AMAZON ENTERS ONLINE MOVIE BUSINESS

Unveiling what some analysts regarded as the most comprehensive movie and TV download service yet offered, Amazon on Thursday said that it had reached agreement with the six major film studios and the leading TV broadcast and cable networks to provide "DVD-quality" movies and TV shows to customers. Amazon executive Bill Carr said that customers could now choose to have the films and TV shows delivered to their door or to their computer. Films can either be purchased for $7.99-$14.99 or rented for $3.99. TV shows can be downloaded for $1.99 per episode. Apple is expected to make a similar announcement next Tuesday.

FRESTON GIVEN ROCK-STAR LIKE FAREWELL

Viacom employees gave Tom Freston a rousing sendoff Thursday unlike any staged for an ousted company CEO in memory. Workers left their offices and cubicles at Viacom's headquarters in Times Square, packing the lobby of the building and spilling onto the sidewalk outside. Security personnel estimated that the crowd numbered some 2,500. Staffers said that the demonstration occurred spontaneously and was touched off by emails sent to employees throughout the complex just minutes before Freston left the building. On its website, Broadcasting & Cable magazine quoted one MTV staffer as saying, "The energy of the moment was unbelievable. ... People were weeping, screaming. I've never experienced anything like that at the workplace." Another told Daily Variety: "It was like the end of the best concert you've ever been to." As Freston made his way to a waiting car, several employees embraced him. The New York Post said that he seemed visibly moved and chatted briefly with a few of them but made no statement. Meanwhile, in an SEC filing, Viacom indicated that Philippe Dauman, who is replacing Freston, will receive at least $21 million a year, including salary, bonuses and stock options.

DEGENERES TO HOST OSCARS

Ellen DeGeneres will host next year's Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Thursday. She has previously hosted or co-hosted the Emmys three times and the Grammys twice. The 79th Oscar Awards show is scheduled to air on ABC on Feb. 25, 2007. The announcement was made by Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin, who will be producing next year's show. In a statement, DeGeneres said that she was "thrilled" about being selected. "There's two things I've always wanted to do in my life. One is to host the Oscars. The second is to get a call from Laura Ziskin. You can imagine that day's diary entry."

MOVIE REVIEWS: HOLLYWOODLAND

Ben Affleck is seeing something that has eluded him for a long time -- good reviews. There are plenty of them for his performance as actor George Reeves -- who played Superman in the 1950s' TV series -- in Hollywoodland. Gene Seymour in Newsweek writes: "Ben Affleck's portrayal of Reeves epitomizes the movie's solicitousness and grace. Affleck gives his all to his star-crossed character, evoking Reeves' vocal inflections and physical presence (even his creeping middle-age puffiness) with startling precision and affecting sympathy." Chris Kaltenbach in the Baltimore Sun writes: "The scenes featuring Reeves, played with just the right mix of professionalism and exasperation by Ben Affleck, are the best things about Hollywoodland." Susan Walker in the Toronto Star comments, almost in amazement: "Somehow Ben Affleck is perfect as ... Reeves." And Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News concludes: "Affleck's thoughtful performance reflects the despair of a natural-born charmer who discovers that charm isn't enough to reach Hollywood's heights. Those who insist that Mr. Reeves' rise and fall mirrors Mr. Affleck's career trajectory are entitled to their opinions, but Hollywoodland definitely is an upward step." Several critics agree, however, that Affleck is better than the film itself. As Manohla Dargis writes in the New York Times: "Ben Affleck has packed on the pounds, slipped on some tights and given this exasperating film far more than it gives in return."

MOVIE REVIEWS: BROKEN BRIDGES

Most critics seem to agree that Broken Bridges is indeed broken. The film, which features country-music star Toby Keith, Kelly Preston, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson (in a cameo as himself), and Tess Harper, is described as a "weepy country ballad of a movie" by David Hiltbrand in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Eleanor Ringel Gillespie gives the film this "verdict" in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Keith has down-home charm and a lovely voice, but his movie's barely there."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.