Hollywood Brief: A Spielberg Exit Plan? COVID and the Movies

Plus, guest columnist Jeff Sneider on why ”Child’s Play” series ”Chucky” is one of the best shows on TV

Here’s this week’s stories the industry is buzzing about and some you will be after reading this column.

Does Steven Spielberg Have His Eye on the Exits?

Steven Spielberg was the toast of the town this week following the world premiere of West Side Story, which earned rave reviews from previously skeptical critics. Meanwhile, the director has already wrapped his next film, The Fabelmans, which is based on his own childhood. Those are two dream projects for Spielberg, which begs the question — where does the iconic filmmaker go from here? And is it crazy to think that he could pull a Jerry Seinfeld and bow out a little early, but still on top of his game? Or is “retirement” a forbidden word in Hollywood?

Before we dive into this hypothetical scenario, I want to make it clear that this isn’t a rumor I’ve heard, and I have no anecdotal evidence to support this line of thinking. If any evidence does exist, it’s to the contrary, as Spielberg has previously said that he wouldn’t retire until his pal Clint Eastwood did, and last I checked, the 91-year-old Eastwood was still directing himself in movies. Now, I’m the last person who would question Spielberg’s passion for filmmaking, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t really see him doing this to his dying day. This is a man for whom family is very, very important, and I expect the director to spend his twilight years enjoying the fruits of his labor with his loved ones rather than grinding it out on another set.

Spielberg has long dreamed of directing a musical, and West Side Story checks that box on his illustrious resume. Spielberg is projected to earn his first directing nomination since 2012’s Lincoln, which also happens to be the last Spielberg film that posed a serious threat to win Best Picture, all due respect to Bridge of Spies and The PostWest Side Story is currently considered the frontrunner, and if it does go all the way, it would be only the second Spielberg movie to do so along with Schindler’s List.

Regardless of how West Side Story fares with the Academy come nomination morning, Spielberg will be back in the editing room in the following days as he helps editor Sarah Broshar assemble The Fabelmans, which is described as a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film — the first Spielberg will have a writing credit on in 20 years, dating back to A.I. 

Newcomer Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman, the stand-in for young Spielberg, whose parents will be played by Paul Dano and Michelle Williams, while Seth Rogen will no doubt steal scenes as Steven’s favorite uncle. For some reason, The Fabelmans just feels like the kind of movie Spielberg has been building towards his entire career, and really, once you’ve told your own life story on the big screen, what more is there to say?

On the producing side of things, Spielberg has entrusted the Indiana Jones franchise to James Mangold, while the Jurassic franchise is as healthy as ever, with Jurassic World: Dominion poised to be one of next year’s biggest blockbusters. Elsewhere, the Transformers franchise has been rescued from Michael Bay, with Rise of the Beasts poised to usher in a new era. Spielberg also brought back his beloved Animaniacs, finished his TV military trilogy with Masters of the Air (following Band of Brothers and The Pacific), and finally got Halo made. He’s also producing a Bee Gees biopic and a remake of The Color Purple that will be directed by a Black filmmaker this time around. Doesn’t this feel like one of the greats getting his professional affairs in order, to some extent?

Perhaps most impressive of all is that Spielberg has defended his legacy in this creatively bankrupt day and age, successfully staving off studio reboots of JawsBack to the FutureClose Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T. — which you just know would’ve been made already if he wasn’t around to stand in their way.

Spielberg nearly retired once before in the 90s after shooting Schindler’s List, which he has said made him depressed and less interested in filmmaking. Fortunately, Spielberg got back on his (war) horse and returned behind the camera. If he does decide to call it a day as a director, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continued to produce movies and mentor the next generation of filmmakers. I just don’t know what’s left for him to do as a director. 

Perhaps he’ll decide to switch things up for his third act, whether that involves exploring storytelling opportunities in the coming metaverse or creating the next interactive kingdom like Disney World. If Spielberg does decide to retire from filmmaking, it will be a huge loss for movies and the end of an era, but his work will always live on via the countless artists he has inspired over the course of his incredible career.

Heading to the Movies? Don’t Forget Your Proof of Vaccination!

Earlier this week, Los Angeles County began enforcing an ordinance requiring moviegoers to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 if they want to enter theaters. The same goes for indoor restaurants, gyms, and other recreational facilities as well as personal care establishments and some city buildings, but I’m here to talk about movie theaters.

While I’ll admit that there hasn’t been a single COVID-19 transmission traced back to a movie theater as far as I’m aware, I still feel much safer knowing that my fellow theater patrons will now be required to be vaccinated. I don’t have much faith in theaters actually checking for proof, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the sake of this column. 

The current law calling for proof of full vaccination went into effect on Nov. 8, but enforcement only began this past week, as there was a three-week grace period. Going forward, theaters that are caught not asking for proof of vaccination will be subject to citations and thousands of dollars in fines as violations mount, though as Deadline made sure to note, it’s unclear how aggressive enforcement officials plan to be with movie theaters. I’m not sure why there’s an ordinance if it’s not going to be enforced, but hey, there’s a lot of things about this pandemic that make my head hurt. 

All I know is, I’d rather be faced with minor inconveniences like having to wear a mask or provide proof of vaccination than be struggling to breathe in a hospital bed. I should be able to enjoy some popcorn or nachos at the theater without wondering if the person next to me, or behind me, is an anti-vaxxer. That doesn’t mean that people who have been vaccinated can’t enter theaters while having COVID. Breakthrough cases happen all the time, and many people who have been vaccinated don’t present any symptoms. So I understand why some have adopted a “then what’s the point?” attitude. But if this requirement is one more way to prevent the spread of a quickly-mutating virus, I’m all for it. Because I am truly sick of this mess we’re in.

Chucky Renewed for Season 2 After Becoming the Fall’s Most Unlikely Word-of-Mouth Hit

Syfy and USA have renewed Chucky for Season 2, and I know you’re going to either laugh at me or feel bad for me, but it’s the best news I’ve heard all week. Of course, I wish the networks had held off on the announcement until after the Season 1 finale aired, so as to preserve some of the suspense, but the news was welcome all the same, as Chucky truly is one of the best new shows on television — not to mention great representation for LGBTQIA+ youth. 

Devon Sawa and his likable young castmates are surrounded by franchise alums such as Jennifer TillyFiona Dourif, and Brad Dourif, who once again voices the iconic killer doll. Creator Don Mancini deserves credit for having the perseverance to see his vision through despite contending with a 2019 remake the gave Chucky a high-tech upgrade. That film actually wasn’t bad, and Mark Harmon did a decent job voicing Chucky, but at the end of the day, it was an imitation — one that couldn’t really come close to competing with the real thing. The elder Dourif may have won an Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but Chucky is the defining role of his career and seeing as how his daughter entered the family business, I don’t think he minds that at all. Heidy-ho!

Nicolas Cage Sinks His Teeth Into Dracula Movie as Mad Max Spinoff Swaps Stars

It’s time for this week’s bits and bobs, which are highlighted by the inspired casting of Nicolas Cage as Dracula in Renfield, which is a Universal monster movie from The Tomorrow War director Chris McKayNicholas Hoult stars as the title character, and his agent wants you to remember that this is Nic Hoult’s movie, dammit! — even we all know that when you’re sharing the screen with Nicolas Cage, he’s really just sharing the screen with you. Maybe. 

Cage is coming off an acclaimed turn as a lonely chef in the indie movie Pig, and he plays a version himself in his next movie, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which is said to be a big swing for the actor. Now that’s saying something! I can’t wait to see Cage sink his teeth into Dracula, though I’m not expecting the comical madness of Vampire’s Kiss, as there’s too much riding on Renfield for Nic to go full Cage, though a boy can certainly dream.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and his newly-formed production company House Eleven10 signed a deal with Netflix just days after the actor dropped out of George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road spinoff Furiosa due to scheduling issues. The action extravaganza will see Anya Taylor-Joy step into Charlize Theron‘s shoes. Abdul-Mateen II was to have co-starred alongside Chris Hemsworth, but he has since been replaced by Tom Burke, who played Orson Welles in David Fincher‘s Mank. Burke has been one to watch for a while now, and this blockbuster is a sign of things to come from the English actor. I’m surprised that Yahya dropped out of this one, and was looking forward to seeing him share the screen with Hemsworth, but if he found himself with a limited window to shoot a longtime passion project, fans will just have to respect his decision.

J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is set to direct Society in the Snow, which translates to (beep bop boop) a remake of the 1993 movie Alive. You know that one, right? It’s the movie where Ethan Hawke plays an Uruguayan rugby player whose teammates resort to cannibalism after their plane crashes. That movie messed me up as a kid! And yet, an entire generation probably hasn’t seen it, which may well be for the best given how white-washed it was, and I’m not talking about the snow. The cast this time around is entirely South American (fact check) and Bayona worked wonders with The Impossible, so I’m eager to see how he approaches this story for Netflix and how it’ll be different than the original movie.

And finally, Hugh Dancy has joined the upcoming Law and Order revival, which is notable because the last time Dancy starred in an NBC series it was Hannibal — one of the most under-appreciated TV shows ever, in my opinion. Dancy took a character played by no less than William Petersen (Manhunter) and Edward Norton (Red Dragon) and somehow made Will Graham his own. I can totally see him as a grandstanding attorney on Law & Order, which is what I imagine he’ll be playing, if only because he’s obviously done The Cop Thing already.

Los Angeles-Area Looters Should Have Writers Hammering Away at Scripts

I’ve been following the news of the Los Angeles-area looters who have been organizing groups to smash-and-grab from high-end retail stores, and it seems incredibly scary to me, as it’s only a matter of time before one of these flash-mob incidents escalates and gets someone killed. Having said that, I can only imagine how many writers are working on something about this growing phenomenon as you read this. It is perfect fodder for a movie or TV show. A good heist doesn’t have to involve money or diamonds, because in the hands of the right filmmaker, even stealing rare books from a college library — see American Animals, seriously — can be utterly fascinating.

In this case, we’re talking about 10 trucks full of thieves in ski masks, who showed up at a Home Depot and literally cleared out a section full of hammers and other assorted burglary tools such as crowbars, mallets, and sledgehammers that will no doubt be used in future crimes. Some of these looters have been caught following dangerous police chases, and while authorities have arrested hundreds of suspects and recovered millions of dollars in stolen items, the lawlessness that has erupted in upscale neighborhoods like Beverly Hills has residents on edge, which makes for great drama. If you haven’t started outlining a spec, use the holidays to get a headstart on the competition.