There’s a superhero angle to nearly all of the top stories in this week’s Above the Line Newsflash, so let’s dive right in with ten rings in tow. Disney has confirmed that Destin Daniel Cretton will return to write and direct a Shang-Chi sequel, which will follow the further adventures of Simu Liu‘s Master of Kung Fu.
The announcement was tied to the news that Cretton has signed an exclusive multi-year overall deal with Marvel Studios and its corporate sibling The Onyx Collective, which curates content from artists of color and underrepresented voices. Cretton is the latest Marvel director to align with the Onyx Collective, which has a deal with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler for all non-Marvel titles produced by his Proximity banner.
Cretton is already developing a Marvel series for Disney+, though it’s unclear whether it’ll be a Shang-Chi spinoff of some kind or something else entirely. Cretton and his longtime producing partner, Asher Goldstein, have formed a new company called Family Owned, and it’s been remarkable to witness their rise in the industry together following the success of Short Term 12. That critically acclaimed indie helped launch the careers of future Oscar winners Brie Larson and Rami Malek as well as Oscar nominee Lakeith Stanfield, and its filmmakers certainly deserve the rich rewards coming their way.
After all, Shang-Chi is the highest-grossing movie at the domestic box office this year ($224 million, and another $208 million overseas), plus, it was actually good (91 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). Don’t get me wrong, I thought it suffered from the same third act problems that most Marvel movies do, so it definitely wasn’t great, but that first hour was truly impressive, and the cast was excellent, from its charismatic leading man and Awkwafina to veteran Chinese actors who paved the way for them, such as Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung.
Like Black Panther before it. Shang-Chi did a lot for representation and I’m glad that audiences returned to theaters to support a movie like that, as fairly or not, there was a lot riding on its performance. Shang-Chi deserves a sequel and Cretton proved he’s the right filmmaker for the job. I just hope he pushes back against the glowing light shows that have become a standard part of most Marvel endings. Think Mission: Impossible, not Star Wars!
Elsewhere, Colin Farrell has signed on to reprise his upcoming role as The Penguin in a Batman spinoff series that he’ll executive produce alongside Matt Reeves for HBO Max. Farrell looks completely unrecognizable in The Batman trailers we’ve seen thus far, and though I wish this series was announced after the movie came out, so as not to spoil the ultimate fate of the Penguin, there’s always the possibility that the show could be a prequel series. All I know is, Farrell’s transformation is truly impressive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it scored an Oscar nod for Best Makeup/Hairstyling next year.
And speaking of stars reprising their roles, Marvel’s head honcho Kevin Feige confirmed this week that if Daredevil returns to the MCU, he will once again be played by Charlie Cox, who played The Man With No Fear on Netflix. Daredevil is my favorite Marvel series thus far, including the new Disney+ shows like WandaVision and Loki, so I’m glad Cox will get another chance to don the red suit, and I hope to see more of Mike Colter‘s Luke Cage, Jon Bernthal‘s Punisher and Krysten Ritter‘s Jessica Jones as well. As for Finn Jones‘ Iron Fist, uh, the less said the better. If I had to guess, Cox would make the opposite leap that Farrell is going to, jumping from a series to the big screen, where he may very well cross paths with Tom Holland‘s Peter Parker.
Tom Holland Ready to Sing and Dance Again as Astaire
And speaking of Holland, the song-and-dance man is set to play Fred Astaire in an upcoming biopic that will be produced by self-proclaimed Spider-Man savior Amy Pascal. Pascal was running Sony when the studio made the deal heard ’round the world — the one that allowed Spider-Man to swing into the MCU. Now she’s re-teaming with Holland and encouraging the song-and-dance man — he starred in Billy Elliot on the West End — to do his thing. Holland told reported that he still hasn’t read the script yet, as it only came in a week ago, but apparently, Pascal convinced him to play the part anyway. Stay tuned to find out who directs this movie, and which actress that director casts as Astaire’s frequent dance partner Ginger Rogers.
Holland was hardly the only comic book movie star to line up a new biopic this week, as Michael Shannon (who reportedly tanked a read-through for HBO’s Lakers series Winning Time before being replaced by John C. Reilly) has signed on to star opposite Jessica Chastain in the limited series George and Tammy, about husband-and-wife singers George and Tammy Wynette. It’ll be the second time the duo has worked together, as they previously played a couple in Take Shelter. Don’t forget that Thanos himself, Josh Brolin, was originally poised to star, and he remains involved as an executive producer on the project. Not to be outdone, Venom star Michelle Williams lassoed Alessandro Nivola to co-star in her upcoming Peggy Lee biopic. It just seems like if you do a comic book movie, you have to make up for it with some kind of country music movie, whether you’re Iron Man villain Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) or Tony Stark’s wife Gwyneth Paltrow (Country Strong) or Loki star Tom Hiddleston, who played Hank Williams in the 2015 movie, I Saw the Light.
Moving on, Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista has landed a lead role in M. Night Shyamalan‘s next movie Knock at the Cabin. Though I wasn’t a fan of the director’s most recent film, Old, I am fascinated by his work, and this is an intriguing piece of casting, especially when you consider that title. Will Bautista be the one knocking on the cabin door, or opening it? Meanwhile, Bautista’s GOTG franchise co-star Sylvester Stallone — whose next movie, Samaritan, also concerns a superhero — has signed on to star in Kansas City, a Paramount+ series from Taylor Sheridan and Terence Winter that will see Rocky Balboa playing a Tony Soprano-type mob boss.
First of all, go read that last sentence to your dad and watch it instantly become his favorite TV show. Second, Stallone playing a Midwest mafioso sounds like an irresistible pitch, and Sopranos scribe Winter knows how to write this stuff in his sleep. My third and final thought is how Sheridan has basically become irreplaceable for Paramount+ which should be paying him Ryan Murphy–Shonda Rhimes money to stick around, as right now, he strikes me as something of a bargain given the draw that Yellowstone has become, not to mention the way it anchors the entire streaming service.
Gal Gadot’s Cleopatra Movie Recruits New Director from the MCU
Oh, but we’re not done yet, folks, as Kari Skogland, who is red-hot coming off of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, has signed on to direct Gal Gadot‘s big-budget Cleopatra movie, something that Hollywood has tried to mount in one for or another for the past decade. Patty Jenkins had been attached to direct the Egyptian epic, but she was forced to segue to a producing role on the project due to her busy schedule, which includes Wonder Woman 3 and the Star Wars movie Rogue Squadron. I thought Skogland did a solid job with her Marvel series and I look forward to seeing what she’s cooking up with screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis.
Finally, Amazon announced Diabolical, a new animated anthology series spun off from The Boys. The eight-episode series features stories from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as well as Awkwafina, Andy Samberg, Aisha Tyler, Garth Ennis, Eliot and Ilana Glazer, Justin Roiland and Ben Bayouth, and Simon Racioppa.
“Ever since we saw the animated film The Animatrix, a series of short animated films set in the universe of The Matrix, we’ve wanted to rip it off. Today that dream has come true,” Rogen and Goldberg said in a joint statement. Meanwhile, executive producer Eric Kripke threw down the gauntlet, saying “You think The Boys is nuts? Wait till you see this.”
I’m a big fan of Amazon’s raunchy superhero series, but the streamer should be careful about going overboard with this property, as less can be more sometimes. That said, I fully understand why Amazon is going all-in on The Boys and I’d much rather watch something like this than, say, an anime series spinoff of Army of the Dead.
And in the greatest transition ever, we move on from The Boys to the Boyz… II Men! Let me tell you, Boyz II Men was hot as sh*t back when I was a kid. They were just dropping one hit after another. I’m talking “End of the Road,” “I’ll Make Love to You,” “On Bended Knee” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” Bangers, all. Now, there’s an Amazon movie in the works that will be set to the R&B group’s timeless music. It’s called Brotherly, because the Grammy-winning group was from Philadelphia, and Malcolm D. Lee (Space Jam: A New Legacy) will direct from a script by Marcus Gardley (The Color Purple). The story follows a group of friends who return to West Philly for their 20-year high school reunion, and ultimately, find hope and redemption as they learn a valuable lesson about the enduring power of friendship. This is the kind of movie that could surprise a lot of people and overperform, ala Straight Outta Compton. That’s how beloved this group is to music fans of a certain age.
Another Talking Dog Movie? Really?
Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx and Will Forte will star in a new live-action/CGI hybrid comedy titled Strays that will be aimed at adult audiences. The film, which finished shooting this past fall, will find Ferrell voicing an abandoned dog who teams up with other strays to get revenge on the nasty human who abandoned him, played by Forte. Foxx will voice one of Ferrell’s canine friends. Phil Lord and Chris Miller are producing the film, which will be directed by Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), and while that’s certainly an enviable creative team, I fear that talking dog movies are getting a little long in the tooth. Can we not get a bit more creative with animated movie concepts these days? It seems like more and more, we’re reverting to talking dogs, from Bolt and Up to The Secret Lives of Pets and the upcoming DC Super Pets movie, which features the voices of — and you’re never going to believe this — Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. Because now, even the animals in our lives need to have superpowers. I guess we weren’t getting enough superhero content.
How about some talking shoes for crying out loud? Call it Sole Men, and make it about a bunch of different shoes with various personalities who have to come together to save their retail store, which is being threatened with foreclosure because so many people buy shoes online these days. If these shoes aren’t displayed in a store, they’re put back in their boxes, which is a dark and lonely fate for them, thus the fight to keep the lights on and the shelves stocked. I’m just saying, you don’t need dogs to get tongues wagging… and yes, that is a sneaker joke!
Brad Pitt Gets Behind Wheel of Formula One Movie
Streamers are hungry for content, and rest assured, all the major services are chasing after Brad Pitt’s Formula One racing movie, which has sparked a bidding war across Hollywood. Traditional studios such as Paramount, Sony, Universal and even Disney are staring down deep-pocketed streamers including Netflix, Amazon and Apple. British racing icon Lewis Hamilton is involved with the project, while hails from Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski. If you’ll recall, Kosinski and Pitt were supposed to work together once before on an adaptation of Go Like Hell, which ultimately became Ford v Ferrari. That incarnation of the project would’ve paired Pitt with his Interview With the Vampire co-star Tom Cruise. Instead, the movie would up in James Mangold’s garage with Matt Damon and Christian Bale starring. That film grossed $225 million worldwide, and this one boasts the involvement of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose other car movies, Days of Thunder and Gone in 60 Seconds, grossed $157 million worldwide and $237 million worldwide, respectively. No wonder buyers are salivating over the prospect of Pitt behind the wheel.
Meanwhile, Apple picked up Bad Blood, Adam McKay‘s long-gestating movie about Elizabeth Holmes that will star Jennifer Lawrence as the embattled Theranos founder. Again, the idea that Netflix didn’t pick up this movie after working with both McKay and Lawrence on Don’t Look Up is somewhat worrisome, as is Hulu’s forthcoming limited series starring Amanda Seyfried, who replaced Kate McKinnon as the turtleneck-clad fraud. This is yet another example of Apple ponying up for a prestige package that includes an A-list star, but it’ll be interesting to see if the public still has an appetite for this story after the series and all the news coverage of her trial. I expect McKay to have an interesting take on this story, which is downright diabolical at times, because it needs to distinguish itself from projects that beat it to the punch. Being first isn’t always the best — hello Jobs — but it does help.
STX Takes Mulligan on Merger as It Maneuvers to Survive Pandemic
And before we sign off, it’s worth noting that STX Entertainment is on the move once again, as Jahm Najafi‘s The Najafi Companies is poised to acquire the studio for $173 million now that STX has freed itself from Eros International following a short-lived 2020 merger that was surely affected by the pandemic. Deadline broke the news, adding that the price does not include $148 million in debt and transaction expenses that Najafi will assume from STX Entertainment. There is, however, a 45-day “go-shop” period in which the ErosSTX board can solicit alternative bids from third parties — a scenario that remains in play given the M&A madness that has erupted this year. If none is found and either party backs out of the deal, there’s a termination fee of $4.5 million, plus the return/forfeiture of a $2 million deposit made by Najafi. The transaction is expected to close by the end of next month.
Shares of ErosSTX have been trading below $1 for an extended period, triggering a warning from the SEC and a potential de-listing. The company was under pressure to repay $127 million in debt by a certain deadline, but the pandemic has not been kind to the movie business. With theaters closed and STX unable to capitalize on its ties to China, the company was forced to sell its movies to streamers, shipping My Spy to Amazon, Greenland to PVOD/HBO Max, and the $10 million Kristen Bell comedy Queenpins to Paramount+ for $20 million, ensuring a modest profit that would help keep the company afloat during a challenging time for indie distributors.
Eros was supposed to be a stabilizing force for STX, which had started to accumulate debt after a string of underperforming releases. Without a major TV division or a significant movie library, STX was dependent on the success of individual movies, so when a few didn’t quite work, the company felt it. It’s not capitalized like Warner Bros. which can shake off a few flops in a row and still survive. STX was eventually forced to withdraw a planned IPO in Hong Kong in 2018, citing market conditions. The company had been depending on that IPO for much-needed resources, which is why it merged with leading Bollywood distributor and Indian streamer Eros in 2020.
Meanwhile, Najafi is a part-owner of the Phoenix Suns who recently invested in beauty lines from Scarlett Johansson and Tracee Ellis Ross, and for this particular acquisition, he teamed with The Forest Road Company, which has a majority stake in Vertical Entertainment, which has been coming on strong of late with indies like Wild Indian and Small Engine Repair.
Jeff Sneider is a veteran entertainment reporter who has spent the past 15 years writing for Variety, The Wrap, Mashable, and Collider, in addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Tracking Board. Jeff currently serves as a weekly columnist for LAMag.com and he has also written for MTV Movies Blog, Hollywood Life, AICN, Washington Square News, and the Colorado Springs Independent. He is the host of The Sneider Cut podcast as well as the awards-themed show For Your Consideration, and the former host of Meet the Movie Press. Jeff is a 2006 graduate of New York University‘s Tisch School of the Arts, where he studied screenwriting.
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