BOX OFFICE: THUNDER HIT BY HURRICANE

The box office was hit by a double whammy over the weekend. Not only did it have to suffer through the usual lackluster attendance over the Labor Day holiday -- the only major holiday of the year when attendance traditionally falls -- but it also was hit by the oncoming Hurricane Gustav. Along a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast, movie-theater owners shut down. Those who did not watched many of their patrons evacuate their neighborhoods and take up lodgings in inland emergency shelters; they would not have been in the mood for a night at the movies. Of five new films entering the box-office fray, not one earned $10 million or more. The only film that did was the action-film parody Tropic Thunder with an estimated $11.5 million, which put it in first place for the third straight weekend. It has now taken in $83.8 million -- but the $90-million film is a long way from breaking even after payments to theater owners and the cost of distribution and marketing are taken into account. Babylon A.D. came in second with an unimpressive $9.7 million. (By contrast, the latest Halloween sequel opened a year ago with $26.4 million.) The Dark Knight moved back to third place, taking in $8.8 million and bringing its total to $502.4 million. It is only the second film in history to climb past the $500-million mark and now takes aim at the other one that did -- Titanic, which wound up with a domestic total of $601 million. Few analysts if any, believe that Knight will be able to sink Titanic's record. Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Feldman said Sunday that he expects the film to finish with about $530-550 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Tropic Thunder, $11.5 million; 2. Babylon A.D., $9.7 million; 3. The Dark Knight, $8.8 million; 4. The House Bunny, $8.3 million; 5. Traitor, $7.9 million; 6. Death Race, $6.2 million; 7. Disaster Movie, $6.2 million; 8. Mamma Mia, $4.4 million; 9. Pineapple Express, $3.5 million; 10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, $3 million.

PELLICANO GUILTY OF WIRETAPPING -- AGAIN

Former Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano on Friday once again heard a jury foreman respond "Guilty!" when asked for the jury's verdict in a wiretapping case against him. Pellicano and his entertainment attorney, Terry Christensen, were convicted on charges related to the wiretapping of investor Kirk Kerkorian's ex-wife in a child-support battle. Pellicano, who had been convicted on similar charges in a separate case, was remanded to jail. Christensen put up a $100,000 appeals bond.

MOVIE REVIEWS: DISASTER MOVIE

The studios may have tried to hide three of the weekend's new releases from critics, but they still had to run them for audiences, and those audiences included the critics on Friday, who gave the movies the kind of reviews the studios expected. "The filmmakers are idiots," the Boston Globe's Michael Hardy wrote in his review of Disaster Movie. Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times calls it the latest addition to an "indistinguishable ilk" of films that amounts to a "juggernaut of mediocrity." The Hollywood Reporter, noting that the credits are nearly as long as those for The Dark Knight, remarks, "One wonders how so many people could have toiled to produce so little."

MOVIE REVIEWS: BABYLON A.D.

Several critics acknowledge that what they write about Babylon A.D. is unlikely to have any effect at all on its performance at the box office. A.O. Scott in the New York Times writes, "The only explicable thing about Babylon A.D. is that it was not screened in advance for critics. Our judgments, in any case, may be superfluous, since the director, Mathieu Kassovitz, has already publicly described it as 'pure violence and stupidity.'" Adds Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times: "Kassovitz and the studio are apparently feuding over the finished product. There may be an interesting director's cut DVD down the line, but this theatrical version is less than riveting." Surprisingly, David Hiltbrand in the Philadelphia Inquirer gives the film a rave review, saying that it far exceeded his expectations and compliments the director for doing "a remarkable job with this material.". It is, he says, "a disturbing, wonderfully executed vision of the future. ... Seamless in its execution, the movie plays out like a grittier version of The Fifth Element."

MOVIE REVIEWS: COLLEGE

New York Times critic Laura Kern gives College a left-handed recommendation. "Chances are it won't disappoint those looking solely for unadulterated raunch," she writes. Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel wishes he could enforce his opinion of the movie. "Oh, to have a 16-year-old son or daughter just so I could tell them, 'No way you're seeing that junk,'" he writes. Kamal al-Solaylee in the Toronto Globe and Mail calls it an "excruciatingly unfunny movie. ... an exercise in hazing its own audience."

LABOR ATTORNEY: FEUDING SAG FACTIONS HAVE NO ANSWERS TO IMPASSE

A prominent entertainment labor attorney who conducted online interviews with leaders of the two primary feuding factions of the Screen Actors Guild has chided each side for failure to provide "clear and convincing answers" to resolving the stalemate between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Attorney Jonathan Handel wrote that the current leadership is unable to force the AMPTP to accept its new media demands because it doesn't have the leverage of a strike threat. (A strike authorization requires assent by 75 percent of the membership, something the leadership is currently unable to count on.) Likewise, Handel observed, the Unite for Strength challengers have focused their energy not on trying to find a solution to the current industry impasse but on merging with AFTRA, a "longer-term goal that ignores the matter on the table." UFS, he said, "won't even express an opinion on what to do."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.