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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
September 21

Entertainment News September 21 - TOP 3 Stories for Friday

ALSO ON SITE

PRODUCERS SCRAMBLE AS CANADIAN DOLLAR AT PAR WITH U.S

The Canadian dollar hit parity with the American dollar Thursday for the first time in 31 years—and that has folks in the film biz here worried that it will scare off American producers.

The value of the Canadian dollar—or loonie as it's known in Canada—has been rising against the dollar for five years.

Now there is no advantage to shooting in Canada in terms of exchange rate or tax credits, as many U.S. states and countries have similar or even more lucrative tax breaks.

"I think it's a nightmare," said Paul Bronfman, who runs the Toronto-based Comweb Group, one of the country's leading production services and equipment rental companies. Comweb is also an investor in Filmport, the massive film studio being built in Toronto.

"I think it's going to make it extremely difficult to attract more American work," he added. "We have a lot of variety of locations but the bottom line is that the economics are getting skinnier and skinnier to shoot in Canada. Right now, we have to find new ways to attract business here."

Canada is actually doing okay in terms of American shoots this year, but most believe that's only because the studios are stockpiling pics in case there is labor strife in Hollywood next year.

The common wisdom is that—even without currency problems—few Hollywood movies and TV shows will film in Canada next year because of the labor problems. Either there will be a strike, or the studios will be shooting fewer films because they shot extra pics this year.

The downturn will be tough for Canadian production companies that rely on American service jobs to make their money.

"We'll see a significant decrease in American-financed production," said Shawn Williamson, a partner in Vancouver-based Brightlight Pictures. "We've seen a significant downturn in our service work and I know it's related to the dollar."

Fortunately for Brightlight, it also produces Canuck projects as well. Michael Prupas, president of Montreal-based production company Muse Entertainment, notes that the rising Canadian dollar is even bad news for Muse's local productions because his sales revenue for those productions comes in U.S. dollars, which now have less buying power in Canada.

Many feel Canada must up its federal and provincial tax credits to be more competitive with the tax credits available in U.S. states.

'CHUCK' BATTLES 'RESIDENT EVIL' AT BOX OFFICE

They'll be plenty of box office action this weekend for younger moviegoers as Sony's horror three-quel "Resident Evil: Extinction" battles it out with Lionsgate's Dane Cook-Jessica Alba laffer "Good Luck Chuck."

Also debuting is Morgan Creek-Universal's Amanda Bynes starrer "Sydney White," a modern-day retelling of Snow White set on a college campus. The comedy should draw younger girls, since it's rated PG-13, while "Resident Evil" and "Good Luck" are both rated R.

Distribs and exhibitors expect the trio of new players to help bump up theater traffic after two relatively slow frames. "Resident Evil" unspools in 2,828 locations; "Good Luck," 2,612; and "Sydney," 2,102.

On the more serious side of the multiplex, Focus Features goes wide this weekend with David Cronenberg's Russian mob drama "Eastern Promises," starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. The film, which debuted over the Sept. 14-16 frame in four theaters, will play 1,404 locations.

Focus is looking to mimic the success New Line enjoyed with Cronenberg's last film "A History of Violence" when going wide in the second frame and grossing $8.1 million, according to Rentrak.

There are several high-profile pics opening in limited runs, including Warner Bros. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. The drama, directed by Andrew Dominik, opens in two locations each in New York and Gotham, one in Toronto and 10 in Austin, Texas, a test market for Westerns.

Sony Pictures Classics opens Robin Swicord's "The Jane Austen Book Club," whose ensemble cast includes Maria Bello, Emily Blunt and Kathy Baker, in 25 theaters in Gotham, New York, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area and Phoenix.

Paramount Pictures Vantage opens director Sean Penn's "Into the Wild," starring Emile Hirsh and based on the bestselling book by Jon Krakauer, in four theaters in Gotham and L.A. Penn wrote the adapted screenplay.

Expanding this weekend in their second frame are Julie Taymor's dreamy romancer "Across the Universe," which Sony/Revolution ups from 23 to 276 theaters, and Paul Haggis' Tommy Lee Jones-Charlize Theron drama "Into the Valley," which Warner Independent Pictures ups from nine locations to 300.

Sony's "Resident Evil," which returns Milla Jovovich to the bigscreen in the role of Alice, is drawing heavy interest among fanboys. Pic, based on the survival horror vidgame, is helmed by Alexandri Witt in his feature directorial debut.

Expectations are that the three-quel, penned by franchise scribe Paul W.S. Anderson, should be able to near the $23 million opening weekend gross for the last installment, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," on its way to a domestic cume of $50.7. The first pic, "Resident Evil," grossed $40.1 domestically.

'JUSTICE LEAGUE' COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU

Warner Bros. is moving aggressively ahead with the bigscreen adaptation of DC Comics’ “Justice League of America,” with George Miller aboard to direct.

The project, which is in the initial phases of casting, is a pre-strike priority for the studio, which needs a superhero tentpole for 2009.

Still, making all the pieces fit has been complicated by overlapping superhero projects in the pipeline, since “Justice League” features a pantheon of superheroes including Superman and Batman.

Batman and Superman are active properties for the studio, though the next installment in the Superman franchise has taken a backseat to “Justice League,” in part because Warners is so keen on the “Justice League” script by Kieran and Michele Mulroney.

Beyond the Caped Crusader and Man of Steel, “Justice League” will likely feature Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman. The Green Lantern is also featured in the comicbook.

Several sources close to the project said that Christian Bale, star of the revived “Batman” film franchise, and Brandon Routh, star of Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” would probably not appear in the movie.

Helmer Christopher Nolan, current steward of the “Batman” franchise for the studio, would prefer that Warners delay “Justice League” until after he finishes “Batman” projects in development; Bale has also let his uneasiness about “Justice League” be known.

To work around these issues, the studio explored making “Justice League” as an animated film or with motion capture, but all indications are that the film will be an f/x-driven live- actioner.

The project is so complicated—and casting-dependent—that even those deeply involved are holding their breath until production begins.

“They’re working very hard to get it to happen,” said one party close to the project. “But there are so many characters, it’s complicated.”

It was for this very reason that many believed Warners would move ahead first with a follow-up to Singer’s “Superman Returns.” Singer, however, is busy with Tom Cruise starrer “Valkyrie.”

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