John Singleton, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind films like Boyz n the Hood, Rosewood and Four Brothers, died Monday after suffering a stroke. He was 51.
Singleton was hospitalized April 17th and later fell into a coma. Per a statement from his family, he was immediately placed in the hospital’s intensive care unit. “It is with heavy hearts we announce that our beloved son, father and friend John Daniel Singleton will be taken off of life support today,” his family said in a statement. “This was an agonizing decision, one that our family made, over a number of days, with the careful counsel of John’s doctors.”
Janet Jackson, who starred in 1993’s Poetic Justice, wrote of Singleton on Instagram, “You gave me my first movie role, my first Oscar nomination and so much more. Thank you for all you have given to the world through your work and all you have done for Black culture, women and young filmmakers. I will miss you John. Keeping your family in my prayers.”
On Twitter, Ava DuVernay summed up Singleton’s impact and legacy, especially among black filmmakers, writing, “There aren’t many of us out here doing this. It’s a small tribe in the grand scheme of things. He was a giant among us. Kind. Committed. And immensely talented. His films broke ground. His films mattered. He will be missed. And long remembered. Thank you, John.”
Samuel L. Jackson, who starred in Singleton’s 2000 remake of Shaft, said, “Mourning the loss of a collaborator & True Friend John Singleton. He blazed the trail for many young film makers, always remaining true to who he was & where he came from!!! RIP Brother. Gone Way Too Soon!”
Singleton famously became both the first African American and youngest person to be nominated for Best Director at the 1992 Academy Awards after the massive success of his debut film, Boyz n the Hood (he was also nominated for Best Screenplay). The film cast a rare spotlight on parts of Los Angeles that weren’t Hollywood and offered a potent, and equally rare, portrait of an American black family.
Released in July 1991, Boyz n the Hood arrived at a fraught cultural moment, months after the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King, amidst the ongoing crack epidemic, the devastating War on Drugs and continued gang violence. But it was also part of a black arts vanguard — gangsta rap, and hip-hop in general, was more popular than ever (N.W.A.’s Ice Cube starred in the film) and Boyz n the Hood was one of 19 movies by black filmmakers that would be released in 1991, more than any other year in the past decade.
Though Boyz n the Hood was a financial and critical success, the film was also myopically maligned as a “gang movie” and much of the early media attention around the film focused on the violence that broke out at theaters on opening weekend. Some also accused the movie of pandering to this violence with a trailer that highlighted the few moments of gunplay in the film, while minimizing the more prominent dramatic elements. In a 1991 interview with Rolling Stone, though, Singleton said he purposely cut the trailer that way.
“It got motherfuckers in the theater,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. If the trailer for Terminator 2 showed the part where he agreed not to kill anyone, nobody would have gone to see it… People went with lower expectations; they thought it was the same old bullshit action-adventure in the streets of South Central L.A. But when they saw it was more, they really watched it.”
Singleton grew up in South Central Los Angeles and became obsessed with movies at a young age, ultimately enrolling at the University of Southern California’s film writing program. “Everybody wanted to get rich, but nobody wanted to work to get there,” he said. “I wasn’t into film to get money. I just wanted to make classic films about my people in a way no one had ever done.”
At USC, Singleton twice won the Jack Nicholson Writing Award, with the program’s director helping him get his early scripts in the hands of agents. Eventually, the Boyz n the Hood script made its way to Columbia Pictures and Singleton, despite his age, successfully convinced the studio’s chairman to let him direct his debut. When Singleton finally garnered his historic Oscar nominations, he was 24.
Following the success of Boyz n the Hood, Singleton continued to grapple with themes of racism and violence in coming-of-ages stories like the 1993 romantic drama Poetic Justice — starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur — and 1995’s Higher Learning. In 1997, Singleton pivoted to historical drama with Rosewood, which was based on the 1923 Rosewood massacre in Florida, when a white mob decimated a black town.
During the 2000s, Singleton also proved his mettle as a blockbuster director, helming the 2000 reboot of Shaft as well as 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers and Abduction. He also eventually turned to television, directing episodes of Empire and The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. In 2017, his latest project, crime drama Snowfall premiered on FX. Set in Los Angeles in the early Eighties, the show chronicled origins and rise of the crack epidemic.
Throughout his career, Singleton retained the vision and drive that persuaded the Columbia brass to let him direct Boyz n the Hood at such a young age and kept him a singular force in Hollywood for several decades. “Real acceptance comes when you make a good film, and it gets widely accepted as a good film,” he told Rolling Stone in 1991. “It’s not about the novelty. Of course, there’s a lot of new black filmmakers now, but I ain’t no fucking novelty. I’m in it for the long haul. And if you ain’t in it for the long haul, you ain’t in it.”
Wesley Snipes, Rick Ross, Michael Blackson join ‘Coming to America’ Sequel.
Eddie Murphy’s highly anticipated sequel to his hit ’80s comedy “Coming 2 America” has added Wesley Snipes to the cast that already includes Arsenio Hall and comedian Michael Blackson.
The original film follows Murphy as Prince Akeem from the fictional African nation, Zamunda, as he sets off on a journey to Queens, New York, to find a wife. This time around, Akeem will return to America 30 years later with hopes of finding his long-lost son.
Snipes will play General Izzi, the ruler of the fictional African nation that borders Akeem’s kingdom. As we previously announced, Arsenio is reprising his role of Akeem’s best friend, Semmi.
“Coming to America” also starred James Earl Jones, Shari Headley and John Amos. Jones will be reprising his role as King Jaffe Joffer and Deadline reports that 4x Grammy-nominated actor Rick Ross has joined that cast with Paul Bates returning as Oha.
“Hustle & Flow” director Craig Brewer is set to helm the project. Kenya Barris is re-writing a previous draft of the sequel script from original “Coming to America” writers, Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, per comicbook.com.
“After many years of anticipation, I’m thrilled that Coming to America 2 is officially moving forward. We’ve assembled a great team that will be led by Craig Brewer, who just did an amazing job on Dolemite, and I’m looking forward to bringing all these classic and beloved characters back to the big screen,” Murphy said in a statement.
Barris added: “Craig’s ability to create a distinct cinematic world with each of his films is not only impressive but also what made him exactly the voice and vision we needed to bring this story to life. From Hustle and Flow to his work with Eddie on Dolemite Is My Name, he never fails to blow me away. He is a true auteur and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have him on board.”
“Coming 2 America” is expected to open in August 2020.
SNAKES, SANDSTORMS, and STRANGULATION: The Making Of 1999’s The Mummy Movie.
By the start of the ’90s, the once-feared Universal movie monster the Mummy had become a laughingstock. “[The joke was] you could use him as toilet paper,” says director Stephen Sommers. But the studio believed there was still money to be found in those Egyptian bandages, and after years of development, it finally greenlit a pitch from Sommers. Released in May 1999, The Mummy was a huge hit, the start of a franchise that would rake in more than $1.4 billion around the world while making movie stars out of Rachel Weisz and Dwayne Johnson.
That success is remarkable, given the movie’s challenging Morocco shoot and the fact that even its leading man, Brendan Fraser, had no idea what kind of film he was in. “We didn’t know whether we were making a horror movie, we didn’t know if this was an action picture, we didn’t know if it was a romance picture,” says the actor. “All of the above? None of the above? We didn’t know. We. Did. Not. Know.” Advertisement
STEPHEN SOMMERS (WRITER-DIRECTOR): I’ve always wanted to do a version of The Mummy. When I was 8 years old, I saw the old Boris Karloff one [1932’s The Mummy]. It took me to ancient Egypt, and Cairo of the ’20s and ’30s, and scared the c*** out of me. The producers, Sean [Daniel] and Jim [Jacks], had been developing it for nine years. I was just finishing Deep Rising [Sommers’ 1998 aquatic horror film], and I heard they’d parted ways with another writer-director. They took me right into Universal. One of the first things I said was “Nobody wants to see a guy wrapped in bandages; they’re going to laugh at it.” I walked out, and Jim was like, “The studio wants to do it for $15 million.” I said, “I’m going to need that for visual effects alone.”
KEVIN J. O’CONNOR (BENI GABOR): Stephen’s theory is: If you can get someone who’s just as good as somebody else, but they’re nicer to have around, pick that one.
SOMMERS: My editor and producing partner, Bob Ducsay, as soon as he read the script, he said, “This is Brendan Fraser.” It made sense. Brendan’s a big, strapping guy, and he has a great sense of humour.
BRENDAN FRASER (RICK O’CONNELL): I liked the script very much. It was at a time in my career when, in studio-speak, I was bankable, so that must have played into it.
SOMMERS: Brendan’s character was easy to cast; he’s a dashing adventurer from beginning to end. Evelyn [Carnahan], she’s this meek librarian. But by the end, she’s this dashing adventuress. The studio started throwing up all these American actresses. Nobody knew who Rachel [Weisz] was. Rachel auditioned four or five times. The studio could see it was a good pairing.
JOHN HANNAH (JONATHAN CARNAHAN):Four Weddings and a Funeral changed my life, and then, not long after, I got Sliding Doors, which did not do huge box office-wise but did a lot of good for me.
SOMMERS: His agent really hyped him up to Stacey Snider [Universal’s president of production]: “He’s hilarious. Sliding Doors is going to be this massive hit.” Stacey got it in her head that John was this great comic actor. When I met John, he was like, “I’ve never been funny in my life!” He had no idea why we cast him.
ARNOLD VOSLOO (IMHOTEP/THE MUMMY): I remember thinking the script is really fun; it’s Indiana Jones-like. I went down to Universal and met Steve. I said, “What I think will make the movie stronger is if I can play a man in love. This guy loves this chick, Anck Su Namun [Patricia Velasquez], who happened to be married to the Pharaoh. He does it all for her and f— the world.” I think by the time I got back home to Santa Monica, I got the call saying, “You’re the Mummy.” I always wonder: If it were happening today, would I get the part? I mean, here I am — white, South African. They’d probably cast a real Egyptian.
OMID DJALILI (WARDEN GAD HASSAN): I have an Iranian background, so I was very aware that, if I ever did film roles, I had to represent Middle Eastern culture. This was at a time when there were very few Middle Eastern roles at all that weren’t terrorists. Steve said, “We’re looking for kind of Rifki from Midnight Express,” and that was a Turkish warden who was really evil. I said, “Look, why don’t we play him differently because, with all due respect to you, what you’ve written is not even one-dimensional. I can possibly get this to a two-dimensional stereotype.” So I did this piece to camera, it had nothing to do with the script, and he said, “That’s great. Does it have to be so funny?” And I said, “The only way I can do this without being lynched by my own people is to make it slightly humorous.” Then someone said, “What are you doing between April and September? Because we’ve seen 65 people for this role. I think he wants you.”
SOMMERS:The Mummy cost about $62 million.
THE SHOOT, PART I: MOROCCO
VOSLOO: They go, “All right, here’s your wardrobe.” It’s, like, a G-string. I liked my beers; I had a bit of a paunch — still do. Steve told me afterwards that the wardrobe master said, “We’ve got a problem. We’ve got a fat Mummy!” So in Morocco I was just running and walking and eating whatever it is they make you eat to lose weight. It all worked out.
SOMMERS: It was a British crew, and I was this young American, and everyone was like, “Who is this guy?” And not in a good way. I told everybody, “We have a six-week shoot in Morocco.” They looked at the pages — [cinematographer] Adrian Biddle, the camera crew, and the grips. I think they thought, “There’s no way in hell we’re getting out of here in six weeks.”
FRASER: Jim Jacks said, “I took out million-dollar kidnapping insurance policies on you.” We were like, “So, basically, you put a bounty on our head?” He’s like, “That’s one way of looking at it.” I’ll never forget: Kevin J. goes, “How much insurance did you take out on me?” “Eh, $50,000. That should do it.”
O’CONNOR: You’d see one little black cloud and you’d think, “What is this?” This little black cloud would turn into a sandstorm that was blinding and threw the camera equipment around. It was insane.
VOSLOO: I went back on set, and the trailer that I used — [the sandstorm] had taken all the paint off the aluminium.
SOMMERS: It was hard. Snakes and scorpions all over the place.
FRASER: They sent a memo out describing a type of snake. I think it had yellow dots on it. They said, “If you see this kind of snake, do not go near it. Because if it bites you, at best, they’ll amputate your limb.”
O’CONNOR: I chose to wear open-toed sandals for my character. After my first night, I realised how wrong I was. I would look down and see something moving in the sand.
FRASER: Anyway, there I was, p****** down a rock, and I look down and there’s the yellow-dot snake. I was like, “F—!” I just ran for it.
VOSLOO: Everybody got sick. We were all like, “Let’s have gin and tonic with ice cubes. It’ll be fine!” [Makes a puke sound]
FRASER: We got a lot of B12 shots in the a**, whether we wanted them or not.
HANNAH: I struggled a bit doing The Mummy at first. I was like, “I don’t understand what I’m doing here!” Brendan’s the hero, and Kevin J. was doing the comedy stuff. I’m like, “Steve, what’s my function?” He said, “Just mess around in the background, and if it’s funny, we’ll cover it.”
FRASER: I did fully get choked out [in the scene where Rick O’Connell is hanged in a prison]. It was scary.
SOMMERS: [Brendan] is totally to blame.
FRASER: Rick is dangling at the end of the rope, and he’s such a tough guy that his neck didn’t snap. There was a hangman’s gallows, and there was a hemp rope tied into a noose that was placed around my neck. The first take, I’m doing my best choking acting. Steve says, “Can we go for another one and take up the tension on the rope?” I said, “All right, one more take.” Because a noose around your neck’s going to choke you in the arteries, no matter what. I remember seeing the camera start to pan around, and then it was like a black iris at the end of a silent film. I regained consciousness, and one of the EMTs was saying my name. There was gravel in my ear and sh— really hurt. Steven — he and I disagree — but I think he was trying to go, “Oh, that wacky Brendan, acting up a storm again!” I was like, “I’m done for the day.”
SOMMERS: He tightens the noose, and then, as we’re about to take the shot, he’s trying to make it look like it’s really strangling him. I guess it cut off his carotid artery, or whatever, and knocked him out.
FRASER: Technically, yes, it was my fault, that I was following direction from my director to sell it!
SOMMERS: He did it to himself.
FRASER: I remember Rachel at various points saying, “Oh my God, they’re going to confiscate my Equity card.”
VOSLOO: There was a scene — I think Rachel was tied up at my feet or something. The whole crew are down at the bottom of the sand dune. Steve says, “You’re going to conjure up the sand wall.” I said, “Just tell me to look left, tell me to look right, because I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.” Steve’s on a bullhorn, and he’s like, “Come over the sand dune! Now look at Rachel! Now gesture at the thing and shout!” I looked down at Rachel and I said, “We’re never going to work again.”
SOMMERS: You could feel the chemistry between Rachel and Brendan.
FRASER: Rachel is just a heck of a lot of fun to work with and easily someone you can have a platonic movie-star crush on for all the right reasons — to translate that to a chemistry that plays on screen.
SOMMERS: We got out of the desert in six weeks.
THE SHOOT, PART II: LONDON
SOMMERS: We shot all over London and out around Southern England. Some of the Nile stuff at night was the Thames. [Laughs]
O’CONNOR: I’m an old film fan, and being at Shepperton Studios was such a thrill. I remember one of the [other] Americans saying, “Oh, it’s so dank in here.” I was like, “Are you nuts? You know what was shot here? A Man for All Seasons! Hobson’s Choice!” You’re like, “Oh my God, be quiet!”
SOMMERS: In the first Mummy, ILM [Industrial Light & Magic] charged you if you ever moved the camera. It’s not that long ago where you said, “There’s 80 CG shots, and for 20 of them we can move the camera.” We really had to figure stuff out.
FRASER: That big fight with the skeletons at the end, there was a motion-capture camera that was the size — no kidding — of a very large industrial refrigerator. It was on rails, it was robotic, it was programmed, and you couldn’t mess up a move or improvise anything because then the camera wouldn’t capture what you did.
VOSLOO: They put me in one of those motion-capture catsuit things with white ping-pong balls. They just kept saying, “It’s going to be a skeleton, but it’s going to walk like you.” I was like, “I don’t know what the f— that even means.”
SOMMERS: The studios always do tests, and nobody had any interest in seeing a Mummy movie, we were finding out. I’m like, “Oh my God, what have I done?” [Laughs]
VOSLOO: When I came back, my friends were like, “Why the f— did you do a Mummy movie?”
SOMMERS: Then people saw our 30-second Super Bowl spot. It went from nobody wanting to see The Mummy to, the next day, the studio was on fire. We thought, “Man, this film could do $20 million.” That would have been a pretty big opening. The next day [after The Mummy was released], I hear the phone ringing downstairs. It’s 6:40 in the morning. Ron Meyer [president of Universal Studios] said, “The movie’s going to open at $45 million.”
DJALILI: The Universal representative said the film’s opening was so strong, it saved the studio. Universal had a number of flops, and The Mummy literally saved the studio.
VOSLOO: Steve did a great job. He did an even better job with the second one [2001’s The Mummy Returns, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson’s debut film], I think.
SOMMERS: I only shot Dwayne for one day because he had to fly from the Sahara desert for a big wrestling deal. He had food poisoning and heatstroke. It was probably 110 degrees, and he would be covered in blankets, just shivering. I’m like, “Dwayne, we’ve only got one day!” I go, “Action!” Dwayne threw off the blankets and charged forward. We went all day. That guy gutted it out.
VOSLOO: I never saw the third one [2008’s Rob Cohen-directed The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor], and I never saw the Tom Cruise one [2017’s poorly received The Mummy].
SOMMERS: Whenever people find out that I directed The Mummy, it puts a big smile on their faces.
FRASER: It’s as familiar to some people as the furniture in their house. That’s nice. I like that.
O’CONNOR: I was doing There Will Be Blood with Daniel Day-Lewis, and one of the local town kids, he was looking for a skinny guy that played Beni. He pointed to Daniel-Day Lewis and said, “Was he the guy in The Mummy?” [Laughs] I said, “No, that was me.”
VOSLOO: It comes back to Steve Sommers’ script. The movie comes out and people go, “Oh, Arnold, you made a great movie!” I’m like, “Thanks.” But what you really want to say is “You should look at who wrote the movie. You should call that f—er and thank them!”
The Rise Of All-digital Actors – Is It The Way Forward?
On July 23, Will Smith gave reporters an early preview of his upcoming thriller Gemini Man, in which the star fights with a younger clone of himself. The 50-year-old actor noted that, with advances in visual effects, he could sit back and let a digital double do all the work. "There's a completely digital 20-year-old version of myself that can make movies now," he quipped. While the comment got a laugh, it wasn't too far off from Hollywood's new reality: Actors can now play a character at any age — regardless of their own.
New VFX techniques could be used to tell stories that studios might not have attempted just a few years ago. It's not too difficult to imagine in the near future, say, a digital likeness of an Avengers star appearing in Marvel Studios' ever-expanding big-screen universe in perpetuity, even if the actor has long moved on from the role. And who profits from these digital copies of actors will likely spark union debates as usage grows more common.
This fall, two prestige tentpoles will test the waters for this new paradigm. In Paramount's Ang Lee-helmed Gemini Man (Oct. 11), "Junior" Smith involved creating a fully digital character that looks and acts like Smith did around 1996 when he starred in Independence Day. The character was created by VFX house Weta Digital to use in some of the most complex scenes where "Junior" has to act alongside Smith.
Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese's period drama The Irishman stars Robert De Niro, 75, as Frank Sheeran, a labour union leader and alleged hit man for the Bufalino crime family, and Al Pacino, 79, as union activist Jimmy Hoffa. Both actors (and others) will appear at different ages spanning decades, which is accomplished with VFX and makeup.
But it's the digital de-aging work, which is being handled by Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic, that has been the focus of much curiosity, though specifics of the techniques used haven't been revealed. It’s become common for an actor to have their face and body scanned at the start of a project if VFX might be needed (for instance, in action films for a digital stunt double).
A believable, fully digital human is still considered among the most difficult tasks in visual effects. "Digital humans are still very hard, but it's not unachievable. You only see that level of success at the top-level companies," explains Chris Nichols, a director at Chaos Group Labs and key member of the Digital Human League, a research and development group. He adds that this approach can be "extraordinarily expensive. It involves teams of people and months of work, research and development and a lot of revisions. They can look excellent if you involve the right talent."
The VFX team must first create the "asset," effectively a movable model of the human. Darren Hendler, head of VFX house Digital Domain's digital human group, estimates that this could cost from $500,000 to $1 million to create. Then, he suggests, producers could expect to pay anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 per shot, depending on the individual requirements of the performance in the scene.
More often, filmmakers use what has been broadly described as "digital cosmetics," which could be thought of as a digital makeup applications — for instance, removing wrinkles for smoother skin. This means that age is becoming less of an issue when casting an actor. "It's safer and cheaper than plastic surgery," notes Nichols. Marvel's Avengers: Endgame involved the creation of roughly 200 such de-aging shots, with work on actors such as Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, to enable its time-traveling story.
AI and machine learning, and the related category known as generative adversarial networks (GANS), which involves neural networks, could advance this area even further. "I wouldn't be surprised if The Irishman and Gemini Man are the last fully digital human versions that don't use some sort of GANS as part of the process," Hendler says, adding that de-aging techniques and digital humans could start to appear in more films, and not just those with Marvel-size budgets. "I think we'll start to see some of this used on smaller-budget shows."
Adds Guy Williams, Weta's VFX supervisor on Gemini Man: "Once Gemini Man and The Irishman come out, you'll [have several] successful films showing how it can be done. When you give that possibility to directors, they will find new ways to use it."
(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)
‘The Lion King’ Sets New Record.
Jon Favreau’s The Lion King continues to do gangbusters at the box office where it has amassed $1.33 billion (£1.24 billion) globally since it was released on 19 July.
Thanks to another strong weekend at the box office, the photorealistic CGI remake of the 1994 animation has overtaken 2017’s Beauty and the Beast lifetime gross of $1.26 billion (£1.047 billion) to become the studio’s most successful film beyond the Marvel and Star Wars franchises.
Not only that, but it’s also now the 12th highest grossing worldwide release of all-time, and - if we’re counting it as an animated film, like the film’s own VFX supervisor is - it’s now Disney’s most successful animation of all time too besting 2013’s Frozen's $1.276 billion (£1.057 billion) haul.
|Film||Global box office||Studio||Year|
|1||Avengers: Endgame||$2,795.1 bn||Disney||2019|
|4||Star Wars: The Force Awakens||$2,068.2 bn||Disney||2015|
|5||Avengers: Infinity War||$2,048.4 bn||Disney||2018|
|6||Jurassic World||$1,671.7 bn||Universal||2015|
|7||Avengers Assemble||$1,518.8 bn||Disney||2012|
|8||Fast & Furious 7||$1,516.0 bn||Universal||2015|
|9||Avengers: Age of Ultron||$1,405.4 bn||Disney||2015|
|10||Black Panther||$1,346.9 bn||Disney||2018|
|11||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2||$1,341.7 bn||Warner Bros.||2011|
|12||The Lion King (2019)||$1,334.6 bn||Disney||2019|
|13||Star Wars: The Last Jedi||$1,332.6 bn||Disney||2017|
|14||Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom||$1,309.5 bn||Universal||2018|
Data courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com
With a few weeks of the school holidays remaining here in the U.K., and very few family-friendly releases that will challenge its dominance (Dora The Explorer, Uglydolls, and Asterix: The Secret Of The Magic Potion seem unlikely to trouble the King) it seems like The Lion King will continue to devour the opposition at the box office this summer.
However, Disney will reassert its box office supremacy later this year with the release of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil on 18 October, Frozen II on 22 November, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on 19 December.
Directed by Jon Favreau and featuring the voice talents of Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, and John Oliver, the new Lion King received mixed reviews from film critics, but it has clearly won over audiences who’ve flocked to see the classic story reimagined with state of the art VFX.
The Lion King is in cinemas now.