Here’s the stories the industry is buzzing about this week and the ones they will be after reading this column.
Hollywood Jams Out With New Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers Band Movies
Martin Scorsese turned 79 years old this week, and what better way to celebrate a birthday than announce a new movie, right? Marty the Maestro has signed on to direct an untitled biopic about the Grateful Dead that will star two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill as the band’s iconic frontman Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995.
Hill as Garcia actually strikes me as pretty great casting, and the presence of writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is encouraging, as biopics are very much in their wheelhouse. These are the guys who wrote Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, the Andy Kaufman movie Man on the Moon, and Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes, which followed artists Margaret and Walter Keane.
Having said that, I have very little interest in a Grateful Dead movie, as I never got all the fuss about the band. In fact, I don’t think I could name a single song of theirs. I used to say that all the time to my former boss, Josh Dickey, who’s a big Deadhead. That would prompt him to list off a bunch of the band’s hits, and I have to be honest — I’d never heard of any of them. I hit up YouTube to listen to “Sugar Magnolia” and “Uncle John’s Band” and neither rang a bell.
I know that Deadheads are legion — I see the decals affixed to car windows and such — but I don’t think I know anyone my age who’s that into the Grateful Dead, so I’m not sure what the commercial prospects of this movie are. Then again, it’s being made for Apple TV+, so it doesn’t really matter, as we’ll never know how many people watch this thing.
What I do know is that I don’t really want the aging Scorsese to spend precious time on this particular project, especially seeing as how he already executive produced the Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip back in 2017. For purely selfish reasons, this true-crime fan wishes he’d just focus on the long-gestating adaptation of The Devil in the White City, or even that Teddy Roosevelt biopic that would star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Hill will no doubt knock this role out of the park, and Scorsese knows how to get the best out of him, having guided Hill to his second Oscar nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street. It should help that Apple will have access to the Dead’s musical catalog since Garcia’s surviving bandmates will executive produce the film alongside his daughter, Trixie Garcia. There’s no word on what time period this film will cover, or whether it will receive some kind of theatrical release, but after signing a first-look deal with Apple last year that covers both film and television, it’s clear that Scorsese is in the streaming game for the long haul. What a strange trip, indeed!
Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead wasn’t the only band to announce a biopic this week, as Nick Cassavetes has signed on to write direct an untitled movie about the Allman Brothers Band, the group behind songs like “Midnight Rider” and “Ramblin’ Man.” Now those are songs I know!
The film will follow brothers Gregg and Duane Allman, who were raised by a single mother and had a difficult childhood, though they immersed themselves in the history of the blues and went on to find fame and fortune — and not just onstage either. Gregg Allman wound up marrying Cher and helping Jimmy Carter win the White House. The band also faced plenty of challenges — drug and alcohol abuse and the death of Duane Allman in a 1971 motorcycle accident — before being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
The Allman Brothers Band nearly saw their story told once before in the independent film Midnight Rider, though the unfinished project was shelved following the tragic death of camerawoman Sarah Jones, which prompted multiple investigations and lawsuits that have yet to be resolved.
Cassavetes co-wrote the Johnny Depp movie Blow before going on to direct John Q, The Notebook, and Alpha Dog, so he’s a pretty decent filmmaker and I look forward to seeing how he approaches this adaptation. Let’s just hope his contract is squared away because I’d hate to see him miss out on a hefty payday if this film takes off like other music biopics.
Why do I say that? Because that’s exactly what seems to have happened to Anthony McCarten, the gifted scribe behind the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. McCarten sued producer Graham King and his GK Films this week, claiming that he has yet to receive a cent from his backend deal even though Bohemian Rhapsody grossed $911 million worldwide on a $55 million budget. Yet somehow, accounting statements from Fox, which distributed the film, claim that it’s still $51 million in the red. That’s Hollywood accounting for you, folks!
Fox isn’t named in McCarten’s suit, however, as the screenwriter made his deal with King. McCarten claims he is owed 5% of what GK Films earned on the picture, but King has thus far ignored his please for payment. McCarten said he took less money upfront at King’s behest in exchange for a larger payday should Bohemian Rhapsody go on to great success, which it did by any measure.
“The number is what it is, but Graham wants me to tell you that as he did with Cameron Diaz on Gangs of New York, he will take care of you in success,” former GK Films executive Denis O’Sullivan allegedly wrote in an email to McCarten.
The WGA should be fighting for McCarten on this one, though really, the government needs to investigate Hollywood accounting practices, which are beyond byzantine and ridiculous. Studios need to be held more accountable, the question is, by who?
A Tale of Two Trailers… and the Burden of Expectations
There’s a new Ghostbusters movie out this week, not to mention Season 2 of Tiger King, and yet the single most anticipated new release was the latest trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home, which whipped the internet into a frenzy. While many Spidey fans were thrilled with the footage, which teased the formation of the Sinister Six, others were left disappointed by the lack of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield — though I’m not sure why they’re so desperate to have every surprise in this movie spoiled beforehand. Rather than focus on what we didn’t see, or rather, who we didn’t see, let me just say that based on what we did see, I’m personally skeptical that this movie will be any good. Chalk it up to the burden of expectations, but simply put, the trailer did nothing for me.
The trailer conversation shifted not 24 hours later when Hulu of all places dropped an unexpected teaser for its much-discussed Pam and Tommy series, which looked absolutely amazing. Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman take center stage (for now) as the guys who stole and distributed Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee‘s infamous sex tape, but special attention must be paid to Lily James‘ remarkable transformation into blonde bombshell Anderson. Seriously, it’s uncanny. Give that makeup team a raise. Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) deserves to be a bigger name, and hopefully, this true-crime series raises his profile in Hollywood. This is the trailer that got my Sneidy-Senses tingling, and February 2 can’t come soon enough in my book!
Dune Stars to Reunite, Wicked Finds Its Leads and Other Deals of Note
Jason Momoa and Dave Bautista are set to star in an action-comedy movie from writer Jonathan Tropper, who worked with the duo on the Apple series See. Together, the three of them came up with the story, which is expected to find them playing brothers in Hawaii. Both muscle men also appear in Dune, though they don’t actually share any scenes in that movie. Bautista hopes David Leitch (Deadpool 2) will direct the untitled film, though it’ll be a little while before it comes together, as both actors have superhero sequels to shoot between Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Adam McKay‘s star-studded Netflix movie Don’t Look Up premiered on Thursday night and while Oscar buzz was fairly muted overall, the pundits say that Ariana Grande may be the film’s best shot at Oscar gold — for Best Original Song, of course. Grande just landed the biggest role of her life in the long-gestating Wicked movie, which will co-star Cynthia Erivo as the villainous Elphaba. The Wicked casting went over well online, especially with veteran entertainment reporter Chris Feil, who suggested that exact pairing way back in June… of 2016! Hey Chris, who’s going to win the Super Bowl this year?
Elsewhere, Grande’s Don’t Look Up co-star Cate Blanchett will join Ben Stiller in a feature adaptation of the 1960s British series The Champions. The show followed U.N. agents who survive a plane crash in the Himalayas and receive superpowers from an advanced civilization. Upon returning to society, they use their newfound powers to become champions of law, order, and justice. Stiller will direct the film as well as produce alongside Blanchett, whose Nightmare Alley will be the last of this year’s awards contenders to screen for voters, along with West Side Story.
Sterling K. Brown is set to play pioneering lawyer Scipio Africanus Jones, who risked everything to defend the Elaine Twelve — a group of 12 Black sharecroppers sentenced to death after being implicated in the murder of a white man in Arkansas during the Elaine Massacre of 1919. George Tillman Jr. (The Hate U Give) will direct from a Black List script by E. Nicholas Mariani, and Brown will produce the film alongside Shawn Levy.
Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz will star in Amazon’s dark comedy series The Consultant, which is inspired by Bentley Little‘s satirical novel about a corporate consultant who little by little starts to take over the company. Matt Shakman (WandaVision) will direct and executive produce alongside series creator/showrunner Tony Basgallop (Servant). This actually sounds pretty interesting and should garner more eyeballs than Waltz’s Quibi series Most Dangerous Game — which coincidentally is being remade yet again with an older B-list cast that includes Bruce Dern, Judd Nelson, Tom Berenger, and Casper Van Dien. What year is this again?
Mckenna Grace, who is easily the highlight of this weekend’s new release Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is coming back to star in a sequel to the 2018 Lifetime movie The Bad Seed, only this time, she co-wrote the script with her father. Pretty impressive considering she’s only 15. And hey, speaking of Ghostbusters stars and serial killers, Carrie Coon is set to join Keira Knightley in a new Boston Strangler movie that will also co-star Alessandro Nivola and Chris Cooper. I don’t know who’s playing Albert DeSalvo, but Jon Bernthal strikes me as a good fit.
In the cruelest of jokes, Netflix has ordered a 10-episode workplace comedy series titled Blockbuster that will star Randall Park as an employee at the last Blockbuster Video store in America. The series will explore what — and who — it takes for a small business to succeed against all odds. Netflix obviously put Blockbuster Video out of business, something that the charming documentary The Last Blockbuster explores in great detail. Naturally, that film is currently streaming on Netflix. The series hails from creator Vanessa Ramos (Superstore) and was originally set up at NBC, though I’m not sure why the broadcast network never did anything with it and ultimately let it go. If the series proves to be a hit for Netflix, NBC brass may finally be able to relate to Blockbuster, which famously turned down the chance to acquire Netflix for the bargain-basement price of $50 million back in 2000, when streaming was just a dream for Reed Hastings.
And finally, LA Mag.com can exclusively report that up-and-coming actress Alie Urquhart has signed on to join Mena Suvari in The Cheerleader Conspiracy, a new movie from MarVista Entertainment and TUBI. Urquhart will soon be seen in Ava DuVernay‘s DC superhero series Naomi, which is slated to premiere on The CW in January. Keep an eye on Urquhart, who previously recurred on the acclaimed Netflix series House of Cards.
That’ll do it for me, folks! Have a great weekend, and if you happen to watch Best Picture frontrunner King Richard, let me know what you think on Twitter.