In the Works: New Star Wars and LOTR

Two of the most lucrative franchises in the history of franchises are being revamped, one for theaters, the other for home screens. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson [above] has been set by Disney and Lucasfilm to write and direct a trilogy of films that will fall under the Star Wars brand but will be a completely new story, with original characters, set in a different galaxy,” reports Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. “While numerous directors have come and gone from the Star Wars universe . . . Johnson has proven [to be a seamless fit], the antithesis of the Lucasfilm movie-by-committee formula. On the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which bows globally December 15, Johnson becomes the first to get solo credit on a Star Wars film since creator George Lucas.”

And from Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva: “In its quest to launch a hit fantasy series of the caliber of Game of Thrones, Amazon has closed a massive deal, said to be close to $250 million, to acquire the global TV rights to The Lord of the Rings, based on the fantasy novels by J. R. R. Tolkien. The streaming service has given a multi-season commitment to a LOTR series in the pact, which also includes a potential spin-off series. . . . No details about the deal were disclosed but it believed to be dwarfing any TV series pact to date with a whopping price tag attached.” Andreeva may not have details, but she does sketch out the backgrounds of the major players involved.

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Variety’s Justin Kroll reports that, in Let Her Speak, Sandra Bullock will play Texas senator Wendy Davis, “whose eleven-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in the Texas state house.”

Also, Joseph Cross, who’s recently appeared in Big Little Lies and Mindhunter, will make his directorial debut with Summer Night, starring Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Analeigh Tipton (Lucy), and Justin Chatwin (Shameless). “The story takes place over the course of one night, following a close-knit group of young musicians as they grapple with the trials of young love and their creative ambitions.” James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) will produce.

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“Apple’s second play in the TV game shows it’s here to compete,” suggests John Koblin in the New York Times. Apple’s landed “the rights to a new drama centered on a morning TV show and starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston” and “has agreed to two seasons of ten episodes each, a hefty commitment,” beating out “other contenders like Netflix and Showtime that were vying for the show. Apple, which has a $1 billion war chest to compete for TV projects, had already acquired the rights to revive Steven Spielberg’s 1980s anthology series, Amazing Stories.” At Slate, Inkoo Kang explores the first question to come to her mind: “So why does this deal feel like such a gamble on all sides?”

Speaking of Witherspoon, she’s “dropped out of Noah Hawley’s Fox Searchlight film Pale Blue Dot, clearing the way for a second installment of HBO’s Big Little Lies,” report Daniel Holloway and Justin Kroll for Variety.

“Ellen Page has been cast in the upcoming Netflix adaptation of the popular comics and graphic novel series The Umbrella Academy,” reports Joe Otterson for Variety. “The live action series follows the estranged members of a dysfunctional family of superheroes.”

“Kevin Bacon (The Following) and Aldis Hodge (Underground) are set to headline Showtime’s drama pilot City on a Hill, executive produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon,” reports Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva. “Michael Cuesta (Homeland,American Assassin) is directing and executive producing.” Bacon will play “a corrupt yet venerated FBI veteran” who teams up with Hodge’s district attorney in the Boston of the 1990s to “take on a family of armored car robbers from Charlestown in a case that grows to encompass and eventually upend Boston’s citywide criminal justice system.”

Also at Deadline, Patrick Hipes has the trailer for Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray’s Extra Innings, an an unscripted Facebook Watch series about minor league baseball debuting next Monday.

Not in the Works

Guillermo del Toro tells David Griffin at IGN about a project of his that’s “not happening . . . But the idea was to do Pinocchio during the ascension of fascism in Italy, with Mussolini. It was a good time to discuss the idea of being a puppet or being a human, but you know, it’s not in progress.”

Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller “is suing Hollywood studio Warner Bros. over unpaid earnings,” reports Garry Maddox for the Sydney Morning Herald. “It's a dispute that seems to show why Miller is yet to make two more long-planned Mad Max movies.” Maddox explains.

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