What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:16 AM 3/8/2018

by Ray Rahman

Michael B. Jordan attends MET Gala 2017- Getty-H 2018
John Shearer/Getty Images

What's news: A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters, but will it fill them? Plus: Women lead the spring film festivals, Michael B. Jordan commits to inclusion riders and a deep dive into Trump's battle against Time Warner. — Ray Rahman

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  • Box Office Battle

    Can newcomer A Wrinkle in Time top Black Panther's fourth weekend in theaters? Pamela McClintock isn't sure:

    Box-office preview: Tracking suggests Ava DuVernay's family-friendly event film, which hopes to appeal in particular to tweens and teenagers, will open in the $35 million-$40 million range, a relatively muted start for a $100 million marquee Disney title. The middling reviews (more on that below) certainly aren't helping either.

    Black Panther, meanwhile, could take in north of $40 million this weekend as it prepares to bound past $1 billion globally.

    A pattern: Disney is no stranger to low-performing fantasy adventures — in 2016, Steven Spielberg's The BFG opened to a mere $22.7 million over the long July 4 weekend, while Brad Bird's Tomorrowland was a major dud in 2015. (A major issue for Tomorrowland was its $200 million budget; A Wrinkle in Time cost Disney half as much to produce.)

    It's been tricky for other studios to find that young-audience sweet spot as well: Both Hugo and Golden Compass faced trouble back in 2011. Full story.

    The reviews are in ...

    THR: "As the film jumps from one unidentified world to another, there are certainly sights to behold — a flying dragon and weird, gorgeous landscapes among them," writes Todd McCarthy. "But after impressing so with her earlier work both in features and documentaries, what's disconcerting here is DuVernay's inability to forge a strong or supple visual style." The takeaway: A disappointment. Full review.

    What others are saying: "Depressingly, A Wrinkle in Time has less in common with its spiky protagonist than her plastic doppelganger, flattened into familiar wonders, a sincere attempt at empowerment crushed into preachy dullness." — EW.

    "This is, unapologetically, a children’s movie, by turns gentle, thrilling and didactic, but missing the extra dimension of terror and wonder that would have transcended the genre." — New York Times.

    "You're never sure whether you're watching a psychedelic, "difficult" science fiction movie hidden inside a Disney kids' movie or vice versa – and you're never sure if the movie's ambitious attempt to serve both of those masters is a feature or a bug." — Rolling Stone.

    "What Ava DuVernay's adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time asks is [your] cynicism be temporarily laid down so that you can be deeply moved by wisdom delivered by a giant, glowing Oprah. If you do, it's a profoundly satisfying, imaginative and beautiful film." — NPR.

    Consensus: Currently on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has a "rotten" score of 43, while Metacritic's grade is slightly higher at 54.

    A victory for the inclusion rider ...

    Michael B. Jordan is doing it: In a move sure to make Frances McDormand happy, the actor announced that his production company, Outlier Society, will be adopting inclusion riders for all its projects. Wrote Jordan: "I’ve been privileged to work with powerful woman & persons of color throughout my career & it’s Outlier’s mission to continue to create for talented individuals going forward."

    Growing pains at MoviePass ...

    Is it growing too fast? Wired makes the argument: "Over the past six months, MoviePass has invited a broad range of complaints, ranging from long waits for membership cards and non-responsive customer service to specific theaters and movies being unexpectedly blacked out."

    CEO Mitch Lowe: “I kind of parachuted in folks to triage the situation, and they were contractors; we outsourced the solution,” Lowe tells Wired of the company's attempts to make right. “Despite the amount of time we gave it, we hadn’t made as much progress as I wanted.”

    Universal marketing exec fired ...

    Out: Josh Goldstine has been booted as Universal's president of marketing after a weeks-long investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct. He's only the latest figure from the studio to come under scrutiny in recent weeks — both executive vp creative strategy and research Seth Byers and senior vp creative advertising Scott Abraham have also been axed over misconduct.

    Is John Williams done with Star Wars?

    Almost: The storied 86-year-old composer hinted in an interview that the upcoming Episode IX might be his last of the franchise. "We know J.J. Abrams is preparing one now for next year that I will hopefully do for him, and I look forward to it," he said. "It will round out a series of nine and be quite enough for me."

    iPic heads to Saudi Arabia ...

    Expansion: Just months after the nation legalized movie theaters, the luxury cinema chain is working on plans to "develop cinemas and restaurants throughout the country," the L.A. Times reports. "This is an opportunity that won't repeat itself," said CEO and founder Hamid Hashemi. "There is not a single screen in existence today."

    Oscar theft update ...

    Plea: Terry Bryant, the man accused of stealing Frances McDormand's Academy Award, pleaded not guilty to the felony crime on Wednesday and was released from jail this morning, according to records.

    Jerrod Carmichael gets a movie ...

    Biopic: Carmichael is set to adapt a film based on Dapper Dan's upcoming memoir (out in 2019 via Random House) for Sony. Set in Harlem, the feature is described as a "high-stakes coming-of-age story" about the streetwear pioneer that outfitted some of the biggest New York City-based stars (Salt-N-Pepa, P. Diddy, Aaliyah) of the '80s and '90s out of his iconic store on 125th Street.

    Letter from Bollywood ...

    An Archie movie? Apparently so: Archie Comics is partnering with Graphic India for the first-ever live-action Bollywood film based on the characters from the comic series. The movie will “reimagine the classic characters like Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Moose and Jughead as Indians and will feature all the classic elements of the hugely popular comic book series,” the companies said.

    Elsewhere in film ...

    ? Michael Bay is directing two new movies: One of the two films is 6 Underground, a film written by Deadpool screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese; the other one is Robopocalypse, the long-in-the-works adaptation of Daniel Wilson's best-selling 2011 A.I. thriller novel. Steven Spielberg will produce the latter. 

    ? Amazon locks down Kenneth Lonergan: The Manchester by the Sea director has signed an exclusive first-look deal with the streamer to write and direct film and TV projects over two years.

    ? Elizabeth Banks will star in James Gunn's horror movie: And it's a mysterious one — the title and logline is still under wraps. Whatever it is, it'll be a reunion: Banks worked with Gunn before for his 2006 movie Slither.

    ? Magnolia acquires Regina Hall comedy Support the Girls: The company picked up North American rights to the movie from writer-director Andrew Bujalski, which will debut at SXSW this Friday. 

    Women are leading the way at the spring festivals this year:

    Tribeca Film Fest: Liz Garbus' documentary The Fourth Estate, which follows The New York Times as it covered Donald Trump's first year as president, will have its world premiere as the festival's closing-night film. On top of that, 46 percent of the 96 feature films showing at Tribeca will be directed by women, the highest percentage in the festival's history. Read more.

    SXSW: As the L.A. Times reports, the Austin film fest will also see female filmmakers taking the spotlight: eight of the 10 movies in the festival's narrative competition this year are directed by women. 

  • Trump vs. Time Warner

    Is this the antitrust showdown of the century? Legal experts evaluate the stakes for the biggest case of its kind since Microsoft in the 1990s, writes Eriq Gardner:

    It's 2019, and winter has come. Tens of millions of Game of Thrones fans tune in to HBO to find out who will take the Iron Throne. But in a shocker, 85 percent of those expecting to watch the conclusion of TV's biggest series suddenly can't. The final episodes are available only on DirecTV or HBO's streaming service — with an AT&T broadband subscription.

    That might sound far-fetched, but it's the scenario more or less imagined by the U.S. Department of Justice in suing to block AT&T's proposed $85 billion deal to acquire Time Warner. In its suit, the government specifically points out that GoT would be under AT&T's thumb. If the deal goes through, the DOJ contends that AT&T would gain the "ability and incentive to substantially lessen competition by withholding" content or raising the price.

    Why the merger should be allowed: Namely, the government has struggled to articulate a cogent theory on the need to block this so-called "vertical integration" — that is, a tie-up between a distributor and supplier. AT&T is the world's largest telecommunications company, but it doesn't make much content. Conversely, Time Warner produces Wonder Woman and The Big Bang Theory, but, other than its nascent digital platforms, it doesn't directly distribute television to consumers as AT&T does through DirecTV. The merger won't create a monopoly. Full story.

    + Will the U.S. go after Comcast next? In a letter to the the DOJ’s antitrust chief, Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote that “if your investigation determines that the Comcast-NBCU acquisition will produce anti-competitive effects, even if the merger conditions are retained, you may need to consider separating Comcast and NBCU in order to fully restore competition.” In other words, it might never be too late to unwind a vertical merger. Read more.

    + Apple taking over Culver City office building after HBO backs out. HBO’s decision to cancel moving to its new headquarters had everything to do with the AT&T-Time Warner deal, according to sources familiar with the real estate transaction: “With the merger looming, HBO’s future is uncertain right now, and this resulted in them pulling out of the Culver City deal."

    Changes at Univision ...

    Exit: CEO Randy Falco is preparing to leave Univision Communications, the impending parting of the ways coming just days after the nation's top Spanish-language TV company ditched its effort to go public and replaced its CFO.

    Jeffrey Tambor's accuser speaks out ...

    "In the middle of the night, he watched me sleep": Van Barnes, Tambor's former assistant who accused the actor of sexual harassment and abusive behavior, opened up to Megyn Kelly yesterday and detailed Tambor's alleged behavior, including watching her sleep. "He said, 'Well, you sleep with one arm over your head.' That's violating," she said. "It's so creepy. This is a man I put my trust in."

    Speaking of Tambor: Director Armando Iannucci says he never considered reshooting the actor's scenes in The Death of Stalin. “The film had been shot, it had been released in the U.K. before any of this came out, and I don’t want to take anything away from his performance,” he told IndieWire, adding: “The [Kevin] Spacey story is, there’s more that is known about that, so you can see the thinking there."

    Terry Crews-Adam Venit update ...

    Criminal complaint declined: Crews' sexual assault claim against his former agent, Venit of WME, was declined "due to the lapse in statute of limitations for misdemeanor cases," the Los Angeles city attorney's office said

    Mark Cuban in hot water ...

    Accused: The Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star is denying a sexual assault allegation from 2011 that was published this week by the alt-weekly Willamette Week. The woman in the report says Cuban reached inside her pants and penetrated her with his finger while taking a picture at a nightclub. Prosecutors never pursued the case, and Cuban says: "It didn't happen." The NBA says it's looking into it.

    Elsewhere in TV ...

    ? Ginnifer Goodwin's ABC pilot: The former Once Upon a Time lead will return to ABC to star in Steps, a single-camera parenting comedy.

    ? ABC wants more The Good Doctor: The network has handed out an early season-two renewal to the Freddie Highmore-starring, David Shore-created medical drama. No episode count yet.

    ? Cartoon Network's new slate: It's a big one. The network unveiled its largest slate of content ever on Thursday, including five new shows, 30 new apps and an increased investment in podcasts, AR and VR.

    Among the new shows: Diego Molano's Victor and Valentino, a supernatural comedy about a pair of half-brothers who spend the summer with their grandmother in a mysterious town where Latin American folklore comes to life, and Owen Dennis’ Infinity Train, about a girl who tries to find her way home from a train full of infinite worlds.

    ? Banned in Minnesota? That's what one state representative is proposing doing to Arie Luyendyk Jr. of The Bachelor, who this week became the franchise's top villain after breaking the heart of Minnesota-based Becca Kufrin. The politician drafted a bill for it after getting over a thousand retweets.

  • 'Prince' of Hollywood

    Zsa Zsa Gabor’s widower Prince Frederic von Anhalt, the late star's ninth and final husband, is an operator who bought his bloodline and says he made millions selling titles to other wannabes. As he preps the April sell-off of his late wife’s estate, he opens up about their marriage and his dubious backstory. Gary Baum writes:

    A year and counting since Gabor died at age 99, von Anhalt, 74, is preparing their Bel Air mansion for a splashy April 14 estate auction of her belongings — from her extensive wardrobe of Chanel and Valentino to the Steinway piano her third husband, actor George Sanders, painted gold after he won best supporting actor for 1950's All About Eve.

    Combing through her things, von Anhalt reflects on what he considers a well-lived life, albeit one built on a brazen history of chicanery. As what is likely to be his most public chapter comes to an end, von Anhalt is finally willing to come (mostly) clean about his singular journey, which he views with no small amount of pride. Read more.

    What else we're reading ...

    — "Peter Thiel's money talks, in contentious ways. But what does he say?" David Streitfeld writes: "Thiel is at the center of nearly every issue that roils Silicon Valley, ranging from the tech elite’s fascination with New Zealand hideaways to Bitcoin to the problems of herd thinking to the evolving role of content on the internet." [New York Times]

    — "Love Simon is a groundbreaking gay movie. But do today's teens actually actually need it?" Daniel D'Addario writes: "The movie faces a double bind." [Time]

    — "Lionel Richie wants to teach you how to be a real American Idol." Alex Pappademas writes: "He’s been a Commodore, a solo superstar, a parent to children in the public eye. Now the man who made it from Motown to memes will dole out tough love on TV." [New York Times]

    — "For old-school film projectionists, the pictures never got small." Simon Abrams writes: "Though prominent directors are clamoring for them, such skilled workers are in short supply." [Vanity Fair]

    — "It's time for Chris Harrison to retire from The Bachelor." I personally disagree, but a compelling read nonetheless. [Vulture

    — "Amazon admits Alexa is creepily laughing at people and is working on a fix." The rise of the voice assistants is upon us. [The Verge]

    What else we're seeing ...

    + "Adam Rippon finally meets fan Reese Witherspoon." [The Late Show]

    + "Hoda Kotb explains why she and Kathie Lee drink on Today." [Late Show]

    + "Charlize Theron's mom got her marijuana." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    What else we're hearing ...

    + "Gwyneth x Oprah." Goop launches a new podcast, with Paltrow interviewing Winfrey for its first episode. [The Goop Podcast]

    + "Forest Whitaker displays his range as an actor and philanthropist." The Oscar winner chats with Larry Wilmore. [Black on the Air / The Ringer]

    + "Jay Roach." The director talks to David Axelrod about political films, Time's Up and more. [The Axe Files]

    Today's birthdays: Milana Vayntrub, 31, James Van Der Beek, 41, Freddie Prinze Jr., 42, Camryn Manheim, 57, Lester Holt, 59.