MIRACLE AT THE BOX OFFICE

As the Flint (MI) Journal put it Monday: "It was the box-office equivalent of a miracle, thanks in part to masses of local church goers." The newspaper was referring to the success of Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron, a movie that was produced for just $5 million and received comparatively little advance marketing, played in just 838 theaters, but nevertheless earned $6.8 million in its debut. It became the year's highest-grossing film playing in under 1,000 theaters and ended up fourth on Media by Numbers' top-ten list. On a per-theater basis it earned almost as much ($8,111) as the No. 1 film, Eagle Eye ($8,305). The movie was produced by Sherwood Pictures, owned by the Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, GA. It also owns Provident Music Group and said Monday that nine songs featured in the film were being downloaded steadily from Apple's iTunes Store throughout the weekend. The movie was not shown to critics, and oddly most major dailies did not send reviewers to see it over the weekend. An exception was the New York Times, who sent periodic film critic Neil Genzlinger to see it. Genzlinger found the ending to be a bit heavy-handed, but overall, he concluded, "This is a decent attempt to combine faith and storytelling that will certainly register with its target audience." But Michael Hardy in the Boston Globe called Fireproof "melodramatic, made-for-TV schlock ... with the production values of a straight-to-video cheapie and the script of a mediocre soap opera."

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Eagle Eye, DreamWorks/Paramount , $29,150,721, (New); 2. Nights in Rodanthe, Warner Bros., $13,418,454, (New); 3. Lakeview Terrace, Sony, $6,966,711, 2 Wks. ($25,667,507); 4. Fireproof, Samuel Goldwyn, $6,804,764, (New); 5. Burn After Reading, Focus, $6,196,269, 3 Wks. ($45,567,391); 6. Igor, MGM, $5,383,912, 2 Wks. ($14,222,701); 7. My Best Friend's Girl, Lionsgate, $3,882,912, 2 Wks. ($14,611,423); 8. Righteous Kill, Overture Films, $3,709,480, 3 Wks. ($34,711,327); 9. Miracle at St. Anna, Disney, $3,477,996, (New); 10. Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys, Lionsgate, $3,125,620, 3 Wks. ($32,761,276).

SAG PROPOSES RESUMPTION OF TALKS

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild appeared to have selected an odd day -- when media stocks were in free-fall -- to urge the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to resume negotiations. In an open letter sent to the AMPTP and the news media on Monday and published as an advertisement in today's Daily Variety, SAG President Alan Rosenberg and National Executive Director Doug Allen proposed that the two sides focus on three issues, one involving "force majeure" protection and the two others involving new media. The letter warned, "If your intransigence continues, however, our choices become harder and fewer." Late in the day, AMPTP President Nick Counter responded, saying that talks would not be productive unless SAG is prepared to change its position on those issues, essentially tossing the "intransigence" accusation back into SAG's lap. "We do not believe that it would be productive to resume negotiations at this time given SAG's continued insistence on terms which the companies have repeatedly rejected."

SPIKE LEE TANGLES WITH ITALIAN REPORTERS

Director Spike Lee and Miracle at St. Anna screenwriter James McBride refought the Second World War Monday with Italian journalists who accused the pair of presenting historical inaccuracies in their movie. At first, McBride sounded apologetic as he reminded reporters at a Rome news conference that the story was fiction and then remarked, "I am very sorry if I have offended the [anti-fascist] partisans. I have enormous respect for them. As a black American, we understand what it's like for someone to tell your history, and they are not you." But Lee would have none of it. "I am not apologizing for anything," he said. "I think these questions are evidence that there is still a lot about your history during the war that you [Italians] have got to come to grips with. This film is no clear picture of what happened. It is our interpretation, and I stand behind it." The movie has fared no better with critics in Italy, where it is due to open on Friday, than it did with critics in America. Marcia Yarrow, writing in the English-language The American, calls the plot heavy-handed and suggests that it caricatures the Italians, especially the character played by Valentina Cervi, whom Yarrow describes as the "I'm Italian, so just-let-me-just-take-off-my-clothes partisan."