SAG-AMPTP TALKS TO RESUME, WITH A MEDIATOR

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on Thursday accepted federal mediation in its dispute with the Screen Actors Guild but, in a statement, appeared to hold out little hope of further compromise unless the union dropped key demands for benefits in the realm of new media that the AMPTP had refused to grant other Hollywood labor unions. The union's chief negotiator, Doug Allen, said that he looked "forward to meeting with the federal mediator and the AMPTP [negotiating] committee as soon as possible." Although trade reports suggested that the industry is operating on the assumption that the union will not be willing to strike over the new media issues, attorney Jonathan Handel, who has represented the Writers Guild of America in the past, said Thursday that "if nobody budges, I expect a strike by early January at the latest."

MUSICAL COULD BE BIGGEST MUSICAL OF ALL

Disney is expecting a big graduation crowd to gather in theaters this weekend for its High School Musical 3: Senior Year. The original movies, which aired on the Disney channel, set viewer records and touched off mind-blowing sales of CDs and merchandise, and launched a stage show. (A TV reality series based on the franchise failed to catch on.) The new movie, expected to draw a large crowd of young women, faces competition from its polar opposite, the horror flick Saw V, expected to draw a large crowd of young men. (It was not screened for critics.) A third new wide release is Gavin O'Connor's crime drama, Pride & Glory, starring Colin Farrell and Edward Norton. While most box-office analysts are predicting the High School Musical 3 will open with about $30-35 million, the Los Angeles Times's Projector column forecasts an opening of about $45 million. Analysts are predicting Saw V will wind up with $25-30 million, while Pride & Glory is expected to take in $10-15 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR

Even often cold-hearted film critics appear taken with Disney's theatrical edition of High School Musical. "The third chapter of the phenomenally popular franchise crystallizes a moment in movie-musical history that is probably as evanescent as it is triumphant," writes Stephen Holden. He credits the film's success not only to "the shrewd mixing and matching of proven formulas," but also to the performances of the two stars, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. "Mr. Efron's athletic grace is Astaire-like in its casual authority. Ms. Hudgens's blissful smiles melt the screen," he remarks. John Anderson in his review for Newsday offers almost grudging admiration. The movie, he says, "is eminently watchable, occasionally very funny, and sweet enough to give you diabetes." Forget the plot, advises Cllaudia Puig in USA Today. "What grabs and keeps our attention are the pretty faces, infectious songs and eye-popping dance moves." Likewise, Tasha Robinson comments in the Chicago Tribune that the movie "is frustratingly shallow, but what it lacks in narrative ambition, it makes up for in dazzling choreography." Bottom line, according to Catherine Dawson March in the Toronto Globe & Mail: "Disney raised the stakes by turning its hit TV-movie franchise into a feature film - and the bet has paid off." On the other hand, Kyle Smith in the New York Post makes no attempt to hide his scorn for the movie, writing that "the jokes are awful, the intrigue minimal ... [and] the musical numbers ... are at the level of a Mentos commercial."

MOVIE REVIEWS: PRIDE & GLORY

Pride & Glory took a long time coming to the screen. The script was written in 1999, and took years before it went before the camera. It was delayed further even after it was completed, when another movie with a similar plot, We Own the Night, was booked into theaters two years ago. Now that it has been released, critics are suggesting that the long struggle to get it to the screen wasn't worth the time or expense. "It's no wonder" that the film was delayed so long, writes Claudia Puig in USA Today who calls it "blood soaked and uninvolving." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times says it's "the kind of film where you feel like you know the words and ought to be singing along. It follows the well-worn pathways of countless police dramas before it." How well-worn? Kyle Smith in the New York Post has the details: "When the writers went to the Dialogue Store, it must have been closed because they loaded their cart from whatever they found in the Dumpster out back. Can one movie really contain all of these lines? Not just 'I'm doing what I have to do' and 'It's just like ridin' a bicycle - you never forget ridin' a bicycle,' but also 'I'm right in the middle of something I don't know how to get out of. Most of the rest of the lines are so bad that the script desperately tries to save them with a word that isn't 'freak' but begins and ends the same way. So we get lines much like, 'Laugh, you freakin' scumbag!' and 'What the freak is going on here?'" Nevertheless, Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News comments, "Pride and Glory might take some flak for adhering to the tried-and-true formulas of cop family dramas, but as long as it's busting down doors and giving its actors opportunities to scheme and rage, it's pretty good for what it is."