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Monday, July 28, 2008

Mad Men lives up to hype as second season begins | Entertainment | Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When it debuted as AMC's first original weekly drama series July 19, 2007, "Mad Men" could not have started out further from the TV industry's consciousness. Its premiere was pretty much a spectacular non-event.

But as the weeks piled up, word began to filter out that this little period hour set in the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, brutally sexist New York advertising world circa 1960 was pretty damn good.

The ratings remained tragically low, but the buzz seemed to grow exponentially, even after the 13-week season wrapped. Now, of course, the show faces a divergent but equally daunting challenge: avoiding a sophomore swoon and meet the soaring expectations of critics and fans alike -- stoked by 16 Emmy nominations and Golden Globe wins for top drama and lead actor Jon Hamm in its rookie season.

Wherever the radar may happen to be, this show no longer is operating below it. Indeed, it appears to have become the radar itself.

Into this snake pit of lofty prospects arrives 'Mad Men's" second-season launch. The first two episodes indicate that creator-showrunner-writer-chief neurotic Matthew Weiner isn't stumbling from the gate working feverishly to match the hype but has instead subtly raised his game.

Where we might think his crafting the hot show of the moment might inspire a push into broader territory, Weiner is, in a brilliant creative strategy, pulling back instead to evoke a richer, more mysterious character tapestry. In other words, far from devolving into soapy Madison Avenue pablum, "Mad Men" is painstakingly building its way to genuine greatness.

Things pick up in the opener more than a year after the Season 1 cliffhanger left us wondering what would become of secretary-turned-junior copywriter Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and the son she bore with the unctuous -- and very married -- Pete Campbell (bravura work from Vincent Kartheiser). It's now 1962, and the complex, introspective creative director at Sterling Cooper, Don Draper (played by thinking-man's hunk Hamm), is more isolated and conflicted than ever. Both he and his terminally blond but surprisingly deep wife Betty (January Jones) are restless for ... something. Partner Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is now recovered from his late-season heart episode, but lusty redhead secretary Joan (Christina Hendricks) remains the same ol' barracuda. As for Peggy, we're given only vague hints of what's become of her kid. But that's OK.

"Mad Men" is packed with breathtaking moments, where the incisive dialogue -- in tandem with its bold, evocative look -- leave the audience feeling the pain, the distance, the frustration and the occasional elation of those flawed souls to whom we grow attached. The genius of Weiner and his crew is that they consistently tantalize with the promise of more, yet never to the point of leaving viewers feeling cheated or unfulfilled.

As his alter ego silently knocks back scotch after scotch, Hamm conveys more with a quietly desperate expression than most actors could with 10 pages of dialogue. Wise and quirky and colorful and surprisingly contemporary, "Mad Men" is every bit as inspired as you've heard. And getting better all the time.

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'Dark Knight' Rules Box Office For Second Week - Movie News Story | MTV Movie News

#1 "The Dark Knight" ($75.6 million)
#2 "Step Brothers" ($30 million)
#3 "Mamma Mia!" ($17.9 million)
#4 "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" ($10.2 million)
#5 "Journey to the Center of the Earth" ($9.4 million)

In the opening scene of "The Dark Knight," the Joker robs millions from Gotham National Bank, setting off a chain reaction that spirals the city into a cycle of despair and chaos. Maybe, instead, he should have just waited for his residuals?

For the second week in a row, Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" kicked and smashed its way to a gargantuan win at the domestic box office, earning $75.6 million over the weekend for a 10-day total of $314.2 million.

To put those numbers into perspective, after just 10 days "The Dark Knight" is already the second-highest-grossing film of 2008, just behind the three-month haul of "Iron Man." But forget Tony Stark, the Scarecrow, the Penguin and even the Riddler — Batman's greatest foe at this point isn't another superhero or some crazy villain, but history. Let us count the records: With $75.6 million, "The Dark Knight" scored the highest second-weekend total ever (Pow!); the highest 10-day total ever, besting "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" by more than $50 million (Smash!), and the record for fastest film to hit $300 million (Crunch!). It's also already among the top 25 highest-grossing films of all time; and it's the one recent movie with a decent shot at potentially beating "Star Wars" by landing in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars in the U.S. alone. And, again, it's been out for 10 days. (Wow!)

Send up a signal, Commissioner Gordon — it's time to start thinking about "Batman 3."

("Dark Knight" scribe David Goyer says he's got an idea for "Batman 3." Help us figure out what it is on the Movies Blog.)

Like last weekend's box office, there was Batman and then there was everybody else. But other films did manage to do some business, most notably Will Ferrell's "Step Brothers," which scored $30 million to come in second place. The comedy about a couple of middle-age men stuck in arrested development was the fourth-highest opening of Ferrell's career.

In third place, the dulcet tones of Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Pierce Brosnan (OK, not Pierce Brosnan) helped their ABBA-palooza "Mamma Mia!" to fall only 35 percent, taking in another $17.9 million. With an overall total of $62.7 million, the musical is a sure bet to crack $100 million domestic.

The same cannot be said of "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," which tanked at the box office after the franchise's protracted hiatus away from the spotlight, earning a dismal $10.2 million to come in fourth place. Called for comment, a representative from the film said that all their usual supporters were abducted by aliens. Go figure.

Rounding out the top five, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" earned $9.4 million, bringing its three-week total to a very respectable $60 million.

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Sirius expects 2Q adjusted loss to shrink 70 pct

Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. said Monday that it expects to post a 70 percent smaller adjusted loss from operations in the second quarter as revenue rises.

The New York-based satellite radio provider expects to post a 25 percent increase in revenue to $283 million when it reports full earnings by mid-August. The company's quarterly loss is expected to narrow to $24 million from $79 million a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial are forecasting a loss of 7 cents per share on revenue of $283.9 million.

Sirius added 279,820 net new subscribers for a total of 8.92 million.

Sirius, which received approval from the Federal Communications Commission Friday to buy rival XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., also plans to offer about $375 million worth of stock and up to $65 million in a separate share lot to affiliates of Morgan Stanley & Co. and UBS Investment Bank.

The stock offering is tied to a $550 million debt placement by XM, with the exact number of Sirius shares to be offered depending on the terms of the XM offering. XM's senior subordinated notes due 2014 can be exchanged into Sirius shares.

Sirius will lend shares to the investment bank affiliates to be sold. The banks will also buy some shares and will be required to return the borrowed shares following the maturity date of the XM notes or their earlier retirement.

The transactions are part of a series of deals to refinance XM's debt as it prepares to be acquired by Sirius for $3.3 billion in stock.

Shares of Sirius were down 9 cents, or 4 percent, to $2.16 in morning trading while XM lost 36 cents, or 4 percent, to $8.92.

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Oil prices rise, gas falls again - Jul. 28, 2008

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Oil prices oscillated Monday as investors watched geopolitical tensions in oil-rich countries mount.

U.S. crude for September delivery was up 31 cents to $123.57 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 12:40 pm ET.

Prices rose as much as $1.96 a barrel and dipped as much as 63 cents a barrel during morning trading as investors weighed supply concerns with declining demand.

"The theme for the past week has been demand destruction and that may continue to be the driver in the first half of this week also," said Nauman Barakat, energy trader at Macquarie Futures USA, in an energy note to clients.

Iran's nuclear developments. Oil prices were supported on Monday by increased concerns over Iran's nuclear development program.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that the country operates two times the number of uranium-enriching machines than previously announced, according to reports by the Associated Press.

Iran is one of the largest contributors to the global supply of oil.

"The Iranian situation is on the forefront of the market," said Andrew Lebow, an energy analyst at MF Global in New York.

Even though demand has been decreasing on record high oil prices, geopolitical tensions that threaten supply channels still affect the market, Lebow said.

"Things are still tight, prices are still unbelievably high on a historical basis," he said. "So all of these geopolitical upsets still have meaning."

Nigerian rebel attacks also rankle prices. The Nigerian rebel group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, destroyed oil pipelines in the southern part of the country early Monday. The rebels said they believe that both pipelines belong to the Shell Petroleum Development Company.

Nigeria is the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the United States.

Big money bets oil prices will fall. A majority of big investment funds that buy oil are expecting a drop in oil prices, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's weekly Commitments of Traders report.

The report shows how many "long" and "short" postitions are being held by these funds. Short positions translate into bets on falling oil while long positions reflect bets on rising prices.

In the most recent CFTC weekly report, index money (or investment funds) favored falling oil prices, with more funds registered as holding short positions.

This is the first time that short positions have outweighed long positions since the start of 2007 when a barrel of crude oil was trading for about $50, according Macquarie's Barakat.

Oil's recent slide. Oil prices climbed to record highs above $147 a barrel earlier this month, but have since fallen more than $22 as reports have indicated that record high prices of crude oil and gas have been motivating consumers to lower their demand.

"The market is finally taking into serious account the effect that high prices have on demand - not only in the United States, but globally," said Lebow.

He said that one of the reasons oil prices have come off so sharply in recent weeks is that global demand has been slumping but OPEC continues to report that oil production is on the rise.

Barakat says that part of the drop in demand has stemmed from the rapid rise in oil prices

"Some growth in OPEC supply and non-OPEC supply coupled with some sluggishness in global demand," said Lebow, "are major factors in the market coming off."

Even though demand has been decreasing on record high oil prices, geopolitical tensions that threaten supply channels still affect the market, Lebow said.

Retail gas prices. Prices at the pump have fallen for 11 days in a row after climbing to record high prices well above $4 a gallon.

The price of regular unleaded gasoline costs $3.958 a gallon on average, a daily survey by motorist motorist advocacy group AAA showed Monday.

A separate report Lundberg Survey, Inc. released Sunday showed that gas prices slipped 12 cents over the past two weeks to an average of $3.9959 a gallon.

The Department of Transportation released a study on Monday that said Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May compared to the same time last year, as a result of higher prices at the pump.

Meanwhile, a report the Energy Department released last week showed that U.S. gas demand had fallen 2.4% from the same period last year.
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