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Roland Emmerich, Master of Disaster, Returns to Big-Screen Cataclysms With ‘Moonfall’

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Roland Emmerich, Master of Disaster, Returns to Big-Screen Cataclysms With ‘Moonfall’

In order to create, filmmaker Roland Emmerich surrounds himself with memories of destruction. The Hollywood office of his Centropolis Entertainment features mementos from his catastrophe films Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Though he’s known as a master of disaster, his office also is a testament to his projects outside the genre (see: Stonewall, Midway and The Patriot). “They would love me to make the same movie over and over again,” Emmerich says of his agents and Hollywood in general. “I always say, ‘I have to find a new way to do it.’ You cannot, every two years, put some disaster movie out there.”

This time, he waited five years. The German filmmaker returns to world-ending with Moonfall, his first sci-fi flick since 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence, starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson and John Bradley as a trio tasked with preventing the moon from crashing into Earth.

Emmerich, 66, wanted to make the project for years, initially selling the concept to Universal, where it languished for a few years. When he regained the rights, Emmerich took it to Cannes and raised enough capital to make the $138 million film independently — a move that allowed him enormous creative control and gave him a 50 percent stake. (Lionsgate will release the film domestically Feb. 4.)

Speaking with THR, Emmerich weighs in on the possibility of a few sequels, shares his thoughts on Adam McKay’s disaster pic Don’t Look Up and reveals hopes for more intimate films — including a Marilyn Monroe movie.

It’s nearly unheard of for a director to raise this much capital for a feature. What was your pitch to financiers?

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These kinds of movies never get offered in Cannes. It’s a tall task. Scanline [VFX] helped us do this one-shot trailer, which was really cool. We had no cast, so then Harald [Kloser, writer-producer] and I kind of sat on these two chairs [and took questions] in front of all the buyers. This was a full room, trust me. (Laughs.)

You and Dean Devlin were planning an asteroid-destroys-Earth movie after Independence Day. Instead, you made Godzilla, and by that time, Armageddon and Deep Impact came out. Is this closure?

I didn’t want to do Godzilla. But they made me a deal, which was unheard of. I said, “OK, let’s go about this really radically. I’m not doing big-belly Godzilla. I’m doing him as a lizard.” That was supposed to tell everybody I can’t do this movie. [Godzilla owner Toho] said, “Oh, we’ll call this the new Godzilla, the Hollywood Godzilla. Then, we can still do our fat Godzilla.” [Toho continued to make Godzilla movies with its classic look, while Emmerich’s Godzilla was leaner and faster.] I said, “Shit!” I was constantly working on my meteor film. It just got swept away by Godzilla, and then all of a sudden, Michael Bay came along and did it first.

You’ve seen filmmaking change a lot. Do you miss the days when special effects were more constrained?

I’m torn. It was a fun time shooting with models. Sometimes, they look better. For [the 2008 movie] 10,000 B.C., they built the biggest model set ever. Then we [added] the people and the smoke and the animals and it was just like magic. That was, for me, the best combination of models with digital enhancement.

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Emmerich was photographed Jan. 12 at his Hollywood office.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

At one point, you said 10,000 B.C. would be the last movie you would ever direct. Why did you feel that way?

It was the most grueling shoot. We wanted to shoot the whole movie in Africa, but they didn’t allow us to do certain helicopter scenes. Then, we had to go to New Zealand. They said, “In May, snow doesn’t stay,” but there was a half a meter of snow. I was supposed to shoot this movie in 82 days and we went over by 20. That’s why I said, “Early retirement!”

When you do a drama like Anonymous or Stonewall, what is the reaction from your agents when you say you want to do something smaller?

They don’t like that. “Why do you want to do that?” They are super critical that I am now doing everything myself [outside the studio system]. My normal salary had to be reduced to make these movies possible. I have enough money. It’s not the money anymore. (Laughs.)

Did you consider selling Moonfall to a streaming service?

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No. I own 50 percent of this film. So that means if it makes money, then 50 percent is mine. Then I have to pay Harald and all these other people. But a big piece of it is mine. Yeah, you never know with movies. It could die at the box office or be a huge hit or make barely its money [back]. Who knows these days.

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A Close Encounters of the Third Kind poster, signed by Steven Spielberg, was presented to Emmerich on his birthday.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

The Day After Tomorrow was the first global warming-themed blockbuster I can think of. Seventeen years later, Don’t Look Up is a hit, or so says Netflix. Do you think films like that help change the audience’s minds?

The Day After Tomorrow was ahead of its time, and I’m a little bit worried that Don’t Look Up will not do anything. You have to really, really frighten people. And at the end [of Don’t Look Up] it’s like … they all sit there and eat and that’s it. And then, a very comedic scene with Meryl Streep. I didn’t care too much about it, with all the big actors and everything. Naw.

I suspect you have no interest in superhero movies, but were you offered them over the years?

I never had any relationship to it. I got them offered right and left, but I never said yes to any one of them. It’s just not my thing.

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You write a lot. How many scripts do you have in the drawer that you’d love to make?

Three. One is a mistaken identity movie where a young writer has to take over a whole film set around 1919, something that I have always wanted [to make]. I have this story of the only good conquistador. And a movie called Happy Birthday, Mr. President, which takes place in the ’60s that’s about the death of Marilyn Monroe.

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From left: A model of an Independence Day spaceship, an egg from Godzilla and various items from 2019’s Midway occupy the credenza.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

You almost never do sequels, but the end of Moonfall clearly sets up the possibility for more. Could you see yourself making another one?

I don’t have to. If it’s an enormous, enormous success, why not? What I will then do, is do two and three together. And have a real, clear cliffhanger [in between].

A decade ago, you were talking about Lawrence of Arabia for television. How intriguing is TV for you?

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I am still working on that project. I found a new writer. I think he’s clearly better. He is English, but he lives here in Los Angeles. We are working through the 10 episodes we want to do.

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Left: A Godzilla toy sits next to a poster touting the film’s first-week’s gross leading to Memorial Day 1998. Right: Despite not wanting to make Godzilla, several props (including this model cab) from the film linger in his workspace.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

You don’t like studio notes. But can you recall one that was helpful?

(Shakes his head no.) Most of the time, you know yourself. [In a test screening], you immediately get where the problems are and then you work on them. Certain problems you can never erase. But if it’s a good script, every actor is essential. You have to cut them as tight as you can and hope for the best.

What is your schedule like when you are at home? How do you balance everything?

It’s easy. Honest to God, most of the time I’m bored. I get stressed maybe four weeks before I start shooting, because then it’s building up. When I shoot, I love to shoot. That’s good. Then I go very intensely into the editing room after a break. After four weeks, I have my movie.

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Visitors to his offices are greeted by this mounted hood, originally placed on real horses to play aliens in 1994’s Stargate.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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