What's news: Is Luc Besson's big-budget Valerian a splashy, entertaining epic or an epic bust? Early reviews are all over the map. Plus: Disney is struggling to cast its live-action Aladdin remake, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins finds his next film and a debate about a surreal Twin Peaks season at the midway point. — Matthew Belloni, Erik Hayden and Jennifer Konerman
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As the new Disney live-action film's August start-date fast approaches, the studio has struggled to find stars for its latest remake, Rebecca Ford and Mia Galuppo report:
Disney and director Guy Ritchie launched a global casting call in March to find the stars for the musical based on the 1992 animated film, bringing on casting agents around the world, from London to Egypt to Abu Dhabi and India, for what sources say is one of the widest casting searches ever: thousands of actors and actresses have read for the lead roles of Jasmine and Aladdin.
But finding a male lead in his 20s who can act and sing has proven difficult — especially since the studio wants someone of Middle-Eastern or Indian descent (the animated film is set in the fictional Middle Eastern city of Agrabah). While the studio had interest in Dev Patel and Riz Ahmed, the male lead will likely be a newcomer.
The studio is eyeing Naomi Scott or Indian actress Tara Sutaria to play Jasmine, but can’t lock the deal until the male lead has been selected. More casting details.
Elsewhere in film...
► Moonlight director Barry Jenkins plans next film. The helmer will direct If Beale Street Could Talk, which he adapted from James Baldwin's 1974 novel. Annapurna will finance and produce along with Plan B.
► Live-action Lion King casts John Oliver. The HBO host will voice the character of Zazu, the uptight hornbill, joining a cast that includes Donald Glover (Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen (Timon and Pumbaa).
► Universal lands Swan Lake pitch starring Felicity Jones. In a competitive situation after a fierce bidding war, the studio has acquired the hot pitch from Kristina Lauren Anderson (Catherine the Great), which is inspired by the classic ballet story.
► Tour de Pharmacy director tackling Netflix comedy. Jake Szymanski will direct The Eggplant Emoji with a script written by Kevin Burrows and Matt Mider. Ben Stiller and Nicky Weinstock are producing via their Red Hour Films banner.
^Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, reviewed. Luc Besson's new film stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as 28th-century operatives racing to save the universe. Chief critic Todd McCarthy's takeaway: "Ladies and gentlemen, your Razzie frontrunner."
+ Early takes: EW: "Valerian is an epic mess." NY Daily News: "The movie itself is a big, black hole." Polygon: "a creative romp that I would recommend to many people, its middle is a grimace-inducing detour."
► Paramount names new animation president. Mireille Soria, who oversaw Trolls and Boss Baby and recently produced Captain Underpants, will now be responsible for all operations of the animation group from creative development to release.
► Russia moves to restrict Hollywood movies further. A law has been adopted in the first reading by the State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, which dramatically increases the exhibition license fee to give preference to homegrown films.
► Wanda to consolidate Chinese film assets. A major merger will make a large chunk of Wanda's film business operations public for the first time. The deal would not include Legendary Entertainment, sources said.
► Spencer & Locke comic getting movie treatment. Adrian Askarieh, the producer of the Hitman action movies, has optioned rights to a comic that has been described as being Calvin & Hobbes by way of Quentin Tarantino.
Plus: Spider-Man: Homecoming Easter eggs! The definitive list. This comprehensive look features 31 of the comic book references you may have missed. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Although we're not quite yet out of the Dougie Jones woods, we're closer to that point than ever before, now that we're officially halfway through Showtime's 18-episode Twin Peaks: The Return, Josh Wigler and Chris E. Hayner write:
David Lynch and Mark Frost's return to the world of Twin Peaks has contained a myriad of surprises, head-scratching plot twists, a whole lot of mesmerizing imagery, and a nice slice of confusion on the side.
Here's a spoiler-filled chat about the series' new characters, recontextualized fan-favorites, theories about what's happening in the Black Lodge and more.
Elsewhere in TV...
► Marvel's New Warriors sets its cast (including Squirrel Girl). Milana Vayntrub (This Is Us) has landed the breakout role of Squirrel Girl, while Baby Daddy grad Derek Theler will play Mister Immortal in straight-to-series Freeform comedy.
► CBS' Late Show plans Russia Week. The five broadcasts, kicking off July 17, will highlight Stephen Colbert's time in Russia, including his appearance on local television show Evening Urgant.
► E!'s Rob & Chyna series future unclear amid legal drama. Production on the now-former couple's spinoff series is "on hold" with no premiere date in sight for season two after Kardashian posted explicit images of Chyna and attacked her online.
► Fox pilot watch: Ghosted. Daniel Fienberg takes an early look at Craig Robinson and Adam Scott fighting the paranormal in a new series and writes that it is a great premise, but the pilot "works too hard to justify it."
► HBO, George R.R. Martin plan new fantasy series. Author Nnedi Okorafor said that the cabler has optioned her novel Who Fears Death with the Game of Thrones creator on board to exec produce. Sources note the deal is not officially completed.
^Curb Your Enthusiasm unveils season 9 teaser. Larry David's long-running comedy is set for its return to HBO, revealing an early October premiere date and new teaser. Watch here.
► NBC's Good Girls adds Christina Hendricks in recasting. The Mad Men grad will topline the network's buzzy midseason drama, taking over the lead role originally played in the pilot by Kathleen Rose Perkins.
► Showtime miniseries Patrick Melrose finds stars. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugo Weaving and Anna Madeley have signed on for the Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer. Screenwriter David Nicholls is set to adapt all five installments.
► CBS' Candy Crush earns solid ratings. On Sunday, it averaged a 1.1 rating among adults 18-49 and 4.1M viewers. Some carryover from lead-in Big Brother, roughly 60 percent in the key demo, can be attributed to shrewdly using BB cast.
► FXX's You're the Worst books Raymond J. Barry. The critically praised comedy from creator Stephen Falk has enlisted Justified grad for the season four premiere. The actor will guest star in the hourlong season four opener.
► Muppets Studios' Kermit the Frog voice actor replaced. After 27 years, Steve Whitmire will no longer be the voice of Kermit the Frog. Whitmire took over the role after Jim Henson died in 1990. Performer Matt Vogel will take over the role.
► Nelsan Ellis' family shares circumstances of True Blood actor's death. The actor died Saturday of heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal complications, the family said: "Nelsan was a gentle, generous and kind soul."
Plus: HBO's Game of Thrones: Which characters might not make it? The war for the Iron Throne is about to take on a more urgent and violent tone than ever before, with the series racing toward the finish line.
It doesn't matter whether Johnny Depp spends $2M a month, according to an L.A. judge who on Monday ruled that the actor's headline-grabbing spending habits aren't currently relevant to his legal battle with his ex-business managers, Ashley Cullins reports. A fraud claim against the actor still stands.
What else we're reading...
— "For disabled actors, memorizing the part is only the beginning." Erik Piepenburg writes: "A peek backstage at the play Cost of Living shows how two performers prepare physically for their roles." [The New York Times]
— "MTV News and the threats to negative criticism." Amanda Petrusich writes: "The idea that any media organization could be effectively bullied into shifting its mission from journalistic to promotional is unnerving." [The New Yorker]
— "Why Hollywood should pay attention to Dunkirk." David Sims notes: "Christopher Nolan’s war epic will be rolled out nationwide in 70-millimeter projection, which could be an intriguing answer to audiences’ declining interest in 3-D." [The Atlantic]
— "The (presumably) true story behind Martin Shkreli and that Wu-Tang album." David Marchese writes: "The saga of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin album ... seemed both too good to be true and too good to ignore." [New York]
— "Microsoft’s rural broadband solution: TV 'white space.'" Jay Greene reports: it is backing "a long-shot technology that taps unused television bandwidth to bring broadband access to underserved areas of America." [The Wall Street Journal]
What else we're seeing...
+ Jimmy Kimmel unveils "leaked" Game of Thrones audition. [Live!]
+ "Woody Harrelson gets Han Solo details squeezed out of him." [Late Show]
Today's Birthdays: Justin Chambers, 47, Greg Grunberg, 51, Greg Mottola, 53, Sela Ward, 61, Stephen Lang, 65, Tab Hunter, 86.