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  • The Rock Heads to A24 for MMA Movie From Benny Safdie; What Really Happened With Ryan Gosling on Blumhouse's 'Wolf Man' Movie?

The Rock Heads to A24 for MMA Movie From Benny Safdie; What Really Happened With Ryan Gosling on Blumhouse's 'Wolf Man' Movie?

Plus, thoughts on George Clooney's 'The Boys in the Boat' and A24's trailer for 'Civil War.'

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Today, I had a delicious lunch at the San Vincente Bungalows courtesy of a certain power producer who shall remain nameless, and tonight, I’m off to see Zac Efron kick some ass in The Iron Claw, for which I have emotionally prepared myself.

Last night, I rewatched The Holdovers, which held up on second viewing, and I also finished watching Chandler Levack’s Canadian flick I Like Movies, which features a breakout turn from up-and-comer Isaiah Lehtinen as an aspiring NYU film student who’s stuck working at his local video store in Canada.

In tonight’s newsletter, you’ll read about Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Gosling, Christopher Abbott, Michelle Obama, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, and I also offer my thoughts on George Clooney’s The Boys in the Boat and the trailer for Alex Garland’s Civil War, which A24 will release next year. Read on for more…

The Rock Heads to A24 for MMA Movie From Benny Safdie

Benny Safdie could add 20 years to Dwayne Johnson’s career if they pull this one off…

We’ve all been pretty tough on Dwayne Johnson for the past year and change, so let’s give the man credit for doing what he should’ve done long ago — pursue “serious” projects again, much like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler before him. And quite literally, in terms of the latter star.

I’ll explain, but let me first back up a sec…

Last night, a good source reached out with a little Hanukkah present — and feel free to follow their lead on this front. It was a tip of sorts, though one that would require more digging. I was told that Benny Safdie had lined up a new movie, and from the sound of it, it was a big one.

Oddly enough, I first thought it was an acting gig. Could Benny be playing Jor-El in Superman: Legacy? After all, he is Jewish! With that upbringing in mind, could he possibly be the Thing in Fantastic Four? Or maybe Benny had signed on to reunite with Paul Thomas Anderson on his next film, or he’d landed the title role in Quentin Tarantino’s The Movie Critic? Obviously, he’s a movie buff. The possibilities were almost endless following his turns in Oppenheimer, The Curse, and Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?

I was then told that, no, this was a new movie that Benny would be directing on his own — thereby confirming that he and Josh had split up — and that it wasn’t a franchise title. I put out a few feelers, but before I knew it, the trades had announced it:

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to play legendary MMA fighter Mark Kerr in A24’s The Smashing Machine from writer-director Benny Safdie, whose screenplay reportedly takes place in the year 2000.

The film shares a title with the 2003 HBO documentary about Kerr, a former two-time UFC champ and NCAA wrestling champion who fought like a junkyard dog in the octagon and battled addiction outside of the ring while balancing his rising career and his turbulent personal life.

Johnson’s production company, Seven Bucks, acquired the rights to Kerr’s story back in 2019, and the actor has been quietly developing it with the director since that time. Johnson and his Seven Bucks partner Dany Garcia will produce alongside Eli Bush and David Koplan, while Safdie will also produce via his Out for the Count banner.

Not mentioned in the announcement? Josh Safdie. Is he part of Out for the Count, or is that Benny’s solo company, and if so, will Josh eventually start his own in due time? I continue to hear about a rift between the brothers, and with two of my own, all I can say is that life is short, and I hope they patch things up soon.

It’s no surprise that A24 was willing to finance this film, given Johnson’s involvement and the fact that the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems is one of their highest-grossing films domestically. Plus, they also made Good Time with the indie studio.

A24’s Noah Sacco offered a rare quote to Deadline, saying, “Dwayne and Benny are singular talents, and their shared vision for Mark’s inspiring story is electrifying. We are deeply honored to have their trust as collaborators in bringing this incredibly special project to life.”

That “trust” that Sacco referenced is an important thing. If everything goes according to plan, this could be the next Foxcatcher. But this will be Benny’s first time directing a feature without his brother, and Johnson is really trusting the filmmaker by agreeing to step away from easy paydays and challenge himself with this kind of meaty dramatic role — which I fully believe Johnson is capable of pulling off.

No one is going to mistake DJ for DDL (that would be Daniel Day-Lewis), but I think the guy can be a hell of an actor when he’s placed into the right situation, and it sure sounds like he’s found one with The Smashing Machine, which is the kind of prestige project he needed to at least try making. I wish Dwayne and Benny the best of luck here, as this one sounds like it could be special.

And in case you’re wondering if I’m a middle-aged man who grew up in the ‘90s, yes, it feels weird not to type “Pumpkins” after typing “The Smashing.”

What Really Happened With Ryan Gosling on Blumhouse’s Wolf Man Movie?

Christopher Abbott has just the right “Kenergy” for Universal’s latest monster movie.

Ryan Gosling is no longer the Wolf Man, and I’m howling mad about it!

I’m kidding, of course. Gosling is the man, but he can’t be everywhere at once. At some point, something had to give regarding his jam-packed schedule, and it turned out to be Wolf Man, which he’ll remain involved with as an executive producer.

To replace him, Universal and Blumhouse have turned to an up-and-coming leading man — Christopher Abbott, who I recently revealed tested for the role of Reed Richards in Marvel’s Fantastic Four reboot.

Now, before I get into Abbott’s casting, let’s focus on Gosling’s exit for a second. I tweeted my Scheduling Issue Theory this morning, but as it turned out… I was wrong. A well-placed source reached out to correct me, noting how THR’s big scoop didn’t mention scheduling issues, or give any reason behind Gosling’s departure.

My source indicated that Universal and Blumhouse likely would’ve waited for Gosling to become available had scheduling been the issue. But it wasn’t.

Instead, they said that Blumhouse had been subtly trying to move Gosling off the project for quite a while, as the actor was “giving really bad notes and they were getting annoyed.”

That… wouldn’t shock me. Gosling got the chance to write, direct, and produce a movie with the 2014 fantasy thriller Lost River, and the results were, shall we say, not inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, there are few bigger Gosling stans than I, but some people were meant to be in front of the camera, not behind it.

I also suspect that, post-Barbie, Gosling cost a lot of money — certainly more than Abbott — and Blumhouse may have felt like it didn’t need a big star, as the company’s formula has served it quite well despite not relying on A-listers to drive ticket sales. “From the director of The Invisible Man…” should serve it just fine.

The other wrinkle here is that, per THR, the script was written by Whannell and Corbett Tuck as well as Rebecca Angelo and… Lauren Schuker Blum, who happens to be producer Jason Blum’s wife. Perhaps that’s why my source is suggesting there was some sensitivity around the notes they were receiving from the actor. Though, to be fair, Dumb Money scribes Angelo and Schuker Blum penned an older draft, which has apparently been rewritten by the director and his co-writer, Tuck.

And now, let’s talk about Abbott, who will play a man whose family is being terrorized by a lethal predator in Wolf Man.

I am one of the only straight guys I know who watched every episode of HBO’s Girls, where, ironically, it was guys like Adam Driver and Abbott who stood out. Look at them now…

Congratulations to Chris — we need to add Abbott to Hollywood’s list of top Chrises — and congrats to Uni and Blumhouse on an inspired backup choice. There’s no shame in being the guy they call when Gosling’s not available. Speaking of which, don’t be surprised if things start to heat up on Project Hail Mary, to which Gosling has also been attached for years. It feels like that could be next for the likely Oscar nominee… unless he wants to give directing another shot, in which case I promise to keep an open mind.

Review Corner: George Clooney’s The Boys in the Boat Is Too By-the-Numbers to Make a Real Splash

Do you think Callum Turner prefers his martinis shaken or stirred?

I saw The Boys in the Boat the other night, and I thought it was fine. Not bad, but nothing special. All of the actors do a good job, but none of the performances really pop. It’s an easy movie to watch on Prime Video, but a harder one for me to recommend as a theatrical release.

Directed by George Clooney, the old-fashioned film follows the University of Washington’s crew team, which went on to compete at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. It’s a pretty conventional sports drama — the eight boys have to learn to row as one… someone wants to quit the team… someone else gets sick/will they recover ahead of the big match? You get the picture. The only difference is that the world of crew is rarely explored on the big screen — 2021’s The Novice is a great place to start, though.

For me, a big problem here is that you don’t really get to know the boys in the boat. At the end of the film, they show guys I’ve barely seen or spent any time with. I understand that you have to highlight one or two of the boys because that’s how movies work, but when The Mighty Ducks does a better job of showcasing a team, you’re in trouble.

Callum Turner is fine as the young lead here — Joel Edgerton kinda sleepwalks through this movie as the team’s coach — but I’ll admit that I was kind of distracted throughout the film. The whole movie, I kept thinking two things — that he looks an awful lot like Paul Newman, and that he’d make a pretty good James Bond. He’s British, he just worked with Clooney… and Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks as one of the leads in Masters of the Air… and he has the sexy glower and youthful physicality down pat.

Rumored names like Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Paul Mescal seem a little too well-known to play 007 at this stage. Turner might even be a better fit.

But now I’ve lost the plot, haven’t I? Here’s what this movie boils down to — the first race is exciting. But you can only watch the team’s boat fall behind and catch back up so many times before you realize that this film has one trick up its sleeve, and it is otherwise way too repetitive.

It feels like Clooney understood the assignment here and delivered on that front, but this one won’t take up much time in the highlight reel of his career.

Grade: B- (And I’m feeling generous)

Bits and Bobs (A Daily News Roundup)

“Are you ready for Prime time, baby?” “Not before a theatrical release, comrade.”

  • Best of Enemies Update - Apple and Netflix were chasing Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale’s Cold War-era spy movie Best of Enemies, but the auction has ended and now that the dust has settled, Amazon MGM Studios has come out on top, inking writer Eric Warren Singer and producer Charles Roven to high-seven-figure deals. This is a group reunion for the quartet behind American Hustle, though director David O. Russell isn’t expected to join them for Best of Enemies — news of which was first reported by The InSneider. It sounds like Netflix had to make a choice today, and they went with the Ryan Reynolds heist movie, allowing Amazon to swoop in and win this bidding war with an offer for a significant theatrical release. Stay tuned to see whether Cooper winds up directing this one or letting someone else take the reins.

  • Bad Boy for Life? - Hulu has canceled plans for a reality show that would’ve followed the family of Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs after multiple lawsuits were filed against the music mogul accusing him of sexual assault. The show, which was in the very early stages of development and known internally as Diddy+7, was being produced by James Corden’s company Fulwell 73. Will the allegations in these lawsuits haunt Diddy’s career for the rest of his days, or will he fight back to protect his reputation? Either way, this scandal isn’t going away anytime soon, and Diddy won’t be able to buy his way out of it, either. It’s just a shame that his family had to face the consequences of his alleged actions, though I think they’ll be okay in the long run…

  • First Lady in the House - Variety broke the news that Leave the World Behind producer Michelle Obama was in Century City today for some meetings at CAA, where the agency pitched her as the DCU’s new Wonder Woman. I’m kidding, of course, but I’m sure they presented her with a few interesting film and TV scripts for Higher Ground to consider producing in the wake of its big Netflix hit. I wasn’t a fan, and neither was Elon Musk, but I can’t imagine that the former First Lady will lose any sleep over our reviews.

  • Teamwork Makes the Dream Work - In a rare show of solidarity, CAA, WME, and UTA came together to sell a big pitch to Netflix. Ryan Reynolds (WME) will star in the global heist comedy, which will be written by Dana Fox (UTA) and produced by Simon Kinberg (CAA). It’s said to be in the spirit of an Ocean’s 11-type movie with an international ensemble, but that sure does sound an awful lot like 6 Underground, which was dreadful. Do all these Ryan Reynolds movies — I’m thinking of Red Notice and The Adam Project, too — actually justify their cost? I suppose they must, considering how many are made. This one had eight buyers, and Netflix won thanks to its deep pockets, as Fox (Cruella) will be paid mid-seven figures just to write it, and she’ll make even more as a producer on the suddenly high-priority project. the producers will be paid even more. And guess what? All the bidders who missed out on it will have their crack at another Reynolds project, Calamity Hustle, as the sibling comedy he’s pitching with Channing Tatum, has yet to find a home. I’m sure it’ll land — because really, how can it not?

  • Sting Like a Bee - Kevin Hart is set to star in Fight Night: The Million Dollar Heist, which has landed a series order at Peacock. Previously in development as a Lars Jacobson-scripted feature at Universal, the story follows the infamous armed robbery that occurred after Muhammad Ali’s historic 1970 comeback fight against Jerry Quarry. Hundreds of guests at an afterparty were robbed at gunpoint, making it one of America’s largest armed robberies ever. The series will follow the Atlanta cop and the hustler at the center of the heist, and it hails from writer Shaye Ogbonna (The Penguin, The Chi) and producer Will Packer. Jacobson will serve as an EP on the series, which Ogbonna will co-showrun with Jason Horwitch (Echo 3). And for those wondering, yes, Fight Night is based on the podcast of the same name.  

  • The Big C - Rumored The Last of Us star Kaitlyn Dever, Alycia Debnam-Carey, and Aisha Dee are set to star in Apple Cider Vinegar, a limited series out of Australia about health and wellness scammers that Netflix is producing with See-Saw Films and Picking Scabs, whose Samantha Strauss (Nine Perfect Strangers) created the series and is co-writing alongside Anya Beyersdorf and Angela Betzien. Jeffrey Walker is set to direct Apple Cider Vinegar, which is understood to be inspired by the life of disgraced Australian wellness guru Belle Gibson, who made up a fake cancer diagnosis to win sympathy from her huge following on social media. Production will take place on location in Melbourne, Australia, and the cast also includes Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Mark Coles Smith, and Succession actor Ashley Zukerman.

  • Bang Bang, He Shot Me Down - Back in 2020, I named Tom Pelphrey my Up-and-Comer of the Month based on his fiery turn as Laura Linney’s bipolar brother in Ozark. Now, Pelphrey has been cast opposite Mark Ruffalo in HBO’s Untitled Task Force Series from Brad Ingelsby, who is coming off the grand slam that was Mare of Easttown. The series has also added rising stars Emilia Jones (CODA) and Thuso Mbedu (The Woman King) to its growing cast. The latter will play a detective who’s recruited for Ruffalo’s task force, which is out to stop a string of drug-house robberies led by an unsuspecting family man. Jones will play Pelphrey’s niece, who has put her life on hold to care for his kids. Does that make him another overworked cop, the likes of which we’ve seen in Heat, or does that make him the duplicitous family man? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough, but either way, this is one of my most anticipated series, and it’s coming together quite nicely with Jeremiah Zagar and Salli Richardson-Whitfield sharing directing duties.

  • Narcissists Need Love, Too - Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is set to star in the indie movie You’re Dating a Narcissist! from director Ann Marie Allison, who co-wrote the script with my pal Jenna Milly (Golden Arm). She’ll play an outspoken psychologist who has been burned by love and now specializes in toxic relationships. When she realizes that her daughter is engaged to a narcissist, she and her best friend fly to Los Angeles to convince her not to marry him. Ciara Bravo, who played Tom Holland’s love interest in Cherry, will play Tomei’s daughter, while Sherry Cola will play Tomei’s best friend despite their 25-year age difference. But you know what? I loved me some Sherry Cola in Joy Ride and Shortcomings, so this movie gets a pass for that in my book. The cast also includes José María Yazpik, who was so good in Narcos: Mexico

  • Streaming Deals Galore! - Reacher star Alan Ritchson and his AllyCat Entertainment banner signed a first-look film deal with Amazon MGM Studios. Season 2 of Reacher will debut soon on Prime Video and I can’t wait to tell you about it. Needless to say, I like this deal for the streamer, as Ritchson is a rising star. Meanwhile, Silo star David Oyelowo has signed a first-look deal with Apple TV+ along with his wife and producing partner, Jessica Oyelowo. The two of them will produce movies and TV shows for the streamer under their Yoruba Saxon banner, which also produces Lawmen: Bass Reeves for Paramount+. Silo has been renewed for Season 2, and Oyelowo is already set to star in another Apple TV+ series, Government Cheese.

  • Filed Under Miscellaneous - After first meeting on Okja and then working together again on Minari, Steven Yeun and Christina Oh have launched a new company called Celadon Pictures. They’ll develop film and TV projects together in the wake of Yeun producing Beef for Netflix… Jennifer Schuur (My Brilliant Friend, In Treatment) has renewed her overall deal with HBO, which will run through the end of 2024. The network has been her home since 2019… Natalie Lehmann has been upped to President of Motion Pictures and Television at New Regency, where she was previously SVP. The company has Steve McQueen’s Blitz hitting Apple TV+ next year… Amazon is developing a series adaptation of Lucy Score’s romance novel Things We Never Got Over, which is the first book in the author’s bestselling Knockemout series, which has sold over five million copies in total. Amy Rardin (Echo) will adapt the book and serve as showrunner/EP.

  • Congrats - To Chelsey Summey, who has joined Warner Bros. Discovery as the Motion Picture Group’s senior VP of communications. Summey joins the studio from Amazon, where she served as head of corporate communications for the studio’s film group. Summey has served in similar roles at 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures. She’ll report to Katie Martin Kelley at WB, where the two of them will once again make a great team. She also happens to be a wonderful mother, according to sources.

  • Condolences - To the friends and family of cinematographer Ken Kelsch, who has died at 76. Kelsch shot Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and Stanley Tucci’s acclaimed indie Big Night, and he also served as a gaffer on Wes Craven’s horror classic Last House on the Left. He first worked with Ferrara on 1979’s The Driller Killer, which he shot two years after graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Again, I apologize for the delay, but we’ll get into some Netflix viewership data info soon. For now, feast your eyes on the latest A24 trailer…

Trailer Time: Alex Garland’s Civil War Looks Really Frightening… and Frighteningly Real

Alex Garland is an interesting filmmaker. I know he didn’t officially direct Dredd, which I loved, but I liked Ex Machina, which is considered his proper debut behind the camera. However, I wasn’t a big fan of Annihilation or Men, even though I appreciated the big ideas that Garland was trying to wrestle with in those movies.

Civil War is the latest “big idea” from Garland, and it looks pretty intense — set in a world where unlikely allies California and Texas have teamed up to secede from the United States, and journalists are “shot on sight.”

Nonetheless, a group proceeds to document the destruction of America, and it looks wild — especially Jesse Plemons, who wears funky red sunglasses while holding a machine gun.

Plemons likely took on the role in an effort to spend more time with his wife, Kirsten Dunst, who stars in the film alongside Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Sonoya Mizuno, and Nick Offerman, who plays the President of the United States.

Garlan is the kind of filmmaker whose work always provokes a response and challenges you to think, which is more than I can say for most films produced at this kind of size and scale. I’ll definitely be enlisting — in a movie ticket — when Civil War marches into theaters next April.

That’ll do it for me, folks! Keep an eye out for my review of The Iron Claw

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