Universal

There are still a lot of films that have yet to see a release on the Blu-ray format, and to be honest, most of them never will. The more recognizable ones seem destined to reach the format eventually, so hopefully we can look forward to Blu releases of The Black Stallion, High Fidelity, True Lies and (a proper transfer of) The Game sometime in the near future. But for now we can at least rest easy knowing that one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made is getting the Blu-ray treatment mere months from now. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is being released on Blu-ray as part of Universal’s 100th anniversary, and the studio appears to be giving the release the special attention it deserves.

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Universal’s classic movie monsters have always been an important part of their history, and a profitable part of their stable of trademarks. Normally they don’t let too many years go by without making a movie featuring a the wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, or a mummy. So, it should probably come as no surprise that they’re currently looking for ways to further extend their Mummy franchise, the latest incarnation of which started with Stephen Sommers’s 1999 film that starred Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. Variety reports that they’re looking to do a reboot of the whole franchise, and in order to get things started, they’ve hired writer Jon Spaihts to come up with a script. Spaihts isn’t really a widely known name as of yet, but considering he’s got a co-writing credit on Ridley Scott’s upcoming project that’s set in the Alien universe, Prometheus, that’s probably going to change pretty quickly.

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There have been a lot of small, brilliant pieces of movie news lately. Cool ideas and interesting people attached to projects with potential. That’s why it’s particularly bitter to hear news that feels a lot like gargling acid. This specific swallow comes from Deadline Fredericksburg who report that Universal is back to mining their own library to come up with Midnight Run 2. Maybe a sequel would be a good idea. Who knows. Martin Brest had his own sins as a director, but Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run were his best. It’s tough that he ended his career on Gigli, but it might be even tougher that Universal is working with Brett Ratner to direct a sequel to the Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin-starring flick about an accountant trying his best to keep breathing while the FBI, some bounty hunters and the mob are on his tail. What’ even better than his aggressive mediocrity is that they’ve got David Elliot and Paul Lovett (Four Brothers and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) to write the script.

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Until now, Snow White and the Huntsman seemed like another exercise in name recognition – especially since two studios were tackling the same iconic figure at the same time. After this new trailer and feature – especially since the feature is essentially a 5-minute-long trailer with some incredible scenes – it’s clear that this thing has the potential to be amazing. The effects that director Rupert Sanders has built with Hydraulx, BlueBolt and others is definitely the star here. Still, Charlize Theron is proving to be a terrifying presence that embodies that confusing fear that comes from someone so beautiful being so murderous. Plus, Kristen Stewart looks like she’s bringing some real life to her character, and Chris Hemsworth isn’t slouching here either. Add to that a killer cast of character actors, and you’ve got a promising mix of visuals and story. Check out the new trailer and the truly excellent feature for yourself:

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Wal-Mart Entertainment

Five of the six major movie studios (Paramount, Sony, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Bros.) have partnered together to create a service called UltraViolet, which is an authentication system that gives you the rights to a digital copy of all their movies that you buy on DVD and Blu-ray. The problem with UltraViolet is that it’s kind of a clunky system full of vague and complicated rights issues, it doesn’t utilize any of the content delivery systems that people are already watching their movies on, and it hasn’t done a good enough job educating the public on how to use it. After five minutes spent rooting around their FAQ section I still don’t know what the process of getting an UltraViolet copy of a movie onto my phone or tablet is. All of that is set to change due to a new partnership between those same five studios and Walmart, however.

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The Motion Picture Association of America must die. It’s a monopolistic behemoth that poisons creativity and commerce while hiding behind the failed task of educating parents about film content, and the time has come to call for its dissolution. The above logo is what we, as movie fans, are most familiar with when it comes to the MPAA because we see it on trailers and home video, but that symbol is really a trick of PR. The goal of the MPAA is not to rate movies, even if that’s the product we know and loathe best. The MPAA’s founding, fundamental aim is to maintain the corporate dominance of its members – the six largest studios. It does not serve fans. It does not serve families. It does not serve filmmakers.

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Recently, it was reported that Universal Pictures ended their deal with Hasbro – meaning that movies adapted from Hasbro products that nobody wanted to see in the first place, like Ouija Board and Monopoly, now have very questionable futures. Or, at least, you would think that they would have very questionable futures. In actuality they all seem to be getting scooped up by other studios pretty quickly. First, Relativity Media acquired the rights to Stretch Armstrong, and now, in news that surely must be ushering in the end of the world, Sony and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison are teaming up to make Candy Land, which Sandler himself intends on both co-writing and starring in. Kevin Lima (Enchanted) is attached to direct the project, with Robert Smigel and Sandler in talks to pen the screenplay. Why make a Candy Land movie? Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad says, “Candy Land is more than just a game. It is a brand that children, parents and grandparents know and love. The world of Candy Land offers an extraordinary canvas upon which to create a fantastical, live-action family adventure film with a larger than life part for Adam. We are thrilled to partner with Hasbro and Happy Madison on this project.”

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Hasbro saw dollar signs after Transformers, and they’ve gotten greedy. It’s one thing to take toy robots and convert them into movie stars, but projects like Monopoly and Ouija Board sounded too ridiculous (and non-cinematic) to make the transition. First, Universal backed out of a new Clue, then the Ouija Board movie, then Monopoly and now they’re getting out of another project born from their toymaker partnership. According to Deadline Deltino, Stretch Armstrong is dead at Universal. The project, like the flour-filled rubber toy, would have starred Taylor Lautner with Rob Letterman set to direct. Speculating on the reasons is futile and a waste of the time we could all spend celebrating. Universal may be regretting that major Hasbro deal now, but they’re wising up to the shifting needs of an audience that wants story and not plastic. The project isn’t completely done, though. It’s found a home over at Relativity Media – which is sort of sad considering the risk-taking that studio has done in the past few years. This, of course, is a risk of a different kind. It’s a formula that only appears to work these days. It’s a project that has all the elements for success, but doesn’t pass the smell test in the first place. The new press release from Relativity also doesn’t include anything about Lautner or Letterman. Looks like they’re officially done with Stretch as well. If only everyone were. Hopefully this doesn’t hurt the chances of a Happy Fun Ball movie. That […]

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Bryan Bertino crafted a fantastic home invasion flick with The Strangers. It was environmental and terrifying, but it also seemed fresh while playing off of old standbys in the genre. Now, he’ll be joining the handful of directors attempting to breathe life into Found Fauxtage. According to Shock Till You Drop, the writer/director has sold his script for Mockingbird to Universal. The film will focus on a couple that receives a package containing instructions that, if not followed, will yield some bloody results. Also in the package? A camera. Because you can’t have Found Fauxtage without one. It’s an interesting, game-like premise that absolutely has potential, but it’s just great to Bertino getting another project off the ground after the hellish development of The Strangers 2, which will probably not be made at this point. Interestingly, this announcement comes right around the same time that Universal dropped its Stretch Armstrong remake with Taylor Lautner slated to star. In a craven world of giant tentpoles, a movie based off a toy with built-in awareness and a Twilight star just got axed while an original script with a curious premise got picked up. Maybe the tide is turning after all. At least at Universal.

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On January 11, 1991, the then-head of Disney studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg, circulated an incredibly important memo about the state of the movie industry and the products they were making. It was called, “The World is Changing: Some Thoughts on Our Business,” and it had a simple purpose: to locate the root of a growing problem and to take steps to avoid falling victim to it. Katzenberg began the memo by stating: “As we begin the new year, I strongly believe we are entering a period of great danger and even greater uncertainty. Events are unfolding within and without the movie industry that are extremely threatening to our studio.” As we begin a new year two decades after this memo was written, it’s critical to look back at the points Katzenberg made to see that his period of great danger is now our period of great danger, to note that the same events unfolding within and without the industry still threaten the entire studio system in 2012, and to predict our future based on the past.

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Last year’s lady-centric comedy Bridesmaids cost Universal $32 million to produce and ended up banking over $288m at the box office. Plus it made viable, hit anchoring stars out of both Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. So, would you imagine that the studio wants to make a sequel? The answer is yes, yes they do, very much, but unfortunately they have a huge stumbling block in front of them. According to a report from THR, the original film’s co-writer and star, Kristen Wiig ,isn’t interested in doing another one. When asked about the potential sequel, that should definitely be once again written by Wiig and her collaborator Annie Mumolo and directed by Paul Feig, Wiig replied, “We aren’t working on that. Annie and I aren’t planning a sequel. We are writing something else.” Oh. Ouch. That sucks for Universal. THR’s speculation over why Wiig refuses to play ball centers on the minuscule $100 thousand bonuses the cast got on the first one, after it became a runaway financial success, but Wiig refused to comment on whether her reluctance to work on another Bridesmaids is financially motivated or not. She also might not want to start doing comedy sequels because she’s trying to move her career in a more dramatic direction. She’s got upcoming dramatic roles opposite people like Annette Bening in Imogene and Robert De Niro in The Comedian. That sounds like a potential springboard into Oscar territory to me. Doing something as lame as a “getting the band back […]

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Woody Woodpecker, the insane, animated avian menace originally voiced by Mel Blanc has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Let that sink in for a moment. A cartoon character has the kind of recognition that your parents won’t ever give you. And he’s about to have more. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the ancient icon is about to have new life in a new movie project from Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, The Lorax) and Universal. John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, the writers behind Blades of Glory, are in negotiations to create the story. Even though the character hasn’t been seen in film since a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, he’s been on television as late as 2002. Theoretically, there’s a cross-sectional audience for his wacky antics. But what kind of story can they build around him? My hope is that he has to team with Michael Jordan to play an interstellar game of basketball for the fate of humanity. This, of course, comes weeks after the Universal head admitted they made shitty movies. Just for fun, here’s my favorite of the old Woody Woodpecker cartoons, and yes, it’s solely for the fact that he opens a bottle off a dope’s giant buckteeth. What a maroon:

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When it comes to unflappable adventurers who combine inventive gadgetry, a deep knowledge of the arts and sciences, and a stubborn dedication to doing what’s right, for my money, you can’t do much better than Batman. That guy is the guy. He’s the best fighter, the smartest, and the richest guy on the planet. Who could top that? But it’s important to remember that Batman isn’t the first regular-guy-turned-superhero out there in the realm of modern myth. There have been those who have come before, the trail blazers, the Ubermensch originators, men like the ultimate badass of all-time: Leonardo Da Vinci. Or at least that’s the concept Universal is hoping that we buy into for their upcoming fictionalized look at a young Da Vinci, Leonardo. Leonardo is a spec script written by Jonny Kurzman, that Variety reports has recently been picked up by the studio. It takes into account the fact that the real-life Da Vinci was a mathematician, architect, artist, writer, scientist, and inventor who came up with concepts for things like helicopters, tanks, and solar power in order to paint the man as something of a globe-hopping adventurer.

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Watching the trailer for Wanderlust – the new movie directed by Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain – makes me want to watch every episode of The State all over again. In short, I wanna dip my balls in it. Starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston as rat-racers in New York who have to leave the race and find themselves learning the communal life, the trailer looks knock-down, drag-out hilarious. Some great gags from some truly disturbed/gifted comic minds are on display here. Check it out for yourself, and see how many State alumni you can spot:

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It was the summer of 2009 when the filmmakers behind Horton Hears A Who! announced they would be making green eggs and ham of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax.” Since then we’ve gotten updates on casting – with Zac Efron playing the young man and Danny DeVito voicing the title tree-hugger – and even some imagery. Today, EW has even more pictures, and two of them reveal The Once-ler (the crotchety pair of arms that tells young Efron about the lush, beautiful world of the past that was destroyed by his greed). Check them out for yourself:

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Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. had a lot going against him when he took on The Thing. Fanboy outrage notwithstanding, the filmmaker had to take the same concept — characters discovering an alien running amuck, guessing who’s not human, that sense of paranoia — and still make his own film, and not simply a series of retreads. The obvious reliance on CGI over practical effects isn’t the greatest difference from John Carpenter‘s film; it’s all the spins and deviations Heijningen crafted — the unique alien designs that differ vastly from the original’s transformations, the lack of any bad-ass heroes, the twist on the blood test scene, and plenty more — which make this prequel stand apart. Here’s what director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. had to say about revamping concepts, why you’ll be seeing more CG versions of the alien over practical versions, and why we shouldn’t expect an unrated cut:

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Twice before Hollywood has told tales of scandalous men achieving vast riches by selling illegal substances in movies named Scarface. The first time was in 1932, and the substance was prohibition era booze. The second time was in 1983, and the substance was cocaine. I remember watching the 1932 Scarface in a film class way back in the days when I was a lowly university student and liking it quite a bit. I’ve always thought that the 1983 version was pretty dated and indulgent though. Even with its cult status among rappers and people who like to watch Entourage. So how do I feel about THR’s news that Universal is looking to produce yet another version of Scarface, this one set in modern times? I guess I’m pretty indifferent about it. The story of a tragic figure experiencing a rise and fall in the crime world is one that has been told a thousand times already, and it will be told a thousand times again, so what’s the big deal if they want to sell another one by calling it Scarface?

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In 2008, Universal made a deal with Hasbro to develop movies based on plastic and particle board. Now, three years later, they’ve dropped Clue, and they’re also more interested in paying Hasbro a $5m penalty than in actually making the Ouija Board Movie. According to Vulture, the project – which was being produced by Michael Bay and directed by McG (a hell of a pair if there ever were one) – is now in turnaround. Bay and McG are now free to shop it around to anyone that wants to take it. This might be just another cautious step in a trend where studios are wising up to what audiences are getting tired of, but it also represents further proof that 90s style filmmaking is dead as a doornail. McG pitched the project as a large-scale adventure ala Jumanji, which sounds like a strong idea, but apparently Universal wasn’t keen on the concept for the price. It’s a signal that that kind of family adventure is done, while blockbusters are still trying to find a type of adventure that does work. Johnny Depp acting drunk seems to work, but apparently not when he’s playing a Native American sidekick. Meanwhile, the only company who’s discovered the formula for consistently bringing in large numbers of adults and children is Pixar. Maybe they should get their busy hands on this one, too.

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The saga of the three Snow White movies continues. While most of the media attention has been going to Universal’s Snow White and The Huntsman and Relativity’s Lily Collins/Julia Roberts starring Snow White project up to this point, that’s because they got a bit of a head start in the Snow White game. Disney announced a while ago that they were going to be throwing their hats into the ring and turning this battle of the Snow Whites into a three-way affair, and there appears to be some motion on that front. When last we reported on this film it was going to be called Snow and the Seven, and it was about a 19th century Englishwoman traveling to Hong Kong for her father’s funeral, along with seven deadly companions. That concept seems to still be in place, and we also know a bit more about it. This Englishwoman, it seems, is being pursued by an ancient evil, and the warriors accompanying her are not only from an ancient order of fighters, they are also a multi-national group of colorful characters with different fighting styles.

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Universal and Gore Verbinski seem to be having a competition to see who can be crazier. Universal fired a big first shot back in 2008 when they signed a seven picture deal with Hasbro to make a whole series of board game movies. They seem to have wised up a bit as to what a ridiculous idea that is, as they’ve already ditched Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering movies, and they’ve now decided to cut ties with an adaptation of the murder mystery game Clue; but a strong case can still be made for their insanity. Mostly because Battleship will be coming out soon and will be the first of their seven picture deal that actually gets released. What would you rather see a movie about, a murder mystery or people blindly guessing as to which points on a grid are “hits”? Yeah, Universal seems to have completely lost their minds.

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