Jordan Peele’s “Us” Breaks Horror Movie Records

Jordan Peele‘s Usthe follow-up to his 2017 smash hit Get Out has been following in the footsteps of its predecessor in terms of success, grossing more than $70 million in its first weekend alone. That’s not only the best opening for a live-action original film since James Cameron‘s Avatar; it’s also the biggest opening weekend in history for an original horror movie. (It and Halloween edged it out for best horror opening weekend of all time.) As if those accolades weren’t enough, Us also had the biggest opening for an R-rated film after Seth MacFarlane‘s Ted.

Film Title: Us
Lupita Nyong’o in Us; Photo from Deadline

In its first night, Us racked up a cool $6 million. That easily beats out the opening nights of other horror favorites A Quiet Place, which made $4.3 million, and Get Out ($1.8 million).

Us isn’t just performing well financially; it’s also sitting pretty with a 94 percent score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics have praised the performances by actresses Lupita Nyong’o and Elisabeth Moss in particular.

The premise of Us centers around an African American family headed by Nyong’o and Winston Duke who find themselves in a fight for their lives after encountering their doppelgängers while on vacation in California.

I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the realization of Jordan’s imagination. He was such a joy to work with from the very beginning,” said Nyong’o of her experience working on the film. “One of the things that makes him an extremely incredible director is how compassionate he is, and he has incredible communication skills. At every turn of making this film, he was just very, very good at keeping everyone informed about what’s going on. And in doing so, you kind of get on board, and you root for him and you root for the work.”

Us Premiere, London, United Kingdom - 14 Mar 2019
Jordan Peele; Photo from Deadline

When asked to elaborate on the theme of the film, Peele was quoted as saying, “We are in a time where we fear the other, whether it’s the mysterious invader who might kill us or take our jobs, or the faction that doesn’t live near us that votes differently than we did. Maybe the evil is us. Maybe the monster that we’re looking at has our face.”

“Green Book,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” Win Big at the Oscars

The 91st Annual Academy Awards were held on February 24, 2019 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California. Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, took home the most rewards of any film, with four awards for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, and Best Actor for Rami Malek‘s portrayal of Mercury himself. 

However, Rhapsody didn’t win the top prize of the night; that went to Green Book, which was also awarded Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali‘s portrayal of real-life classical and jazz pianist and composer Don Shirley.

Film Title: Green Book
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book; Photo from Deadline

The evening also came with a few surprises, as per usual. Of course, as previously announced, the ceremony had no host, which was the first time the awards show went on without a designated host since the 61st Academy Awards in 1989.

Many expected Glenn Close to receive the first Oscar of her lengthy career Sunday evening for her performance in The Wife, but the award for Best Actress went instead to Olivia Colman for her brilliant depiction of Queen Anne in The Favourite, which came into the night with 10 nominations but only left with one statue. Colman then delighted audiences with her acceptance speech, making it clear she hadn’t expected to win either. 

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Olivia Colman in The Favourite; Photo from Deadline

“To be in this category with these extraordinary women and Glenn Close,” Colman stuttered. “You’ve been my idol for so long and this is not how I wanted it to be.”

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of “Shallow” from A Star is Born made waves on social media, particularly the sizzling chemistry between the two stars. The song went on to win Best Original Song, marking Gaga’s first Oscar. 

“If you are at home, and you’re sitting on your couch and you’re watching this right now, all I have to say is that this is hard work,” said Gaga in her acceptance speech. “I’ve worked hard for a long time, and it’s not about winning. But what it’s about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There’s a discipline for passion. And it’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going.”

Alan Alda Receives SAG Lifetime Achievement Award

On Sunday, January 27, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is honoring Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) at their annual awards ceremony with their Lifetime Achievement Award, to be presented by Tom Hanks. According to SAG, the award is given to an actor who fosters the finest ideals of the profession.

“He [Alda] is an artist whose body of work is a testament to the craft and the magic of our business,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement. “His ability to make us laugh, to think and to feel is extraordinary. From theater to television, movies and new media Alan’s dedication and talent are exceeded only by his contributions to a just and caring society.”

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Photo from Hamptons Film Festival

Alda’s career has spanned more than six decades, taking him from the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea to Capitol Hill to being a psychiatrist. He has also acted on Broadway and written and directed films and television episodes. He was the first person to win an Emmy for writing, directing and acting in the same television series. And just last year, he won the Dick Cavett Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

While Alda is best known as the wise-cracking Hawkeye Pierce, a top chest-cutter saving lives just miles from the front in Korea, he has portrayed a variety of characters throughout his career, including Dr. Gabriel Lawrence on ER and Senator Arnold Vinick in The West Wing.

Alda and the MASH Cast; Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Off-screen Alda pursues a variety of activities, including writing, teaching and boxing. He has written four books, three of which are New York Times Best Sellers. His most recent work, titled “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face,” discusses the importance of communication and how we can better connect with one another.

Communication has always been of interest to Alda, particularly when it comes to difficult to understand subjects. This passion led Alda to help establish the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, where he serves as a guest lecturer on occasion. Alda has always had an interest in science and hosted Scientific American Frontiers for twelve years.

Last summer, Alda announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which affects one’s nerves and mobility. Rather than letting it slow him down, Alda has become more active. He continues to act and give speeches around the country. He also created a podcast called “Clear and Vivid” where he discusses the art of communication with guests ranging from authors to politicians to fellow actors. Alda has no plans to slow down and sees his recent diagnosis as a puzzle to solve rather than an inhibition.

“It hasn’t stopped my life at all,” Alda said. “I’ve had a richer life than I’ve had up until now.”

 

West Side Story Cast Announced

After months of searching and more than 30,000 auditions, the Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story has found its Maria. Rachel Zegler, a high school student from New Jersey, has been cast in the role opposite Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) who was tapped to play Tony last year. Zegler is a 17-year-old YouTube star, known for her covers of popular songs and played Maria in a local production of West Side Story.

Rachel Zegler Photo from Deadline

“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” Zegler said. “‘West Side Story’ was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

Other lead roles have also been cast, with Tony nominee Ariana DeBose slated to play Anita, David Alvarez, who originated the role of Billy Elliot on Broadway, as Bernardo and Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino.

Spielberg announced the West Side Story remake just over a year ago and has spent that time searching for the perfect cast. He and his team have been committed to finding actors who were of Puerto Rican or Latinx descent to portray the Sharks in the film.

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” Spielberg said. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

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Photo from Deadline

In December 2018, Spielberg and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner (Lincoln), who is adapting West Side Story, traveled to the University of Puerto Rico to learn about the role performing arts plays on the island.

The new version, produced by 20th Century Fox, will include some tweaks, such as a replacing Doc, the owner of the corner store, with Valentina, played by Rita Moreno, the original Anita. However, Spielberg intends to remain true to the source material, including all of Leonard Bernstein’s original songs as well as some of the iconic dance numbers.

Disney/Verizon Partnership To Change the Entertainment Industry

Last week Disney and Verizon announced a new partnership to combine forces and technology to bring media and entertainment into a new age. In the summer of 2018, Disney established their StudioLab innovation program to advance their storytelling ability and create new tools and methods for production. In October 2018, Verizon began offering 5G wireless services in four cities — Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis and Sacramento — to test its capabilities and how consumers would use the new technology. The two companies hope that by working together they will be able to enhance the theater experience with interactive characters, location-based entertainment and explore augmented and mixed realities.

Verizon

Photo from Deadline

Verizon’s 5G network is capable of transmitting data at a rate of 10 gigabytes per second, allowing one to download a digital move in about 10 seconds. Combining their network with Disney’s production may allow for easier and quicker transfer of scenes when casts are shooting in remote locations. Verizon is also going to explore how their 5G services may help production and even change how movies are delivered to theaters.

Since its launch last summer, Disney’s StudioLab has explored several new technologies, including new collaboration tools, using drones to scout locations, virtual reality and more. One of their recent innovations is a set of large, flat screen displays that will bring theater lobbies into the digital age when it comes to displaying movie posters. If they are networked via Verizon’s 5G system, sending digital promotional assets will also become easier.

Photo from Variety

“Verizon is excited to join Disney to lead that path forward for the industry,”  a Verizon spokesperson told Deadline. “The innovation that will happen at Disney StudioLab will be game changing, with creative and technical leadership from across Disney’s production houses and throughout the industry.”

Diego Scott, Verizon’s chief marketing officer believes this partnership has the ability to “transform the future of filmmaking and entertainment,” according to Engadget.

Verizon has also partnered with the New York Times to create a 5G lab for journalists and help transform the world of digital journalism.

Kevin Reilly To Head WarnerMedia’s Streaming Service

WarnerMedia has tapped television veteran Kevin Reilly to be the Chief Creative Officer for their new direct-to-consumer streaming service. Reilly will retain his position as President of TBS and TNT, as well as Chief Creative Officer at Turner Entertainment. Reilly has been tasked with creating a strategy for the new platform to create its identity and will also oversee the content that is made available.

Reilly is a seasoned, forward thinking executive who has handled programming for NBC, Fox, TNT and TBS. After joining Turner in 2015, he experimented with distribution patterns and multi-platform releases, led the charge in reducing ad loads and has created original, bingeable serie. Read the memo regarding Reilly’s achievements and the decision to hire him from WarnerMedia’s CEO, John Stankey, here.

Kevin Reilly Variety Cover

Photo from Variety

Over the past year, WarnerMedia has taken strides to fill key leadership roles for their new streaming service, which will be separate from HBO Now. These hires have included AT&T veteran Brad Bentley as general manager and EVP of the direct-to-consumer unit and Turner CTO Jeremy Legg, who will handle the technology side of the service. Currently, there is little information available regarding the new platform’s relationship with other WarnerMedia digital properties, such as Boomerang and DC Universe, though there is speculation that these existing platforms will be merged with the new one.

The streaming service is slated to be released in the fourth quarter of 2019 and programming will draw from the company’s library that includes franchises such as Harry Potter and LEGO, as well as sitcoms like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. Reilly’s hiring suggests that original programming will also be part of the platforms portfolio, though no projects have been released yet.

Warner Bros. HQ LA

Photo from Variety

At the end of 2018, WarnerMedia announced a three tier structure for customers to choose from to personalize their experience. The lowest tier includes a starter movie package, the next tier has original programming and blockbuster movies and the third tier includes content from the lower tiers, as well as additional content from the WarnerMedia library and, in the future, licensed content from third parties.

Stankey intends for this service to compete with Netflix, Amazon and Disney’s soon-to-be-released digital platform, Disney Play.

“We are committed to launching a compelling and competitive product that will serve as a complement to our existing businesses and help us to expand our reach by offering a new choice for entertainment with the WarnerMedia collection of films, television series, libraries, documentaries and animation,” Stankey said at Reilly’s announcement.

It’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

For thirty-one years, in a sweater and sneakers, Mr. Rogers spread a message of kindness and love to his viewers from a small neighborhood set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2003, Rogers passed away from stomach cancer, but his legacy lives on and is now being retold in a film starring Tom Hanks (The Post, Forrest Gump) as the man in the red sweater.

Photo from Deadline

Throughout his life, Rogers was recognized everywhere he went and he made a point of forging connections with others. His message of prayer, kindness and being a good neighbor began when he was a college student and came home to find his parents had purchased a television. Upon turning it on, he saw people throwing pies at one another and he made it his mission to create a television program that spread grace.

Although biopics have become common as of late — think “Vice” and “On the Basis of Sex” — “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” doesn’t tell the story of Rogers’ life. Instead it follows the relationship between Rogers and Lloyd Vogel, a cynical journalist who is tasked with covering Rogers for a story. Matthew Rhys, who recently won an Emmy for his performance as Philip Jennings in The Americans, plays Lloyd, a fictional version of Tom Junod, a journalist who wrote a profile of Rogers in Esquire in November 1998 titled “Can You Say… Hero?

Photo from Independent

Hanks is no stranger to playing iconic roles including editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, in Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in the film “Sully” about landing Flight 1549 in the Hudson River and Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” about the making the film Mary Poppins. Hanks has a talent for embodying and becoming those he plays rather than simply playing a character.

The film went to Pittsburgh, including to the sets used for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for shooting under the direction of Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl). The script was written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, with TriStar Pictures serving as the studio for the project and Big Beach Films producing.