Universal

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Universal has been making money off of its monster franchises for about as long as movies have existed, so there was never any question as to whether or not we’d eventually get another reboot of The Mummy. There was definitely a huge question surrounding what another crack at The Mummy would look like though. Would it be a moody, fairly contained film like the Boris Karloff-starring original from 1932? Or a big budget adventure tale like those Brendan Fraser-starring films from the late 90s and early 2000s? Well, when it was announced that Total Recall reboot and Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman was going to be in charge of the project around a year ago, it seemed inevitable that it was going to be much more a case of the latter, and people were not happy. Who the heck wants to see a glossy, generic movie about an ancient, withered creature, after all? But, thankfully for everyone, Wiseman’s stay with The Mummy franchise was short-lived, and now it’s looking like a director who could give us something much closer to the former is being recruited to come on board and save the day.

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Scarface Yates

According to Deadline Hollywood, Universal is close to securing David Yates to direct their new David Ayer-scripted version of Scarface, and there are two ways to look at it (the same two ways that cropped up back in 2011 when the studio first announced its development): Lament a falling sky while quoting Tony Montana endlessly; or Recognize that a remake of Scarface is really a retelling of a foreigner’s story in a new place as he navigates the underworld. Boiled down, it’s a pretty simple plot that’s been tackled far more than Howard Hawks’ and Briand De Palma’s official versions. Plus, Yates is an excellent filmmaker with a keen sense for raw storytelling and action, so it might be fun to watch him let loose with more blood than he got with Harry Potter. Better yet, he could recruit Daniel Radcliffe to say, “This town’s like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.” Better than better yet, this affords Michael Bolton a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just please don’t have the main character be a bath salts dealer. Anything but that.

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Louis Zamperini has an amazing life story. He ran in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 where he shook Adolf Hitler’s hand because the leader wanted to meet him. He then fought in WWII, flying with  a B-24 bomber in the Pacific Islands before a mechanical failure brought his plane and the 11 men in it down. Only three men survived, Zamperini included, and they ate raw fish and drank captured rain water for 47 days while fighting off shark attacks before washing ashore in the Marshall Islands where they were taken as POWs by the Japanese. Zamperini was torture by one of the 40 most wanted war criminals of the time but survived for two years before finally seeing his release at the end of the war. Oh, and he’s still alive. He’s 96 and, clearly, he cannot be killed.

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Since there’s not already a brilliantly-crafted, beloved animated version of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and since there’s not already a modernized, trying-too-hard-to-be-hip version of the story either, Universal is setting out to bring the green menace to the big screen with Illumination Entertainment. Illumination chief Christopher Meledandri is no stranger to the wubbulous world of Seuss. He acted as EP for Horton Hears a Who! and produced The Lorax, and with the success of the live-action, Jim Carrey-led version of Grinch that I pretended doesn’t exist in the introduction, Universal secured a strong business partnership with the Seuss estate. So now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, we’re getting this. Cynicism aside, Illumination does have a knack for crafting heartfelt stories with enjoyable characters, and since this version will be animated, it negates any risk of seeing some nightmare-inducing make-up work. Plus, Peter Candeland (a descendant of the Django villain?) is directing, so there’s a strong sense of craftsmanship at the helm even if he’s never directed a major feature-length project before. All the same, it does feel more than a bit like digging back into the same well – especially when Seuss has so many stories that could be mined for movies. Where’s Oh the Places You’ll Go? or Scrambled Eggs Super? Should we just expect a new Grinch every 13 years or so at this point? How long until he joins The Avengers?

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Years ago, commercial director Joseph Kosinski was one of the hottest up-and-comers, with a bright, bright future. Then we actually saw that his feature debut, Tron: Legacy, didn’t play as much more than a technically impressive showcase for the filmmaker. He took $150 million and had Jeff Bridges saying stuff like, “Bio-digital jazz, man.” Money not put to good use, I say. Kosinski was then written off as a director with nothing more than a nice eye, no true knack for storytelling. But after seeing the first full-length trailer for his new sci-fi epic, Oblivion, I think maybe some of us spoke too soon. This original science-fiction pic, starring Tom Cruise roaming a desolated Earth, seems like a fairly routine hero’s journey, albeit told on a far more ambitious canvas than what we saw on display in Tron: Legacy. This trailer does a fine job of setting up film’s the world and Cruise’s character, Jack Harper (not to be confused with Jack Reacher). Take a first-look at Oblivion for yourself after the break (or on Apple.com).

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In Howard Hawks’ 1932 Scarface, Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte is an Italian who takes over the illegal booze business in Chicago from the Irish mobs. In the 1983 update from Brian De Palma, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana is a Cuban taking over the cocaine trade in Miami. Now it’s time for a new Tony to take over a new illegal trade from the outside. Universal announced a new version last September, and then hired David Ayer to write the script, but now Deadline Hollywood is reporting that they’ve hired Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco, The Good German) to do a rewrite. Ayer was a strong choice with his background writing popular action (The Fast and The Furious, Training Day) as well as his celebrated new End of Watch, but Attanasio has a similar pedigree that also includes extensive work on Homocide: Life on the Street. The question now is where the new Tony comes from and what drugs he’ll be dealing. The best suggestion? Have him come from the high school chemistry department to sell meth.

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Drinking Games

Thirty years ago, Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial became the biggest box office success of all time. Now, Universal has finally released the Blu-ray of this family science fiction classic, which makes great companion viewing with Spielberg’s other recent Universal Blu-ray releases, Jaws and Jurassic Park. Just as E.T. breaks into the refrigerator in the middle of the day and gets drunk on Coors beer, you can join in the fun without leaving your home. There was a terrible E.T. board game back in the 80s, but this game is sure to be a lot more fun. By the end, it’s likely you won’t be able to phone anyone on this planet or any other.

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Len Wiseman

If auteur theory is in full effect, Len Wiseman is an enigma. It’s easy to spot his work because it’s all the same, but it’s difficult to spot his work because he’s so hollow and generic. So how else would he make a reboot of The Mummy? According to Deadline Hollywood, Wiseman (Underworld, Total Recall (2012)) will be bringing his signature style to the upcoming franchise do-over from Universal. No doubt it’ll be covered in a gun metal gray patina and star Kate Beckinsale. The script comes from Jon Spaihts, whose made a name for himself with The Darkest Hour and work on Prometheus. The whole project is being overseen by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who must have some sort of time device that gives them twice the amount of normal hours in a day for the sheer amount of productions they’re taking on. Both have explained the concept of the Mummy would be brought into modern times, but it’s unclear whether that means that it’ll take place in the present or if the style will reflect an update even if it’s still set in the past. No word yet on how they’ll work in skintight latex into the costuming choices.  

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LA Riots

After the success of Fast Five, Justin Lin might be looking to tackle a difficult and divisive moment in our modern history. According to Vulture, Lin is in talks with Universal to direct L.A. Riots – a film version of the violence and destruction that took place in April 1992 after the four police officers charged with beating Rodney King were acquitted to widespread shock and dismay. It goes without saying that capturing the scope and nuance of the story would be challenging for anyone. If it’s not still an open wound, it’s one that can still have salt poured into it, so something of a delicate hammer is needed to ensure that it’s compelling without being alienating or, even worse, purposelessly offensive. Oddly enough, the most interesting connection here might actually be the Fast and Furious franchise that Lin made a name in. John Singleton, the famed director of Boyz n the Hood directed the second entry into the fast-driving series and was also present at the courthouse during the Rodney King verdict, predicting that the decision “lit a fuse to a bomb.” Of course there’s also Spike Lee, who attempted to get a film version made a few years ago before it fell apart. If Universal is willing to make the investment to do it right, it looks like this modern moment might come back to haunt, entertain, and hopefully educate.

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The Worlds End - Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg

According to a press release, Universal has given the thumbs up to Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as they seek to put an end to the excellent comedy trilogy that began with Shaun of the Dead and continued with Hot Fuzz. With zombies and cops out of the way, the only thing left to heartily mock is the destruction of the planet. The World’s End is aiming to roll cameras in October. Theoretically, we could be in for a Summer or Fall 2013 release. This comes on the heels of Marvel revealing Wright’s test footage for Ant-Man at Comic-Con and announcing that it would be, you know, made at some point in the near future. They promise. Seriously. Of course this greenlight is fantastic news, but what’s most interesting (and most encouraging) here is that Universal is happy to do business with Wright again after losing money on Scott Pilgrim. It shows the kind of creative fortitude that seems rare these days. It would be too easy to dismiss a business relationship with a filmmaker, ignoring that the movie he made was brilliant simply because the box office return didn’t shine like gold. Good on ‘em for teaming up again. The team will no doubt churn out another hilarious winner.

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Universal Monsters Blu-ray

Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera, The Mummy and The Creature From The Black Lagoon are finally all together on Blu-ray. Universal will be releasing a massively awesome set called “Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection” on October 5th, and there are a ridiculous amount of extra features in addition to the horror flicks. Production photos, behind-the-scenes stuff, trailers, tributes to Jack Pierce and Lon Chaney, Jr. That’s the tip of the horror iceberg (which is also the name of the script I just finished. Call me, Asylum). The movies have been together on DVD before with a decent collection of features, but this Blu-ray collection seems absolutely stunning. A big upgrade for true classics. Plus, there are books involved! Everyone loves reading. The big question is…at a pre-sale price of $112, is this a necessary upgrade or a dreamy luxury?  

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The past couple years have been a rocky road for Universal Studios. Long strings of costly box office flops like The Wolfman, Cowboys and Aliens, and Your Highness have not been completely balanced by their hits. Even this year, the success of The Lorax and Snow White and the Huntsman don’t completely wipe out the red numbers on the books from Wanderlust, The Five-Year Engagement, and most recently Battleship. Oddly enough, their DVD and Blu-ray releases of catalogue titles have been causing the most buzz. The studio’s 100th Anniversary Blu-ray releases of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and Jaws are making as much noise as their releases of Back to the Future and Jurassic Park box sets. Plus, Jurassic Park is getting a high profile re-release in 3D next summer. It only makes sense that the studio goes back to these popular franchises for a new hit. Deadline Isla Nublar is reporting that Universal has found writers for the long-awaited Jurassic Park 4. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who are best known for penning last summer’s prequel hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its upcoming sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, will be tackling the script for the high-profile dinosaur adventure.

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Angelina Jolie

I’ve spent the entire morning checking to see if they somehow changed June 8th to April Fool’s Day. No such luck, but this rumor is so absurd that it either has to be correct or has to be mined from an anonymous user on the message board of a fanfic blog. Or it comes from Deadline Seattle. The paper thin report alleges that Universal has been in talks with Angelina Jolie to direct at least the first film in the trilogy based on E.L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The project is a massive one according to studio math because the books have been so popular (over ten million copies sold in 37 countries), so theoretically getting a high profile name attached as director could help the business side of things. On the other hand, this seems like a massive gamble. Is it supposed to be a tentpole film like Hunger Games and Twilight? It has a huge built-in fanbase, but will that be enough to ensure it’s worth the price tag? Can’t people go rewatch Secretary and Indecent Proposal instead? Why are we asking all these questions? And what are the odds that this rumor is anywhere near true?

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Kick-Ass Hit Girl

No one can be blamed for not trusting comic writer Mark Millar when he announced Kick-Ass 2 happening, ad nauseum, from the day after Kick-Ass hit theaters. He was the boy who cried sequel, but lo and behold, it might actually happen. According to Deadline Glentondale, Chloe Moretz, Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are all in talks to join the project. This comes on the heels of director Matthew Vaughn potentially directing Max Barry’s “Lexicon.” The sequel will be directed by its writer, Jeff Wadlow (Cry_Wolf, Never Back Down). It’s doubtful that the movie will be filming by this summer, as Millar recently claimed, but it’s more than possible that it will move forward under the purview of Universal and give fans another chance to see Moretz beat the life out of a bunch of bad guys. Of course, if the insider giving Deadline the info is Mark Millar, another grain of salt might be necessary.

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Lego Hero Factory movie

The future of the Lego film franchise isn’t yet written in stone, but what’s certain is that there are a number of studio execs out there really excited at the prospect of making movies about multi-colored, plastic blocks. The first studio to fire a shot in the Lego arms race was Warner Bros., who hired Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller to write and direct Lego: The Movie, or whatever they’re going to end up calling it. Despite the fact that making movies based on a line of building blocks is completely asinine, Lord and Miller’s take on the material sounded like a case of the best being made out of a ridiculous situation; as they’ve actually come up with a promising story. But suddenly they’re not the only players in the Lego game. Now Universal wants to get their hands on a Lego property of their own, in order to prove that they’re the only name in town when it comes to basing horrible movies off of inanimate children’s toys. Heat Vision is reporting that they’re in negotiations with The Lego Group to bring their line of Hero Factory toys to the big screen.

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Can you hear it? Out there in the distance, on a cold crag of rock with the wind whipping at its monstrous back is a marketing department VP howling at the empty night. Battleship – in all of its $209m budget plus probably $200m more in marketing – was hoping for the kind of win at the box office that would signal the go-ahead for two more movies and the trappings that come with franchises. It did not succeed. As proof that sticking feathers up your butt and calling yourself a chicken doesn’t work, the Peter Berg-directed pile of messy noises made a paltry $25m this weekend, coming in at #2. A fitting, metaphorical place. It’s not surprising that The Avengers ended up back in the top spot, this time earning another $55m – bringing its domestic take closer to the half-billion mark and making its grand total right at $1.8b (with a b).

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On December 7, 1941, the naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese planes. It was a day that lives in infamy, but now director Peter Berg has reconciled the Americans and Japanese (finally!) in the dumbest, broadest, most pointlessly explosive way possible with Battleship. This obnoxious chore of a movie suffers from two cardinal sins. One, it’s probably the smallest-feeling big movie of the past three decades. Two, it steals so much from other, better movies that there’s no doubt Universal‘s legal team spent time considering possible action. Everything from the script to the CGI are low quality, making this $200m tentpole feel like it was made for fifteen bucks and a pack of gum.

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Here’s the thing about Clifford the Big Red Dog: he was massive, playful, and he got into trouble all the time because he didn’t fit in. It’s a plot-flimsy character with a deeper message for kids (especially those who don’t fit in), but Universal is teaming with a company seasoned in stretching out children’s fare into feature run-times. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio is working with Illumination Studios (The Lorax) to bring the giant scarlet mutt to life. Screenwriter Matt Lopez (Bedtime Stories, Race to Witch Mountain, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) is set to write the character first introduced by Scholastic Books and author Norman Bridwell. All in all, it sounds like a solid partnership to bring a childhood icon to the big screen. They just have to find screens big enough now.

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If you got the chance to catch Gareth Evans’s Indonesian martial arts film, The Raid: Redemption, at any point over the last year, or even happened to read any reviews of it, then you know that it was pretty much the most butt-kickingly bad-ass movie that’s come around in a long time, and action fans the world over must be keeping themselves up at night wondering what awesome project Evans is going to add his stylish flare to next. Good news: we don’t have to wait for the info any longer. Deadline Tual is reporting that Universal has acquired a drama called Breaking the Bank in the hopes of using it as a directing vehicle for the filmmaker. Originally developed by Darren Aronofsky and most recently written by Kerry Williamson, Breaking the Bank is based on the life of former MMA fighter Lee Murray, who went from choking people out for money to masterminding the biggest cash heist in history back in 2006. The details of Murray’s life that the film’s script co-opts are said to come from both Howard Sounes’ book “Heist: The True Story of the World’s Biggest Cash Robbery” and a Sports Illustrated article written by L. Jon Wertheim called, funnily enough, “Breaking the Bank.”

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It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to news of remakes and reboots because most film-goers would prefer to see original material hitting the screen. And yes, most reboots are unecessary cash-grabs that ultimately pale beside the original. But sometimes you need to pause, take a breath and take a look at the details. Variety is reporting that Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are developing a reboot of Van Helsing with Tom Cruise attached in the title role. (Cruise has actually been circling the project since 2010 when Guillermo del Toro was toying with the character.) It’s part of the duo’s new two-year deal with Universal where they’ll also be overseeing a reboot of The Mummy. Note the common thread of director Stephen Sommers’ past films which means a reboot of Deep Rising can’t be far behind. So the bad news is that they’re remaking an absolutely terrible movie that’s only eight years old. And the good news? They now have the chance to get it right.

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