- The InSneider
- A Future Blockbuster Takes Flight; 'May December' Review; Original Screenplay Power Rankings
A Future Blockbuster Takes Flight; 'May December' Review; Original Screenplay Power Rankings
Paul Greengrass has signed on to direct Universal's adaptation of T.J. Newman's gripping novel 'Drowning.'
It’s Tuesday, which means it’s VOD release day, and today brings a special one — Always, Lola, starring my friend Roxy Striar. You can also check out The Holdovers, even though that fantastic film is still playing in theaters. Tuesday also brings the release of new books, and I can’t wait to dive into Jeffery Deaver’s latest Lincoln Rhyme thriller The Watchmaker’s Hand.
A friendly reminder that if you enjoy this newsletter, please consider telling a friend, or sharing it with everyone you’ve ever met on social media. Thanks! I’m off to Taco Tuesday family dinner, and to give my nieces a big smooch before I head back to Los Angeles on Thursday night.
A Future Blockbuster Takes Flight With the Right Director in the Cockpit
Well, this is coming together nicely, as Paul Greengrass is the captain now.
Earlier this summer, in the grips of Barbenheimer fever, I wrote that Greta Gerwig should ditch Netflix’s Narnia movies and do something completely different — something like T.J. Newman’s action-packed survival thriller Drowning.
It looks like Gerwig is pressing ahead, judging by how many times Netflix’s Scott Stuber has reminded people that the streamer has Gerwig’s next movie, and who knows? Maybe Gerwig will be able to do something with C.S. Lewis’ crusty fantasy books. It’ll be years before we know whether or not she regrets her choice.
Warner Bros., for its part, isn’t waiting around. They know they have the next Apollo 13 ($355 million worldwide back in 1995) on their hands if done right, and to that end, they’ve hired Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass to take the helm. With the exception of that film, and his Netflix movie 22 July, Greengrass has always been a Universal guy. His last film, News of the World, was released during the pandemic and made just $12 million at the domestic box office, but Warners is putting him in a better position to succeed this time around.
Drowning is absolutely in his wheelhouse.
When you look at a movie like United 93, it’s clear that Greengrass excels at making movies about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. Drowning follows a plane crash that forces its survivors to decide whether to tread the fiery waters of the Pacific Ocean and risk choking on smoke while they wait to be rescued, or take their chances sinking to the bottom of the ocean thanks to an air bubble that could burst at any moment.
The leads are an engineer (can you say Ryan Gosling?) and his 11-year-old daughter, plus the man’s estranged wife (can you say Margot Robbie?), who happens to be the elite diver leading the rescue effort. This is a story of real heroes, not superheroes — people who are more like Captain Phillips than supercops like John McClane or superspies like Jason Bourne. That’s why, I suspect, Greengrass will knock this one out of the park.
This is the kind of original summer blockbuster that could make waves around the world, especially given the story’s parallels to the Titan tragedy that killed five people earlier this summer. The project is a priority for Warners, which acquired the rights for $1.5 million against $3 million, beating out four other studios and who’s who of top filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg and the Russo brothers’ AGBO banner. In other words, everyone in town wanted to get their hands on Drowning, and now, it appears that Flight 1421 is ready for takeoff. Expect it to soar with Greengrass in the pilot’s seat. With a little bit of luck, he could very well turn this rescue mission into the studio’s next Argo.
T.J. Newman’s first book, Falling, remains in development at Universal, and that’s another hot property, though Idris Elba’s Apple TV+ series Hijack took a bit of wind out of its sails. We’ll be following both of the author’s plane-centric projects closely ‘round these parts, so stay tuned…
Review Corner: May December and Surviving Barstool
One of these women is currently thinking, “Do I have enough hot dogs?”
Last night, I enjoyed quite a doubleheader! It began with Todd Haynes’ camptastic May December, and ended late at night with Surviving Barstool, which is basically Barstool’s version of Squid Game. These are two very different pieces of “content,” to quote the trades, but each was deliciously entertaining in its own unique way.
May December is another movie that, like Saltburn, is weird and uncomfortable. I liked it a bit more than that film, but neither one really feels like an “Oscar movie” to me, and I wish I’d just seen these films at festivals before such awards baggage was thrust upon them by the media, tainting my expectations. Perhaps that’s a flaw of my own thinking, but nonetheless, when it ended, I was left thinking of nominations for supporting actor (Charles Melton, impressive) and original screenplay (Samy Burch).
Natalie Portman plays a mid-level actress who has been cast as a Mary Kay Letourneau-like figure, played by Julianne Moore, who had an affair and subsequently fell in love with a 13-year-old boy before going to prison and having their child. 21 years later or so, the woman and her much younger husband (Melton) live a charmed life, with a daughter in college and twins who are about to graduate high school, thereby leaving them with an empty nest. They’re also embraced by their community.
However, tensions simmer beneath the surface — tensions that Portman’s Elizabeth picks up on and uses to her advantage in her ruthless pursuit of a better performance. Some actors go Method, but Elizabeth opts for a full immersion.
Both Portman and Moore play their roles to a tee, and yet Melton is the clear standout. I know he won the Gotham Award last night, and the Gothams mean nothing when it comes to the Oscars, but it’s clear I’m not alone in that opinion. He’s given two or three scenes where he really stands out — a man who became a father at 13 and was ultimately robbed of his adolescence.
Let me be clear — without Melton’s final scene, this film fails to land. It’s the scene that so many movies are missing. But it ties it all together before ending on a twisted note. Again, like Saltburn, I’m not sure this is an awards movie at all, but I picked up on its wavelength early on and enjoyed this campy tale, even though I think it may have benefitted from being a straight drama.
It’s tricky… the high camp in this movie is what sets it apart, and I can totally see why it’s running in the Comedy/Musical category at the Golden Globes, but if May December had been a drama, I think it would pack a bigger punch. It’s almost like the whole movie is tongue-in-cheek, and thus, harder to take seriously. Had, say, Melton been the focus rather than Portman, I think that perspective could’ve been really interesting, but Haynes is more interested in the catty back-and-forth between Portman and Moore, whose final confrontation feels a little anticlimactic.
But perhaps that’s just my own insecurity talking.
Step right up and place your bets! Using the Barstool betting app, of course!
As for Surviving Barstool, talk about whiplash!
This is the perfect format for this motley crew, who are able to play up their Barstool personas on camera as they compete in various challenges and sleep in the office for an entire week in a quest for $100,000.
What’s low-key hilarious is how dismissive Barstool leader Dave Portnoy is of the prize, basically calling it chump change while acknowledging how it could change one of his staffers’ lives. I’d argue he already has simply by hiring them, and to me, he seems like someone who values loyalty and treats his people very well. But he’s as cutthroat and strategic as everyone else in this vicious game.
Big Cat and Steven Cheah wind up selecting the teams via snake draft, and after Cheah drafts Kirk Minihane — who radiates “Don’t Fuck With Me” energy — Big Cat takes Portnoy and PFT Commenter, and so on and so forth. There’s also Tommy, who is a crafty little son of a bitch, having been underestimated during past competitions that he ultimately won. And Rico Bosco, who seems like an absolute headcase.
Through it all, Jeff D. Lowe does a good job of serving as the show’s Jeff Probst, keeping his composure even though he’s surrounded by psychos searching for a competitive advantage.
My only note for the Barstool guys? tighten up the edit. 84 minutes is a little too long, and the first challenge went on for so long that it started to drag. If you can keep these episodes to an hour, I think you’ve got something close to perfect given the personalities involved.
Oscars Power Rankings: Can Barbie Hold Off The Holdovers in the Best Original Screenplay Race?
“I can’t lose this Oscar to Barbie, can I?” “Oh, I believe you can, not that you should.”
Best Original Screenplay
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Barbie
David Hemingson, The Holdovers
Celine Song, Past Lives
Arthur Harari and Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall
Josh Singer and Bradley Cooper, Maestro
Chloe Domont, Fair Play
Ava DuVernay, Origin
Sammy Burch and Alex Mechanik, May December
Alex Convery, Air
Kristoffer Borgli, Dream Scenario
Analysis: This is a fairly deep category this year, with two clear frontrunners to my eye — Barbie and The Holdovers. Of course, it’s unclear whether the Academy will ultimately consider Barbie to be an original screenplay. As of now, I’ll call it original, but precedent doesn’t bode well for Greta Gerwig’s feminist film, which she co-wrote with partner Noah Baumbach.
The Holdovers is the type of movie that screams Best Original Screenplay winner, as it has the kind of heart that reminds me of Little Miss Sunshine. Likewise, Past Lives teems with heart as well, though I believe that film’s power lies in what the viewer brings to it — it’s kind of a blank canvas on which we can project our own past lives and the relationships we opted not to pursue.
Anatomy of a Fall boasts a very strong screenplay, as does Fair Play, a crackling thriller from Chloe Domont that made a splash at Sundance, where Netflix acquired the film for $20 million. I love the dialogue in both of those movies, just as I love the dialogue in Air, written by talented newcomer Alex Convery, who received sole credit at the behest of Ben Affleck.
Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario may be the year’s most original screenplay — this year’s Charlie Kaufman movie, if you will — but I don’t love its chances to crack the top five, especially with Bradley Cooper’s Maestro looming large. I thought the script was one of that film’s weaker elements, but Cooper seems to be beloved by the Academy, and Josh Singer won an Oscar for Spotlight, so the two of them are hard to ignore.
The one who’s rising up the ranks, sight unseen, is Ava DuVernay’s Origin. I just got a call from a journalist friend who saw it and loved it, predicting that it would make me cry — since they know that deep down, I’m a big softie. I’ll be catching up with that movie soon, and I can’t wait to report back, as I’m a fan of DuVernay and very curious about Origin, which still doesn’t have a trailer.
I expect the power rankings in this category to change over the next few weeks, so we’ll have to check back in. And be sure to check out last week’s episode of FYC (video below) for my thoughts on the Adapted Screenplay race.
Bits and Bobs (A Daily News Roundup)
The Boys Are Back in Ciudad - On the heels of Gen V, Amazon has unveiled another superhero spinoff, The Boys: Mexico, which hails from Blue Beetle scribe Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna will executive produce, and they may even take on roles in front of the camera, though they wouldn’t be front and center. The series will be shot in Mexico, and Amazon is currently searching for a co-showrunner to work alongside Dunnet-Alcocer, so agents, prep your list of candidates. With Netflix taking a break from its Narcos franchise, I actually think a spinoff of The Boys set south of the border could work really well, especially if the new Supes take on the cartel.
The Gothams - What are the Gothams? Who votes for the Gothams? Who cares about the Gothams? These are not questions I’m prepared to answer in this newsletter. The only reason anyone even pays attention to this awards show is because it’s one of the first of the season, not that I understand the rush. No one cares about the winners, so I won’t even link to them, they just care about Robert De Niro’s speech and who removed all of its references to Donald Trump. Sounds like a case for the great Benoit Blanc! But seriously, who would dare to muzzle De Niro? Obviously, he’s going to find a way to say whatever he wants. He’s Robert De Niro!
Doctor Who Hits the Road - I’m not a Doctor Who guy, or a Game of Thrones guy, or a Last Night in Soho guy, or a Morbius guy, so yeah… I’m not really a Matt Smith guy. Nonetheless, he’s set to play the title character in Sky’s series adaptation of Nick Cave’s second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro. The series follows Bunny, a sex addict who sells beauty products door-to-door, as he and his nine-year-old son embark on an increasingly out-of-control road trip across south England following his wife’s suicide. This sounds… dark, but I’m sure there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Smith and Cave will serve as EPs.
Virgo Star Lands Next Big Role - Jharrel Jerome, who plays a 13-foot-tall man in Boots Riley’s Amazon series I’m a Virgo, has reportedly landed the lead in Trey Parker’s untitled new movie from writer Vernon Chatman. I’m told it’s about a young Black man who interns as a slave reenactor at a living history museum and discovers that his white girlfriend’s ancestors once owned his. Daniel Richtman broke the news on his Patreon, and he’s saying that Paul Walter Hauser is in talks to co-star. This one sounds fascinating, especially in Parker’s hands, as the South Park creator won’t shy away from anything. I can’t wait to see who plays the female lead here…
Alien Adds Another - Yesterday, Noah Hawley added Fargo Season 4 star Timothy Olyphant to the cast of his new Alien series on FX, and today, he added Fargo Season 5 star David Rhysdahl. Rhysdahl was rather forgettable in movies like Nine Days and No Exit, but he’s showing me something in Fargo, and clearly, he’s got some industry heat between these two Hawley projects and roles in Oppenheimer and Black Mirror. Plus, he’s engaged to Zazie Beetz, so he has to be cool. You think she’d shack up with some dorky white guy? I like his trajectory, and anticipate hearing more about him in the years ahead…
Christmas Dinner Is Served - Focus announced that it will release Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu on Christmas Day next year. I’m looking forward to this vampire movie, which stars Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hoult, Lily-Rose Depp, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Emma Corrin, Ralph Ineson, Simon McBurney, and Willem Dafoe. Talk about a cast! My lord…
Can You Dig It? - Cody Brotter, whose script about Matt Drudge was voted to the Black List, has been tapped to write Tunnel 29 for Cross Creek Pictures and JKIN Films to produce Dig. The geopolitical thriller examines the 1962 construction of a tunnel beneath the Berlin Wall that served as a famous escape route during the height of the Cold War. The tunnel was built by a culturally diverse group of college students from Germany, India, and Italy, who met while attending The University of West Berlin and living in the same dorm. 29 people ultimately escaped to freedom thanks to the tunnel, and NBC News was on hand to capture footage because the network secretly funded the tunnel. That footage was then repurposed into an NBC documentary titled The Tunnel, which won three Emmys in 1963 even though the Kennedy administration tried to squash it. CAA-repped Brotter recently finished adapting the Rolling Stone article Oxy-Gen for MGM and Pete Davidson, and his script Drudge is being developed by Cross Creek, which recently produced Christian Bale’s serial killer thriller The Pale Blue Eye. JKIN is run by Jay Kinra, whose father, Dr. Mohan Kinra, was a survivor of and participant in the Tunnel 29 dig.
Congrats - To Guy Fieri, who signed a new three-year deal with Food Network that Variety reports is worth more than 100 million. His last deal was only worth $80 million. Ain’t inflation a bitch? The Mayor of Flavortown will continue to produce more episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, among other shows, under his Knuckle Sandwich banner.
Bugs Bunny Would Like a Correction on Bugs - After announcing that Looney Tunes would be leaving Max on Dec. 31, the streamer clarified, saying that “Looney Tunes was included in error as a title leaving the platform. This is not the case and the show will continue streaming on Max.” Well, I guess that’s all, folks!
Meanwhile, it took hardly any time for The Bikeriders to find a new home at Focus, so why hasn’t WBD struck a deal for Coyote vs. Acme yet, especially given the public outcry? Perhaps the streamer wasn’t satisfied with the bids? Stay tuned for more on that front...
Trailer Time: Memory
Please watch this trailer for Michel Franco’s Memory, which is a beautiful film featuring two of the year’s very best performances from Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard. this one will sneak up on you, and I hope that Academy voters don’t “forget” this one come Oscar time…
Got a hot tip, or an interesting pitch? Want to buy an ad or ask a provocative question for future mailbag installments? Email me at [email protected].