Matt Damon’s “Jason Bourne” is dominating moviegoing with an estimated $61 million opening weekend at the domestic box office.

That’s more than double its closest rival, raunchy comedy “Bad Moms” with about $27 million and as much as $30 million at 3,215 locations.

Universal’s fifth film in its sturdy Bourne franchise is performing well above forecasts with an opening day taking in about $23 million at 4,026 sites. STX’s “Bad Moms” grossed $9.6 million on Friday at 3,215 locations.

Lionsgate’s thriller “Nerve,” which opened Wednesday, took in $3.2 million on Friday at 2,538 theaters for a weekend of up to $9 million and a five-day total of about $15 million.

“Jason Bourne” is Damon’s fourth film as a former CIA assassin dealing with memory loss. The franchise launched with 2002’s “The Bourne Identity,” followed by 2004’s “The Bourne Supremacy” and 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Damon did not appear in 2012’s “The Bourne Legacy,” which starred Jeremy Renner.

“Jason Bourne” will post the second-best launch of the five films. “The Bourne Ultimatum” opened domestically with $69.3 million in 2007 on its way to a $227.4 million total.

Paul Greengrass directs “Jason Bourne,” which also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, and Riz Ahmed. The action-packed film, which carries a $120 million price tag, is set in Athens, Berlin, London and Las Vegas with the Vikander and Cassel characters in constant pursuit.

Should the estimates hold, “Jason Bourne” will finish above Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” which opened with $55.5 million over the same weekend last year. It will easily top  “The Bourne Legacy,” which debuted to $38 million in 2012.

The four Bourne films have grossed a worldwide total of $1.17 billion — $638 million domestically and $583 million internationally. Universal is releasing “Jason Bourne” in 46 international markets this weekend. The international opening weekend estimate for “Jason Bourne” would be the largest in franchise history at $49 million. Combining domestic and foreign box office numbers, the film’s estimated opening weekend total is $110 million.

Recent forecasts had projected that “Bad Moms” with a $22 million launch. Given its economical $20 million price tag, “Moms” represents a much-needed positive for two-year-old STX in the wake of unimpressive performance from Matthew McConaughey’s “Free State of Jones.”

“Bad Moms” stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn as mothers who have tired of the pressure to be the perfect mom. “The Hangover” scripting team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote and directed the film.

“Bad Moms” is clearly topping last weekend’s leader, Paramount’s “Star Trek Beyond,” which is falling 60% to wind up the weekend with about $24 million at 3,928 sites. The 13th film in the franchise will finish the weekend with about $104 million domestically in its first 10 days.

Illumination-Universal’s fourth weekend of its hit “The Secret Life of Pets” will finish fourth with about $18 million, lifting its 24-day total to $296 million — the seventh-highest domestic mark of 2016.

Lionsgate’s “Nerve,” starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, is in a battle for fifth with a trio of holdovers — the second weekends of Fox’s “Ice Age Collision Course” and New Line’s “Lights Out” and Sony’s third frame of “Ghostbusters.” “Lights Out” will likely lead with around $11 million.

Disney’s seventh weekend of “Finding Dory” is due to come in ninth with around $5 million, lifting its 45-day domestic total to nearly $470 million. That’s the top total for 2016, leading “Captain America: Civil War” by $65 million, and the eighth highest of all time.

The summer box office will receive a major jolt next weekend with the much-anticipated debut of Warner Bros.’ “Suicide Squad” expected to take in as much as $125 million in its first three days.


“Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu criticized the casting of Matt Damon in “The Great Wall,”, arguing that is perpetuates a stereotype that heroes are played by white men.

“We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world,” she wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon. “They look like Malala. [Gandhi]. Mandela. Your big sister when she stood up for you to those bullies that one time.”

The film, from Legendary and Universal, is set on the Great Wall of China as a group of elite warriors band together to keep out and defeat mythical creatures. Wu, a Taiwanese-American actress, calls Damon’s casting “hero-bias.”

“Remember it’s not about blaming individuals…” she wrote. “Rather, it’s about repeatedly pointing out the racist notion that white people are superior to [people of color] and that POC need salvation from our own color via white strength.”

She also fights back the idea that actors of color don’t bring in as much box office revenue. “If white actors are forgiven for having a box office failure once in a while, why can’t a POC sometimes have one?” she wrote. ‘And how COOL would it be if you were the movie that took the ‘risk’ to make a POC as your hero, and you sold the s—t out of it?! The whole community would be celebrating!”

The film stars Damon and Willem Dafoe alongside Chinese stars including Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu and Eddie Peng. It is the first movie to emerge from Legendary Entertainment’s Legendary East operation.

“The Great Wall” is set for U.S. release Feb. 17, 2017.


If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then Guillermo del Toro’s new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is sure to please viewers with an eye for the macabre. Titled “Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters,” the show runs from August 1 until November 27, and will travel to co-organizing museums in Minneapolis and Ontario next year. Containing almost 600 eerie objects from the filmmaker’s private collection — including sculptures, paintings, costumes and books — the exhibition reflects his lifelong obsession with monsters.  

“You can see my movies over and over again, and you will see that I adore monsters. I absolutely love them,” del Toro said at Saturday’s preview, adding “I think humans are pretty repulsive!”

Though he doesn’t consider himself a horror filmmaker these days, del Toro’s LACMA exhibit is filled with the type of ghoulish artifacts most often associated with a Fangoria convention. Here are a few of the monstrous sights on display.

1) The Thing at the Door

Upon entering the gallery, visitors come face-to-skull with a towering replica of the Angel of Death from “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” The living personification of Hellboy’s eventual demise, this fearsomely feathered figure is as ghastly as it is gorgeous. Though the creature’s skeletal grin and nightmarish wingspan perfectly capture what del Toro refers to as “the graveyard poetry of horror,” he suggests it pales in comparison to our real-life boogeymen.

 “The real monsters in our lives are in fancy tailored suits,” he said. “There’s nothing more scary than people that are profoundly ignorant and profoundly certain. They always go together.”

2) An Army of Frankensteins

Del Toro describes Boris Karloff’s iconic interpretation of Frankenstein’s monster as a “beautiful, innocent creature in a state of grace,” which helps to explain why images and replicas of Mary Shelley’s immortal monster are scattered throughout the show. From an enormous square head ominously overlooking the gallery, to a life-size sculpture of makeup artist Jack Pierce applying prosthetics to Karloff himself, the Frankenstein Monster is the patron saint of the entire exhibition.

3) One of Us! One of Us!

The exhibition is organized into eight thematic sections, the most compelling of which is titled “Freaks and Monsters.” Included among the fascinating photos and artifacts are life-size sculptures of the tragically disfigured performers who appeared in director Tod Browning’s 1932 horror classic “Freaks.” Recalling the carnival-like atmosphere of that disturbing masterpiece, viewers to the exhibit will encounter artist Thomas Kuebler’s hyper-realistic tributes to the cast, including Johnny Eck (the half boy), Schlitzie (the pinhead) and Harry Earles (the razor wielding dwarf).

4) Crimson Labyrinth

Fans of the Oscar-winning fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth” and gothic nightmare “Crimson Peak” are in for a special treat, since the exhibit features full-size replicas of those films’ most visually striking monsters. The cloven-hoofed Faun and the grotesque Pale Man look astonishingly lifelike with their intricately detailed bodies, while a black-clad ghost from del Toro’s most recent film is positively haunting as it gazes silently at visitors who wander the gallery.

5) The Men Who Made Monsters

Amid the frightening heirlooms on display are loving tributes to the writers, artists and filmmakers whose work continues to inspire de Toro. Vividly realistic sculptures of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Harryhausen and makeup genius Dick Smith share the stage with some of their greatest creations, while gruesome illustrations from acclaimed horror artists like Richard Corben, Basil Gogos and Bernie Wrightson decorate the walls. In recognition of the legendary Forrest Ackerman, of one of del Toro’s genre heroes, the exhibit includes a sampling of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines, a publication which every monster fan of a certain age — including Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and Stephen King — grew up reading.


On screen, the “Bourne” thrillers, from “The Bourne Identity” (2002) to the new “Jason Bourne,” have always been powered by a cool contradiction. A movie about a brainwashed human-robot ex-CIA assassin — or rather, a movie in which a brainwashed human-robot ex-CIA assassin is the hero — starts off, let’s not kid ourselves, as more of a right-wing fantasy than a liberal one. That’s why Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, to fit the paradigm of liberal Hollywood, has to be an assassin who’s gone rogue. He’s not on the side of the sinister CIA honchos who want to assert their will in the world; he’s against them. He’s on our side. He’s up against those who destroyed his identity and turned him into a jujitsu sociopath to serve the U.S. agenda.

That’s why, on the movies’ own terms, he’s someone to root for. But, of course, in taking that life-as-target-practice homicidal mercilessness and turning it against his former bosses, Bourne, the programmed amnesiac assassin, embodies the very qualities of ruthless government control. That’s the contradiction that gives the Paul Greengrass films, especially, their slight amoral edge, and it’s one of the keys to their excitement. (It’s not just about the rapid-fire cut/cut/cut propulsion.) It’s that paradox that makes them cool.

Which brings us to “Jason Bourne.” The movie name-checks Edward Snowden a couple of times, and that tends to be a sign that a thriller is straining for topicality — as if pasting a reference like that onto a high-powered action movie were an automatic guarantee of relevance. But this is the rare instance where the relevance is earned. Not because “Jason Bourne” is “about” the Snowden case. But because the very thing that the words “Edward Snowden” have come to symbolize — the issue of government surveillance, of how much it is justified (or not), of how secret it should be (or not), of whether patriotism now means protecting government secrecy or violating it — quivers through every frame of “Jason Bourne.” You might assume that the movie, being a product of liberal Hollywood (and it is), would have a straightforward take on the subject. You might assume that it would be pro-Snowden: in favor of divulging secrets, and against the growth of the American surveillance state. And you would not be wrong.

Yet good movies work in mysterious and subversive ways. Just as the “Bourne” films have always invited us to get in touch with our inner assassin, there’s an electrifying contradiction that snakes its way through “Jason Bourne.” To wit: Is the movie against surveillance, or is it half in awe of surveillance? I’d argue that the answer is both. What’s more, that answer mirrors how even some liberals may feel, deep down, about the revelations that the Snowden leaks placed on the map. For even if you think that we’re heading toward a world of too much secrecy and private-information-gathering (and for the record, that’s the view I overwhelmingly side with), the answer to that, in a digitally merged and invasive sci-fi super-world (i.e., our planet today), surely can’t be: Eliminate all surveillance! It wouldn’t be possible, it wouldn’t work, and even if we could somehow do it, other countries and forces would, of course, still be surveilling us. So even if you’re a card-carrying liberal on the subject of the NSA, few of us, perhaps, could simply be said to be “anti-surveillance.”

That’s the ambivalence that makes “Jason Bourne” such a heady, exciting, and up-to-the-minute movie. More, perhaps, than any previous “Bourne” installment, it’s a thriller that invites us to watch the professional watchers as they survey the rogue watchers who are watching them.

What’s evolved? The even more complete way that Greengrass now portrays the surveillance system at work, with a seamless and omnipresent circuit of satellites linked to cameras linked to computers linked to eyeballs. In “Jason Bourne,” that system has become the air we breathe — a fully operational octopus state with micro-tentacles of infinite reach. Bourne has got a relentless assassin (Vincent Cassel, wonderfully single-minded about killing) on his tail, and he’s always on the run, but it’s not like he can hide; as often as not, and more than ever before, there’s a CIA camera eye right on him.

In “Jason Bourne,” we’re immersed, in almost every scene, in a globe that’s been wired, and that affects the audience kinesthetically. For one thing, it’s thrilling to behold: The surveillance is so routinely there it collapses our sense of concrete space. That’s why we rarely see people in the movie traveling; they’re already everywhere at once. (If you think back to “The Bourne Identity” 14 years ago, that movie was so physical it now seems like a thriller set in the land of horse and buggy.) All of this provokes, in us, a moral criss-cross. Surveying the surveillance, our ethical compass says “No, no, no” but our childlike eyes say “Yes, yes, yes.” The seduction of seeing and hearing beyond walls carries an existential enticement that pushes the film’s action forward. That’s what makes the new character, Alicia Vikander’s Heather Lee, so intriguing. At first, we suspect that she’s your basic sympathetic ingénue cyber-desk jockey — an updated equivalent of the Julia Stiles character. Actually, though, she may be getting ready to take over. For a while, she seems open to Bourne, but what’s tensely compelling about Vikander’s performance is the calibrated consciousness with which Heather exists inside the new world of surveillance. It’s in her (ice) blood.

There’s one more place where “Jason Bourne” cuts against the grain of liberal cinema (which may be why a number of liberal critics haven’t liked it). The character of Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), the superstar CEO of a social-media network called Deep Dream, is presented as a new-tech guru. He gets up in front of a crowd with that slow-talking, non-blinking Tony Robbins-seminar-gone-brave-new-world omnipotence that turned Steve Jobs’ product announcements into cult events, and he’s portrayed as an engaging composite icon of hipster charisma. He’s the kind of generational leader the media tends to fawn over. Except that in this case, his company was secretly funded by the CIA, so that they could have a leg up on abolishing privacy through social media. It’s a biting metaphor: The Company meets the (millennial) corporation, a match — the movie says — made in Orwellian heaven. What the character of Kalloor really signifies is the way that we have all, through the rise of social media, acquiesced in the abolition of privacy that’s the essence of the Snowden critique. The movie is saying: Maybe the government couldn’t be doing it, at least not this efficiently, if the gurus (and even the citizens) hadn’t gotten there first.

“Jason Bourne” wears its themes lightly, and that’s the essence of its appeal. It’s a propulsive Hollywood thriller, not a seminar. Yet there are certain movies that channel what’s going on in a way that’s deeper then preaching. The liberal message on the Edward Snowden era comes down to: Less surveillance…good! That’s the message of “Jason Bourne” as well. But because it’s not a message movie, it can afford, through the contours of its glidingly hypnotic eye-in-the-sky style, to do more than make a statement. It can question surveillance and take the liberal view of it, but it can also touch the hidden pulse of a society that may be more ambivalent about these things than we’d care to admit, since there’s a part of every one of us that, deep down, really does like to watch.


Visual-effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull first appeared in Variety on Dec. 17, 1968, in a review of the sex satire “Candy,” for which he created two outer-space sequences. His other movie credit that year was more memorable: “2001: A Space Odyssey,” on which he was one of the masterminds behind the groundbreaking special effects.

Rosamund Pike, Daniel Bruhl, and Vincent Cassel are in negotiations to star in Working Title’s hijacking drama “Entebbe.”

If their deals close, Pike and Bruhl will play German terrorists in the movie, based on the 1976 hijacking of an Air France plane headed from Tel Aviv to Paris. A total of 248 hostages were held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, then rescued by Israeli forces.

The plane was hijacked by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two members of the German Revolutionary Cells.

“RoboCop” director Jose Padilha will direct from a script by Greg Burke. He’s an executive producer of the Netflix series “Narcos.”

Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Liza Chasin are producing alongside Kate Solomon. Participant Media is also producing and in talks to fully finance.

Pike received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for 2014’s “Gone Girl.” She is currently filming Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles.” Pike is represented by CAA.

Bruhl stars in the upcoming “The Zookeeper’s Wife” opposite Jessica Chastain, and is set to star in “God Particle” with David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Krasinski, and Elizabeth Debicki. He is repped by WME, Tavistock Wood, and Players Agentur Management.

Cassel can be seen in “Jason Bourne,” and is repped by CAA.


ROME — A Paris appeals court on Friday found French director-producer Luc Besson guilty of plagiarizing John Carpenter’s 1981 cult classic “Escape from New York” with the 2012 space-set movie “Lockout.”

The court ordered his EuropaCorp production company to pay  450,000 Euros ($502,000) in damages to the U.S. horror helmer, according to a report on French news service BFMTV.

Besson, who is France’s most international director and recently drew applause at Comic-Con with footage of his big-budget sci-fier “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” had denied the charge. The suit was brought by Carpenter and his “Escape” co-writer Nick Castle in 2014.

Besson did not direct “Lockout.” He co-wrote it with Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather, who co-directed it. His EuropaCorp produced the film at the center of the plagiarism suit.

There was no comment from EuropaCorp on Friday.

The court ruled that “Lockout” had “massively borrowed key elements” of “Escape,” according to BFMTV.

“Lockout” stars Guy Pearce as a former CIA Agent wrongly convicted of murder who is offered freedom if he can free the U.S. president’s daughter from an outer-space Alacatraz where an uprising has occurred. It was widely considered a shameless ripoff of “Escape” when it was released in 2012.

In “Escape,” the island of Manhattan is a giant penitentiary where inmates have taken over. Kurt Russell plays a government agent-turned-convict who has to go in and rescue the U.S. president

“The setup is basically ‘Escape From New York’ in space,” wrote Variety critic Justin Chang in his “Lockout” review.

The 2014 suit brought by Carpenter and French studio StudioCanal had prompted a first favorable ruling in May of 2015 when the court sentenced EuropaCorp to pay $22,800 to Carpenter, $11,400 to Nick Castle and $57,000 to Studiocanal, which holds rights to “Escape.”

In an analysis of the court’s finding by Amelie Blocman published by the European Audiovisual Observatory and widely referenced in the French press at the time, the court “noted many similarities between the two science-fiction films: Both presented an athletic, rebellious and cynical hero, sentenced to a period of isolated incarceration – despite his heroic past – who is given the offer of setting out to free the President of the United States or his daughter held hostage in exchange for his freedom.”

Among other similarities: the hero “manages, undetected, to get inside the place where the hostage is being held, after a flight in a glider/space shuttle, and finds there a former associate who dies; he pulls off the mission in extremis, and at the end of the film keeps the secret documents recovered in the course of the mission.”

The combination of these elements was sufficient to constitute copyright infringement, the Paris court had ruled in 2015.

In Friday’s appeals ruling, the court increased the damages. Carpenter and Studiocanal in the suit had demanded $2.4 million.

EuropaCorp is now expected to pay up, according to an inside source.

Distributed by Film District, “Lockout” grossed $14.3 million in the U.S. and $32.2 million worldwide.


“Central Intelligence” has crossed the $200 million milestone at the global box office, making it the highest-earning action comedy this year.

“Central Intelligence,” starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson, is being handled by New Line Cinema domestically and Universal Pictures internationally.

The film opened with $35.5 million in its first weekend in North America and generated strong holdover numbers, topping $124 million. International grosses have reached $75.9 million.

Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, president of worldwide distribution for Warner Bros. Pictures, stated: “We knew audiences would respond to the unbeatable chemistry of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in this fun, action-packed comedy. ‘Central Intelligence’ plays big and delivers across a wide demographic.”

In the film, Johnson portrays a CIA agent who was bullied in high school and Hart plays his high school friend and reluctant recruit. Rawson Marshall Thurber directed from a script he co-wrote with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen.

The film also stars Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul and Danielle Nicolet. Producers are Scott Stuber, Peter Principato, Paul Young and Michael Fottrell.

Duncan Clark, president of Universal Pictures International, said, “With their impeccable comedic timing, Dwayne and Kevin have proven to be the driving force behind ‘Central Intelligence’s’ global success.  We are thrilled to continue our relationship with such incredible talent and filmmakers, and that our partnership with New Line and Warner Bros. on this film has been so successful.”


Sony has recruited Joe Carnahan to write the latest draft of the script for its adaptation of the popular video game “Uncharted.”

Carnahan, who is also an accomplished director and producer, told Variety that he’s unable to also helm, unless production is pushed back, due to schedule constraints. “Bad Boys 3” will be his next directing gig. Production on the sequel gears up early next year — after Will Smith wraps David Ayer’s “Bright.”

“In a perfect world I would love to do both, but right now, I’m only on board to write the script,” he said.

“Uncharted” is an action-adventure film based on the critically-acclaimed and top-selling PlayStation video game series, which follows the adventures of treasure hunter Nathan Drake.

Carnahan said entering the world of Nathan Drake is a dream come true.


“Archaeology today is in itself an antiquity, but that world has always fascinated me. Especially when you go to a museum today and wonder how a piece got there to begin with,” he said. “Plus, the property itself is so popular that it was hard to turn down an opportunity to work on it.”

The film will be a co-production between Arad and Atlas Entertainment Production, and will be produced by Charles Roven, Avi Arad, Alex Gartner, and Ari Arad. Sony creative exec Jonathan Kadin is overseeing the project.

The video game series was developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America.

In addition to directing “Bad Boy 3,” which reunites Smith and Martin Lawrence, Carnahan is also developing and producing the Frank Grillo-starrer “Wheelman” for Netflix.

Carnahan is repped by CAA.


“Jason Bourne” is heading for a $55 million opening weekend at the domestic box office while “Bad Moms” is generating as much as $35 million, early estimates showed Friday.

Universal’s actioner is performing slightly above forecasts with an opening day taking in about $20 million at 4,026 sites, while STX’s “Bad Moms” will earn as much as $12 million on Friday at 3,215 locations.

Lionsgate’s thriller “Nerve,” which opened Wednesday, will gross an estimated $3 million on Friday at 2,538 theaters for a weekend of up to $9 million and a five-day total of about $15 million.

Matt Damon’s fourth “Bourne” movie took in a solid $4.2 million in Thursday night previews. His last film in the franchise, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” launched domestically with $69.3 million in 2007.

“The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” helmer Paul Greengrass returns to direct “Jason Bourne,” which also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, and Riz Ahmed.

Should the early estimates hold, “Jason Bourne” will finish in the same range as Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” which opened with $55.5 million over the same weekend last year.

The fourth film in the franchise — “The Bourne Legacy,” starring Jeremy Renner — debuted to $38 million in 2012. The “Bourne” series, launched in 2002 with “The Bourne Identity,” has generated $1.17 billion worldwide thus far.

“Jason Bourne,” which carries a $120 million price tag, has received mixed reviews with a 56% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Universal will release “Jason Bourne” in 42 international markets over the weekend.

Recent forecasts had projected that “Bad Moms” would generate a $22 million launch on a slim $20 million price tag. The impressive opening is a tonic for two-year-old STX, which saw disappointing returns from Matthew McConaughey’s “Free State of Jones.”

The premise of “Bad Moms” is simple: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn portray mothers who decide to cut loose in the face of unrelenting pressure to be the perfect mom. “The Hangover” scripting team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote and directed the film.

“Bad Moms” may best last weekend’s champ, “Star Trek Beyond,” which is expecting to gross about $30 million at 3,928 sites. That means the 13th chapter in the long-running series will wind up the weekend with about $115 million domestically in its first 10 days.

Lionsgate’s “Nerve,” starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, debuted to a respectable $3.8 million at 2,538 U.S. locations on Wednesday.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore, noted that Damon’s “Bourne” films will have probably generated more than $1 billion by the end of the weekend.

“As the character that catapulted the star into the box office stratosphere, the ‘Bourne’ brand remains a strong and compelling attraction to moviegoers looking for an action movie with brains as well as brawn at the summer box office,” he added.

Dergarabedian also said that “Jason Bourne,” “Bad Moms,” and “Nerve” are making for a crowded weekend in the run up to the much-anticipated debut of “Suicide Squad” on Aug. 5. The Warner Bros. tentpole is expected to take in as much as $125 million in its opening weekend.


Animation veterans Jay Ahn and Chris Henderson are launching Astro-Nomical Entertainment with “Mean Margaret” as its first project.

The company is touting itself as a full-service development and production company making animated family films. Backed by China-based Characterplan, Astro-Nomical Entertainment is preparing to commence production on “Mean Margaret” and is in talks with “Mulan” director Barry Cook to helm.

Based in Burbank, Astro-Nomical is aiming at mid-budget animated films and franchises, generating ongoing revenue streams across multiple media platforms. It will cater to both the domestic and  international markets, with a particular strategic focus on China.

Kevin Niu is on board as the company’s business adviser and industry expert David Alper will also serve as an adviser.

“Mean Margaret,” based on the children’s book by Tor Seidler, centers on a cranky toddler from a family of nine who is taken in by two woodchucks and raised as their own. The project was most recently incubated at Marza Animation Planet, which will lead on story and design.

Ahn and Henderson will produce with production handled by Montreal-based Digital Dimension. Astro-Nomical is working with Pelagius Entertainment’s Joe Fries and Natalie Khoury, who will serve as executive producers and are committing equity funding to “Mean Margaret” in what’s expected to be the first of several more such arrangements.

IM Global will handle worldwide sales on “Mean Margaret.”

Astro-Nomical Entertainment is also co-developing projects with Warner Bros.-based Gulfstream Pictures and Marina Martin’s Pigmental Studios.

“We feel we are poised to be the ‘go to’ place for creators and producers who want to develop and produce high-quality animated films in the independent CGI family film space,” said Henderson. “With our experience and relationships we can maximize the investment in all stages–from development and strong story telling, through physical production. We’re in a golden age of animation right now.”

Ahn has more than 20 years of experience in production, financing and distribution of features and television in Korea and the U.S. He’s one of the founders and shareholders of ToonBox Entertainment, where until recently he held the position of co-CEO/co-President for three years, and executive produced “The Nut Job.”

Henderson began his career in 1984 working on “Tranzor Z,” before founding the independent animation studio Kookanooga Toons, which produced the series “Monster Mania” for Hallmark Entertainment and “Madison’s Adventures Growing Up Wild” for BBC Worldwide Americas. He also worked for Walt Disney TV Animation, where he served as showrunner for the series “101 Dalmatians” and “Hercules.”

Henderson also produced feature animated DVD releases “Hunchback of Notre Dame 2,” “Return to Never Land” and “Clifford’s Really Big Movie.”



Paul Dano will make his feature directorial debut with the coming-of-age drama “Wildlife,” helming from a script he’s written with Zoe Kazan.

“Wildlife,” based on the 1990 Richard Ford novel, is being produced by Alex Saks for June Pictures with Oren Moverman, Ann Ruark and Dano. Kazan is executive producing.

The narrator of the book is a teenage boy who watches his parents’ marriage start to come apart after the family moves to Montana. ”In the fall of 1960, when I was 16 and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him,” the book begins.

Neither Dano nor Kazan are expected to act in “Wildlife.” Dano’s credits include “Little Miss Sunshine,” “There Will Be Blood,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Love & Mercy” and “Swiss Army Man.” He’s currently in production on “Okja” with “Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-Ho.

Dano and Kazan starred in “Ruby Sparks,” directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris from Kazan’s script.

Moverman wrote the script for “Love & Mercy.” He directed and co-wrote “The Messenger” with Alessandro Camon and won the Silver Bear for best screenplay award and the peace film award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009. He’s also a producer on Richard Gere’s “Oppenheimer Strategies.”

Ruark produced “Equals,” starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, and executive produced “Love & Mercy.”

Saks launched June Pictures earlier this year with Andrew Duncan. It began production last month on the ensemble comedy “Fun Mom Dinner,” starring Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Bridget Everett and Molly Shannon, and is also in production on “The Florida Project,” written and directed Sean Baker (“Tangerine”).

June Pictures is also in post-production on drama-comedy “Dude,” written and directed by Olivia Milch, starring Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp and Awkwafina; and the psychological thriller “Thoroughbred,” written and directed by Cory Finley, starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy and the late Anton Yelchin.

Dano is repped by WME and Anonymous Content. News about his directing “Wildlife” was first reported by The Tracking Board.


Morgan Freeman is in negotiations to star in Disney’s upcoming live-action film “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” opposite Misty Copeland and Mackenzie Foy.

The live action project is based on the 1816 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffmann in which a girl named Clara is charged by her parents with taking care of a Christmas toy Nutcracker doll — which comes to life and defeats an evil Mouse King with seven heads.

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned an Alexandre Dumas adaptation of the story into the ballet “The Nutcracker” in 1892.

Lasse Hallström came on board in March to direct from Ashleigh Powell’s script. Mark Gordon is producing. Lindy Goldstein is executive producing.

Sam Dickerman and Allison Erlikhman are overseeing the project for Disney. Sara Smith is overseeing for The Mark Gordon Company.

Variety reported Wednesday that “Interstellar” star Foy had joined the project as Clara. Should Freeman’s deal go through, he would play Drosselmeyer, the mysterious godfather of Clara. Copeland will play the lead ballerina.

Freeman was most recently seen in “Now You See Me 2” and will next appear in Paramount-MGM’s “Ben-Hur.” He’s repped by CAA and Sloane, Offer.


Disney has confirmed that it will make only one “Avengers: Infinity” movie rather than the two it had announced previously.

Disney said on Friday that it still plans to release Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” as planned on May 4, 2018. But what was slated to be the second part in that story, “Avengers: Infinity War Part II,” has now been renamed as an “Untitled Avengers” project while retaining the May 3, 2019 release date.

The two “Infinity War” movies were announced together in October, 2014, with both directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Two months ago, the Russo brothers told the Uproxx site that the third and fourth Avengers were being retitled in part to clarify that the films would be two separate films rather than one large film split in half.

Production of “Avengers: Infinity War” is expected to begin later this year. The Russos are directing from a script by the writing team of Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely with a back story based on immensely powerful Infinity Gems described in various Marvel stories.

The Russo brothers directed “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War,” which became 2016’s top worldwide grosser with $1.16 billion. Joss Whedon directed 2012’s “The Avengers” and 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

The two “Avengers” films have grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide. “The Avengers” is the fifth highest grosser of all time at $1.52 billion and “Age of Ultron” is the seventh highest at $1.41 billion.

Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner starred in both movies. Downey and Renner have been confirmed to appear in “Infinity Wars.”


In the late ’60s, the last time that America seemed as divided as it is now (back then it was the counterculture vs. the establishment; today it’s reality-based thinking vs. rabbit-hole fantasy), there was a popular technique of rudeness known as “the put-on.” The obnoxious idea was that if you found yourself confronting someone who was clueless, you should coax out their cluelessness even more by saying things you didn’t believe: more far-out than you thought — or maybe more far in. As the lively new documentary “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words” makes clear, Frank Zappa was a master of the put-on — but not just because he bamboozled the “squares.” He presented a put-on to the counterculture too. He was a quirky, daring, idiosyncratic, out-of-the-box musician, but he was also a straight arrow in hippie-anarchist clothing. He hated blandness and fakery and selling out, and the way he challenged all those things was as American as apple pie.

It’s easier now than it was then to see Zappa for what he was: not a rebel like Abbie Hoffman but a rebel like the Howard Stern of the ’90s, someone who fashioned himself as an outsider because he had such a highly developed b.s. detector. With Zappa, the put-on began with his look: the mop of curly long hair and the signature thick, black T-square of a goatee — as iconic an example of facial-hair-as-performance-art as Salvador Dalí’s handlebar wisp of a mustache. The way that Frank Zappa looked scared a lot of people (in the context of the culture wars of 1968, he appeared to be the embodiment of everything that was out to destroy America), and he played up that threat by dismissing himself as “ugly.”

It’s true that from a distance, he looked like a slightly mad biker crossed with a defrocked medieval priest. But in “Eat That Question,” which is basically a beautifully edited series of interview clips — conducted, over a period of 25 years, on television, in living rooms and recording studios, at airports and concert settings — we get to see Zappa up close, and he was actually quite an appealing-looking fellow, with an elegant tapered jaw and dark puppy-dog eyes that twinkled as he toyed with whoever he was talking to. In conversation, his voice was a powerful instrument, rich and deep and too direct to be sarcastic. If someone were making a biopic about Frank Zappa, the actor who could do him justice — don’t laugh — is Jon Hamm. Zappa had that combination of handsome severity and forceful flippancy.

He came on like an outrageous hippie pariah, but really, he only played one on TV — or, more accurately, in the rock & roll media diorama that was the counterculture’s version of TV. Though it was often assumed that he was an explorer of controlled substances, he actually hated drugs (and frowned on the use of them by his band members). He was a businessman who started his own record company and lived in a suburban home in L.A. with his wife and four kids. His brand was freakishness, but there was a reason that he fooled almost everyone, and that was his ruling passion: All he wanted to do was to play music — his music, his way. And so (biggest put-on of all) he pretended to be a countercultural satirist.

There is some satire, especially on the early records, along with a fair amount of goofy surrealist horseplay. When I was a teenager, listening to songs like “I’m the Slime” or “Sofa No. 2” or “Florentine Pogen” or “Montana” (“I might be movin’ to Montana soon,/Just to raise me up a crop of…dental floss”), I’d often wonder if I was missing some deep hidden meaning in Zappa’s lyrics. They were an honest reflection of his absurdist sense of humor, but mostly they were there because he was working in a basic medium of pop albums that required songs with lyrics.

It was literally everything between the lines that he cared about. “Eat That Question” shows us the side of Zappa who considered himself a classical composer (he says that when he was growing up, his ambition was to be the missing link between Stravinsky and Edgar Varèse). But he’s most truthful about his music when he describes every record he ever made as part of one gigantic composition. And it truly was. You can pluck moments out of it, like his most seductive pop song (“Peaches en Regalia”) or his catchiest polyrhythmic doodle (“Pygmy Twylyte”) or his most virtuoso bauble (“Inca Roads”) or his most haunting rock anthem (“Muffin Man”) or his most awesome groove for adults (the Grammy-winning album “Jazz From Hell”). Yet you could also throw every single one of his songs and compositions into the air and have them all fall into place on random albums and they might sound even more dazzling. He was a bebop classicist who, paradoxically, thought in jingles.

As his acerbic comments over the decades in “Eat That Question” make clear, he was someone who longed for America to be better: more adventurous, less restricted. That’s why in the ’80s, he became a common-sense spokesman against Tipper Gore’s PMRC. Much of the way that Frank Zappa thought was ahead of his time, and that may be why he is now being discovered anew. Another documentary about him is in the works, this one by the gifted actor-turned-filmmaker Alex Winter (“Downloaded,” “Deep Web”), which plans to explore more of the psychodrama that powered his rotating band. Zappa could be a bit of a snob, to the point that even though he at times created music that was beautiful, he didn’t seem to trust beauty. He was taken away from us when he was far too young, and part of the sadness of that is that by the time he died, at 52, of prostate cancer (in 1993), it’s clear that he was mellowing into an elder statesman of pop independence. It was an effortless transition, because he was never stuck in the ’60s or ’70s. The only aspect of that era he brought with him, and fashioned into words to live by, was: Do your own thing.

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