Wal-Mart, which claims that its stores account for 40 percent of all DVD's sold in the U.S., has been using its clout to dissuade Hollywood's major studios from cooperating with Apple's iTunes Music Store, which plans to sell them online. According to Business Week Wal-Mart has sent executives to Hollywood in hopes of blocking any deal between Apple and the studios. Wal-Mart has denied the report. Apple is expected to announce a movie download service within the next two weeks, at about the same time that it is expected to unveil a new, wider-screen video iPod. New movies are expected to go for $14.99; older ones, for $9.99. So far, however, Apple has reportedly only signed up one studio, Disney, where Apple chairman Steve Jobs is the company's largest shareholder.


Giving new nuance to the acclamation, "The queen is dead. Long live The Queen!" Helen Mirren's performance as Queen Elizabeth II is being hailed by critics and audiences at the Venice Film Festival barely a week after she received a best actress Emmy for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I on television. The Rome newspaper La Repubblicaheadlined "QueenWins Venice's Heart." In the film Mirren portrays the queen having to deal with a crisis that threatens the British monarchy in the wake of Princess Diana's death in 1997. The British trade publication Screen Dailypredicted that Mirren's performance in The Queen "is likely to be crowned with a host of awards nominations." The online film commentator David Poland wrote that Mirren "lives at the center of the work, underplaying the role to within an inch of not connecting with us, but keeps us firmly at the end of the leash until it is time to show us this very reserved character's heart." The French news agency Agence France Presse reported that Mirren, director Stephen Frears, and cast members received a 15-minute standing ovation at Saturday's screening.


Director Oliver Stone, who steered clear of controversy during interviews promoting his World Trade Centerin the U.S. last month, returned to the thick of things over the weekend as he accused Hollywood of exploiting war. Speaking at the Venice Film Festival, Stone charged that movies such as Pearl Harborand Black Hawk Down"worshiped the machinery of war" paving the way for America to go "back to the concept of war too easily." Stone, a Vietnam War veteran, who directed the anti-war film Platoon, said that he was "depressed" about America's strategy in Iraq, commenting that as a result, "there is more terror, there is more death, there is more war. The consequences of 9/11 are far worse than the day itself."


Because of the Labor Day holiday, several studios did not release estimates for the weekend Sunday, but news reports indicated that the consensus was that Disney's Invinciblenarrowly held on to the lead for the second weekend in a row, slightly ahead of Lionsgate's new release Crank.Warner Bros.' The Wicker Man, starring Nicolas Cage,reportedly opened in third place. Neither of the two new films were screened for critics in time for their deadlines on Friday. The expected dreadful reviews materialized over the weekend. Kyle Smith in the New York Postfigured that Warner Bros. released the Wicker Man remake"without previews because it would rather lose money than be accused of misogyny." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Postrecalled that after the original film was released, there were rumors that Rod Stewart, whose girlfriend, Britt Eklund, performed a nude dance in it, tried to buy up all existing copies and have them destroyed. "Only Stewart can say whether this is true, and he's not talking," Hunter wrote. "I do believe that in a few years, Nicolas Cage will buy up all the prints to this Wicker Man and burn them. I'll be happy to help him." Of Crank,Liam Lacey wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mailthat it was "so blatantly contrived it could be called The Fast and the Spurious." Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinelwrote that it was "so hyped up, it's the movie equivalent of a speedball shot straight into a major artery, and every bit as irresponsible." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Postsummed it up as, "brutal, nasty and, thank God, short." And Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily Newswrote that the movie "has an excellent shot at ending 2006 as the worst film of the year."


The movie business saw ticket sales increase 6.3 percent during the summer season compared with last year, while movie attendance rose about 3.1 percent. Nevertheless, it remained about 3 percent behind 2004. In an interview with the Associated Press, Paul Dergarabedian, the head of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box-office performance, said, "If every year were like this, it would be fine. Hollywood will take 'solid' over 'slump' any day."