What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:20 AM 4/20/2018

by Ray Rahman

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

What's news: AT&T's Randall Stephenson goes to court to defend the Time Warner merger — and break some news. Plus: Natalie Portman declines an honor in Israel, The Handmaid's Tale brings Gilead to Hollywood and Shonda Rhimes answers our Scandal series finale burning questions. — Ray Rahman

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  • Portman's Complaint

    Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

    Natalie Portman's decision not to receive an honor in Israel is being seen as a form of protest...

    Skipping Israel: The Jerusalem-born actress has decided against receiving the Genesis Prize in Israel and canceled her trip to accept the honor, according to the organization that had planned to salute her.

    The prize foundation quoted Portman's rep as saying "recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing” to her and that "she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony."

    Portman's views: She has openly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past, saying in 2015, "I'm very much against Netanyahu. Against. I am very, very upset and disappointed that he was re-elected."

    Last year: "I think all Israelis know that it's much easier to criticize in Israel than outside...it's such a hard combination to obviously have deep love for the place you're from and also see what's wrong with it. So it becomes a tricky thing, certainly increasingly tricky."

    The Genesis foundation: "We are very saddened that she has decided not to attend the Genesis Prize Ceremony in Jerusalem for political reasons. We fear that Ms. Portman’s decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicized, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid.”

    The Israeli government: "I was saddened to hear that Natalie Portman has fallen as a ripe fruit in the hands of BDS supporters," said Israel's Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, associating her with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

    "Natalie, a Jewish actress who was born in Israel now joins those who refer to the success and wonder of the rebirth of Israel as A Tale of Darkness and Darkness," she said, making reference to Portman's 2015 film.

    A pattern: In December, Lorde canceled a concert date in Tel Aviv amid calls for artists to boycott performing in the country. Earlier in 2017, Radiohead similarly faced criticism ahead of its July 19 concert in the city (the band played anyway).

    More Saudi developments...

    A second theater chain: Just a day after AMC's historic opening in Riyadh on April 18, the Middle East's biggest regional theater chain Vox announced that it, too, had been awarded a license to operate in the kingdom and would be opening Saudi Arabia's first multiplex in the coming days.

    Imax's India moves...

    Expansion: Imax is growing its footprint in India with its latest agreements with two leading cinema chains, Inox and Cinepolis, which nearly doubles its contracted theaters as recent Bollywood releases also have started to open on the large-screen format.

    Letter from London...

    Is 4DX the future of cinema? A critic from The Guardian tries it out, and comes away unconvinced: "To be honest, rather than putting me 'in the movie,' 4DX often threw me out of it. It’s more ghost train than flight simulator.... If you’re in the mood, it’s a novel thrill-ride; if you’re not, it’s like being assaulted by your own cinema seat...."

    The Avengers question...

    Is the movie facing unrealistic expectations? "Infinity War is the rarest of films, the kind that's so anticipated that it's hard to see it as just a movie," writes Patrick Shanley. "Fans have been dissecting it since 2014, when Marvel first revealed the film's title. It's transcended beyond the blockbuster and into the realm of worldwide cultural event.... Perhaps unfairly, it's hard for audiences to allow projects on this level to just be films." Read more.

    The latest box-office tracking: Per WSJ: "One week before it hits theaters, Avengers: Infinity War is poised for a massive box office debut that could unseat 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens as the biggest opening of all time in the U.S. and Canada, currently $248 million."

    Kimmel's all in: From April 23 to 27, Jimmy Kimmel's show will host 19 of the film's top stars, including Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland, Zoe Saldana, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Danai Gurira, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Sebastian Stan, Chadwick Boseman and more.

    Guillermo del Toro's new deal...

    Animation: The Oscar-winning filmmaker has signed a multiyear exclusive deal with DreamWorks Animation to write, produce and direct animated family films for the studio. As part of the arrangement, del Toro has taken up offices at the Glendale campus.

    This comes after his recent overall deal with Fox Searchlight to write, produce and direct live-action feature projects.

    Elsewhere in film...

    Elton John biopic nabbed by Paramount: Kingsman actor Taron Egerton will stars as the famed artist in Rocketman, which will cover John's life from his days at the Royal Academy of Music to international superstardom. Dexter Fletcher, who worked with Egerton on Eddie the Eagle, is set to direct. Details.

    Michelle Williams teams with Julianne Moore: They will co-star in the remake of Susanne Bier's Oscar-nominated Danish drama After the Wedding, in which Williams will play an orphanage owner.  

    Jesse Plemons signs up for Dwayne Johnson's Jungle Cruise: Plemons will star as a villain in the Disney theme-park-to-movie adaptation from The Shallows director Jaume Collet-Serra, joining the likes of Johnson, Emily Blunt and Edgar Ramirez.

    Lee Daniels' lesbian love story: Daniels has signed on to executive produce the indie urban drama Pimp, starring Keke Palmer, Haley Ramm and more. The indie pic marks the first movie that Daniels — the director-producer behind such TV and film hits as Empire and The Butler — has executive produced.

    Beautiful Ruins finds its director: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) is in talks to direct the adaptation of the best-selling novel, which will be produced by Sam Mendes, for Fox 2000.

    Deadpool 2 director's next project: David Leitch will helm The Division, an adaptation of the Ubisoft video game that will star Jessica Chastain and Jake Gyllenhaal.

    Universal unveils 2018 Universal Writers Program participants: See the list.

  • AT&T's Turn

    Amir Levy/Getty Images

    A day after Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes testified at the merger trial, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was challenged on the witness stand. Eriq Gardner writes:

    Stephenson's words: "On its face, the premise is absurd," Stephenson said, when presented with the government's argument that Turner would raise prices after a merger. "The idea that all of a sudden Turner under AT&T's umbrella is worth more, I don't understand how that works. It defies logic."

    "You have to live in this industry to appreciate what a stretch that is," Stephenson said later. "We compete every day with Comcast. Wireless distribution is our advantage.... It's actually the opposite. We like going over the top. It generally means wireless and serves our interests. We want to propagate that."

    "The FAANG": Stephenson took to referring to Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google as “the FAANG," saying at one point: “The FAANG are all focused on premium video. “All of them are vertically integrated.”

    A new skinny bundle: Stephenson also managed to break some news during his testimony: the CEO revealed that within weeks AT&T would be launching its new $15-a-month skinny bundle package AT&T Watch, which won't include any sports channels.

    Stephenson's kicker: "The value of a content company is how many people watch the content. Period."

    The government's case: On cross-examination, the opposing side got Stephenson to admit that DirecTV has continued to raise prices for consumers even when it was cutting costs. There also were sharp exchanges about supposed competition from tech titans. Full story.

    The Handmaid's Tale premiere...

    Party: The Hulu series held a season-two premiere bash at the iconic TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood last night, where women dressed in handmaid uniforms walked the red carpet.

    Elisabeth Moss: "I don't usually even watch screenings," the actress told THR, "but I wanted to watch tonight for one reason: I wanted to watch the final scene with an audience, because I'm so proud of it...and I was very satisfied. You could literally see the audience start to squirm." Read more.

    The loose brilliance of the current TV landscape...

    Critic's notebook: "Barry, on HBO, and Killing Eve, on BBC America, are perfect iterations of the imperfect aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the Japanese concept of finding beauty in something that is flawed," writes Tim Goodman.

    "They are series that shouldn't work — in fact, often don't work until they inconceivably and almost without explanation do. They are series so out of whack with what their intentions seem to be that they then find some kind of incomparable rhythm of their own. And in that ill-advised misstep, a sense of beauty arrives, definitively." Read more.

    Jake Tapper's historical novel...

    Parallels: “In some ways, writing about 1954 was an interesting way to write about 2018,” Tapper tells the New York Times about his upcoming novel, The Hellfire Club. “There are, independent of my book, echoes today of what happened in the fifties, in terms of lies, in terms of indecency, in terms of how much people are willing to stand up against lies and indecency today, not just politicians, but also in the press.”

    Paramount Network picks up First Wives Club...

    Fast-tracked: Two weeks after picking up to pilot, the network has decided to fast-track its reboot of First Wives Club with a 10-episode series order from Girls Trip co-writer Tracy Oliver.

    Inclusive: Casting has not yet been announced for the reboot, though sources say the network is looking to find nonwhite actresses for all three leads (originally played by Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn). One source suggested that the entire cast could be nonwhite, but insiders are careful to say that could change in the casting process.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    Murphy Brown revival adds Tyne Daly: The Emmy-winning Cagney & Lacey star is returning to CBS, but in a different reboot: She'll play the sister of departed bar owner Phil from Brown's original run.

    Living Biblically basically dead at CBS: The network has pulled the freshman comedy, executive produced by Johnny Galecki, after eight episodes. Repeats of The Big Bang Theory will take over the show's Monday time slot for the immediate future.

    Hulu's new comedy: The streamer has handed out a 10-episode, straight-to-series order for PEN15 (yes, as in the male genitalia), created by and starring duo Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. Sam Zvibleman (Take My Wife) co-created the series alongside Erskine and Konkle.

    ► Amazon's new cocaine crime series: The team behind hit Italian crime series Gomorrah has begun work on ZeroZeroZero, starring Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan and Gabriel Byrne for Sky, Canal+ and Amazon.

    The Scandal finale was last night...

    How the show ended: The series finale, written by Shonda Rhimes, followed the Gladiators to tell the truth about what they've done over their years of backroom deals and misdeeds. And as expected, the episode featured a couple of familiar faces, resolved the B613 case and left some things open for interpretation. Read more.

    Going deeper: The show's cast and creators took the stage in Hollywood last night for a final "table read" and Q&A following the finale. Read their comments. They also went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to discuss how the finale should be interpreted. Watch.

    Burning questions: Rhimes along with Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, Josh Malina and more answer THR's lingering post-finale questions, including the decision to leave Fitz's and Olivia's relationship open-ended. Full Q&A.

    Bellamy Young, What I learned in Shondaland: "I remain so proud of all Shonda has done to normalize the vista of television: everyone has a seat at her table, regardless of how they look or whom they love," Young writes in a guest column for THR. "She is interested in souls." Read more.

  • 'My Fair Lady,' Reviewed

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    Lauren Ambrose plays the Cockney flower girl passed off as aristocracy in the classic's first Broadway revival in 25 years, writes David Rooney:

    Ambrose is hilarious with her carefully practiced "How do you do's" and painstakingly aspirated H's. She's even funnier when Eliza confounds the starchy assembly by showing how much colorful spontaneity she can inject into the "safe" topics of the weather and one's health.... Full review.

    In other news...

    Bette Midler is back: The actress, along with David Hyde Pierce and Gavin Creel, will return to Broadway's Hello, Dolly! for a six-week run starting July 17. 

    Kanye West's new albums: The rapper announced on Twitter that he'd be releasing two new albums this summer, one solo effort  June 1 and then a joint album with Kid Cudi on June 8.

    Minnesota prosecutor won't file criminal charges in Prince's death: The announcement effectively ends the state's two-year investigation into how Prince got the fentanyl that killed him.

    What else we're reading...

    — "Tech's Hollywood takeover: Amazon reboots Citizen Kane and E.T. studio." Brooks Barnes writes: "Amazon’s decision to move its entertainment division to the compound under a 15-year lease demonstrates the degree to which the tech giants have woven themselves into the fabric of Hollywood." [The New York Times]

    — "China's emerging stand-up comedians walk into a bar." Yizhen Jia and Gabriel Wildau write: "The art form is on the rise in China, aided by online video programmes that offer greater space for boundary-testing content than state-owned broadcast networks." [Financial Times]

    — "Rachel Weisz has a big surprise." The actress confirms to Maureen Dowd that she and Daniel Craig are having a baby. [The New York Times]

    — "Anthony Bourdain's #MeToo advice for Alec Baldwin: 'Just shut up.'" Marlow Stern interviews the Parts Unknown host. [Daily Beast]

    — "In 1968, moviegoers had a lot more choices before blockbuster fever took over." Kenneth Turan writes: " Genre entertainment of various sorts was alive and well in 1968." [Los Angeles Times]

    — "How the Caddyshack revolution upended Hollywood." Chris Nashawaty writes: "In the summer of 1980, when Caddyshack hit theaters, such improvisation was unheard-of in Hollywood." [Wall Street Journal]

    — "L.A. Phil's superstar conductor returns to New York." Fergus McIntosh writes: "Gustavo Dudamel leads two concerts this week, setting popular standards against more modernist material." [New Yorker]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Tina Fey addresses 30 Rock reboot rumors." [Tonight Show]

    + "Jimmy Kimmel pranks Scandal's Josh Malina." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Busy Phillips was intense during the Dawson's Creek days." [Late Late Show]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Why Cannes and Netflix are going to war." The crew breaks down the film industry feud. [Little Gold Men/Vanity Fair]

    + "Wild Wild Country: Mark Duplass and filmmakers on Sheela's regrets, and if she's a psychopath." A discussion of the hot Netflix docuseries. [Turn It On/IndieWire]

    Today's Birthdays: Joey Lawrence, 42, Shemar Moore, 48, Crispin Glover, 54, Andy Serkis, 54, Jessica Lange, 69, George Takei, 81.