FRESTON BACK IN VIACOM FOLD -- INDIRECTLY

In what appeared to many to be an assertion of independence and to others an act of impudence, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg on Monday announced the appointment of Tom Freston to the company's board of directors. The studio's films are distributed by Paramount Pictures, whose corporate parent, Viacom, fired Freston as CEO one year ago. Freston is widely regarded as the force behind the success of MTV. In a statement, Katzenberg said that Freston's "wealth of leadership experience in the entertainment industry will serve the company well." Only last week Katzenberg had criticized Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman who had said that if Steven Spielberg, who cofounded DreamWorks with Katzenberg and David Geffen, should leave the studio, it would be "completely immaterial" to the company's financial strength. Freston takes the seat on DreamWorks Animation's board vacated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, an original DreamWorks investor, who has sold off most of his stock in the animation company. He is but one of many high-profile figures who has been shown the door by Viacom chief Sumner Redstone. In wrapping up its report on Freston's appointment, Daily Variety remarked dryly, "No word on whether Tom Cruise will be joining the board next."

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION BEATS OUT PREDECESSORS

Resident Evil: Extinction inched ahead of Resident Evil: Apocalypse on the opening-weekend box-office charts over the weekend, with the latest installment of the franchise earning $23.68 million versus $23 million for the previous sequel in 2004. The original Resident Evil took in $17.7 million in its 2002 debut. The higher result for the new film was attributed to inflation; Apocalypse actually sold more tickets. Coming in second was Lionsgate's Good Luck Chuck, with $13.65 million. Another newcomer, Universal's Sydney White, tanked with just $5.2 million, and, expanding into wide release, Focus Features' Eastern Promises landed in fifth place with just $5.64 million. In limited release, the Sean Penn-directed Into the Wild from Paramount Vantage raked in $212,440 in just four theaters. With an average of $53,110 per theater, it outperformed all wide-release films over the weekend.

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

1. Resident Evil: Extinction, Sony, $23,678,580, (New); 2. Good Luck Chuck, Lions Gate, $13,652,001, (New); 3. The Brave One, Warner Bros., $7,313,437, 2 Wks. ($25,003,347); 4. 3:10 to Yuma, Lions Gate, $6,157,624, 3 Wks. ($37,718,878); 5. Eastern Promises, Focus Features, $5,641,788, 2 Wks. ($6,443,748); 6. Sydney White, Universal, $5,196,380, (New); 7. Mr. Woodcock, New Line, $4,923,896, 2 Wks. ($15,648,584); 8. Superbad, Sony, $3,110,322, 6 Wks. ($116,181,146); 9 . The Bourne Ultimatum, Universal, $2,872,565, 7 Wks. ($220,239,735); 10. Dragon Wars, Freestyle Releasing, $2,596,278, 2 Wks. ($8,657,527).

MOVIE GALLERY TO DUMP 520 STORES

Struggling to avoid having to shut down its operations entirely, Movie Gallery, which on Monday had its credit rating cut to junk "D" status by Standard & Poor's, announced today (Tuesday) that it will close some 520 Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video stores that it regards as unprofitable. Movie Gallery is the second-largest video chain behind Blockbuster, but has been struggling under a mountain of debt ever since it acquired Hollywood Video for $1.1 billion in 2005. Shares in the company were up 17 percent at midday trading on the Nasdaq to 59 cents.

CANADIAN COPYRIGHT CHIEF CHARGED WITH CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The Director General of Copyright Policy at Canadian Heritage has been forced out of her position after revelations that she may have been involved in a "personal relationship" with the head of the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, an ally of the Motion Picture Association of America. The revelation concerning Patricia Neri has raised questions about whether the recent quick passage of a Canadian law that bans camcording in theaters may have been influenced by her alleged relationship with CMPDA chief Douglas Frith. Published reports noted that when Neri appeared as a witness before a Senate hearing on the camcording bill, Frith was sitting close by. The Hill Times, which covers Canadian politics, commented Monday, "If these reports are true, it surely creates at least a perceived conflict of interest, contrary to Government Ethics Guidelines, on a file that is very controversial. ... Public confidence in the copyright process will be undermined if there is not a frank and full disclosure about who knew what and when."

LEE'S FILM APPLAUDED IN HIS HOMELAND

It may have received mixed reviews from critics at the recent Venice film festival -- where it nevertheless was awarded the top Golden Lion award -- but, according to news reports from Taipei, Ang Lee's Lust, Caution received widespread approval from moviegoers when it premiered in the Taiwan capital Monday night. Lee is regarded as a cultural hero in the country, once called Nationalist China to differentiate it from the Communist-ruled mainland. A small controversy erupted in Venice when the film was identified as having been produced in "Taiwan, China." Although a government committee permitted the film to be shown uncut in Taiwan, Lee agreed to remove about 30 minutes of explicit sex scenes from the film for its release on the mainland. (It has been rated NC-17 in the U.S.) At a forum for young directors in Hong Kong Sunday Lee said he did not expect the movie to be a big success in the U.S. "Its pace, its film language -- it's all very Chinese," he said. "It's not very audience-friendly for a market like the U.S."

CREW MEMBER DIES DURING BATMAN PRODUCTION

A special-effects technician working on the new Batman movie in England was killed after the camera car he was riding in crashed into a tree as it was following the Batmobile on a racetrack in Chertsey. The name of the technician, who was riding as a passenger, was not immediately disclosed; the driver was uninjured. Initial reports said that none of the stars working on Batman: The Dark Night witnessed the crash.
Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.