HAN SOLO Directors Fired: It Was The Right Call (ANALYSIS)

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A million voices crying out in terror, but hardly silenced. Padawans across the Twitterverse fear something terrible has happened. Five months into production of the (as yet untitled) Young Han Solo movie, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has fired its directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

The film’s release date of May 25, 2018 remains unchanged, for now.

Following reports by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, each sourced by unnamed insiders, opinions have erupted across professional and social media landscapes. Reactions are overwhelmingly on the side of Team Lord/Miller, the guys behind The Lego Movie, the 21 Jump Street films, and TV’s The Last Man On Earth.

Feeling like a lonely Obi-Wan in Tatooine exile, I find myself siding with Team Lucasfilm, even as I’m entirely perplexed and concerned by the move, especially in its timing. The truth is, Lord and Miller never should’ve been hired in the first place.

I say that as someone who greatly admires their talents and the very specific niche (and voice) they’ve carved out for themselves within the industry. But why on earth Kennedy and writer/Star Wars guru Lawrence Kasdan ever thought the Lord/Miller style of comedy was a right fit for a Han Solo tale (young, old, or otherwise) has always baffled me.

I’ve been skeptical from the start about this mismatch of directors and material, deferring to trust Kennedy and Kasdan based on successes thus far. That trust felt justified with the hiring of a superb cast.

But when I read this statement from a source in The Hollywood Reporter, it nutshelled my concerns from Day One:

  • “People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish.”

Exactly. And a very dry, laconic version of that personality too. Lord and Miller are great, but they are very off-brand for Han Solo.

So here we are, in the middle of a firing that, while I believe was necessary, is particularly shocking given its timing. How was this shift not made way back in 2016 during pre-production? Why did it take five months of actual filming to finally arrive at this conclusion?

I’ll grant a mulligan for trying something different with the initial hire, but the development process should’ve been more than enough for Lucasfilm to realize that Lord and Miller would not make the kind of Star Wars movie they wanted to produce. I’ve no doubt Lord/Miller could make a smart, clever send-up of the Star Wars mythos, and I’d even love to see it, but I don’t think it should be done in canon. Kennedy came to that same conclusion, too, but well-past due of what is fair to all parties involved (including, especially, the film itself).

Initial rumors of a replacement have zeroed in on Ron Howard as the front-runner, with Joe Johnston (Captain America: First Avenger, The Rocketeer) also a reported possibility. Generally speaking I have my reservations about Howard, but they revolve more around his penchant for Oscar-baiting. When it comes to big budget pop cinema, though, Howard could offer very reliable hands (if not particularly exciting ones), especially given his familiarity with Kennedy and her producer husband Frank Marshall.

(UPDATE: Ron Howard has been confirmed as the new director of the Young Han Solo movie.)

Anxieties could be tempered, too, when realizing that this situation isn’t all that different from what happened on Rogue One. In effect, writer Tony Gilroy (the Bourne movies) was brought in after initial shooting was completed and oversaw extensive rewrites, reshoots, and final edit, relegating director Gareth Edwards to a second-tier collaborator.  The only big difference between the two situations, it seems, is that Edwards was willing to submit to Lucasfilm’s creative authority and, for right or wrong, Lord & Miller were not.

Based on trailer clips that never made it into the stand-alone’s final cut, there’s a very intriguing alternative Rogue One out there that we’ll never see. Even so, it’s hard to complain about its success, both at the box office (2nd highest grossing Star Wars film ever) and overall positive reaction from fans and critics (some even hailed it as the best Star Wars movie since Empire). So as troublesome as this dramatic shift for the Young Han Solo movie is, it’s not without successful precedent.

The Variety and Hollywood Reporter pieces are definitely worth reading. Their references to on-set creative clashes between Lord/Miller and Kennedy, plus the directors’ penchant for improv conflicting with writer Kasdan’s stick-to-the-script ethic, all make for very insightful reportage.

As of now, I feel both worried and relieved. Relieved that a severe miscalculation within the Star Wars Canon has been averted, but worried if anything good can be salvaged at this late stage.

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Netflix Original Movies Not Profitable (REPORT)

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That Netflix strategy to conquer the movie world may need to be rethought.

Apparently, buying up every movie in sight and then just dumping it on your cloud to no advertising fanfare isn’t an air tight business model, nor is forking over nearly $100 million with no broader release strategy to earn your money back. (David Ehrlich‘s recent analysis for IndieWire was the best analysis yet about how Netflix is bad for movies – more articulate and insightful than my venting, I’ll concede.)

According to a column on MarketWatch, Netflix had a rather lackluster earnings report this week as fewer subscribers were added than Wall Street had expected this past quarter, causing shares to briefly decline. While the streaming giant is still currently flush with cash and the stock holding well overall, the only originally produced content garnering eyeballs is the slate of Adam Sandler comedies (which also happen to be the only ones given any level of advertising, boosted by a recognizable star).

Conversely, its big budget sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon tanked, in large part because theaters refused to screen it as Netflix had originally planned.

CEO Reed Hastings, who usually touts Netflix with a good deal of bravado, told shareholders that Netflix original movies need more bang for their investment bucks. That’s going to be a challenge as their upcoming Will Smith December release Bright is coming in at the high cost of $90 million.

Hastings original strategy was to recoup those dollars through a day-and-date theatrical release coinciding with its Netflix debut. But now that all major theater chains are boycotting any Netflix feature that streams simultaneously, Hastings is expressing concerns about the situation without conceding any ground to theater owners’ interests, saying to his shareholders:

  • “Since our members are funding these films, they should be the first to see them. But we are also open to supporting the large theater chains, such as AMC and Regal in the U.S., if they want to offer our films, such as our upcoming Will Smith film ‘Bright,’ in theatres simultaneous to Netflix. Let consumers choose.”

In other words, he’s whining.

Comments like “we are also open to supporting large theater chains” is classic passive-aggressive double-speak, trying to make it sound like he’s supporting theaters when, in truth, he’s griping about the fact that they’re not supporting him. Then he throws out populist rhetoric like “let consumers choose”, another lame bullying tactic that attempts (and fails) to make the theater owners the bad guys.

With Netflix expecting to see about $2 billion in negative cash flow this year, MarketWatch rightly surmises that “unless consumers can convince theaters to run Netflix movies in the theater when they are also streaming on their televisions, the economics of making big-budget movies may never add up for Netflix.”

Good. But if you (unlike me) are a fan of what Hastings is trying to do, don’t get upset if his ultimate solution is to jack up your monthly Netflix subscription rate.

BUFFY Creator (And Marvel Vet) Joss Whedon To Direct DC’s BATGIRL

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Finally: DC actually follows through on a no-brainer.

Joss Whedon, creator of TV’s snarky female action hero series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is set to write, produce, and direct DC’s standalone Batgirl movie. You read that right: complete creative control (or at least as close as one gets to that in these cinematic universes).

After having been burned, and burned out by, his experience on Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, one has to imagine that DC had to make a lot of guarantees (like, contractually) to woo Whedon back into a mega franchise of this magnitude. Whatever the terms were, kudos to WB and DC for making a deal that was too good for Whedon to pass up.

Perhaps more than anything, this gives DC a distinct gender boost over Marvel. Disney’s MCU has inexplicably avoided a female-led superhero standalone movie, even though they’ve had ScarJo‘s Black Widow sitting right there ready to go. Yes, Brie Larson‘s Captain Marvel has finally been greenlit (and set to fly in 2019), but with this summer’s Wonder Woman (and her ongoing central presence in the Justice League movies) and now a Whedon-driven Batgirl, DC is clearly winning the suffrage battle by electing Batgirl to topline a major tentpole.

This will be the first feature film ever for the Batgirl character. No casting news was reported in the Whedon announcement, nor was a release date, but the project will also include other Gotham-based characters.

Hanks & Streep To Star In Spielberg’s True Story Newspaper Drama

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UPDATE: The Post will now not only be the next film for all three, but prep is rushing for a May shoot start, and a theatrical release later this year just in time for the 2017 Awards Season race. (Read more updates in the last three paragraphs.)

Finally – Meryl Streep is going to be in a Steven Spielberg movie.

Adding to the star power: she’ll be joining Tom Hanks and Spielberg for their fifth actor/director collaboration. Their previous films include: Saving Private RyanCatch Me If You CanThe Terminal, and Bridge of Spies.

The film is titled The Post. Set in 1971, it will dramatize The Washington Post’s legal battle to publish the classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers. That secret government report focused on America’s role in Vietnam, and exposed how President Johnson “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.”

Hanks will play Post editor Ben Bradlee, and Streep has been cast as publisher Kay Graham. This will mark the first time that Hanks and Streep have starred together on-screen.

For the record, Streep has worked with Spielberg once before, but only through voice work. She played the Blue Fairy Mecha in his rendition of Stanley Kubrick‘s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

With the heightened focus on the role of the press (and leaks) in our democracy, given the contentious relationship between the media and President Trump (who called them “the enemy”), it’s fascinating to see this kind of star power be attracted to material in the vein of All The President’s Men, or the recent Best Picture winner Spotlight.

It’s a co-production between 20th Century Fox and Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

As updated above, production will now begin in May 2017 for a late 2017 release. Spielberg’s Ready Player One is currently in post-production and on schedule for its March 2018 release. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, which Spielberg had originally planned to shoot and release this year, is now pushed indefinitely. Hanks has also pushed his WWII thriller Greyhound to make The Post immediately possible.

Along with wanting to capitalize on the current zeitgeist surrounding “freedom of the press” issues that The Post will tackle, two obstacles have confronted the Mortara production: Oscar Isaac has dropped out due to personal family issues related to the death of his mother, plus Spielberg has struggled to find a child actor he’s happy with who will play the title real-life character.

As far as the fifth Indiana Jones movie that’s due in theaters summer of 2019, no news related to that production likely means it’s still on track. Mortara may shoot after that and make a 2019 Oscar run.

Exclusive VARIETY Photos Show Envelope Mix-Up Play-By-Play At The Oscars

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Busted.

In an exclusive pictorial essay, with timecodes, Variety shows the backstage photos that captured the subtle mistakes which led to the biggest Oscar blunder in the nearly 90-year history of the Academy Awards.

To literally see the sequence of events, click here.

PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan were the only two people at the event in charge of envelopes and protocol (as is per usual), with one on each side of the stage. More importantly, they were the only two people on the planet who knew the contents (i.e. winners) of each envelope. As the photos reveal, Cullinan is the culprit here; it happened on his side, and he was distracted when texting images of Best Actress winner Emma Stone. Like an idiot.

Nevertheless, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences announced today that both Cullinan and Ruiz will never be allowed to work the Oscar ceremonies again. Probably understandable, but one can’t help but feel bad for Ruiz who’s having to bear the consequences of her colleague’s malfeasance, simply by association.

It’s also being reported that the Academy may have two accountants on each side of the stage (making four total) at future Oscar ceremonies, in light of the single-person oversight disaster. In other words, the plan is to hold accountants accountable.

MOONLIGHT’s Barry Jenkins Reveals Planned Best Picture Speech (AWARDS 2016)

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Barry Jenkins wasn’t able to say what he’d hoped to, but who can blame him?

The producer/writer/director of surprise Best Picture winner Moonlight was understandably flummoxed in the whirlwind of the biggest Oscars gaff ever. Everyone was in a state of shock following the envelope mishap that led to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway erroneously naming La La Land as Best Picture, so we can only imagine how that shock was exponentially compounded in the hearts and minds of the actual winners, Jenkins among them.

Although Jenkins did acquit himself with grace (as did La La Land‘s blindsided producers led by Jordan Horowitz), he wasn’t able to compose his thoughts in the midst of the chaos. Jenkins tells Entertainment Weekly that had things gone according to protocol, here’s what he would’ve said (referring to him and co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney):

  • “Tarell and I are Chiron. We are that boy. And when you watch Moonlight, you don’t assume a boy who grew up how and where we did would grow up and make a piece of art that wins an Academy Award. I’ve said that a lot, and what I’ve had to admit is that I placed those limitations on myself, I denied myself that dream. Not you, not anyone else — me. And so, to anyone watching this who sees themselves in us, let this be a symbol, a reflection that leads you to love yourself. Because doing so may be the difference between dreaming at all and, somehow through the Academy’s grace, realizing dreams you never allowed yourself to have. Much love.”

To read more of Jenkins’ thoughts on the night’s dramatic conclusion, including how Horowitz handled it, click here.

(EW’s exclusive morning-after photo also looks good in B&W, too.)

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THE 89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS: Analysis & Full List of Winners (AWARDS 2016)

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La La Landslide turned into a Moonlight blindside.

In what was the most bizarre ending in Oscar history (or possibly the most bizarre Oscar moment, period), and right up there with any live event ever, Moonlight was named Best Picture of 2016 at the 89th Annual Academy Awards after La La Land had already been announced as the winner.

Compounding the shock was that, with a record-tying 14 nominations and a recipient of every necessary industry precursor (look at the opening line to my Golden Globes reaction), La La Land was supposed to be the winner, especially as it had already hauled in 6 Oscars throughout the night. This was a sure thing. A 100% lock. Easy. Look, Moonlight‘s victory would’ve been a shock regardless, even if the announcement had been done right, but this epic flub took it into a whole other realm of the surreal.

I still can’t believe that this happened.

But are presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to blame? No. Or, at worst, only for not having the wherewithal of how to deal with an entirely unexpected and confusing situation not of their making.

When you look at a replay of the moment, Beatty’s reaction supports his story that he was given an envelope with Emma Stone‘s Best Actress victory card on the inside. He pulls out the card, gives it a look, then looks back in the envelope to see if there’s another card. There isn’t. He looks confused, he stutters. Then he looks offstage, seeking help. Nothing. He hands Dunaway the card and she, not realizing anything’s amiss, immediately reads the name of the movie she sees on the card, not processing that it’s not the Best Picture card.

A few hours after the telecast, the accountants of PricewaterhouseCoopers (Pwc) officially took the bullet, absolving Beatty and Dunaway of any culpability. Here’s what happened, according to The Hollywood Reporter:

Despite the fact that Emma Stone was still holding on to her Best Actress envelope and card at the time of the globalized snafu, Pwc awards show protocol requires duplicates of all envelopes in two separate briefcases, one on each side of the stage. Somehow, the duplicate Best Actress envelope on the other side of the stage was given to Beatty. The Pwc firm has committed to getting to the bottom of how this could’ve happened.

At the very least, even with the cruel mix-up, the Oscar showrunners made it right before the show actually wrapped, allowing filmmaker Barry Jenkins and his producers to have their moment, tarnished as it was (especially given how it came right after the La La Land producers had their moment only to then have it – and their Best Picture Oscars – yanked away from them in what had to be an absolute gut punch, one they still managed to handle with style and class).

Adding to the whole unprecedented moment, which completed the biggest upset in Oscar history, it marked the first Best Picture win for indie distributor A24, a small art house shingle that successfully steered an ultra-low budget movie of $1.5 million dollars with no-name stars to the industry’s most coveted prize. Not even Harvey Weinstein has done that.

So, controversial moment aside, how does this Moonlight win even happen? How does it beat the movie with 14 nominations, a record 7 Golden Globes, numerous Critics Group citations, and wins at the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and the BAFTAs (Britain’s Oscar equivalent)? No film before La La Land has won so much only to lose Best Picture, until now.

It likely came down to two things:

1. The most obvious: enough Academy voters wanted to make a social / cultural / political statement, particularly in the Trump era, and they felt that Moonlight – about a gay African-American boy from the Miami slums who, as he grows to manhood, struggles to reconcile his identity and place in the world – was the perfect movie to make a statement with. (It also had the virtue of impeccable cinematic merits, something Hidden Figures and Fences did not.) Significantly, after two years of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Moonlight became the first all-black-cast film to ever win Best Picture.

2. In hindsight: La La Land‘s record-tying 14 nominations probably ended up hurting it more than helping it. Enough voters likely looked at that record haul – equal to Titanic and All About Eve – and thought, “Well, it’s not that good.” They clearly loved and admired the film, giving it 6 awards including Best Actress and Director, but didn’t feel its place in history should be set as equal to those two others. Ironically, La La Land may have actually completed its run if it had 13 nominations or less.

The La La backlash that had become a part of the awards season conversation certainly hinted at this brewing sentiment, but the negativity wasn’t taken that seriously since backlashes seem built into the arc of these races. But this time, it really did have an impact.

Nevertheless, La La Land took home the most Oscars of the night, winning in the major categories it was expected to except for one (the biggest one) and took 6 total. Moonlight was second with 3, adding Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay to its Best Picture shocker. Manchester by the Sea, the other big contender of the 2016 Awards Season, ended up with 2: Best Original Screenplay for writer/director Kenneth Lonergan and Best Actor Casey Affleck, who overcame a late-season threat from SAG Best Actor winner Denzel Washington.

Best Picture nominee Hacksaw Ridge also took 2 awards for Best Editing and Sound Mixing, while fellow Best Pic noms Arrival and Fences took 1 a piece, the former for Best Sound Editing and the latter for Viola Davis as Best Supporting Actress in what was her first (but likely not last) Academy Award victory.

In total, 6 of the 9 Best Picture nominees went home with at least 1 Academy Award. The three that were completely shut out were Hell or High WaterHidden Figures, and Lion.

While La La Land becomes the most nominated film ever to not win Best Picture, it’s not the biggest winner to fall short. Cabaret won 8 Oscars (including Best Director and Best Actress, like La La Land) in 1972 but lost Best Picture to The Godfather which only won 3 (like Moonlight). And in 1977, Star Wars won 7 Academy Awards but lost Best Picture to Annie Hall, which won 4. La La Land‘s 6 Academy Awards ties Best Picture loser Mad Max: Fury Road which also won six just last year but lost the top prize to Spotlight, which only took home a total of 2.

As for the show itself, producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd put on a classy show in every regard (I particularly liked the historical clip reels of past Acting winners prior to those four categories) with a variety of silver and blue Art Deco sets that always looked stunning and glamorous. The show’s only anomaly was a weird (and sometimes clunky) use of orchestrated muzak covers of 80s pop hits for segues, and an elaborate “surprise” tour group gag that had its moments but wasted too much time.

For host Jimmy Kimmel, a personality I’ve largely found to be rather bland, he actually acquitted himself rather well. His material had some good clever quips, even as he dipped into the “nobody’s seen your movie” well too many times (and can we also stop with the “food at awards shows” bits already?). He also continued his ongoing public “feud” with Matt Damon to provide some of the night’s best laughs, but perhaps his greatest strength was how absolutely casual he was, even more so than Ellen. It was so refreshing compared to many hosts who often seem desperate to “kill”, even when playing it dry or winking. Kimmel did not feel or carry the weight, burden, and responsibility of his role as Oscar host at all, and that chill temperament is exactly what the job needs.

Finally, as far as my predictions were concerned, it wasn’t a banner year. I’ll take the mulligan on Best Picture, along with everyone else, and I did very well in the rest of the major awards except for Best Actor (which was a tight race anyway), but overall? I got 14 out of 24 right. Not bad (and I’ve done worse) but, as is so often the case, the short films jacked me up (went 0-for-3 there) as did the two sound categories.

Below is a complete list of the winners. To see all the nominees, click here.

WINNERS OF
THE 89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS

BEST PICTURE
 – Moonlight

BEST DIRECTOR
 –Damien Chazelle – La La Land

BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

BEST ACTRESS
 – Emma Stone, La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis, Fences

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Manchester by the Sea, by Kenneth Lonergan

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
 – Moonlight, by Barry Jenkins

BEST ANIMATED FILM  Zootopia

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
 – The Salesman (Iran)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
 O.J.: Made in America

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE –  La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
 – “City of Stars” – Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)

BEST FILM EDITING
 Hacksaw Ridge

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
 – La La Land

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN La La Land

BEST COSTUME DESIGN Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING Suicide Squad

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
 – Sing

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – Piper

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
 – The White Helmets

BEST SOUND MIXING Hacksaw Ridge

BEST SOUND EFFECTS EDITING Arrival

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – The Jungle Book