MEATBALLS AND POPCORN FOR MOVIEGOERS

Meatballs will reign (rain?) at the box office this weekend, box-office forecasters are predicting. The animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, based on a popular children's book, is likely to rein in around $25-30 million, according to tracking surveys, which are taking into account the fact that it will benefit from premium pricing at 1,828 3D theaters, a new record for a 3D release. The figure amounts to nearly 60 percent of the 3,118 theaters showing the film. Analysts disagree on which film will be the runner-up, with most predicting that Fox's horror flick Jennifer's Body, starring Megan Fox and written by Diablo Cody, will edge out Warner Bros.' thriller The Informant!, starring Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Each film is expected to take in around $10-15 million. A fourth film, Love Happens, with Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart, is expected to earn $8-12 million -- but that should satisfy Universal, inasmuch as the film reportedly only cost $18 million to produce.

THOUSANDS OF 3D THEATERS TO BE ADDED BY MAY

The movie industry's plan to convert the nation's theaters to digital 3D is expected to take a great leap forward in the coming months, DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg has told the New York Times. The plan, which calls for theaters to pay for the initial cost of the conversion but receive from the studios a credit for every movie distributed to them on disk rather than on film until the loans for the equipment are paid off, has reportedly been delayed by the current lending crisis. However, the Times reported, Katzenberg told a conference in Los Angeles on Thursday that a financing vehicle arranged by J.P. Morgan will enable the nation's three biggest theater chains, Regal, Cinemark and AMC, to up the number of digital 3D screens in the U.S. to 3,800 by December and to 5,000 by next May.

SONY MUSIC TO RELEASE THIS IS IT SOUNDTRACK

Sony Music has struck a deal with Michael Jackson's estate to release the soundtrack CD of the forthcoming This Is It movie, the website TMZ reported Thursday. According to TMZ, lawyers for the estate received permission from a probate judge to close the deal with Sony. Terms were not disclosed. Sony, which is also distributing the movie, has said that it will have a two-week run in theaters beginning October 28, with tickets going on sale on Sunday, September 27. It has not yet announced a date for release of a DVD or Blu-ray version of the movie, which was filmed in the weeks prior to Jackson's death during rehearsals for his planned concert performances in England.

MOVIE REVIEWS: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALS

Roger Ebert doesn't really review Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in the Chicago Sun-Times today. He sort of provides a quick digest of the indigestible things going on in the animated movie. But he does review the 3D. And Ebert, who has criticized previous 3D movies for their reduced brightness and other technical flaws, surprisingly likes this one. Although admitting that he continues to regard 3D as "a distracting nuisance," he applauds the new Sony 3D imaging process for producing "a sharp, crisp picture. ... There is clear definition between closer and further elements. I've seen a lot of 3-D recently, and in terms of technical quality, this is the best." Overall, the movie is getting rather sunny reviews. Claudia Puig in USA Today calls it "a surprisingly savory treat." "Inspired lunacy," is the way Daniel M. Gold describes it in the New York Times. And Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel describes it as an "unexpected delight."Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News predicts that the movie "is very likely the most fun your family will have this month." Kyle Smith, whose judgments are sometimes ... er ... clouded by his conservative sensibilities, says that while the movie offers a "clever and engaging first half" its second half becomes preachy, especially when it offers yet another lecture about global warming. Says Smith: "The comedy turns into The Day After Tomorrow plus marinara sauce." And Stephen Cole in the Toronto Globe and Mail agrees, writing, "The film feels like a zany spitball fight that comes to a sobering conclusion when the principal enters the room."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE INFORMANT!

Matt Damon is anything but the glamorous. buffed-up hunk he has played in his previous films in The Informant! And almost every critic comments on his metamorphosis into a bland, paunchy (he reportedly gained 30 pounds for the movie), corporate executive who blew the whistle on the Archer Daniels Midland conglomerate while embezzling money from it in the process. Damon gets high marks from critics. Carrie Rickey comments in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Damon's performance is worth watching even as his character exhausts us with half-truths and whole lies." "Matt Damon is goofy perfection," writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. "Matt Damon delivers comedic gold," says Peter Howell in the Toronto Star. It all works to the benefit of the film itself, Michael Sragow observes in the Baltimore Sun. "At its peak, it's a crackpot character comedy," he writes. And Ty Burr in the Boston Globe concludes: "That the movie works as well as it does is due to Matt Damon."

MOVIE REVIEWS: JENNIFER'S BODY

A horror flick that was actually shown to critics? That in itself says a lot about Jennifer's Body, which is actually receiving a good share of raves from critics. It's the latest vampire movie. Yet another one? you say. Well, replies Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "Just when you think you'll never take another sip from a vampire movie, along comes the delicious Jennifer's Body. So put away your prejudices and drink deep -- bloody fun is here to be had." A.O. Scott in the New York Times begins his review by writing that it's an "unholy mess," then quickly explains: "I mean that as a compliment. Yes, the movie's gory set pieces are executed with more carnivorous glee than formal discipline, and its story is as full of holes as some of its disemboweled victims. But coherence has never been a significant criterion for horror movies." And Lisa Kennedy in the Denver Post notes that the movie "is more of a hoot than a scream. And that suits us just fine." But Cary Darling comments in the Dallas Morning News that "for a film that's supposed to be both scary and funny, it's not really either most of the time."

Cinemark Movie Club