'Shrek 2' Becomes Summer's Film-To-Beat

Astonishing even the most optimistic box-office analysts and studio execs, DreamWorks' Shrek 2 opened with an estimated $104.3 million over the weekend, the biggest debut in history for an animated film and the second biggest debut for any film -- behind only Spider-Man's $114.8 million in 2002. Even after a stronger-than-expected Wednesday premiere of $11.8 million, most analysts had predicted that the film would bow with about $60 million for the three-day weekend. (It took in an additional $10.1 million on Thursday.) The out-of-the-gate success of the film represented a boon for DreamWorks, whose track record for producing hit films has been notoriously disappointing. Especially encouraging were exit polls that indicated that more than 70 percent of the audience planned to see it again. Shrek 2 knocked Warner Bros.' Troy into second place. The Brad Pitt starrer dropped about 50 percent from last weekend to take in $23.8 million and bring its total to $85 million. The film reportedly cost about $200 million to produce. Universal's Van Helsing also saw a 50 percent drop in its third week as it brought in $10.1 million, to cross the $100-million mark.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations: 1. Shrek 2, $98 million; 2. Troy, $23.8 million; 3. Van Helsing, $10.1 million; 4. Mean Girls, $6.9 million; 5. Man on Fire, $3.5 million; 6. Breakin' All the Rules, $2.8 million; 7. 13 Going on 30; $2.5 million; 8. New York Minute, $1.1 million; 9. Kill Bill Vol. 2, $1.0 million; 10. Super Size Me, $1.0 million.

'Fahrenheit' Hottest at Cannes

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d'Or Saturday, the top prize of the Cannes Film Festival. The film, a blistering attack on President George W. Bush and his foreign policy in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, became the first documentary to receive the prestigious award in 48 years. Moore, who delivered a blustery speech when he received the documentary Oscar last year for his Bowling for Columbine appeared comparatively restrained as he accepted the award. "What have you done? I'm completely overwhelmed by this. Merci," Moore said after receiving a long standing ovation. "What you have done here ... will assure that the American people will see this film," he said, referring to the fact that the film still lacks a distributor after the Walt Disney Co., which financed it, said it would not distribute it. "You've put a huge light on this," he added. He predicted that the award would be trivialized by U.S. conservatives as an award from a French group whose government refused to support the U.S. attack on Iraq. He pointed out, however, that of the nine members of the jury, only one was French. (In reporting on the Cannes awards, Daily Variety's chief film critic, Todd McCarthy, called the accolade to Moore "pointedly political.") Later jury president Quentin Tarantino, the American director, told Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert: "This prize was not for politics. It won because it was the best film." Another jury member, British actress Tilda Swinton, told the London Sunday Herald that the award was given "for a piece of brilliant film and not just as a piece of political statement. The things he says can no longer be said on American TV and this film has reclaimed and pushed forward a realm of cinema which can place its arguments in front of the public." But New York Times cultural columnist Frank Rich argued Sunday that such distinctions may be irrelevant. "Whatever you think of Moore, there's no question he's detonating dynamite here," he wrote.

Korean Thriller Is Runner-Up at Cannes

Korean director Park Chan-wook's film Oldboy took the runner-up Grand Prix award at Cannes Saturday. At a news conference following the award presentations, Park indicated that he had DVD viewers in mind when he made the film. "With the advent of the DVD and other digital supports, the possibility of watching a film more than once exists," he said. "And I made this film with the intention that people would watch it again and discover new elements each time." Other top awards: Actress: Maggie Cheung, Clean; Actor: Yuya Yagira, Nobody Knows; Director: Tony Gatlif, Exils; Screenplay: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Comme une image. The winner of the Un Certain Regard festival offshoot was Moolade by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene.

Jobs Would Rather Remain Wed To Disney, Says Report

Pixar chairman Steve Jobs may be waiting to see what the final outcome may be in the effort to remove Michael Eisner as CEO of Disney before he makes a decision to take on a new distribution partner for Pixar's computer-animated movies, the New York Times suggested today (Monday). The newspaper reported that Jobs has held no formal negotiations with any studio and that some top studio execs who have asked to meet with Jobs have been turned down -- told that "he was not ready to talk." Meanwhile, the newspaper said that some members of Disney's board of directors are considering renewing talks with Pixar whether Eisner remains as CEO or not.

Army Unwittingly Aided Democrats, Says Report

The U.S. Army did not anticipate the kind of controversy that has arisen in connection with the upcoming global-warming disaster film The Day After Tomorrow when it agreed to allow the film's producers to use Blackhawk helicopters for the film. Army spokesperson Katherine Ross told the website of the conservative magazine NewsMax that the Army regarded the film as "summer entertainment" akin to movies about "aliens landing." Some supporters of President Bush's environmental policies dispute the theory of global warming and maintain that drastic measures aimed at combating it will result in the loss of millions of jobs. They claim the movie is blatant propaganda for rival John Kerry's political agenda.

Pirates Nabbed in L.A.

Los Angeles police swooped down on two bootleg DVD operations on Friday, seizing equipment that they said could produce 2.7 million copies of movies a year plus some 8,000 illegally produced DVDs including such recent releases as Troy, Mean Girls, and Soul Plane (due to be released on Friday). Meanwhile, Soul Plane director Jessy Terrero told the online newsletter Electronic Urban Report: "We got the hottest selling bootleg in the market. I'm trying to forget about the bootleg. I can't stop it! ... Unfortunately, someone who doesn't respect the art of filmmaking sold my movie on the street and it is what it is and there's an FBI investigation ... It's sad." Moreover, Terrero said, the bootleg copy is not even the final cut. It doesn't even have an ending, he added.

Jessica Fired Before Starting Work

One of the first acts of Stephen McPherson, ABC's newly appointed entertainment chief, was to quash the planned Jessica Simpson sitcom Jessica, in which the pop star was to portray a TV newsmagazine interviewer, the New York Times reported today (Monday), citing ABC executives and others connected to the show. Although the adjective "ditzy" is often applied to Simpson's public persona, the Times said that her performance on the show was not the problem. "She was actually the best thing on it," one executive said. "It was a valiant effort, but at the end of the day everyone seemed to think it wasn't the best use of her talent," said another. Instead of the sitcom, ABC now plans to broadcast about eight musical specials featuring Simpson during the next two years, the Times said.

NBC Kills the Dead

Transylvania, the planned TV spin-off of Van Helsing, and touted as the first synergistic programming effort to emerge from the Universal-NBC merger, has apparently gone to its grave, stillborn. Daily Variety reported today (Monday) that network executives have concluded that the costs of the project could not be justified. The trade publication observed, however, "There was an outside chance that NBC would have raised the dead if the movie had opened to big box office numbers." Nevertheless, Variety reported, another network may yet decide to do so.

Grand Jury Calls Russert, Time Reporter in Probe of Leak

Apparently relying on a 1972 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that held that reporters could be required to testify before a grand jury about crimes they had witnessed, a federal grand jury has reportedly subpoenaed Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine seeking information on who leaked the identity of an undercover CIA officer last year. Disclosure of such information is a criminal offense. NBC and Time lawyers immediately indicated that the two journalists would decline to testify. Time lawyer Robin Bierstedt said in a statement that the magazine would protect its confidential sources, adding that "a promise of confidentiality is sometimes necessary to get information that would otherwise be unavailable." NBC News President Neal Shapiro said in a separate statement: "Sources will simply stop speaking with the press if they fear those conversations will become public."

Pope Calls For New TV Regulations To Ensure "The Common Good"

Marking the Catholic church's annual World Day of Social Communications, Pope John Paul II warned that today's media can "cause grave harm to the family when they offer an inadequate or even distorted vision of life, the family itself, religion and morality." He called upon governments "to enact regulatory procedures aimed at ensuring that the means of social communication are always respectful of the truth and of the common good." There was no immediate response from any media outlet to the pontiff's remarks.

Fox News Poll Says 70 Percent of Viewers Unhappy with Abuse Coverage

Fox News, which itself has been chided by some journalists for allegedly reporting from a conservative viewpoint, released results of a poll on Sunday that found that 70 percent of respondents believed that the news media focused only on the negative aspects of U.S. military operations in Iraq and intentionally omit the positive. The poll, conducted on May 18 and 19 -- following widespread reports in the media of abuse of Iraqi detainees -- found that 34 percent of those polled believed that the coverage was "excessive."

Mark Thompson Appointed BBC Director General

Newly appointed BBC Chairman Michael Grade has wasted no time in appointing Channel Four chief Mark Thompson as the public broadcasting corporation's new director general. He replaces Greg Dyke, who was forced out following release of the Hutton report that found that the BBC had aired an "unfounded" report about the government's efforts to make the case for war against Iraq and that the BBC's oversight of the report had been "defective." Asked what he would do to revive morale at the BBC following the Hutton criticism and the top-level resignations, Thompson said that there were "lessons to be learned from recent months." He added: "I worked for the BBC for 23 years and saw any number of crises and changes."

Does ABC Mean "American-British Communications" Company?

ABC confirmed Sunday that it plans to launch a British version of the network over the U.K. digital service Freeview later this year. It will be called ABC 1 and will mark the first time a broadcast network has invoked its brand name for an overseas operation, although several U.S. cable networks have done so. The London Financial Times said that the network originally plans to start out by offering a daytime schedule, then expand into 24-hour programming. It was not known which of the network's shows will be carried, although the FT indicated that such sitcoms as My Wife and Kids and Less Than Perfect are expected to be included.