Superhero movies (like this week’s Avengers: Infinity War) are obviously crushing it right now at the box office, but they also tend to have pretty big budgets. Horror films, on the other hand, also continue to enjoy consistent box office results, but tend to have smaller budgets. One example is New Line Cinema’s The Conjuring franchise, which includes the “creepy doll” spinoff Annabelle and its prequel Annabelle: Creation (as well as upcoming spinoffs for The Nun, scheduled for 9/7/2018, and The Crooked Man). We haven’t yet seen The Conjuring 3, but it looks like Annabelle 3 could feasibly beat it to release, because a third Annabelle film entered development this week. Annabelle: Creation was an origin story for the doll, and the first Annabelle seemed to lead directly to The Conjuring, so Annabelle 3 might tell an in-between story. Annabelle 3 is being fast-tracked for release next summer on July 3, 2019, which currently puts it up against the sequel to last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming (you read that right, Avengers: Infinity War fans). The Blumhouse horror production company is also quickly moving forward with plans for Happy Death Day 2, the sequel to last year’s $123 million Groundhog Day-like hit. Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard are both returning, and they’ll be joined by franchise newcomers Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin, both of whom are playing “science enthusiasts.”
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow may be long overdue for her own solo movie, but that also means you can’t accuse Marvel Studios of blindly rushing in. Variety reporter Justin Kroll recently tweeted that Marvel has already met with over 65 directors for Black Widow, and thus far, the few who have actually been named are all female. The first three we heard about were Deniz Gamze Erguven (2015’s Mustang), Chloe Zhao (The Rider), and Amma Asante (A United Kingdom). They were then followed by Maggie Betts (Novitiate) and Angela Robinson (Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman). Those, however, are only five names, so who might the other 60 directors be? Who do you think should direct Black Widow? And do you think it should be a prequel featuring Winter Soldier, as rumored? Or would you prefer to see Black Widow in a new post-Infinity War adventure?
In the years since the success of Mad Max: Fury Road (and also arguably The Hunger Games and Divergent before that), there has been increased interest in developing new female-led action movies, and the spy/assassin genre has been a natural target. The first notable film of this wave was last year’s Atomic Blonde (also starring Charlize Theron), and the next year or so will have 3 or more like it, including titles like Hummingbird (starring Milla Jovovich), Peppermint (starring Jennifer Garner, scheduled for 9/7/2018), and Rhythm Section (starring Blake Lively, for February of 2019). We can now add 355, a “large-scale espionage film,” in which Jessica Chastain will star, along with other “international agents” to be played by Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, and Lupita Nyong’o. 355 will be directed by Simon Kinberg, who is coming off a streak of producing and/or writing seveal of Fox’s X-Men projects, as well as actually directing next year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2/14/2019). Jessica Chastain is also producing 355, which will center on five “spies from international agencies who come together and overcome suspicions and conflicts as they battle to stop a global organization from thrusting the world into chaos… as a new spy sisterhood, code-named 355, is formed.” In other Lupita Nyong’o news, she is also attached to star in director John Woo’s remake of his classic action film The Killer, originally starring Chow Yun-Fat.
Last week’s news featured a lot of big studio moves announced at CinemaCon, and the exact opposite happened this week, as producers prepared for the Cannes market next week. This year’s festival is dominated by a few ambitious biographical films, and one of them is called The American (not to be confused with the 2010 assassin movie starring George Clooney). This film will tell the story of composer Leonard Bernstein’s life in five “movements, like a symphony,” from the time Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic at just 25 years old to his “meteroric rise to fame.” Jake Gyllenhall will star in The American as Leonard Bernstein for director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective Season 1, Beasts of No Nation). Once upon a time, Fukunaga had been attached to direct The Flash for Warner Bros, which would have come out this year (it’s not).
Many people first discovered Sir Ben Kingsley when he starred as Mohandas Gandhi in 1982’s Gandhi. Since then, Kingsley’s other biographical roles have included Bugsy (as Meyer Lansky), Schindler’s List (as Itzhak Stern), and Hugo (as Georges Melies). This week, we learned that Kingsley has joined another biopic of a 20th century icon, and it’s a role that could potentially rival Gandhi (at least in visual spectacle, maybe). Sir Ben Kingsley is now attached to star as famed surrealist painter Salvador Dali in Dali Land for director Mary Harron (American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page). Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) will play Dali’s longtime wife Gala, and Tim Roth will play Dali’s “right hand man.” Dali Land will be set in 1973 in Spain and New York, and will be told from the perspective of a young gallery assistant to be played by Frank Dillane.
Benedict Cumberbatch has a great name that evokes Golden Age celebrities who were born with names like Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas) or Archibald Leach (Cary Grant). It’s also sort of a great spy name. He co-starred in the 2011 spy novel adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the espionage-adjacent biopic The Imitation Game, and now the MCU’s Doctor Strange is attached to star in Ironbark, which will tell the true story of British Cold War spy Greville Wynne, who is particularly remembered for his connections to Soviet spy Oleg Penkovsky. Presumably, the casting of Oleg Penkovsky will be one of the next moves for Ironbark.
This week, in the latest example of what we call “duelling movies,” we heard about two separate movies set during famous battles in the Pacific campaign of World War II. Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) is now attached to direct Destroyer, about the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 (adapted from the book Hell from the Heavens: The Epic Story of the USS Laffey and World War II’s Greatest Kamikaze Attack). Gibson had been expected to direct the sequel The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection, but most reports are describing Destroyer as his next directorial effort (after Hacksaw Ridge, which was also based on a World War II true story). Gibson is also reportedly considering casting his Daddy’s Home 2 co-star Mark Wahlberg, and Gibson himself may also co-star in Wahlberg’s upcoming TV-show-adaptation The Six Billion Dollar Man. The other World War II Pacific campaign movie in the news this week was Midway, about the 1942 Battle of Midway, with Woody Harrelson and Mandy Moore both in talks to star.
The popular Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon (and briefly, Jeremy Renner) were based on characters created by author Robert Ludlum. As the Bourne movies seem to be winding down (with the last two both earning Rotten Tomatometer scores), a few years ago, Dwayne Johnson’s name was thrown into consideration to fill the imminent void. That project is called The Janson Directive, based on a novel about an ex-Navy SEAL framed by the government for a crime he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, Johnson’s busy elsewhere (currently filming Disney’s Jungle Cruise movie), so he will instead produce The Janson Directive, and WWE wrestler-turned-actor John Cena is in talks to star instead. John Cena currently co-stars in Blockers, and also has the Transformers spinoff Bumblebee coming out December 21, 2018.
When Nickelodeon’s popular animated character Dora the Explorer first debuted in 2000, she was a seven-year-old adventurer with a talking backpack and a monkey pal named Boots. Nine years later, Dora the Explorer was aged a few years to be a “tween” of around 10-12 years old, but she was still basically a kid. Paramount Players announced this week that they have cast 16-year-old Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight) to star as their live action Dora the Explorer. Moner’s Dora the Explorer director will be James Bobin, who previously directed The Muppets and its 2014 sequel Muppets Most Wanted. The live-action Dora the Explorer is scheduled for release on August 2nd, 2019, up against the X-Men spinoff The New Mutants, and a week before Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
The history of cinema is littered with gimmicks, though some, like color, stereo, and widescreen did actually stick around to become standards. You might remember that a few years ago, there was some experimentation with 48 fps, and part of the reason Avatar was such a success was because of the quality of its 3D. Like the 1950s, when studios were challenged by television (leading to the first wave of 3D and movies like The Tingler), studios today see competition from streaming and high-end television as a reason to consider new ways to “put butts in seats.” 20th Century Fox revealed recently that they are partnering with a new company called Kino Industries to use their new “CtrlMovie” technology. The first movie to benefit will be an adaptation of the popular children’s book series Choose Your Own Adventure, as audiences will be able to use their smart phone apps to “choose what happens next and see the consequences of those choices play out on the big screen.” Of course, that also means that the movie is basically inviting moviegoers to sit there futzing with their annoying smart phones and devices, distracting from what’s actually happening on the screen, which is what makes Choose Your Own Adventure truly a Rotten Idea.