Oscar gave The Departeda big boost at the video store last week. The winner of the Academy Award for best picture of 2006 and best director (Martin Scorsese) took the top spot on the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales chart, bumping the previous week's winner, Paramount/DreamWorks' Flushed Away, to second place. The Departeddid not hold sway among video renters, however, as the Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction nabbed the first-place spot on Home Media Retailmagazine's rental chart with an estimated $6.8 million, edging out The Departed's $6.2 million.


Movie Gallery, the struggling Avis of the video rental business, said Wednesday that it had acquired MovieBeam, a service that transmits movies on demand via a TV settop device. Since movies are made available on MovieBeam 45 days after they are released on DVD, they do not conflict significantly with Movie Gallery's in-store offerings. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but analysts speculated that Movie Gallery paid less than $10 million. Users of the MovieBeam service, which was originally nurtured by the Walt Disney Co., purchase the settop box for $100, which comes preloaded with 100 movies. Owners then pay $1.99-$3.99 to rent a film for 24 hours. Meanwhile, newer movies replace some of the older ones automatically via an over-the-air technology. Unlike other VOD services, MovieBeam does not require an Internet connection.


In a rare appeal by U.S. legislators to the head of state of another country, two U.S. senators have asked the prime minister of Canada calling for legislation to ban the use of camcorders in Canadian theaters. The letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Cornyn to Prime Minister Stephen Harper was sent on March 1 and disclosed in the Canadian press today (Thursday). "The theft and sale of newly-released movies has always been a serious threat to the motion picture industry," the senators wrote. "Now, the advancements of digital technology and improved camcorder capabilities have compounded the problem." The letter referred to a controversial study that concluded that 50 percent of all original camcording is done in Canada. Under Canadian law, moviegoers are permitted to make video tapes of movies in theaters provided it's for personal use. "If Canada does not criminalize illicit camcording, we are afraid that illegal pirating will continue to mushroom in your country," the letter said.


Just as CBS Chairman Les Moonves's announcement last June that the company would begin producing six to eight movies annually seemed as if it had been only a trial balloon, Moonves announced Wednesday that he had appointed Bruce Tobey as COO of CBS Feature Films and would appoint a CEO for the unit soon. Moonves has reportedly been looking for outside investors to bankroll the movies. Analysts presumed that the films would be distributed by Viacom's Paramount unit, a corporate sibling of CBS until Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone decided to split up the movie and broadcasting operations into independent entities. Tobey, a former attorney, worked at Paramount for four years as executive vice president but was forced out during an overhaul of management in 2005.


Brian Robbins, who directed Norbit and co-produced Wild Hogs,has taken a swing at the critics who swung at those two movies when they were released last month. "If you read reviews on a consistent basis on all films, you realize that the majority of films just get murdered," Robbins told today's (Thursday) Hollywood Reporter. "The only films that get good reviews are the ones that nobody sees. I just don't think you can make movies for critics." Both Norbitand Hogshave proved to be huge hits, despite their critical shellacking. What Robbins says he has learned from the success of the two films: "Don't pay attention to tracking and don't read the reviews."