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Constantin Inks First-Look Film and TV Deal with Prime Universe

1 hour ago

Constantin Film has inked a first-look deal with producer Adrian Askarieh’s Prime Universe Films.

The two-year agreement covers movie and TV projects and is the latest step in Munich-based Constantin’s efforts to ramp up its English-language slate. In the wake of the deal, Prime Universe Films will be based at Constantin’s West Hollywood offices.

Askarieh’s last film was 20th Century Fox’s video game-based “Hitman: Agent 47.” Upcoming movies include “Just Cause,” based on the Square Enix video game and which Jason Momoa (“Aquaman”) Brad Peyton (“San Andreas”) attached to direct.

“We are welcoming Adrian into the Constantin family,” said Constantin’s U.S. boss Robert Kulzer. “With his great talent of developing and packaging high-end intellectual properties, we expect him to help us crank up our film and TV output.”

Askarieh added: “I have known Robert Kulzer for a while and just recently met Martin Moszkowicz. But soon after the three of us met, I had no doubt that Constantin Film was the company I wanted to be in business with in a significant way.

“Martin, Robert, and their entire Constantin team have a tremendous track record in creating valuable film and television content with global appeal. I feel that my company is well positioned to contribute to their future plans and to also benefit from their vast experience and resources.”

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- Stewart Clarke

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‘Downton Abbey’ Movie Aims for Production in 2018

2 hours ago

The much anticipated “Downton Abbey” movie project is moving forward, with the big screen adaptation of the period series set to head into production next year.

The series, which follows the lives of an aristocratic English family, ended its six season run on ITV in the U.K. and PBS in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and the producer of the show, Carnival Films, and its studio owner, NBCUniversal, have frequently spoken about making a “Downton” movie.

Noting a film has been in the works for some time, Michael Edelstein, president at NBCUniversal International Studios, told the Associated Press: “We are working on getting the script right and then we’ve got to figure out how to get the (cast) together. Because as you know, people go on and do other things. But we’re hopeful to make a movie sometime next year.”

Julian Fellowes wrote the TV series and has been working on the script for the movie. Edelstein was talking to AP from the Singapore leg of the “Downton Abbey” exhibition. Cast member at the same event said they did not yet know about the feature project but reacted positively to the news.

Laura Carmichael played one of the aristocrats in the series and told AP: “Well, tell my agent, because we’re still waiting to know. We’re hoping that will happen soon.”

“You’ve got confirmation before us,” said another cast member at the exhibition, Sophie McShera, who played a cook. “We have no idea if that’s happening. But we would all love to be part of the film if it was to happen, for sure.”

An NBCUniversal spokesman confirmed the studio hopes to put the movie into production in 2018.

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- Stewart Clarke

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Shaquille O’Neal, Lil Rel Howery in Talks for Basketball Movie ‘Uncle Drew’

10 hours ago

Shaquille O’Neal and  Lil Rel Howery are in talks to join NBA star Kyrie Irving in basketball drama “Uncle Drew.”

Variety first reported on Feb. 9 that the project had been set up with Temple Hill Entertainment acquiring the feature film rights to Irving’s “Uncle Drew” Pepsi commercials. “Skiptrace” scribe Jay Longino was set to write the script and Irving was attached to reprise the role of Drew.

Temple Hill’s Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, and John Fischer will produce the film. The original Pepsi Max advertisements showed Irving playing 70-year-old Uncle Drew, who would show up to pick-up basketball games and dominate players half his age, while reminiscing about how the game used to be played.

The film will center on a squad of the best geriatric basketball players who team up to at the famed Rucker Court in Harlem. Howery will play a young man who loves basketball and seeks out Uncle Drew’s help.

Charles Stone (“Drumline”) is directing. Lionsgate has acquired distribution rights to “Uncle Drew.”

Howery played a Tsa agent and best friend of Daniel Kaluuya’s character in Jordan Peele’s ” Get Out.” He’s repped by UTA and 3 Arts Entertainment.

O’Neal spent 19 years in the NBA, winning three consecutive championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001-03, and a fourth with the Miami Heat in 2006. He retired in 2011.

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- Dave McNary

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‘Wonder Woman’ Partners With Hello Kitty in Japan for Adorable Promotion

10 hours ago

In Japan, “Wonder Woman” will get some help from homegrown hero Hello Kitty to promote the DC Comics film.

The promotion marks the first time Hello Kitty character has partnered with a major Hollywood film, though Hello Kitty previously helped market local films such as “The Ring.” “Wonder Woman” opens August 25 in Japan.

Sanrio designed a custom superhero costume for Hello Kitty, complete with red, blue, and gold detailing, knee-high boots, and the Lasso of Truth.

Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins is said to be a fan of Hello Kitty and approved the collaboration, according to Warner Bros. Japan.

Tickets to the film have already gone on sale in Japan, and each ticket buyer will receive a Wonder Woman x Hello Kitty rubber keychain or limited edition reproduction of Wonder Woman’s first comic book appearance in 1941.

The marketing for “Wonder Woman” has been criticized in the U.S. for playing into negative female stereotypes, such as a promotion with Think Thin bars. But in Japan, where cuteness is prized, the Hello Kitty promotion and trailers playing up Wonder Woman’s innocence and pureness are all part of the plan.

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- Variety Japan

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Authorized Lou Gehrig Biopic ‘The Luckiest Man’ in Development

11 hours ago

An authorized biopic of iconic baseball player Lou Gehrig was announced Wednesday, the 78th anniversary of Gehrig’s retirement from the New York Yankees.

The baseball team has given its endorsement to the new project “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.” The film will be directed by Jay Russell (“My Dog Skip” “Ladder 49”) and based on the biography “Luckiest Man” by Jonathan Eig, with a screenplay adaptation by Dan Kay.

The movie will focus on Gehrig’s playing career from 1923 to 1939, when it was cut short by Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and his relationship with his wife Eleanor. Gehrig died in 1941 and his life was recounted in 1942’s “Pride of the Yankees,” which starred Gary Cooper and received 11 Oscar nominations.

The title is taken from a speech Gehrig gave at Yankee Stadium two weeks after his retirement. The speech began, “Fans, for the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”

Producers are Branded Entertainment’s Michael Uslan and David Uslan, Kingsway Productions’ Robert Molloy and Conglomerate Media’s Armando Gutierrez. Barrie Osborne and Jeff Steen will serve as executive producers. Principal casting will begin this month.

“Lou Gehrig is an iconic character, not just in baseball, but as a true American hero, a man who faced his intense, personal battles with quiet bravery,” Russell said. “While Gehrig’s story has previously been told in the beloved ‘Pride of the Yankees’, this will be a new depiction with a more contemporary style and approach.”

David Uslan said, “This is the story of how a shy, quiet man, at the moment in life that tests him to the absolute extreme, can step up to the plate and deliver extemporaneously, and from the heart, arguably one of the greatest speeches in American history. It can’t help but rekindle our belief in the best of humanity during today’s polarizing and dispirited times.”

Michael and David Uslan are represented by Wme and Manatt Phelps & Phillips. Russell is represented by Apa, Zero Gravity Management and Gang, Tyre, Ramer, and Brown. Kay is represented by Apa, Circle of Confusion and Myman, Greenspan, Fineman, Fox, Rosenberg & Light. Osborne is represented by Gersh and Stankevich Law. The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood. »


- Dave McNary

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Jeff Dowd and Alex Nohe Launch Consulting Firm Blood Sweat Honey

11 hours ago

Indie filmmaking veterans Jeff Dowd and Alex Nohe have announced the launch of consulting agency Blood Sweat Honey, which aims to provide strategic counsel to indie filmmakers.

Blood Sweat Honey will offer services ranging from producer representation, film festival strategy, script and post-production creative consulting to theatrical release, hybrid distribution, marketing and international consultation.

Dowd has been involved in the indie film industry for over 45 years, and has consulted on films such as “Blood Simple,” “The Black Stallion,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Gandhi,” “War Games,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” and “The Blair Witch Project.” A founding member of the Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival and inspiration for “The Dude” from the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski,” Dowd has extensive knowledge of scriptwriting, marketing, distribution and exhibition. Currently, he is working on interactive transmedia series “Our Classic Tales that Fuel Our Future,” which will be released this fall.

Nohe is a film distributor and entrepreneur with more than 20 years of executive and management experience in the film industry. Most recently, he was a partner in Circus Road Films, where he helped more than 100 films find distribution. Nohe has broad-based relationships with talent agencies, managers, publicity firms, festival programming, post-production, marketing, and theatrical distribution. Nohe has worked with filmmakers including Christopher Nolan on “Following” and Bill Condon on “Gods & Monsters.”

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- Erin Nyren

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‘John Wick’ Sequel Reignites Original on Disc Charts for Lionsgate

11 hours ago

In a triumph for Lionsgate, two Wicks in one week made the top 10 on the two national home video sales charts for the week that ended June 18.

John Wick: Chapter 2” bowed at No. 1 on both the Npd VideoScan overall disc sales chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart.

Excitement about the sequel’s disc debut sent the first installment in the action thriller franchise, 2014’s “John Wick,” back up the sales charts to No. 7 on the overall chart and No. 8 on the Blu-ray Disc-only chart.

Both films star Keanu Reeves as a retired hitman who jumps back into the game to seek vengeance.

“Chapter 2” grossed $166.8 million globally, more than four times its budget and almost twice as much as the original took in at the box office. Domestically, “Chapter 2” earned $92 million and the first “John Wick,” $43 million.

The previous week’s top seller, Walt Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” slipped to No. 2 its second week in stores.

Another new release, “The Lego Batman Movie” from Warner Bros., debuted at No. 3 on both charts after earning more than $175 million in U.S. theaters. Nielsen data shows that despite the higher box office gross, the film only sold 84.4% as many units as “John Wick: Chapter 2.”

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Logan,” the latest in the “X-Men” franchise, slipped to No. 4, also on both charts, from No. 2 the prior week.

Rounding out the top five on the overall disc sales chart was “The Shack,” a psychological drama from Lionsgate that debuted at No. 2 two weeks earlier.

On the Blu-ray Disc chart, Warner’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” again took the No. 5 spot for the second consecutive week.

John Wick: Chapter 2” generated 64% of its first-week sales from Blu-ray Disc, compared to 60% for the first film in the series. The “Lego Batman Movie” also generated 64% of its first-week sales from Blu-ray.

On Home Media Magazine’s rental chart for the week, “John Wick: Chapter 2” also debuted at No. 1, giving Lionsgate a rare triple-chart victory.

Warner’s “Fist Fight,” the previous week’s top rental, slipped to No. 3, while “Beauty and the Beast” stayed at No. 2.

Rounding out the top five were two Universal Pictures films, “A Dogs Purpose” at No. 4 (the same as the previous week) and “Fifty Shades Darker” at No. 5 (down from No. 3).

Thomas K. Arnold is Editorial Director of Home Media Magazine.

Top 20 Npd VideoScan First Alert, powered by Nielsen, chart for the week ended 6/18/17:

1. John Wick: Chapter 2 (new)

2. Beauty and the Beast

3. The Lego Batman Movie (new)

4. Logan

5. The Shack

6. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

7. John Wick

8. Bambi

9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

10. Moana

11. Hacksaw Ridge

12. Mine (new)

13. Dragonheart: 4-Movie Collection (new)

14. Fifty Shades Darker

15. The Great Wall

16. Get Out

17. Sing

18. Fist Fight

19. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

20. xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Top 10 Home Media Magazine rental chart for the week ended 6/18/17:

1. John Wick: Chapter 2 (new)

2. Beauty and the Beast

3. Fist Fight

4. A Dog’s Purpose

5. Fifty Shades Darker

6. The Shack

7. Split

8. The Space Between Us

9. The Great Wall

10. Sleepless

For complete sales and rental charts, visit HomeMediaMagazine.com.

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- Thomas K. Arnold

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‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Eyes Clunky $62 Million 5-Day Opening

12 hours ago

Paramount and Hasbro’s “Transformers: The Last Knight” is heading for a respectable but unspectacular $62 million opening over its first five days at 4,069 North American locations, early estimates showed Wednesday.

Transformers: The Last Knight,” starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Michael Bay, took in $5.5 million in Tuesday night previews at about 3,000 locations. The preview number of $5.5 million is a match for the Thursday night previews from May 26 on Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

The first day gross, which includes the previews, was estimated in the $14 million to $15 million range, which projects to a range of $60 million to $62 million for the Wednesday-Sunday period.

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Box Office: ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Launches With $5.5 Million on Tuesday

The four previous “Transformers” installments — all directed by Bay — have grossed $3.77 billion worldwide, including $1 billion for the most recent “Transformers: Age of Extinction” in 2014.

The first-day estimate leaves “The Last Knight” more than 10% down from recent forecasts of $70 million during its five-day domestic opening — far lower than the $100 million debut for “Age of Extinction” during the three-day launch period of June 27-29, 2014, which took in $41.9 million in its first day. The reported production budget for this latest installment was $217 million.

Warner Bros.’ fourth weekend of “Wonder Woman” and Disney-Pixar’s second weekend of “Cars 3” will be contending for second place this weekend. “Cars 3” won last weekend with $53.7 million over “Wonder Woman” with $41.3 million.

“Wonder Woman” has continued to salvage the summer box office, which has otherwise underperformed aside from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” The tentpole took in $5.3 million on Tuesday, lifting its 19-day domestic total to a stellar $285 million.

Aside from Wahlberg, “The Last Knight” cast also includes Stanley Tucci reprising his role from “Age of Extinction,” alongside Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and John Turturro from the first three movies. Newcomers include Isabela Moner, who portrays a street kid who’s wise beyond her years, and Anthony Hopkins is in the key role of Sir Edmund Burton, an astronomer and historian who lives with several Transformers on an estate in the British countryside.

Reviewers have not been impressed with “Transformers: The Last Knight,” which has a 17% score on Rotten Tomatoes. “The Last Knight” will open in 42 international markets on Friday, which represent 80% of the film’s foreign footprint, including China, the U.K., Russia, and Korea.

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- Dave McNary

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Sound and Light Experience Bows at Harry Potter World in Hollywood

12 hours ago

Universal Studios Hollywood is adding a sound and light experience to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter starting June 23.

Highlighting the different houses of Hogwarts, the light show will unfold several times a night and light up the sky over Hogwarts Castle.

The light projection is accompanied by a special musical arrangement of some of the “Harry Potter” score composed by John Williams, conducted by William Ross and recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.

During a media preview on Tuesday, Stephen Siercks, senior director, entertainment production, at Universal Studios Hollywood, said, “We took inspiration for the Nighttime Lights of Hogwarts Castle from our grand opening festivities a year ago, that took place here in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood.”

He added, “Combining state of the art registered mapping technology with a 360-degree surround sound audio system and stunning lighting, the Nighttime Lights of Hogwarts Castle is able to pay homage to the four houses of Hogwarts in a way that our guests haven’t seen before. It took a year of work from our technical directors, our designers, our creative directors and technicians to bring the Nighttime Lights of Hogwarts Castle to life.

“The way projection mapping works is it’s not only allowing us to project imagery around the castle, but it’s allowing us to use the castle for what it is and define each curvature and architectural resource and embellish, so not only would we be able to project images onto the castle, but we can start peeling away portions of the castle to see inside.”

During the media preview, the dormitories inside the castle, moving staircases and other features that were in the films, as well as symbols of the different houses including a badger for Hufflepuff and snakes for Slytherin, were exposed.

Siercks was unwilling to disclose the budget for the experience.

“We are certainly seeing from guests’ interactions that they are connecting to it in unique and special ways, whether you’re a Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin or Gryffindor, you take something different out of it. And we’re finding that guests are cheering for their individual houses.”

That was certainly true at the preview where audience members, some decked out in robes despite record-breaking heat cheered various houses.

The Nighttime Lights will run until Labor Day. A different experience will replace it at the holidays called Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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- Shalini Dore

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Nicolas Cage’s ‘Vengeance: A Love Story’ Lands at FilmRise

13 hours ago

FilmRise has acquired the Patriot Pictures thriller “Vengeance: A Love Story,” starring Nicolas Cage as a detective seeking vigilante justice.

FilmRise is planning a fall release in theaters and on VOD. Cage had been attached to direct “Vengeance: A Love Story” in 2016, but later stepped aside.

The film, is based on the 2003 novel “Rape: A Love Story” by Joyce Carol Oates. The novel centers on the aftermath a gang rape, with the victim left for dead in a park boathouse. The woman is a single mother in her 30s, and the attack is witnessed by her daughter — whose credibility is attacked at the subsequent trial.

Patriot’s Harold Becker and Michael Mendelsohn developed the film for eight years. Anna Hutchison portrays the single mother and Talitha Bateman plays her 12-year old daughter. Don Johnson portrays the criminal defense attorney.

“Vengeance is an incredible story of the subsequent effect violence (and vigilante justice) have on multiple generations of women,” said Mendelsohn. “It’s a modern movie with super talented professionals, Nicolas Cage and Don Johnson, going head to head.”

Vengeance: A Love Story” was shot in Atlanta and directed by Johnny Martin, a former stuntman and second unit director in his feature directorial debut. The “Vengeance” screenplay was adapted by John Mankiewicz.

Vengeance: A Love Story” was produced by Cage and Mendelsohn. Executive producers are Harold Becker, Mike Nilon, Patricia Eberle, and Richard Rionda Del Castro; and co-executive produced by Martin J. Barab, Dama Claire and Randy Mendelsohn, as well as Etchie Stroh and Shahar Stroh of Moonstone Entertainment.  Mendelsohn’s Union Patriot Capital Management fully financed the film.

The deal was negotiated between FilmRise’s Danny Fisher and Max Einhorn with Etchie Stroh.

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- Dave McNary

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12 Directors Who Were Pushed from the Director’s Chair

13 hours ago

Following the firing of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, take a look at other directors who were canned just before or during production.

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- Variety Staff

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The Best Films of 2017 (So Far)

13 hours ago

With new movies from Christopher Nolan, Kathryn Bigelow, and Steven Spielberg on the horizon for the second half of 2017, it’s tempting to conclude that the year is off to a slow start. Truth be told, there have been no shortage of quality releases so far — you just have to look a little harder than the likes of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Wonder Woman,” although both those hits are encouraging in their own way. Because studios tend to hold their serious Oscar contenders till Q4, any mid-year list of favorites naturally skews toward fun, so don’t be surprised to see comedy and horror films among the films that have electrified us so far. Except for “Get Out” — the biggest and most welcome surprise so far this year — the list is alphabetical.

Get Out

Jordan Peele’s racial-nightmare horror movie (pictured, above) is ticklish and disturbing enough to feel like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” directed by Roman Polanski. The powerful connection it has made with audiences demonstrates one of the eternal — but perpetually forgotten — lessons of the movie business: If you dare to make the forbidden film that everyone says you’re not “supposed” to make…they will come! – Og

Beatriz at Dinner

The first comedy of the Age of Trump. In this darkly witty collaboration between director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White (their first dual outing since “Chuck & Buck” and “The Good Girl”), Salma Hayek is all luminous angelic flakiness as Beatriz, a downtrodden New Age massage therapist who gets invited to a client’s high-powered dinner party. There, a proudly piggish real-estate baron (John Lithgow) brings out her vengeful inner tiger. Is he a Trump figure? Yes, but less for his tycoon bluster than for the way he stands in for the death of empathy.  – Og

The Big Sick

Did you notice that romantic comedies have disappeared? That makes Michael Showalter’s indie gem not just a Sundance breakout film but a witty, heart-rending new model for the romcom genre. Set in Chicago, it’s about Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a stand-up comedian from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family, and Emily (Zoe Kazan), whom he falls in love with but secretly thinks he’s forbidden to marry. Romance and comedy are but two dimensions in a tale of illness, identity, and the way the peskiest of parents can be your best friends.  – Og

Baby Driver

Buckle up for attitude and adrenaline as Edgar Wright revisits the idea behind his music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song,” focusing on a getaway driver with a penchant for pop tunes. This unapologetic exercise in style might not be deep, but it makes for some swell summer entertainment. — Pd

Contemporary Color

Although the world lost “Stop Making Sense” director Jonathan Demme earlier this year, we’re fortunate that singer David Byrne is still breaking the sound barrier — and that brothers Bill and Turner Ross were there to witness this ecstatic brainchild, in which top pop acts with 10 high school color guard squads. — Pd

Heal the Living

Gifted French helmer Katell Quillévéré shows compassion for even the most minor characters touched by a tragedy that enables a life-saving heart transplant in this stirring French melodrama. Though it barely made a blip in theatrical release, watch for this deeply felt festival gem when it hits home video in August. — Pd

Land of Mine

How long can you hold your breath? If the answer is anything less than 101 minutes, you might want to rethink watching this white-knuckle Danish war movie, a runner-up for the foreign-language Oscar, in which a team of German soldiers (kids, really) are tasked with removing landmines buried by their comrades. — Pd

The Lego Batman Movie

It lacks the sheer everything-in-this-film-is-awesome novelty of “The Lego Movie,” but it brings off something else. In portraying Batman (played to manly-voiced comic perfection by Will Arnett) as a ruthlessly monomaniacal, paralyzingly insecure compulsive loner, disconnected from everything but his heroic self-branding, Chris McKay’s animated dazzler comes closer to portraying a superhero as a complex being than any comic-book movie has in years.  — Og

Lost in Paris

The year will be hard-pressed to deliver a funnier movie than the latest from physical-comedy partners in crime Abel and Gordon (check your local arthouse listings!). Whether dancing along the Seine or dangling from the Eiffel Tower, the duo make Paris their playground. And don’t miss the last performance by Emmanuelle Riva, who died in January. — Pd

Raw

While nothing can top Blumhouse’s brilliant “Get Out” in the horror-as-social-critique category, director Julia Ducournau creeps the bejesus out of audiences with her own unnerving outsider story. Intense hazing scenes prove every bit as scary as the infamous finger-eating moment in a fever-dream that dares us to identify with the monster, a shy French med student who develops a taste for human flesh.  – Og

The Settlers

Attempting to deconstruct the 70-year morass of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis may be a fool’s errand, but no documentary in years — or perhaps decades — has captured the story behind the story the way that Shimon Dotan’s eye-opening chronicle of the Israeli settlement movement does. It allows you to glimpse the grand design of events in a way that even the Israeli leaders who presided over them often didn’t. – Og

Split

After a long stretch of bloated, borderline-embarrassing movies, M. Night Shyamalan pulled off his best surprise yet, delivering ingenuity on a shoestring with this tricksy multiple-personality thriller, which embraces its limitations while making the most of its central asset: a tour-de-force lead performance from cracked-out chameleon James McAvoy. — Pd

Their Finest

While the modern film industry reevaluates the under-representation of women in key roles, Danish director Lone Scherfig reminds that the problem is nothing new, focusing on a female screenwriter’s contributions to England’s wartime propaganda effort. The movie has it all: comedy, romance, intrigue, and a scene-stealing turn from Bill Nighy. — Pd

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- Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman

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Film Review: ‘The Feels’

14 hours ago

A weekend getaway in the country delivers the expected quotient of awkward revelations and relationship shifts for seven friends in “The Feels.” Jenée Lamarque’s sophomore feature (following 2013’s “The Pretty One”) is an even more sapphically tilted variation on “Big Chill”-type dramedy than “The Intervention” earlier this year, with a similar emphasis on shaggy humor over sometimes less well-tuned dramatics. Uneven but pleasing, this genial indie ensemble piece should accrue a following on the gay fest circuit that may translate into modest theatrical exposure.

The “bachelorette weekend” for soon-to-be-married Andi (Constance Wu) and Lu (Angela Trimbur) is a nearly all-female affair, with only the former’s lifelong friend Josh (Josh Fadem) representing the opposite sex. Lu’s late-arriving sister Nikki (Lamarque) joins him — eventually a little too physically — to hoist the heterosexual flag, along with recently single Vivien (Lauren Parks, who shares screenplay credit here but has given herself the least-defined role). Otherwise, all aboard are 30-ish lesbians, including a successful singer-songwriter named Karin (played by Karin Tatoyan, a Berlin-based musician) and a chef known as Regular Helen (Ever Mainard) who met Lu at culinary school.

Beyond being about the same age, these primarily L.A.-residing folk don’t necessarily have a lot in common, many of them meeting now for the first time. Filter-free dweeb Josh instantly gets off on the wrong foot with Nikki (before they both wildly overcompensate), and every time Helen’s mouth opens, a surreally out-there missive from Planet Butch drops out. Still, there’s no initial awkwardness that a little alcohol can’t fix. Exiting their short-term vacation rental house for a restaurant and then bar in town (the film was primarily shot in Northern California wine-country hamlet Healdsburg), all assembled accentuate the booze with the ecstasy someone has handily brought as a party favor. This induces some very relaxed behavior/talk for which there are morning-after consequences.

That includes the commingled amusement and shock when it emerges that ever-ready Josh and married-with-children Nikki wound up sleeping together — which isn’t exactly infidelity on her part, because (in another unpleasant surprise for Lu), Nikki and her seemingly ideal husband have separated. The biggest strain, however, arises from something Lu had unthinkingly blurted out at the bar: She admitted she’s never had an orgasm, a remark that rendered fraudulent her by-all-accounts explosive sex life with Andi.

This revelation causes the central duo to question whether their relationship is really ready for long-term commitment, and to what extent they’ve been truthful to each other at all. The ballasting dramatic weight Lamarque eventually reaches for here doesn’t quite come off, because the likable characters aren’t drawn with that kind of depth, and the conflict’s resolution comes about all too easily via a speech that feels as over-hasty and convenient as it is fairly clever.

But as a comedy, “The Feels” has considerable sprightly appeal, although it could have used slightly more assertive visual packaging. The dialogue and scene rhythms have a nice, loose, improvisational feel, and Steph Zenee Perez’s editing maintains a bright pace that sags just a bit during a few brief midsection lulls. Though their characters are variably detailed, the cast — apparently all the filmmakers’ friends — make an ingratiating ensemble. Its wild card is Mainard, whom one can spot a mile away as a practiced stage comedian, and who provides numerous moments of hilarity here. There’s a running device of the characters being “interviewed” (by whom? for what purpose?) about their formative sexual experiences and general insights re: the orgasm. While they provide some structural variety in the otherwise straightforward narrative, these sequences are sometimes flat — but totally worth it for “Regular Helen’s” bit, which is hysterically funny.

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- Dennis Harvey

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‘Star Wars’ Han Solo Spinoff: Lord & Miller Firing Is Latest in Long Line of Director Exits

14 hours ago

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were dumped from the Han Solo spinoff film this week after more than four months of production, an unusually late date to make a shift behind the camera. That leaves the “Star Wars” production scrambling to find a replacement with weeks left of shooting and a scheduled five weeks of reshoots coming later this summer, an unenviable position for one of the biggest franchises in the entertainment industry and all involved.

The film, which is still untitled, isn’t the first to change its director in midstream. Classics such as “Gone With the Wind” and “Wizard of Oz” cycled through filmmakers, while duds like “The 13th Warrior” and “The Island of Dr. Moreau” also brought in fresh blood in the middle of shooting. But despite plenty of precedents, Lord and Miller’s firing is setting tongues wagging.

“It has certainly happened on a number of occasions, but not under such scrutiny and not usually this far into production,” said Leonard Maltin, a film critic and historian.

Frequently, a director is dropped after he finds himself on the losing end of a power struggle. During “Gone With the Wind,” Clark Gable pushed to have George Cukor replaced with Victor Fleming because Gable felt that the filmmaker was paying too much attention to his co-star, Vivien Leigh. While shooting “Spartacus,” Kirk Douglas used his clout to have Anthony Mann replaced with Stanley Kubrick because he believe that his hand-picked substitute could better handle the film’s epic scope. And in “Waterworld” it was Kevin Costner, and not credited director Kevin Reynolds, who handled the film’s final cut after the two clashed on the notoriously troubled and costly production.

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More recently, Steven Soderbergh left “Moneyball” due to his desire to shoot documentary-style, while Pixar parted ways with the the directors of several of its films, from “Ratatouille” to the “Brave” to “The Good Dinosaur,” over differing creative ideas about the animated offerings. In most cases, these movies survived their filmmaking shuffles to succeed financially and artistically, proving that a rocky path to the big screen does not necessarily foretell doom.

That’s to say nothing of the pictures whose financial backers probably wished in retrospect that they’d pulled the plug on a director. Costly overruns on “Heaven’s Gate,” Michael Cimino’s brooding Western epic, essentially bankrupted United Artists, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “Cleopatra” went so egregiously over budget that it brought Fox to the brink of financial ruin. Perhaps another filmmaker would have been able to rein in some of the spending?

But there are reasons why studios have historically been loathe to make a change after cameras start rolling.

“Once a film begins production it’s a runaway train and the backers of the film are reluctant to remove the conductor from the train for fear of it being even more of a disaster,” said Howard Suber, a professor of film history at UCLA. “It becomes a decision between cutting your losses and possibly starting all over again or hoping that things somehow are able to get better.”

It’s harder to overhaul a project without drawing a lot of scrutiny. In the days of “The Wizard of Oz” or “Gone With the Wind,” the public wasn’t as versed in film production — studios might expect a report of a production shakeup in a trade paper such as Variety, but it rarely filtered out across the mass media. That’s no longer the case. From Entertainment Tonight to the New York Times to Twitter, news of Lord and Miller’s ouster was ubiquitous this week.

“The public is now reading about controversies on films and who gets hired here and who gets fired there,” said Dana Polan, professor of cinema studies at Nyu. “That was not a thing before.”

In the case of the Han Solo spinoff shakeup, insiders say that Lord and Miller clashed with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy and writer and executive producer Lawrence Kasdan over their vision for the film and its execution. Lord and Miller wanted to inject more cheekiness into the “Star Wars” universe and encouraged improvisation on set. Kasdan and Kennedy believed in adhering more tightly to the script and were concerned that the directors were deviating too far from the franchise’s “house style.” They preferred something that was more reverent, which they might get if Ron Howard or Joe Johnston, both rumored to be in the running for the gig, take over as director.

The Lord and Miller firing is also a reminder of a new cinematic reality. Auteur theory, a popular school of thought in film criticism, once held that the director is the true author of a film because he or she makes the key audio and visual decisions. That view was given so much credence that 1980’s “The Stunt Man” offered up Peter O’Toole as a God-like film director, an artistic zealot willing to trample over anyone and everyone in order to get the perfect shot.

Miller and Lord’s ouster, however, demonstrates the limitations of a director’s power in a rapidly changing movie landscape. It’s a caste structure in which brands, be they costumed heroes or robots,  are the true stars in Hollywood. As Lord and Miller discovered, no filmmaker is more important than the Jedi mythology that lies at the heart of the “Star Wars” universe. With billions of dollars in box office and merchandising at stake, studios aren’t as receptive to a director who wants to take an iconoclastic approach to the material.

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As studios have grown more corporate and more dependent on a few major franchises, productions have become more bureaucratic. It’s Kennedy and her team at Lucasfilm who are making most of the major decisions about where to take the “Star Wars” universe, just as executive teams at DC (Geoff Johns and Jon Berg) and Marvel (Kevin Feige) are exerting enormous control over the gestations of the various sequels and spinoffs that they churn out annually. In the old days, the first move would be to hire a director. Now, a filmmaker is often brought onto a project after a script has been written and even storyboarded.

Whether it’s Lord and Miller on the Han Solo film or Rian Johnson on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the directors aren’t generals marshaling their film crews and casts into battle. They’re hired guns.

There’s a lot less job stability when you’re a mercenary.

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- Brent Lang

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WGA West President Howard Rodman Will Not Seek Re-Election

14 hours ago

Howard Rodman, the president of the Writers Guild of America West, has decided against seeking re-election to another two-year term.

Rodman told Variety that he was “deeply proud” of his two decades of service to the guild and looking forward to more time for family and work.

“I began to serve on Guild committees in 1996; helped found the Guild’s caucus for writers of independent film; have served on negotiating committees, the board, then four years as vice-president, two years as president,” he said. “I’m deeply proud of the work we’ve done, of what we’ve been able to accomplish, especially in the 2017 contract negotiation. Without hyperbole: it’s been the honor of a lifetime. I’m looking forward to prying loose more space for family and work.”

His decision was unveiled Wednesday as part of the announcement that current WGA West VP David Goodman has been selected by the guild’s nominating committee as a candidate to succeed Rodman. Goodman is currently unopposed, as another unnamed candidate selected by the nominated committee declined to run. Members can still seek the office via petition until July 21.

The election will take place in September with dues-current members eligible to vote. Results will be announced on Sept. 18. The WGA West represents about 9,000 members.

Rodman won the 2015 election over Joan Meyerson and was often the public face of guild during its contentious negotiations with production companies, which led to an 11th hour deal on May 1. He was eligible to serve another term but opted against doing so.

Marjorie David, a WGA West board member, has been nominated by the committee to succeed Goodman as vice president. Another unnamed candidate declined to run against her. Aaron Mendelsohn has been nominated to seek re-election as secretary-treasurer along with board member Carlton Eastlake.

The board’s nominating committee also nominated incumbents Andrea Berloff, Luvh Rakhe, Meredith Stiehm and Zak Penn along with nine other candidates for eight open board seats. The remaining candidates are Francesca Butler, Nicole Yorkin, Angelina Burnett, John August, Adam Horowitz, Michele Mulroney, Spiro Skentzos, Patti Carr and Ligiah Villalobos.

Members seeking nomination for the office of president, vice president or secretary-treasurer must obtain 25 member signatures in support of their petitions and submit them by July 21. Members seeking nomination for the board of directors have to obtain 15 member signatures.

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- Dave McNary

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Variety’s Exclusive ‘Baby Driver’ Portrait Session in London

15 hours ago

Photos from an exclusive portrait session before the London premiere of “Baby Driver” with Edgar Wright, Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx and more.

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- Jacob Bryant

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Spike Lee on Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad: ‘Black Lives Matter Is Not a Joke’

15 hours ago

When it comes to the lack of diversity in Hollywood, Spike Lee believes that “Hamilton” has the answer. He points to the song, “The Room Where it Happens,” using it as a way to describe the lack of representation in important boardrooms, packed with white men.

“When you deal with diversity and you don’t have anybody in the room who looks like what you’re trying to do, then you have a fiasco like the Pepsi spot,” Lee says about a controversial ad that ran last spring starring Kendall Jenner.

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Lee is attending the Cannes Lions advertising conference this week to talk about diversity and creativity in storytelling. Ahead of his presentation, the director of such acclaimed films as “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X” sat down with Variety to discuss his thoughts on what’s happening and other hot-button issues.

On advertisers pulling out of the Public Theater because of a Trump-inspired “Julius Caesar”: “Well, it’s their money. I think there’s going to be more things like that happening. It affects art directly. Delta and Bank of America were usual contributors to the Public Theater. With this administration now which has no regard for the arts and wants to get rid of any National Endowment for the Arts, all that stuff, it’s going to be more difficult for arts. Also, artists are going to start thinking, ‘If I do this, I won’t get money.’ That affects art too. It’s a very dangerous time we live in today. I don’t think this present administration has any idea what humanity is.”

On the controversial Pepsi ad: “It was horrible. The pregnant woman in Seattle got shot the other day. Philando [Castile], the whole world saw him get killed on Facebook, and the cop walked, and Pepsi did something like [that]. Don’t get me started. That was a complete appropriation of Black Lives Matter, and Black Lives Matter is not a joke. Black people getting shot down left and right, and cops are walking and they are going to make a commercial out of that?”

On #OscarsSoWhite: “Every 10 years, black people win a lot of Oscars. And then we read articles in Variety magazine and others, the black audience has been discovered. It’s a renaissance then there’s another nine years of drought. It should be constant. I will put my money on this. The reason why what happened at the Oscars this year was because the year before was #OscarsSoWhite. That was a bad look for the Academy. And they had to switch up, get more inclusion, get more people, try to get more diversity among the voting members. But what happened this past Oscars, you think that’s going to happen [next] year?”

On why diversity in story telling is important: “There’s been several studies that show the more diverse your business is, the more profitable it is. You’d think that would be the No. 1 incentive. We have to be in the room, when they have these meetings, where they decided what films are going to get made. To me, that’s where the power is. And I think diversity is the way to go. It’s not Spike Lee saying it. The U.S. Census Bureau has said that by 2040, white America is going to be in the minority.”

On if Bernie Sanders should run in 2020: “Shoot, I hope this nuclear code doesn’t get punched. I’m not thinking about 2020. Look, you got Putin. You got the other crazy guy in North Korea and this other crazy guy, Agent Orange. That’s not a good trio for me, my children, for the world.”

If Trump will be impeached: “Who knows what’s going to happen? When your lawyer gets a lawyer—oh boy, I’ve never heard of that! I travel a lot. People are laughing all over the world at the United States. You go around the world saying you’re the beacon of democracy, what happened? Wtf? But I really think what we have now is a reaction to eight years of Obama. That’s my opinion. So we got this secret health care bill where no one knows what’s happening.”

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- Ramin Setoodeh

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Alicia Silverstone on Why She’s ‘Super Proud’ of ‘Clueless’

15 hours ago

Becoming the most famous teenager in America with 1995’s “Clueless” wasn’t always easy for Alicia Silverstone.

“I was young and I thought it was really overwhelming and it was really intense,” Silverstone says in an interview this week at the Variety Studio in Cannes Lions. “I did a bunch of movies, and then nine movies later, I did ‘Clueless.’ When it’s like, ‘That’s Alicia Silverstone!,’ everywhere I went, it was a lot for a little person. But then life goes on and you figure it out.”

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Silverstone was at the annual advertising conference in the South of France, promoting her new TV series “American Women,” which will debut next year on the Paramount Network. The show is based on “Real Housewives” star Kyle Richards’ mom’s life, set in 1970s after a painful divorce. Mena Suvari plays a girlfriend who moves in with Silverstone’s character. “When I got the script, I was really excited,” Suvari says. “I always wanted to do more comedy.”

In the videos below, Silverstone offers some of her memories about working on “Clueless,” her life after the ’90s hit, and women in Hollywood.

(1) Was “Clueless” Groundbreaking?

The actress was in Paris shooting 1995 drama “The New World” when she received a fax from director Amy Heckerling, informing her that “Clueless” wouldn’t be made.

“One studio said no to it, they didn’t think anyone was interested in watching a movie about a young girl,” Silverstone recalls. “Those people now kick themselves that they were not part of that film. They were like, ‘We don’t think anybody is going to care. It’s not going to sell tickets.'”

After Fox put “Clueless” in turnaround, Scott Rudin came to the rescue, set it up at Paramount Pictures, and the movie found its way to the big screen.

(2) Life After “Clueless

“Yes, it changed my life,” Silverstone says. In the years that followed, she took a break from acting in big-screen spectacles to focus her energy on advocating for animal rights. “I sort of pushed it away and went another way. Now I realize I love both,” she says about acting and activism.

(3) Revisiting “Clueless

In May, Silverstone attended a screening of “Clueless” at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery with 400 fans. It was the first time her 6-year-old son saw the film.

“We were laying under the stars,” Silverstone says. “Seeing it on the screen like that was an incredible thing to share with my son and go, ‘Wow I’m really proud of that.’ I’m proud of all the work on the screen, all the different artists who created that. Super proud.”

(4) The “Wonder Woman” effect

Silverstone and Suvari spoke about what the success of “Wonder Woman” means for the movie business. “We have made strides, of course,” Silverstone says. “Over the years, there was ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Clueless.’ It’s like a few steps forward and back.”

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- Ramin Setoodeh

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Film Review: ‘Midnighters’

15 hours ago

The intersection between crime thriller and horror is an interesting place to be, even if it doesn’t fully pay off in “Midnighters.” This debut feature for TV editor-director Julius Ramsay and his neophyte scenarist brother Alston creates a world of trouble for protagonists whose involvement in a fatal road accident is just the start of a truly unpleasant New Year’s Day. Operating in the bad-things-keep-getting-worse mode of grotesque suspense mellers from “Blood Simple” to recent Aussie Sundance breakout “Killing Ground,” the Ramsays’ film isn’t in their class, as it lacks the memorable plot ingenuity and character writing that distinguish the best such efforts. Still, it’s well-crafted enough to attract genre enthusiasts beyond its Laff premiere.

Thirtyish married couple Lindsay (Alex Essoe) and Jeff (Dylan McTee) have moved from the big city to a New England small town, not entirely willingly — her job at a local bank seems to have been the determining factor and is the only such keeping their heads above financial water. (Given that circumstance, it’s a puzzle that they’ve bought an enormous old house in need of considerable renovation … beyond the fact that, of course, it makes a more atmospheric setting than the modest condo they might more credibly afford.) He’s a failed professional athlete whose chronic lack of employment has really started to wear on her nerves.

Thus neither is in a very celebratory mood as they drive home from a New Year’s Eve party she had to attend for work’s sake. Then on a dark country road, a pedestrian looms before them around a bend, seen too late to avoid collision. As the man seems beyond hope, the couple decide against calling the police to risk the consequences of a DUI fatality. Instead, they opt to clean up the mess as best they can and hide the body, discovering en route that this dead stranger (whose nearby car had stalled out) was apparently headed to their place — presumably for malevolent purposes, quite possibly connected to Lindsay’s younger sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine). The latter is a perpetually in-crisis looker whose open-ended “visit” may be occurring because she’s on the lam from dangerous intrigue in NYC.

While the other two are busy elsewhere, Hannah discovers the corpse isn’t entirely dead after all, in her panic finishing the job with the man’s own gun. This considerably ratchets up the level of potential criminal prosecution for all concerned, and a subsequent morning visit by local cops (Andrew Rothenberg, Joseph Anderson) does nothing to quell the household’s fears. While mutually hostile Jeff and Hannah — each seeing the other as a rival leech off Lindsay — take care of some theoretically final tracks-covering, one “Detective Smith” (Ward Horton) turns up for further questioning. Alas, Lindsay soon discovers he is no detective, and probably no Smith either. Rather, he’s someone with a pressing interest in the accident victim, as well as Hannah, a certain claim ticket and a missing pile of cash. He’s also a scary psycho who enjoys inflicting pain a bit too much.

Things rapidly escalate (or rather degenerate) from there, with details of Hannah’s recent past trickling out, grievous harm suffered by various and nearly everyone eventually wanting to kill nearly everyone else.

Rhode Island-shot “Midnighters” is brisk and eventful. Yet as a thriller driven by constantly worsening straits, it’s not as cleverly twisty as it would like to be, nor are the well-played characters granted enough dimensionality for their dynamics to be all that surprising or convincing. The deteriorating marital bond between leads would provide more of an emotional core if Jeff weren’t so callowly self-interested we wonder what Lindsay ever saw in him. Space cadet Hannah’s backstory, while responsible for drawing peril here in the first place, remains too murky. We have no trouble believing Horton’s cobra-like villain is capable of anything, but he too could have used a little more scripted depth.

The film has one inspired reversal of fortune (involving a garage door), but the fadeout feels miscalculated — we’re supposed to be struck by the response of one surviving character to their “reward,” yet by the screenplay’s logic that person is the figure here who would be least impressed by it.

Nonetheless, Julius Ramsay (who’s edited numerous episodes of “The Walking Dead” and other series, in addition to directing a few) evinces a good feel for claustrophobic suspense punctuated by bursts of visceral violence. The latter’s enthusiastic sadism, combined with an “olde dark house” vibe, push this thriller close to horror terrain at times.

Dp Alexander Alexandrov’s periodically arresting widescreen images highlight a well-tuned tech and design package that makes the most of a small-scale story no doubt produced on modest means. »


- Dennis Harvey

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Kat Graham Joins Forest Whitaker, Theo James in Netflix’s ‘How It Ends’ (Exclusive)

16 hours ago

Kat Graham has joined the cast of Netflix’s upcoming action thriller “How It Ends,” also starring Forest Whitaker and Theo James.

The film follows James as Will, a young man desperate to get home to his pregnant wife Samantha (Graham) after an apocalyptic event turns roads to mayhem. Forest Whitaker plays Tom, Samantha’s domineering father. Samantha, a loving wife, encourages Will to stand up to Tom, not realizing that later on they’ll have to work together to find her.

Graham is best known for her role as Bonnie Bennett in The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries,” and has also acted in “17 Again,” “The Roommate” with Leighton Meester, and “Honey 2.” She recently played Jada Pinkett in the Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me.”

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Graham also has a burgeoning singing career, with a new album “Love Music Funk Magic,” co-produced with Babyface. The lead single “Sometimes” is currently at #16 on the Billboard Dance Club Chart.

How It Ends” is directed by David M. Rosenthal from a script by Brooks McLaren. The project is being produced by Paul Schiff, Tai Duncan, Kelly McCormick, and Patrick Newall, with executive production from Sierra’s Nick Meyer and Marc Schaberg. Sierra/Affinity developed the project with Paul Schiff Productions and is handling worldwide sales and financing.

Netflix acquired worldwide rights in January. Production begins in July in Winnipeg.

Graham is repped by Wme and Brillstein.

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- Erin Nyren

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