Legendary director Robert Altman, whose films included M*A*S*H*, Nashville, The Player,and most recently The Prairie Home Companion, and who received five Oscar nominations during his long career, died Monday in Los Angeles at age 81. The announcement was made by his film company, Sandcastle 5 Productions today (Tuesday). The cause of death was not disclosed. Earlier this year, he received a lifetime achievement Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Accepting the award, Altman said, "No other filmmaker has gotten a better shake than I have. ... I've never had to direct a film I didn't choose or develop."


From Russia with love -- and perhaps a degree of malice as well -- came the first bootleg copies of Casino Royale,the latest James Bond flick. According to Envisional, an online company that monitors Internet piracy, a poor-quality copy of the film, apparently captured with a camcorder in a Russian theater, first popped up on Internet file-sharing sites on Friday, the day the movie opened. But sound and picture quality were said to be poor. However, on Saturday a higher-quality copy, uploaded in Italy, also became available. By the end of the weekend, the two copies were being spread around, and by Sunday they had been downloaded some 200,000 times, Envisional claimed. Meanwhile the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America announced Monday that they are launching a joint campaign called Holiday Blitz aimed at fighting movie and music piracy. The campaign will include heightened security at movie theaters to prevent camcording and a crackdown on bootleg production. The trade organizations said Monday that during last year's Holiday Blitz some 1.3 million illegal CDs and DVDs were confiscated.


In the latest lawsuit filed by a relative of Sumner Redstone, Michael Redstone, a nephew, is claiming that the media mogul cheated him and his late sister out of their stakes in National Amusements, the Redstone-owned company that controls Viacom and CBS Corp. The complicated lawsuit involves legal maneuvers involving trusts set up by Sumner Redstone's parents, Mickey and Belle Redstone for the benefit of their grandchildren. In a statement, National Amusements on Monday essentially called Michael Redstone an ingrate. "This suit is particularly troubling considering the important role Sumner Redstone has played helping Michael overcome serious obstacles throughout his life. ... Mr. Redstone essentially rescued Michael from a difficult family environment, removed him from a mental institution, paid for his education and gave him a job" at National Amusements. Earlier this year Redstone's son Brent filed a similar lawsuit that is now wending its way through the courts.


Warner Bros.' marketing/publicity campaign for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixwas officially launched Monday with the release of a still photo showing Harry, played by Daniel Radcliffe, experiencing his first kiss with Cho Chang, played by Katie Leung. A trailer for the film, due to open on July 13, is set to appear in theaters showing Warner's Happy Feetnext weekend, then go online on Monday.


The gap between the box-office totals for Sony/MGM's Casino Royaleand Warner Bros.' Happy Feetnarrowed Monday when Exhibitor Relations released the official count, but Happy Feetremained on top with $41.5 million, narrowly beating Casinowith $40.8 million. The two films pushed Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,which had held the lead the previous two weeks, into second place with $14.6 million. Another new film, Universal's Let's Go to Prison, flopped with $2.2 million, winding up in tenth place.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Happy Feet, Warner Bros., $41,533,432, (New); 2. Casino Royale, Sony, $40,833,156, (New); 3. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, 20th Century Fox, $14,602,874, 3 Wks. ($90,757,366); 4. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Disney, $8,302,661, 3 Wks. ($51,704,119); 5. Stranger Than Fiction, Sony, $6,605,197, 2 Wks. ($22,905,344); 6. Flushed Away, Paramount, $6,596,962, 3 Wks. ($48,588,533); 7. Saw III,Lionsgate, $2,916,062, 4 Wks. ($74,968,353); 8. Babel, Paramount, $2,904,642, 4 Wks. ($12,016,104); 9. The Departed, Warner Bros., $2,585,402, 7 Wks. ($113,841,430); 10. Let's Go to Prison, Universal, $2,220,050, (New).


The writer/star of a Ugandan movie based on a notorious local murder case has disappeared following the premiere of the movie in Kampala, the Kampala Monitorreported today (Tuesday). The newspaper said that Ashraf Simwogerere was last seen at about 10:00 p.m. last Thursday at the National Theatre in Kampala, where the film, Murder in the City, was being screened. When he was called upon to address the audience after the screening, he failed to respond and could not be found. The producer of the film, Ronnie Kyeyune Mayega told police that he believes that Simwogerere was kidnapped. He said that he received a phone call from a person demanding that if he wanted to see Simwogerere alive, he had to turn over the script to the sequel of the movie. In the film a corrupt government official shoots a woman at the gate of her home, but police arrest her husband instead.


Sacha Baron Cohen has instantly become the highest-paid actor in the U.K. after landing a deal at Universal that reportedly will pay him at least $30 million, the London Daily Mailreported. The figure is based on Cohen's salary for the upcoming Bruno, based on his gay fashion writer character, plus 15 percent of the box-office gross. The deal propels him well above No. 2 on the list of high-paid British actors, a position held by both Ewan McGregor and Keira Knightley, who reportedly earn about $20 million per year.