FRESTON OUT AT VIACOM

Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, who reportedly severed Viacom's ties with Tom Cruise last month without informing Viacom CEO Tom Freston of his decision, is now parting ways with Freston himself. The company said today (Tuesday) that Freston has quit and that he'll be replaced by longtime industry executive Philippe Dauman. Freston became CEO and president of Viacom last January when Redstone spun off its broadcast television operations into a separate company, CBS Corp. Viacom also named another industry veteran, Thomas E. Dooley, to the newly created position of senior executive vice president and chief administrative officer. There was no indication of how Dauman and Dooley would divide the responsibilities of running Viacom, although Dooley will report to Dauman and Dauman to Redstone. Unlike his harsh criticism of Cruise, Redstone had only praise for Freston in announcing his resignation, noting that he had built MTV, which he co-founded, into "an unmatched force in the entertainment industry." He called Dauman and Dooley "two of the most extraordinary executives I have ever known." In his statement, Freston gave no reason for his departure, simply praising Dauman and Dooley and thanking his colleagues. "I will do all I can to insure a smooth transition," he said.

TWO INDIE FILMS MAKE BIG SPLASH ON LABOR DAY

Two small independent films stole the spotlight from the big studio releases over the Labor Day weekend as Yari Film Group's The Illusionist and Fox Searchlight's Little Miss Sunshine earned more per theater than any other films in wide release. The Illusionist earned $8 million despite playing in only 971 theaters. It averaged $8,261 per theater, to place 10th. Little Miss Sunshine played in 1,602 venues, earning $9.7 million and averaging $6,071 per theater, to place fourth. Two new releases had so-so debuts. Lionsgate's Crank opened in second place with $13 million, while Warner Bros.' The Wicker Man, starring Nicolas Cage, opened in third place with $11.7 million. Sony's basketball drama, Crossover, sat on the bench, unable to crack the top ten, as it opened with $4.5 million. Remaining in first place was the Mark Wahlberg football movie Invincible, which raed in $15.2 million. Analysts said that the results were particularly impressive given the fact that raging storms enveloped most of the East Coast over the holiday period.

The top ten films for the Labor Day weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Invincible, $15.2 million; 2. Crank, $13 million; 3. The Wicker Man, $11.7 million; 4. Little Miss Sunshine, $9.7 million; 5. The Illusionist, $8 million; 6. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, $7.7 million; 7. Barnyard, $6.4 million; 8. Accepted, $5.9 million; 9. World Trade Center, $5.8 million; 10. Step Up, $5.5 million.

PIRATES CLOSING IN ON $1 BILLION

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest sailed toward the $1 billion marker in worldwide ticket sales, with its goal closely in sight. The Disney film remained the most popular movie overseas for the ninth consecutive weekend, adding $11.6 million to its booty to bring its global total to $993.7 million. It should raise that amount to $1 billion before next weekend. The film has earned $414.2 million in the U.S. and $579.5 million overseas.

APPLE MAY ADD MOVIES TO ITUNES STORE NEXT WEEK

Techie blogs and other websites spread the word Monday that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is expected to announce on Sept. 12 that Apple's iTunes Music Store will begin selling a feature film download service, permitting users to pay $9.99 for a movie that can be viewed on a new wider-screen iPod or, via a new wireless video streaming device, on a television set. Several websites indicated that Apple is still testing its next-generation video iPods and "Airport Express" and that it may be several weeks or even months before they are ready to hit the market.

AWARD-WINNING CHINESE FILM DIRECTOR BARRED FROM MAKING MORE FILMS

For premiering his latest movie Summer Palace at the Cannes Film Festival last May without receiving permission from the Chinese government, the country's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has barred award-winning director Lou Ye from making movies for five years, the Xinhua News Agency reported today (Tuesday). The erotic film incorporates footage from the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration. It was the only film from Asia selected to compete for Cannes' Palme d'Or, according to the news agency. The government also ordered that all prints of Summer Palace be confiscated.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.