Hollywood Brief: Who’s Heating Up Showbiz This Week

This week’s column takes a look at which industry players are rising and which are falling
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We’re trying something a little different with the column this week. Behold the Hollywood Heat Index, where we determine who’s hot and who’s not! Let’s take the town’s temperature, shall we?

HOT

10. Josh Gad and Luke Evans – I mean, how can these guys not be considered the Winners of the Week? According to Puck News, the duo reportedly had pay-or-play deals to star in a Beauty and the Beast spinoff series that is no longer moving forward at  Disney+, which means they don’t have to work and they get paid anyway! Congrats, gents! The streamer is said to have been disappointed with the second and third scripts that Gad co-wrote with Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, as well as the original music from Alan Menken, but it just sounds like the team as a whole wasn’t on the same creative page. While some may see this as a huge money-loss for Disney, which is believed to have spent tens of millions of dollars developing the series over the course of the past three years, I have to applaud executives on this decision. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen projects pushed through the system because studios felt they were pot-committed, if you will. Even if Disney does lose $30 million on it, I think it’s better than spending $150 million on a show you don’t creatively believe in that’s only going to hurt the Beauty and the Beast brand. And Disney+ customers don’t waste six hours watching a mediocre series that may impact whether they watch the next spinoff series. See what I mean? This is a business of tough decisions, but this one was a win all-around.

9. FX and QT – Speaking of winners, imagine being the producers of FX’s six-episode limited series Justified: City Primeval, who are negotiating with Quentin Tarantino to direct two episodes. That’s a big deal where I come from. I didn’t watch Justified, but I just might have to give it a shot since I’m a Tarantino completist, and he rarely does television. In fact, Tarantino has only directed two episodes of television over his 30-year career. One was ER and the other was CSI, each of which employed pretty rigid formulas, though I enjoyed both episodes. Justified: City Primeval will see Timothy Olyphant reprise his role as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, and Olyphant recently worked with Tarantino on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, plus Givens was created by Elmore Leonard, the author of Rum Punch, which Tarantino adapted as Jackie Brown. So clearly, there are a lot of connections here, and I can’t wait to see what an unleashed Tarantino does on TV without the content restrictions that NBC and CBS are subject to. Meanwhile, Tarantino has been talking up a third Kill Bill movie in the press of late (may I suggest Zendaya as the young lead?), but I think he should consider producing the Oscars next year given his deep appreciation of film history and his ability to get anyone in Hollywood to say “yes.” The Academy should think about it, too…

8. Fred Hechinger and Aaron Pierre – These two young up-and-comers landed key roles in two high-profile comic book movies this week, as Hechinger has been cast as Chameleon in Sony’s Kraven the Hunter movie starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Russell Crowe, while Pierre will join Mahershala Ali and Delroy Lindo in Marvel’s Blade. What’s kind of funny is that both of these talented actors recently spent a lot of time hanging out at the beach, as Hechinger starred in last year’s surprise HBO hit The White Lotus, and Pierre played scene-stealer Mid-Sized Sedan in M. Night Shyamalan‘s Old. I guess it pays to get a bit sandy…

7. Adam Sandler and Andrew Garfield – Did you see the trailers for Hustle and Under the Banner of Heaven? Because you should really stop what you’re doing and go watch both right now. Hustle is a totally different kind of Netflix Original for Sandler, who can churn out low-budget comedies with the best of ’em, but hasn’t really delivered a movie for the streamer that has stayed in the public consciousness. This basketball drama may be the one, and it certainly helps that it was produced by LeBron James. Meanwhile, Garfield plays the lead in FX’s true-crime miniseries Under the Banner of Heaven, which is based on the bestselling book by Jon Krakauer. Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black is behind the series, which follows a Mormon detective whose faith is shaken while investigating the murder of a young woman. Garfield is a great actor and this show looks like it could be this year’s Mare of Easttown, so make sure this one is on your radar.

WARM

6. Startups on TV – Let’s face it, startups are having their moment on TV right now, as tonight marks the debut of Showtime’s Uber series Super Pumped starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as co-founder Travis Kalanick, while Hulu’s The Dropout, starring Amanda Seyfried as Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, earned some very strong reviews this past week. Meanwhile, Apple has its WeWork series WeCrashed coming soon with Oscar winners Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway. I believe reviews are still embargoed for that show, and I haven’t seen The Dropout yet, but I was a big fan of Super Pumped, which is basically The Social Network, but with Uber. Gordon-Levitt is very good as the sleazy Kalanick, but keep an eye out for Kyle Chandler as venture capitalist Bill Gurley, as I really liked what the Friday Night Lights coach brought to the table in this series.

5. Steven Spielberg – The Oscar-winning director, whose West Side Story could play the spoiler this year, has signed on to direct a new Bullitt movie, as in the Steve McQueen movie known for its car chase. That film was based on a series of books featuring the character of Frank Bullitt, and Spielberg will mine those books for a new feature with the help of Spotlight scribe Josh Singer. This isn’t expected to be Spielberg’s next film — and keep in mind, he has already wrapped his WSS follow-up The Fabelmans, which is based on his own childhood — but it would bring his career full-circle in a way, as Spielberg made his directorial debut with the TV movie Duel. This feels to me like Spielberg wanting to put his own stamp on the idea of the car chase and prove to the doubters that he can direct action because apparently, those people exist. Either way, I guess he’s not retiring after all…

A LITTLE CHILLY

4. James Mangold and Buster Keaton – Mangold has long been an excellent filmmaker, from Heavy to Logan to Ford v Ferrari. So this item is really no reflection on him. But I just don’t get who the audience is supposed to be for a Buster biopic. Yes, yes, I know ol’ Buster was a legend, but I’ve never really understood projects like this. Of course, one could, and probably did, say similar things about countless biopics that turned out to be fantastic, but I don’t think that most people, and not just young people, but people of my generation, have the faintest idea who Buster Keaton was.  This is a project that’s considered a “top priority” at Fox? I mean, maybe it’ll win a bunch of Oscars, but good luck with that. Perhaps I selfishly just wish Mangold and the studio would get serious about adapting Don Winslow‘s cop novel The Force. Up next for Mangold is Indiana Jones 5, which just wrapped production, according to producer Frank Marshall.

3. Editors and Executives – In a piece titled “Why Are Movies So Long Now?” Variety picked up on what this column noted long ago — that movies are absurdly long these days. And while it’s easy to blame the directors and/or my own dwindling attention span, it’s time to blame the editors. I know these gifted artists are there to help serve the director’s vision, and if there’s a clash in the editing room, they’re the ones who will find themselves easily replaced, but it’s high time that editors start pushing back on these extended running times, and if not them, then studio executives. I mean, unless a director’s contract gives them “final cut,” open your mouth and say something because movies these days are too long and too slow and most of them drag. I understand wanting audiences to feel like they came out to the movie theater and got the most bang for their buck but things are getting ridiculous and I’m glad Variety finally spoke up. Less is more, folks! Less. Is. More.

COLD

2. @ERCBoxOffice – This sometimes-interesting, sometimes-irritating Twitter account for Exhibitor Relations stuck its foot in its mouth this week when it suggested that Hollywood impose sanctions on Russia by not releasing The Batman or any superhero movies in that territory. The tweet was promptly ratioed, which is never a good feeling, take my word for it. But seriously, can we go a single day without trying to inject superheroes into every conversation, or must all aspects of life be looked at through the prism of comic books? Will all the Russian fans of Batman rise up in anger and oust Putin as Dictator, er, President? I hate to be the “stick to” whatever guy, but stick to analyzing the box office, ERC, whose account is apparently run by Senior Media Analyst Jeff Bock, someone frequently quoted in trade stories when reporters need a pithy quote.

1. The Academy – Oof. It was not a good week for the Academy, which made a series of missteps, starting with the decision to cut eight categories from the live broadcast. This move, which was, naturally, poorly communicated to members, including those in the affected branches, had Hollywood artisans up in arms, not to mention the influential monolith known as Film Twitter. The awards bloggers at the trades couldn’t even find a way to spin this decision, which arrived right on the heels of the Academy’s #FanFavorite campaign, in which obsessive fans are invited to vote up to 20 times a day(!) for movies like Amazon’s Cinderella, which has no business being within a mile of this awards show. The Academy is too busy chasing an audience that does not exist to recognize that it insulted dozens of nominees, whether they say so publicly or not. But when someone like Hollywood Nice Guy Josh Gad goes out of his way to hop on Twitter and reveal that he also turned down a hosting slot at the Oscars, you know you have messed up.


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