What Matters in Hollywood Today

8:22 AM 5/16/2018

by THR staff

LeonardoSantamaria_THR_AllisonMack2_Illo_SPLASH - THR - H 2018
Illustration by: Leonardo Santamaria

What's news: The cult that ensnared a Smallville actress gets further exposed. Plus: The endgame behind the CBS-Viacom brawl (Moonves' golden parachute?), a Cannes fireworks show greets Solo, ABC and ESPN pitch advertisers and a closer look at Michael Avenatti's legal plan. — Erik Hayden

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On the cover: Allison Mack. Through interviews with close friends and ex-members of the Nxivm cult, reporters Scott Johnson and Rebecca Sun reveal how a charismatic fan favorite allegedly morphed into the leader's No. 2 and explore the persistent allure and pernicious effect of cults on entertainment.

+ Rebecca Sun emails about her story: Although relatively obscure in the Hollywood pantheon, Allison Mack played one of my favorite television characters of all time. Using a journalist's lens to revisit all those video clips and blog entries I viewed as a fan is similar to what those who were close to Mack are doing now, picking through their memories for signs in past interactions that she was headed down a dark path. In speaking with both those who knew the "old Allison" and the "new Allison," there's a struggle to figure out how to define her role in the Nxivm cult: mastermind, victim, or a mixture of both? Full cover story.

  • 'Solo' Meets Critics

    After months of speculation about the film's director firings, the review embargo for Solo: A Star Wars story lifted after the crew hit Cannes on Tuesday for a screening that ended with a fireworks show. Michael Rechtshaffen's review:

    It’s no accident the posters for Solo: A Star Wars Story convey a retro, '70s-tinged vibe. Especially when following in the turbo-charged footsteps of last winter’s The Last Jedi and other recent Star Wars epics, this origins story represents a return to the saga’s more humble, original space Western roots — one that places a premium on character development over kinetic, adrenaline-fueled action sequences. Full review. 

    + Rotten Tomatoes score: 73 percent. Early takes: The Guardian: "straightforwardly rollicking adventure." N.Y. Times: "in effect a filmed Wikipedia page." L.A. Times: "Ehrenreich isn't given much to work with here." USA Today: "A solidly entertaining exploration." The Atlantic: "it’s different and very well cast - and that’s enough."


    + John Travolta's Gotti movie gets panned in Cannes. THR review: "the film is pretty terrible: poorly written, devoid of tension, ridiculous in spots and just plain dull in others."

    Elsewhere in film... 

    ? MoviePass parent discloses loss in first quarter. Helios and Matheson Analytics said Tuesday in an SEC filing that its "subscription and marketing and promotional services" business lost $98.3 million on revenue of $48.6 million.

    ? Marvel sets Black List writers for Eternals movie. Matthew and Ryan Firpo, whose spec script Ruin shot to the top of the 2017 Black List, have been hired to adapt the Jack Kirby-created comic book into a new franchise.

    ? Blumhouse casts family drama. Naomi Watts, Frank Grillo and Bobby Cannavale will star in Once Upon a Time in Staten Island, from Blumhouse and Man in a Tree Productions. James DeMonaco is directing.

    Saban picks up Nicolas Cage thriller. The distributor has acquired U.S. rights to writer-director Maria Pulera’s supernatural thriller Between Worlds, which stars Cage as a down-on-his-luck truck driver.

    ^Paramount unveils Mission: Impossible — Fallout trailer. The sixth installment of the franchise includes a skydiving stunt that took 106 takes, the film's team revealed at CinemaCon. Watch.

    ? Landmark Theatres strikes deal with Atom Tickets. The ticketing pact covers all 53 theaters in 27 markets, including the complex in West L.A. The deal comes as co-owners Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner consider selling the chain. 

    ? Martina Navratilova doc in the works. The tennis legend and activist is getting the doc treatment from Hello Sunshine, the Reese Witherspoon-run company. Glenn Greenwald is among the producers of the project.

    *Bob Weinstein's TWC office packed up as new owners arrive. As Lantern Capital gets set to take over, the producer's L.A. office at the once-storied film and television company he founded with his brother, Harvey, has been emptied. Full story.

    **R.I.P., Arthur Manson. The veteran marketing and distribution executive, who helped to usher in the era of consumer research at Hollywood studios, died on Monday at the age of 90. Full obit.

    In THR, Esq: Stan Lee files $1B lawsuit against POW! Entertainment. The 95-year-old Marvel creator is suing the company he created for fraud and conversion, claiming that two of its officers conspired to steal his identity in a "nefarious scheme."

  • Les' Golden Parachute?

    CBS and Viacom head to court as mogul Leslie Moonves places a last-ditch bet on outmaneuvering Shari Redstone. Kim Masters and Eriq Gardner sort out what's going on: 

    Is Shari Redstone the protagonist in a drama that could be titled "Daddy Dearest," in which her domineering father years ago quietly devised a method to block her from eventually taking control of his media empire?

    Or is CBS Corp., which stunned Redstone by suing May 14 to prevent her from forcing a merger with Viacom, just playing the long odds with an audacious legal argument? Has CBS chairman Leslie Moonves calculated that even if his side loses, he'll be paid handsomely to leave while sparing himself a possibly futile struggle to make a success of the combined companies? The looming questions.

    Today in upfronts...

    ? ABC's spin: Tuesday's one-hour, 50-minute presentation did not go light on Freeform, sharing the David Geffen Hall with ABC for the first time. Boss Ben Sherwood insisted that the increased partnership between the brands was a way to keep Disney connected with an audience that spans "From teenagers to baby boomers and everybody in between." But it kept coming back to Roseanne. Full scorecard I ABC trailers. 

    ? ESPN's spin: The network's pitch to advertisers is essentially that sports sells itself. Despite some ratings softening for the NFL regular season, the NBA is up. ESPN, like most cable networks, has seen its subscriber base contract (presently 87 million). OTT service ESPN+ is still in its infancy; after launching last month, analysts have estimated that the platform has about 100,000 subscribers. Full scorecard. 

    ^Netflix may revive Designated Survivor. Sources say the streamer, which is the international SVOD home for the Entertainment One political drama, is mulling a potential third season for the show. A deal, however, is still far from done as the series is an expensive undertaking. 

    ? Viacom chops another 100 jobs. The company had previous rounds of layoffs in March 2015 and September 2017 as part of earlier cost-cutting moves. The latest job losses are understood to impact support staff and not touch content creation.

    ? Fox settles workplace claims from nearly 20 individuals. Douglas Wigdor, the attorney representing more individuals against 21st Century Fox than anyone else, makes a far-reaching deal, but two of his clients — Rod Wheeler and Scottie Hughes — aren't ready to drop claims.

    ? Fox TV Group CEOs ink one-year extension. Gary Newman and Dana Walden, who are in advanced talks for the extension, have already started to pivot the network into a home for procedurals and multicamera comedies.

    ? Channel 4 casts Benedict Cumberbatch in Brexit drama. In the film, titled Brexit, the Sherlock actor will play Dominic Cummings, the strategist who was the campaign director of the "Vote Leave" campaign.

    ? YouTube plans A.I. doc series with Robert Downey Jr. The streamer has given an eight-episode order to an untitled docuseries from Team Downey that will explore the impact of A.I. and how it is transforming the way people live and work, both now and in the future.

    *R.I.P., Michael Allen Conley. The director, producer and editor who worked on KTLA News and a string of hit TV shows including Blossom and The Golden Girls, has died. He was 73. Full obit.

  • Avenatti's Gameplan

    The lawyer is turning his client into the most famous adult film star on the planet. But is he advancing her court case against Donald Trump — or is the real winner just Michael Avenatti? Eriq Gardner writes: 

    For all his constant TV appearances and expert trolling of the president on social media, is he really mounting the best possible legal case for Daniels? He's turned a skirmish with Trump over an iffy hush agreement about a decade-ago affair into a high-stakes political battle with the White House.

    And most observers assume the more Daniels is in the headlines, the more Avenatti is succeeding. "If both of their interests are to maximize publicity in order to enhance future income, then he's doing an excellent job," notes entertainment litigator Howard King. Full story. 

    What else we're reading...

    "Disney considers letting Pixar co-founder John Lasseter return." Erich Schwartzel and Ben Fritz report: "Executives discuss reduced role for animation guru who took leave of absence following accusations of unwelcome hugging and other touching." [Wall Street Journal]

    "Tom Wolfe, sage of status anxiety." Louis Menand writes: "Satire associates aspiration with fatuousness and newness with faddishness, and Wolfe was skilled at making those reductions." [The New Yorker]

    "Is television ready for angry women?" Sophie Gilbert writes: "Producer Marti Noxon has two shows about women’s pain and rage debuting this summer - and the timing couldn’t be better." [The Atlantic]

    "The $25 billion question." Nicole LaPorte asks: "Is Harry Potter a blessing or a curse for AT&T Time Warner?"  [Fast Company]

    "How TMZ crashed Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding." Tom Skyes writes: "Why did Thomas Markle choose to talk the shoutiest gossip site on the web instead of the courtiers at Kensington?" [Daily Beast]

    Today's birthdays: Megan Fox, 32, Jim Sturgess, 40, Tori Spelling, 45, Tucker Carlson, 49, Janet Jackson, 52, Debra Winger, 63, Pierce Brosnan, 65, Danny Trejo, 74.