i>BRAVE ONE LIKELY NO. 1

The R-rated vigilante flick The Brave One, directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and starring Jodie Foster, is expected to take the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend. Analysts predict it will sell about $20 worth of tickets and push last week's winner, the western 3:10 to Yuma, off the tracks with about $7 million. (Ironically, the film arrives at the same time a "hybrid" documentary/drama about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is being hailed at the Toronto Film Festival. Trumbo, under the pseudonym Robert Rich, won an Oscar for best screenplay for another film titled The Brave One in 1957.) Other films debuting this weekend are expected to make quick transitions to DVDs, including the comedy Mr. Woodcock, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott and Susan Sarandon and the fantasy film Dragon Wars, which was not screened for critics. Neither film is expected to earn much more than $5 million. On Saturday, all of the films will be competing with a sneak preview of The Kingdom, starring Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman, which has its official premiere in two weeks.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE BRAVE ONE

Jodie Foster is inevitably being described as a female Charles Bronson in her role as Erica Bain, a New York woman bent on killing the men who brutally attacked her and murdered her fiance in Central Park. Claudia Puig in USA Today dismisses The Brave One as "a well-made but predictable take on the revenge fantasy thriller, with a female twist." Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal describes it as "repetitive rather than resonant, an over-calculated, under-ventilated studio production -- even paranoid thrillers need to breathe -- whose plot machinery grinds grim and coarse." A.O. Scott in the New York Times adds that while the vigilante plot may "be viscerally satisfying [it] is a sign of just how cowardly The Brave One really is. It's a pro-lynching movie that even liberals can love." In a similar vein, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times comments that the movie amounts to an "unwise attempt to have it all, to attract the sensitive audience that swoons at Ms. Foster's nuanced performances as well as the yahoos who scream when evil blood is spilt." It would appear that Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post would count himself among the yahoos. "You may hate yourself for yielding to the expertise of the manipulation," he writes, "but the vicarious thrill of The Brave One is the sense of pulling your own trigger on pure evil and watching the bullet tear through." And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune suggests that while the film may never be regarded as a classic, "it's the work of first-rate filmmakers and actors doing everything they can to find the truth in the pulp and the bloodlust."

MOVIE REVIEWS: MR. WOODCOCK

Mr. Woodcock is the name of Billy Bob Thornton's character in the film, a high-school gym teacher who haunts the memories of his former students. One of them, as it turns out, is the character played by Seann William Scott, author of a self-help book advising readers to let go of the past. Arriving in his hometown to be honored, he discovers that his mother, played by Susan Sarandon, has taken up with Mr. Woodcock. "It's a character-centered story that's a little sluggishly paced but keeps the chuckles coming at about the pace of a good sitcom," is the rather mild reaction of Kyle Smith in the New York Post. Not so mild is the reaction of Susan Walker in the Toronto Star, who observes, "Thornton is starring in what appears to be a vehicle predicated on his typecasting as a vulgar, cruel, authoritarian character capable of the withering put-down." Janice Page in the Boston Globe remarks that "the film logs almost all of its laughs when it's at its crudest, meanest, and most unfiltered. Everything else -- and that is to say most of the movie -- is a big, fat, derivative waste of time." Several writers have taken note of the fact that it has taken a long while for the film to get a release date. "This thing has been sitting on a shelf for a year or so, and it's easy to see why," writes Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News. "Plot's dopey, timing's a mess." Roger Ebert refers to a recent Los Angeles Times article that indicated that the film went through three weeks of reshoots before the studio decided to release it. Still, he suggests, it's worth seeing for Thornton's performance alone. "The thing about Thornton is, he makes no compromises and takes no prisoners when he plays guys like Woodcock," Ebert writes. "He's a hateful bastard, and he means it. That makes the movie better, actually, than if we sensed a heart of gold under the crust, but it doesn't exactly make it funnier." And that may be just the problem, Claudia Puig suggests in USA Today. "This may be the most laugh-free comedy of the year," she writes.

HYBRID HIGH-DEFINITION VIDEO DISCS WON'T FLY

Warner Bros. Home Video, which had announced that it planned to begin issuing early in 2008 high-definition movies on hybrid discs that could be played in both Blu-ray and HD DVD players said Thursday that it had indefinitely suspended plans to introduce the "Total HD" disc. Warner Home Video President Ron Sanders told TWICE magazine: "We're concerned that as the only one publishing on it, it would be hard to make it go." Asked whether the HD DVD and Blu-ray camps have made WHV offers to go with one format exclusively, Sanders replied, "We're talking to both sides and it's crazy right now. ... We remain committed to both [formats] for the time being."

Brian B.