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Movie News Cheat Sheet: Big Sales At Sundance, Big Pressure For JJ Abrams And More

While Ben Affleck is likely reveling in “Argo’s” success and the team behind “Fruitvale” is celebrating the film’s big win and sale at Sundance, I’d like to bet J.J. Abrams is sweating a bit. Snagging the gig to direct “Star Wars Episode VII” is quite the vote of confidence from Lucasfilm, but if Abrams is going to continue the franchise and do it right, he’s got quite the challenge ahead of him.

Kate Winslet’s interest in “Divergent” likely means Summit has the project on the right track while James Wan readies his next haunted house chiller by adding Frank Grillo and Maria Bello to the roster. Meanwhile the casting rumor mill continues to churn over at Marvel, Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey’s names now in the mix for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Read on for the details of those stories and other film industry must-knows in your weekly Movie News Cheat Sheet.

1. Sundance Acquisitions: Didn’t make it out to Park City for Sundance 2013? Don’t you worry because quite a few of the festival’s hot ticket items will make it to theaters in the near future. The Sam Rockwell-starrer, “The Way Way Back,” sold to Fox Searchlight for a whopping $10 million. Sony Pictures Classics picked up both “Kill Your Darlings” and “Before Midnight” while CBS Films jumped on Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “Toy’s House.” Despite mixed reviews, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut got some love, Relativity Media picking up the US distribution rights for “Don Jon’s Addiction.” Magnolia Pictures is holding tight to the “VHS” franchise, the company circling back to claim the rights to the well-received sequel, “S-VHS.” IFC Films will distribute the Rooney Mara/Casey Affleck-starrer “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” while The Weinstein Company went for “Lovelace” and Sundance’s big winner, “Fruitvale,” which took the grand jury prize for dramatic film and the audience award for the drama category.

2. J.J. Abrams to Direct “Star Wars Episode VII:” It’s official; J.J. Abrams will helm “Star Wars Episode VII.” Walt Disney Studios recently announced that Abrams is locked to direct the Michael Arndt script to kick off a new iteration of the franchise for Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm. Kennedy explained, “J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the ‘Star Wars’ experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.” As someone who’s well versed in franchise megahits, Abrams is clearly an obvious choice and that begs the question, is he too safe a choice? It might have been nice to get someone with a little less blockbuster experience and a heavier sense of authorial expressivity – and preferably one that doesn’t involve an excess of lens flares.

3. Rogue, Iceman and Kitty Pryde for “X-Men: Days of Future Past:” The “X-Men: First Class” sequel continues to take its title very seriously. “Days of Future Past” will involve time traveling mutants making it nice and convenient for director Bryan Singer to load up on star power and bring back franchise favorites. We already knew Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman were set to reprise their roles from the original trilogy and now Singer adds Anna Paquin’s Rogue, Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman and Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde to the list. The director recently tweeted, “Very excited to welcome #annapaquin, @ellenpage &@shawnrashmore to #XMen #DaysofFuturePast – thank you @BrettRatner for letting them live!” However, even with the limitless casting potential between the two sections of the series, it looks as though there’s a chance January Jones will not return as Emma Frost. While at Sundance, Jones told Collider, “I don’t think Emma’s in this one,” but also recalled first getting the script for “First Class” on her way to set and noted, “I wouldn’t put it past them though.”

4. Kate Winslet for “Divergent:” Need more proof that “Divergent” is a YA book-to-film adaptation worth keeping an eye on? Apparently the material is promising enough to catch Kate Winslet’s attention! According to Variety, Winslet is currently in talks to join Shailene Woodley in the Summit production. Woodley is due to lead as Beatrice Prior, a 16-year-old living in a society where the population is divided up into factions based on their lifestyles, priorities and beliefs. Beatrice is born into the group that values selflessness, but come the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice will have the opportunity to decide whether she’s truly meant for the Abnegation faction or if she should leave her family and pursue a life elsewhere. No word on where Winslet would fit in, but she seems best suited for the role of Beatrice’s mother, Natalie Prior.

5. James Wan Gets Bello, Grillo and Mechlowicz for Ghost-Hunting Film: James Wan has assembled yet another promising leading duo for his next project. According to Variety, Wan, director Will Canon, and Dimension Films have recruited Maria Bello and Frank Grillo to lead a piece about a ghost-hunting effort gone wrong. Bello’s Dr. Elizabeth Klein and Grillo’s detective Mark Lewis question the lone survivor of a brutal massacre who insists that no one person is responsible for the death of his friends, rather a house. Via Bloody Disgusting, Scott Mechlowicz recently joined the roster, too, so it’s likely that he’ll take the role of that sole survivor.

6. Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler for “Guardians of the Galaxy:” Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler certainly don’t seem like obvious choices for a Marvel shortlist, but, according to Latino Review, both are in contention for a role in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” No word on the part they’re going for, but the outlet suggests Rocket or Groot could be possibilities. Even knowing nothing about the “Guardians of the Galaxy” source material, it’s obvious this one is bound to be a bit off the rails, especially if a Carrey/Sandler-style humor is in the mix. Latino Review also points out that the hunt continues for the film’s main man, Peter Quill, and that Wes Bentley, Chris Lowell and Cam Gigandet are amongst the latest to read for the role.

7. “Zombieland” TV Series: “Zombieland 2” may be dead and gone, but efforts to turn the hit movie into a TV series are well underway. Via Broadcast Now, Amazon is busy developing the project for CBS, which is due to be a serialized comedy adventure, clocking in at 30 minutes per episode. According to the casting sides that io9 tracked down, the show will bring back the quartet from the film, but do so with some alterations. For example, “Tallahassee is still kind of a snarky weirdo, but he seems to have a much less spiky relationship with Columbus,” and, “Columbus is much the same, except that he tracks down his grandma and grandpa (Bubbie and Peepaw) only to find them recently zombiefied.” Check out the full descriptions of the somewhat reimagined characters right here.

8. Producers Guild Salutes “Argo:” Even without that Best Director nod from the Academy, “Argo” continues to plow through the competition at each and every award ceremony. The film recently added the Producers Guild of America’s top prize to its growing list of accolades. The PGA also honored “Wreck-It Ralph” in the animation category and “Searching for Sugar Man” in the documentary category.

9. Trailers: “Upside Down,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” “Inside Llewyn Davis:” The “Upside Down” trailer shows off the film’s warped representation of the rules of gravity resulting in stunning visuals and endless opportunities for equally mesmerizing, askew cinematography. “Olympus Has Fallen,” on the other hand, is tacky to the max, using its first trailer to suggest the film is an entirely unoriginal sampling of tiresome and typical disaster and action flick scenarios. Fortunately we can wrap up this section back on the promising side courtesy of the new trailer for the Coen brothers’ latest, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” This one could be quite the opportunity for Oscar Isaac, putting the actor in the heart of what looks to be a wildly raw, heartfelt and rousing character piece.

10. Box Office: An 18% on Rotten Tomatoes didn’t stop “Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters.” In a surprise win, the newcomer easily snagged the top spot with a $19 million total on a $5,635 per theater average. “Mama” lagged well behind courtesy of a hefty 54.7% weekend one to two drop that left it with just under $13 million. After a mere 7% drop, “Silver Linings Playbook” managed to trump “Zero Dark Thirty,” just edging out its $9.8 million weekend six haul with an even $10 million. “Parker” rounds out the top five with an uninspiring $7 million opening, but “Movie 43” steals the spotlight of shame, only managing to accumulate $5 million and begin what should be a very short run in the 7th position. (via Box Office Mojo)

By Perri Nemiroff



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Film producer and director best known for her work in movies such as FaceTime, Trevor, and The Professor. She has worked as an online movie blogger and reporter for sites such as,, Shockya, and MTV's Movies Blog.

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