity -- a political film that delivers its timely message with a cinematic punch and no undue speechifying." But writing in the New York Post, Kyle Smith, probably a rare conservative among film critics, comments, "Rendition has the depth of a bumper sticker without the brevity." He refers to a studio press release which quotes director Gavin Hood as saying: "The one thing [the screenwriter] and I didn't want to do was to tell the audience what to think." Comments Smith: "He must be referring to some other film. This one has a hero who says, 'If you torture one person, you create 10, a hundred, a thousand new enemies' and concludes that Islamist terrorism is a regrettable but understandable response to the actions of intelligence agencies. Art is supposed to hold a mirror up to reality -- but not one borrowed from the funhouse."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE

"Earnest" is an adjective that keeps cropping up in the generally polite reviews of Things We Lost in the Fire, starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro and directed by Danish writer-director Susanne Bier. "This film has the gift of gathering strength as it goes on," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, concluding that it is "worth seeing despite its unevenness." Kyle Smith in the New York Post remarks that the movie "was made to win awards, and I'm here to present it with one: the Cliche of the Year honors, otherwise known as the Hackney." But Claudia Puig in USA Today is more upbeat, writing "The movie makes some missteps, most of them in pacing and length, and the story veers occasionally into melodrama, but it is saved by the powerful performance of Benicio Del Toro."

MOVIE REVIEWS: GONE BABY GONE

Ben Affleck is the star of the reviews of Gone Baby Gone, even though he's the director of the movie. Writes Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News: "Ben Affleck won an Oscar for the Good Will Hunting script he co-wrote with Matt Damon, but this is his first outing behind the camera. Whatever you think of his acting, he's got real chops as a filmmaker. The movie has energy, pace, some insanely well-choreographed action sequences, outstanding performances and a couple of speeches that belong in the pulp fiction hall of fame." Claudia Puig in USA Today remarks: "Ben Affleck has come of age as a director." And Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post comments that Affleck "shows that even if he never developed a memorable performance when he was in front of the camera, he was paying attention to what was going on behind it."

NASDAQ BIDS FAREWELL TO MOVIE GALLERY

Days after filing for bankruptcy Movie Gallery got the official notice from NASDAQ: its stock will no longer be traded on the exchange beginning with the start of business on Oct. 25. The video-rental company had been previously notified that since its stock had continued to trade below $1.00, it was out of compliance with NASDAQ's rules for being listed. (It was trading at 21 cents at midday today, Friday.) Movie Gallery, which is the second largest video-rental company in the U.S. behind Blockbuster, said it would not appeal the decision and that it will continue to trade "over the counter" after Oct. 25.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.