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'Simpsons Movie' Sequel; 'Squid Game' and 'Fargo' Reviews; Supporting Actress Power Rankings

A studio insider believes 20th Century had an ulterior motive in greenlighting James L. Brooks' new movie.

Happy Friday, everyone, and more importantly, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday — even if you had something to do with the last two Scream movies.

I spent Thursday down the Cape chasing my two nieces around while sneaking peeks at the football games and my various fantasy teams in between bites of an everything bagel. Yeah, I’m a weirdo. I also finished reading Jay Mohr’s fascinating book Gasping for Airtime, about his two seasons on SNL. It was pretty good!

This year, I gave thanks first and foremost for you, my readers. I’m nothing without you, and I’m eternally grateful for each and every one of you who has signed up for this newsletter.

I’m also grateful for my family and friends, my podcast co-hosts, the comedians I play basketball with on Saturdays, all the artists out there who make the movies I’ve dedicated my life to writing about, and everyone who gave me helpful advice, support, and words of encouragement in starting this newsletter — especially my Dad, who paid for this URL for the past decade and change in the hopes that I would someday do something with it. I’m also grateful to anyone who has taken the time to get to know me and doesn’t just think I’m a walking version of my oft-controversial Twitter feed.

Below, you’ll read about James L. Brooks’ new movie and the rumored reason why it’s really being made, plus my thoughts on Squid Game: The Challenge, Season 5 of Fargo, and the Best Supporting Actress race, where Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Danielle Brooks are the current frontrunners to win the Oscar.

Read on for more…

Did Fox Have an Ulterior Motive in Greenlighting James L. Brooks’ New Movie?

Get in, kids! We’re going to the drive-in to see Ella McKay!

13 years after James L. Brooks directed How Do You Know? the Oscar-winning filmmaker is preparing to return behind the camera for the dramedy Ella McKay.

Emma Mackey (Barbie) will star as the title character — an idealistic young politician who juggles work and family while preparing to replace her mentor as the state governor. The strong supporting cast includes Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis, Woody Harrelson, and Albert Brooks, as well as Ayo Edibiri, Kumail Nanjiani, and Spike Fearn.

20th Century Studios is financing the film, but the real question is… why?

Mackey may be a rising talent, but I’m not sure I see the 27-year-old actress as the governor of any state — even Florida — and she’s not a big star like the leads of Brooks’ past films — Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, Reese Witherspoon, William Hurt, Nick Nolte, Shirley MacLaine. The modest logline doesn’t do much for me, either, though Brooks has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt given his output over the years.

That said, after talking to a studio insider, I’m told that 20th Century may have had an ulterior motive in greenlighting Ella McKay:

The studio wants Brooks to mount a sequel to The Simpsons Movie along with creator Matt Groening and the show’s talented writing staff.

This is just a hot rumor for now — the first half of a ‘We’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch ours’ deal, the likes of which have powered Hollywood for decades. But it makes sense…

Released in 2007, The Simpsons Movie grossed $536 million worldwide and currently sits at 87 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and though I personally don’t remember a single thing about it, I grew up watching The Simpsons and would absolutely check out a new big-screen adventure featuring Springfield’s finest. I imagine many others would as well.

The key is convincing Brooks, who produced The Simpsons Movie in addition to being one of 11 screenwriters credited on the animated film.

From the studio side, the appetite seems to be there, so it’ll be up to the creative team behind The Simpsons to come up with a story worthy of the big screen. The extra work would certainly put an added burden on the show’s writers and animators, but the extra effort may be worth it. Stay tuned…

Review Corner: Squid Game: The Challenge May Be the First Reality TV Show I’ve Ever Truly Loved

Would you stab your own mother (or son) in the back for $4.56 million?

I’ve read a lot about Squid Game: The Challenge in recent days. I’ve read about how the contestants are threatening to sue Netflix for a variety of reasons — namely poor conditions during shooting. I’ve read about how Netflix and its 456 hand-picked contestants have missed the anti-capitalism point of the hit South Korean drama and learned the wrong lessons. But lost in all think pieces and outraged tweets is the fact that Squid Game: The Challenge… is fucking incredible. I’m dead serious.

I hate reality TV. Loathe it, in fact. But The Challenge is wildly entertaining. The show had me hooked from Episode 1, and like an addict, I inhaled its first eight episodes as quickly as I could, leaving me disappointed that I had to wait with the rest of the world for the final two installments.

I called this show a brilliant psychological experiment on Twitter, and I stand by that assessment. It’s totally different than the original TV show because deep down, you know that the 456 contestants on that show are all at the mercy of one man — creator Hwang Dong-hyuk. In The Challenge, it’s every man and woman for themselves.

Sure, there are alliances, just like on Survivor, the reality show it most closely resembles. But there’s a nasty streak running through this series, which seems to get off on putting its players through the mental ringer.

With 456 contestants, the show’s producers actually have a unique edge that they use to their advantage. They do a good job of following a few players and setting them up to be our main characters, only to pull the rug out from under our feet. Things can change so quickly in this game — there are no standings — that you get attached to players at your own risk. That creates an atmosphere of suspense in which no one is ever truly safe.

I could talk about specific players and the things that happen to them, or some of the show’s twists and turns — it introduces challenges that were never part of the original series — but the truth is that the show’s surprises are best left unspoiled. After this glowing recommendation, you don’t need to read much else, just dive in and thank me later.

Hopefully, I’ll wrangle an interview with one of the contestants for Los Angeles Magazine, but I’ll keep you posted on that front, and any other pieces I publish over there. In the meantime, I eagerly await those last two episodes — perhaps even more than I did the original show, which should return to Netflix in late 2024.

Oscars Power Rankings: Da’Vine and Danielle to Duke It Out in Supporting Actress, But Don’t Discount Past Winners

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers

  2. Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple (+6)

  3. Jodie Foster, Nyad (-1)

  4. Taraji P. Henson, The Color Purple (+5)

  5. Julianne Moore, May December (-1)

  6. Emily Blunt, Oppenheimer

  7. Juliette Binoche, The Taste of Things (NEW)

  8. Viola Davis, Air (-3)

  9. Penelope Cruz, Ferrari (-6)

  10. Erika Alexander, American Fiction (NEW)

Analysis: This week, I removed Niecy Nash-Betts (Origin) and America Ferrera (Barbie) from the charts, as I still haven’t seen Ava DuVernay’s drama and with The Color Purple earning raves from a carefully selected group of press, I’m afraid the inclusion of that film’s contenders may come at Ferrera’s expense. I fully reserve the right to throw her back on the list, as it’s seeming more and more like Ferrari will be stuck in neutral this season. That said, I couldn’t bring myself to remove Penelope Cruz from the top ten, as I really was impressed by her fiery performance.

This feels very much like a two-horse race at this point between Da’Vine Joy Randolph, the heart of The Holdovers, and Danielle Brooks, the consensus standout of The Color Purple. I’ve heard Brooks is truly fantastic in a show-stopper of a role, but Randolph broke my heart in The Holdovers, and I can’t imagine not rooting for her this season.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that, if Brooks and Randolph don’t split the vote between themselves, Brooks could split the vote with her Color Purple co-star Taraji P. Henson, allowing wily veteran Jodie Foster, a two-time Oscar winner who is fantastic in Nyad, the chance to pull the upset. I would have no problem with Foster winning her third gold statue, though I suspect that the Academy would prefer to celebrate some fresh blood. That said, the Fosterssaince is upon us with Jodie’s upcoming turn in True Detective, and she hasn’t won in over 30 years, so perhaps voters will feel she’s overdue all over again, and that Brooks and Randolph will have other opportunities.

Because I don’t love this year’s stable of supporting actress contenders, I doubled down on The Color Purple and gave the fourth slot to Henson, if only because I don’t personally believe that Emily Blunt did enough in Oppenheimer to merit a nomination.

Erika Alexander, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise in American Fiction, and for that, I wanted to recognize her on this list. I also couldn’t ignore the buzz surrounding Juliette Binoche’s performance in The Taste of Things, as she could benefit from the rise of international voters within the Academy.

As for May December, I plan to catch up with that film this weekend, and then we’ll see just how serious I should be taking Julianne Moore’s campaign. But for now, she’s in on reputation alone — one of the perks of being a past winner.

Bits and Bobs (A Daily News Roundup)

  • Must-Read of the Day - This New York Times story about 47 Ronin director Carl Erik Rinsch is positively insane. The gist of it? Netflix has spent $55 million on an unfinished short-form TV series about AI humans, and its creator is suing the streamer for another $14 million he claims to still be owed, even though he reportedly used millions of dollars intended for the production to invest in crypto and enrich his own bank account, according to the ex-wife who is divorcing him following a thorough audit.

  • Broken Bonds - Do I think that Christopher Nolan and Barbara Broccoli had a conversation about the next James Bond movie? Yes, absolutely. It wouldn’t make sense if they didn’t. But I long suspected that Nolan’s involvement would be a long shot, as Broccoli is unwilling to cede total creative control to Nolan, which is what he would require to take the high-profile gig. Alas, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, as Nolan told the AP that there’s “no truth to those rumors” placing him behind the camera. “I’m very thrilled the strike is over and we can all get back to work,” he said. Obviously, Nolan has the clout to make whatever he wants right now, but I can’t imagine he’ll make any decisions before the end of awards season, especially with Oppenheimer the clear Oscar frontrunner right now.

  • Surf’s Up - I don’t even know where this rumor originated, but apparently, Furiosa star Anya Taylor-Joy is being eyed to play the Silver Surfer in Marvel’s Fantastic Four movie. She certainly has an “alien” look about her, and her star will only continue to rise once George Miller unveils his latest action epic (most likely at Cannes next year), so on one hand, this makes a lot of sense. Taylor-Joy may have starred in Fox’s X-Men spinoff New Mutants, but hardly anyone saw that movie, and I see no reason it should disqualify her from this one.

  • Just Let It Die Already - Variety reports that, in the wake of the big Scream 7 shakeup this week, Spyglass is eager to bring back Neve Campbell and Scream 3 “scene-stealer” Patrick Dempsey. As much as I’d like to see another movie with Campbell’s Sydney Prescott, I’m afraid that it has come time to completely reboot this series. If Spyglass insists on bringing back Campbell, I hope it’s to throw us off the scent and that she’s killed off in the first scene. That seems to be the character’s destiny unless she lives long enough to become the villain herself. After all, there are no happy endings in Woodsboro.

  • To Infinity and Beyond Again - Tim Allen was a guest on The Tonight Show the other night, and he revealed that Disney has reached out to him and Tom Hanks about returning for Toy Story 5. Neither actor was involved in Lightyear, which was a disappointing effort from Pixar. It’s certainly understandable that Bob Iger would back up the Brinks truck to bring back the beloved stars of this franchise, which I love. That includes the fourth film, so I’m down for a fifth entry.

  • Playing Favourites - Scooper Daniel Richtman claims that Poor Things duo Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone are reuniting for a sixth time on an English-language remake of Save the Green Planet. I looked into this very rumor prior to launching the newsletter, but I was told it wasn’t true, and that Lanthimos remains under an exclusive deal with Searchlight. Of course, if Searchlight acquires this CJ Entertainment project, perhaps then it could work out, but I was assured that neither Lanthimos nor Stone is officially attached as of now, even though I’d heard that CJ was shopping such a package around. I’ll check back in on that project once Poor Things opens. It’ll be interesting to see if that divisive film gains any traction this season outside of Stone’s undoubtedly committed performance.

  • The Heat Is On - Richtman also claims that writer-director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) is developing a remake of Body Heat for Warner Bros. The title doesn’t really have any cache with younger generations, but it’s a sexy piece of IP that could be successfully repurposed with the right stars. I do think that “sexy” is about to make a comeback, from Netflix’s Fair Play to Glen Powell movies such as Hit Man and Anyone But You, but I’m not sure whether Peirce is the right filmmaker for this one. She’s talented, but I’d much rather see her return behind the camera for The Brand, an Aryan Brotherhood movie that I first read about a decade ago and I haven’t yet forgotten.

  • A Payne to Go to Theaters? - The Holdovers may have added 700 screens this past weekend, but like most Universal movies that fail to cross a certain box office threshold, it will be made available on VOD after 17 days. 18, to be exact, as it will debut on VOD on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Don’t miss this one, as it’s something special, and perfect for the holidays…

  • Law & Order Updates - Dick Wolf is swapping in Reid Scott (Veep) for Jeffrey Donovan on the upcoming 23rd season of Law & Order. Donovan spent two seasons on the show as Det. Frank Cosgrove, but he exited on account of creative differences. I liked what he brought to the show, but I don’t think it will lose anything with Scott, who should admirably fill the void.

  • Congrats - To Rob Yescombe and the Dumb Money writing team of Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum, all of whom were named to Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch list. It’s a well-deserved honor for all of them, but especially Yescombe, who has been plugging away for years, and has me looking forward to his Grand Death Lotto, a dark action-comedy he wrote in which anyone who bought a lottery ticket is granted 24 hours to kill the winner and claim the prize. John Cena stars alongside Awkwafina and Simu Liu.

And Finally… Thoughts on Season 5 of Fargo

“Listen, bitch… where’s my Ted Lasso spinoff?”

This is the first season of Fargo that I will be watching week-to-week because I pissed off FX once and the network has never gotten over it.

The suspense is already killing me.

I watched the first two episodes the other night with my Dad, and all I can say is, “Boy, am I glad this show is back.” Fargo is one of TV’s greatest pleasures. It may be inspired by the brilliant Coen brothers movie but it is otherwise wholly unique — a page torn from the singular mind of creator Noah Hawley.

Season 5 riffs on the Oscar-winning 1996 film, as there’s a nebbish husband who works at a car dealership, a kidnapped wife, a kid named Scotty with a wealthy grandparent, and two kidnappers — one a brute of few words, the other a mustachioed weasel. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end, as Hawley uses the Coens’ movie as a launching point for his own story, complete with a cast of memorable characters.

I don’t know whether Hawley has more fun assembling a cast, or naming his characters, but either way, he does an impeccable job with both this season, as Juno Temple is a force to be reckoned with as Dot Lyon, and I’m loving Jon Hamm as Sheriff Roy Tillman (and Joe Keery as his son, Gator), while Sam Spruell makes for a truly chilling, unknowable antagonist.

The only thing throwing me off this season is Jennifer Jason Leigh’s inconsistent accent of unknown origin. I know I’ve never been accused of being Minnesota Nice, but it sounds all over the place to my ear, though I suppose that’s part of the show’s weird charm — it doesn’t slow down to explain things.

I was totally enthralled by the first two hours of Season 5 and I can’t wait to see where Hawley’s twisted imagination takes this story… and whether there will be a wood chipper waiting for someone when we get there. Also, I need the backstory on Danish Graves’ eye patch. Don’t disappoint me there, Noah!

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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], and have a great weekend, everyone!