U.S. LAUNCHES PROBE OF MOORE'S TRIP TO CUBA

Appearing to bestow on him the kind of free publicity that has made Michael Moore the best-known and best paid documentary filmmaker in the business, the U.S. Treasury Department has notified the filmmaker that it is conducting an investigation to determine whether he violated the U.S. trade embargo when he took a group of 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba for treatment. The Cuba journey is included in Moore's upcoming documentary about the U.S. health-care system, Sicko, due to debut at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19. According to the Associated Press the government notice said that the Treasury Department had "no record that a specific license was issued authorizing you to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba." The A.P. said that after receiving the notice, Moore placed a copy of his film in a "safe house" outside the country. Meanwhile, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday) that The Weinstein Co., which is releasing the film had hired Chris Lehane, Al Gore's press secretary during the 2000 campaign, and New York publicist Ken Sunshine to handle the expected flak from the health-care industry over the film. "If the HMOs strike, I'm going to need two guys who can strike back," Harvey Weinstein told Variety.

MARKETING COSTS SINK VIACOM'S INCOME

Viacom's first-quarter net income plummeted 36 percent to $202.9 million versus $317.2 million for the comparable quarter a year ago. The company primarily blamed heavy losses at its movie business, which it attributed to surging marketing and distribution costs. Ticket sales for its Paramount and DreamWorks releases actually rose during the quarter to $1.1 billion, helped by the success of Eddie Murphy's Norbit, a No.1 hit at the box office.

NO TERMINATION FOR THE TERMINATOR

The governor of California is not likely to star in it, but a fourth Terminator movie appears to be a lock following the sale of franchise rights to the popular series. Daily Variety reported today (Thursday) that Halcyon, a privately funded company hatched recently by entrepreneurs Victor Kubicek and Derek Anderson, had purchased the rights for an undisclosed sum from Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar and were preparing to begin production of Terminator 4, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who also wrote Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. In reporting the deal, Variety commented that the new producers see the fourth Terminator "as an attempt to reinvent the franchise with new cast and plot lines, ploys that worked for Batman and James Bond, and is being attempted with The Incredible Hulk."

DREAMGIRLS NO. 1 ON DVD

The musical Dreamgirls roared into video stores last week, taking in 25.3 million in sales and an additional $6.7 million in rentals. The movie had earned $103 million domestically during its theatrical run. Its strong debut on the DVD charts pushed Night at the Museum to second place on the Nielsen VideoScan sales chart.

CHIP MAY HALT SHOPLIFTING AT VIDEO STORES

In an effort to thwart shoplifting at video stores, two technology companies have developed a chip that prevents a DVD from being played until the chip is activated by a salesperson. The chip, made by NXP Semiconductors, is attached to the DVD above a coating that obscures the disc. When it is activated, it turns the coating clear, allowing the disk to be read.

VIACOM'S PARAMOUNT TO BUILD STUDIO, THEME PARK IN S. KOREA

The Inchon invasion, a pivotal event of the Korean War, is widely considered one of the most daring and successful maneuvers in modern warfare -- and may have been on the minds of Paramount Pictures executives when they announced Wednesday that they will build a $1-billion campus of movie studios, a theme park, hotel, water park, and shopping malls in Inchon, south of the capital city of Seoul. The complex, a joint venture with Daewoo Motor Sales Corp., will become the first of its kind in South Korea involving an American entertainment company.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.