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Over the Weekend 11/29/21: Stephen Sondheim Dies, Disney’s Encanto Wins Box Office, and More News

November 29, 2021 08:40 | By

Happy Monday and welcome back from hopefully a great long Thanksgiving weekend for those who celebrate.

Unfortunately, we need to start today’s news wrap-up with a number of tragic passings.

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim

Probably saddest and the most significant news from the weekend was the death of Broadway icon, Stephen Sondheim, at the age of 91, in his Roxbury, Connecticut home on Friday morning. Apparently, his death was quite sudden to those who knew the man, including those who spent Thanksgiving with him a day earlier, according to his lawyer and friend, F. Richard Pappas, who announced Sondheim’s death. Sondheim was just days away from seeing Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of the Broadway musical, West Side Story, for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics in 1957, very early in his long career. Spielberg’s movie is having its premiere in New York City on Monday night, and presumably, Sondheim was going to attend, so it will likely put a slight damper on those proceedings to not have him there to give his blessing.

The term “icon” might be slightly overused these days, but in Mr. Sondheim’s case, it was apropos, not only considering his vast body of work both on stage and eventually, brought to the screen, but also his huge influence on so many other Broadway luminaries, from Rent creator Jonathan Larson to Hamilton superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda.

After his work as a lyricist on West Side Story and Gypsy (in 1959), Sondheim began writing both music and lyrics for a number of hugely successful Broadway musicals, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1987). West Side Story was previously adapted into a movie in 1961, which won 10 Oscars, followed by an adaptation of Gypsy in 1962, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), and A Little Night Music in 1977.  Gypsy was then adapted again in 1993, this time starring Bette Midler for television, and that was followed by Tim Burton‘s adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 2007, Rob Marshall‘s Into the Woods (2014), and now, Spielberg’s West Side Story.

The many accolades Sondheim has received include eight Tony Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2008, an Academy Award (for his Original Song for Warren Beatty‘s Dick Tracy movie in 1991, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, as well as the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

You can read the full New York Times obit for Mr. Sondheim here.

David Gulpihill

David Gulpilil in Charlie’s Country (Monument Releasing)

Indigenous Australian actor David Gulpilil, who appeared in films such as Crocodile DundeeRabbit-Proof Fence, and others, also died over the weekend at 68 years old, confirmed by no less than the South Australian Premier Steven Marshall in a statement on his social media, “It is with deep sadness that I share with the people of South Australia the passing of an iconic, once-in-a-generation artist who shaped the history of Australian film and Aboriginal representation on screen – David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (AM).”  

For Philip Noyce‘s 2002 drama Rabbit-Proof Fence, Gulpilil received his first best actor prize from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA). Gulpilil then teamed with Director Rolf de Heer for his 2002 feature, The Tracker, and his next two films, 2006’s Ten Canoes and Charlie’s Country in 2013, the latter for which Gulpilil won the Un Certain Regard acting prize at Cannes, as well as a second AACTA Award.

Another film veteran who died over the weekend is Casting Director and Producer Don Phillips, who died of natural causes at the age of 80 on Thanksgiving Day. Philips was responsible for helping to launch the careers of actors Sean PennMatthew McConaughey, and Mary Steenburgen, having been the casting director on coming-of-age classics, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused. He received his first break in the casting department for Otto Preminger‘s 1971 film, Such Good Friends, which led to casting extras on Sidney Lumet‘s Serpico, but eventually ended up casting the entire film around star, Al Pacino. That led to Phillips casting Dog Day Afternoon, as well, and classic ’70s films like Car Wash and 1978’s National Lampoon’s Animal House, which Phillips cast with partner Michael Chinich.  In 1974, Phillips forayed into producing with his first movie as producer being the 1980 film Melvin and Howard for Universal, for which Phillips hired a little-known filmmaker named Jonathan Demme, and also discovering Steenburgen for the female lead. Casting Fast Times at Ridgemont High followed in 1982, for which Phillips not only cast then-newcomer Penn but also the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Ray Walston. Phillips then produced Penn’s directorial debut, The Indian Runner, starring another discovery, Viggo Mortensen, and then cast Richard Linklater‘s Dazed and Confused, finding McConaughey in an Austin bar for the role of Wooderson.

On a more personal note, former film critic James Rocchi, who used to cover movies for MSN and other outlets, died from a sudden heart attack on Sunday at 53 years old. Rocchi was a long-time colleague and acquaintance who left quite a large and empty hole when he departed the entertainment journalism world to become an English teacher. I certainly had lost touch with him but recently ran into his wife Arianne at an awards event a few weeks back and asked about him. His death was sudden and quite shocking and has left many of his friends and colleagues in quite a funk this morning.


Midas Man

The Beatles in Midas Man (Photo: James Loxley)

A lot of people were talking about Peter Jackson‘s Disney+ docuseries, The Beatles: Get Back, over the weekend. Seemingly just to confuse matters, the producers of the Brian Epstein biopic, Midas Man, released the first picture of the four actors playing the Beatles in the film which recently found a new director in Sara Sugarman. The shot is from earlier in the career when they recorded at EMI Studios (later renamed Abbey Road).

Playing John Lennon in the film is Jonah Lees (The Letter For The King), while musician Blake Richardson of New Hope Club will portray Paul McCartney. Leo Harvey Elledge (Creation Stories) is playing George Harrison, and Campbell Wallace will play Ringo Starr. Also announced for the cast is Peaky Blinders’ Adam Lawrence, who will play Pete Best.

The Queens Gambit‘s Jacob Fortune-Lloyd stars as the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, and the cast also includes Emily Watson and Eddie Marsan as Epstein’s mother and father, Omari Douglas as Epstein confidante Lonnie Trimble, and Rosie Day as Merseybeat star Cilla Black. Lukas Gage (Love, Victor) plays Tex Ellington, while Charley Palmer Rothwell (Jack Ryan) portrays the Beatles’ long-time producer, George Martin.


Riz Ahmed

Riz Ahmed in Encounter (Amazon)

Switching gears, it was announced this morning that Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed would be receiving the Top British Independent Film Award (BIFA), the Richard Harris Award, which he’ll receive at this year’s ceremony. Ahmed joins the likes of previous recipients Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Daniel Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julie Walters, John Hurt, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, and Glenda Jackson. Ahmed, who received an Oscar nomination for last year’s Sound of Metal and can next be seen in Amazon‘s Encounter, said about the honor in a statement:

“I am grateful to the British Independent Film community for their immense support throughout all these years. To receive the Richard Harris Award at the BIFAs this year is a true honor, I hope to be able to continue to learn from those who came before me while encouraging the rising generation to follow their creative dreams.”

Spanish filmmaker J. A. Bayona (The OrphanageThe Impossible) is returning to Spanish-language filmmaking for the first time in 14 years, as he is bringing his real-life disaster drama Society of the Snow to Netflix.

Based on the book La sociedad de la nieve by Pablo Vierci, it tells the story of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which in 1972 was chartered to fly a rugby team to Chile and catastrophically crashed on a glacier in the heart of the Andes. Only 29 of the 45 passengers survived the crash and, finding themselves in one of the world’s toughest environments, they were forced to resort to extreme measures — including cannibalism — to stay alive. This story was previously told in Gonzalo Arijon‘s 2007 documentary, Stranded, and Brad Osborne‘s doc, I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash.

Bayona’s film is co-written with Bernat Vilaplana, Jaime Marques, and Nicolás Casariego, and the ensemble cast includes Enzo Vogrincic Roldán, Matías Recalt, Agustín Pardella, Tomas Wolf, Diego Ariel Vegezzi, Esteban Kukuriczka, Francisco Romero, Rafael Federman, Felipe González Otaño, Agustín Della Corte, Valentino Alonso, Simón Hempe, Fernando Contigiani García, Benjamín Segura, and Jerónimo Bosia. Producers include Belén Atienza and Sandra Hermida, both who produced Bayona’s The Impossible.

Bayona shared the following statement on the film which will shoot in the Sierra Nevada (Andalucía, Spain), in Montevideo (Uruguay), and in various locations in the Chilean and Argentine Andes, including El Valle de las Lágrimas, where the events actually took place. “It was during the documentation process for The Impossible that I discovered Society of the Snow, Pablo Vierci’s fascinating chronicle about the tragedy of the Andes. More than 10 years later, my fascination for the novel remains intact and I am happy to face the challenge that lies ahead: To tell one of the most remembered events of the 20th century, with all the complexity that implies a story that gives so much relevance to the survivors as well as to those who never returned from the mountains. I also face it in Spanish, a language that I excitedly return to after 14 years without filming in my own language, and with a team of young Uruguayan and Argentine actors, whom I’m totally thrilled with.”


Encanto

A scene from Encanto (Disney)

Thanksgiving always tends to be a banner time of year at the box office, and while things were lightly subdued compared to pre-COVID Thanksgiving weekends at the box office, there were a number of break-out hits this weekend. Walt Disney Pictures Animation released its 60th animated feature, Encanto, into 3,890 theaters on Wednesday with previews on Tuesday night, which brought in $1.5 million. Those previews were rolled into the movie’s $7.5 million opening day gross, and then the movie continued to do well over the week with a bump to $11 million on Black Friday, which led to a $27 million three-day weekend. Over its first five days, Encanto grossed an estimated $40.3 million.

Sony Pictures‘ Ghostbusters: Afterlife, directed by Jason Reitman, dropped to second place with $24.5 million over the three-day weekend and $35.3 million including Wednesday and Thanksgiving. So far, the comedy sequel has grossed just under $88 million in its first ten days, which means it’s likely to cross $100 million sometime this coming week, becoming the tenth movie this year to do so.

Ridley Scott‘s second movie of the year, House of Gucci, the biopic starring Adam DriverLady GagaJared Leto, and Al Pacino, also opened on Wednesday with Tuesday previews, the latter coming out just below Encanto with $1.3 million. Playing in 3,477 theaters nationwide, House of Gucci racked up an estimated $21.8 million grossed in its first five days, House of Gucci sports the best opening for an adult drama since the pandemic began in March 2020. The three-day weekend accounted for $14.2 million of that gross.

Marvel Studios‘ Eternals, directed by Chloé Zhao, dropped to fourth place with $7.9 million over the three-day weekend (down 29% from last weekend) with $11.4 million over the five-day holiday weekend. Eternals became the seventh movie to cross the $150 million mark over the holiday. Due to the pandemic, only two movies crossed that mark in 2020 and they both opened in January. (The February release, Sonic the Hedgehog just missed that benchmark.) For comparison, 12 movies had crossed the $150 million mark by Thanksgiving in the pre-pandemic world of 2019.

The video game-based reboot/prequel, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,  ended up being a huge bomb for Sony Pictures/Screen Gems, opening with just $8.8 million in its first five days after bringing in $935,000 in Tuesday previews. It grossed just $5.3 million over the three-day weekend to take fifth place.

It was followed in sixth place by Paramount‘s Clifford the Big Red Dog and Warner Bros‘ King Richard, starring Will Smithwith $4.9 million and $3.3 million, respectively. Clifford has grossed $42.9 million domestically so far and already has a sequel in the works.

Kenneth Branagh‘s Belfast expanded into 1,128 theaters on Wednesday, but ended up losing its Top 10 placement, ending up at #11 with less than a million over the three-day weekend and $1.3 million including Wednesday and Thanksgiving.  With less than $5 million grossed so far, distributor Focus Features is going to have to step up its game to make the autobiographical film a true Oscar contender.

Speaking of Oscars, eight-time Oscar nominee Paul Thomas Anderson released his latest film, Licorice Pizza, into just four theaters in New York and L.A. via U.A. Releasing, and it grossed $336,000 over the three-day weekend, an astounding per theater average of $84,000 per site, which is the highest number since the pandemic began. Previously, Wes Anderson held that honor with the $25,938 per-theater average for his most recent film, The French Dispatch, which opened in 52 theaters to the tune of $1.3 million.

For comparison, the indie crime drama, For the Love of Money, made slightly less than Licorice Pizza this weekend, but that was playing in 519 theaters nationwide, as opposed to four.


Andrea McArdle

Publicity photo of Andrea McArdle as Annie in 1977 (Photo: Martha Swope)

NBC‘s Annie Live!, which will air this Thursday, Dec. 2, at 8 pm Eastern/Central, continues to be plagued by casting issues after actress Jane Krakowski was diagnosed with a breakthrough case of COVID-19, forcing the production to replace her with Megan Hilty. Now, the Tony-nominated star of the original 1977 Broadway production of AnnieAndrea McArdle, who was set to play Eleanor Roosevelt in the live TV special has had to step away due to a family matter.

“I am saddened to announce I will not be participating in Annie Live!,” she said in a statement. “My father is currently in the hospital, and I need to put all of my energy into his health and well-being. I wish everyone involved with the production great success. Break a leg everyone.” Annie Live! exec. producer Bob Greenblatt, added, “We love Andrea McArdle and our entire company is sending best wishes to her and her father. Our Annie, Celina Smith, is thrilled to have met her and she’s excited about following in her incredible footsteps.” Actor Alan Toy was playing FDR in a scene in which Annie visits the White House.

Deadline reports that the seven original cast members of NBC’s This Is Us — Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Sullivan — have each received a hefty $2 million cash bonus, while fellow series regular, Jon Huertas, has received a $1 million bonus, although the original cast members requested but failed to get Huertas the same bonus. The cast sought pay raises over the summer for the sixth and final season of the hit Emmy-winning series, and series creator Dan Fogelman stepped in to back their requests from 20th Television and NBC due to the show’s overwhelming success.

Making-of series seem to be hot right now and following the Paramount+ limited series, The Offer, about the making of The GodfatherViacomCBS sister CBS Studios is teaming with Stampede Ventures for a making-of series about Marlon Brando‘s 1972 erotic drama, Last Tango in Paris. The series comes from Entourage and Boston Public writers Jeremy Miller and Daniel Cohn, and it will be co-directed by Lisa Brühlmann (Killing Eve) and José Padilha (Narcos). The project, set in Italy, France and the United States, will cover 18 months before, during and after the production of the film, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and co-starring Maria Schneider, which received an X-rating from the MPAA on its initial release but was reclassified as NC-17 when it became part of the MGM library. The series will “explore questions of identity, fame, and artistic ambition” as told through the eyes of the three primary figures, Schneider, Brando and Bertolucci, and one wonders if this is being made for network television due to the nature of the original film or for CBSViacom’s cable network, Showtime.

CBS has also adjusted its series order for the bowling comedy Smallwood, starring Pete Holmes (from Crashing), so it now will only be getting 10 episodes instead of the 12 episodes previously ordered. The multi-camera comedy which is currently in production is also being retitled, “How We Roll,” maybe since the surname of professional bowler Tom Smallwood (played by Holmes) might not be that well known to audiences at large. The series comes from writer Mark Gross and producers David Hollander and Brian D’Arcy James.

Acorn TV has commissioned a second series of its UK crime drama, Whitstable Pearl, just as the show has been sold internationally by distributor Cineflix Rights to air in other countries. The series is based on Julie Wassmer’s Whitstable Pearl Mysteries, starring After Life’s Kerry Godliman and Howard Charles (Shadow and Bone) as two locals solving crimes in the picturesque seaside town of the title. Production will begin in Whitstable, UK in February on the second six-part series of the Buccaneer Media show, which will air on Acorn in North America, New Zealand, Australia and the UK.  Season two will see Godlmian’s celebrity chef Nolan prioritize her detective work and transition from being a chef who solves crimes to a full-time investigator who just happens to own a restaurant.

There wasn’t much in terms of new trailers since last Wednesday, and with no major wide releases this Friday, there may not be many this week. Either way, we’ll be back on Wednesday with our “Hump Day News Update” news wrap-up. In the meantime, look for a special guest column in tomorrow’s “Union Roundup.”