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Can Luc Besson score another French-import blockbuster with 'Lucy'? (Updated)

Over the course of his dozen-plus films as a writer-director, Parisian auteur Luc Besson has become known for his stylish inversions of schlock genre fare and a certain, shall we call it, Vive la femme attitude toward women.

Time and again, his movies place emotionally fragile female characters in physically perilous situations: a conflicted hit-woman struggling with the perils of her job in 1990’s La Femme Nikita, 12-year old Natalie Portman on the run as an assassin-in-training in The Professional, and Milla Jovovich’s universe-saving alien Leeloo in The Fifth Element (1997) among them. Besson’s latest multiplex offering appears set to follow that template. The director’s FX-heavy sci-fi thriller Lucy (which hits theaters Friday) presents Scarlett Johansson as a Taipei-based expatriate-turned-reluctant drug mule who, through a freak accident, taps into a reservoir of superhuman brain power—and ends up kicking no small amount of ass in the process.

With its 59-percent “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and prime popcorn movie season release date, Lucy arrives a little more than a year after Besson’s last outing as writer-director (the critically and commercially stillborn Michelle Pfeiffer-Robert DeNiro crime-comedy The Family). And if pre-release audience awareness surveys are to be trusted, Lucy could haul in as much as $40 million in its opening weekend to become Besson’s biggest stateside hit to date.

While the director, 55, stands as one of international moviedom’s most prolific content creators, his list of efforts that can be called “Un film de Luc Besson” remains relatively petite. That’s because writing-directing work often takes a backseat to Besson’s position as boss of EuropaCorp, the Paris-based studio he founded that’s known for churning out internationally accented action fare such as the Kevin Costner spy vehicle 3 Days to Kill in February. A rundown of the filmmaker’s credits as producer-writer—concocting and setting up film projects before outsourcing them to his go-to team of directors, including Pierre Morel and Olivier Megaton—speaks to Besson’s reputation in Hollywood as a prolific harvester of movie ideas who launches global film franchises almost at will while continuing to churn out Gallic blockbusters both sublime and ridiculous (Arthur and the Invisibles, anyone?).

Exhibit A: the Taken trilogy. In 2008, the first of the English-language French action-thrillers (starring Liam Neeson as a former CIA operative struggling to find his daughter after she is captured by sex-slavery traffickers) arrived with little box office expectation. But when the $25 million film shocked critics into a kind of puzzled enjoyment and took in more than $200 million globally, it effectively rebranded Neeson—formerly an Oscar-nominated Serious Actor—as a bankable action star. And after Taken 2 similarly turned a robust profit, Neeson returned for a third and final installment that’s due out in January, placing the Taken franchise on a very short list of European-made movie trilogies.

Before that, Besson could be partially credited with making Parkour a “thing” with the 2004 Paris ghetto-set action flick he wrote and produced, District 13 (as well as its less well-received sequel District 13: Ultimatum).

And while the less said the better about Taxi, the flop-tacular, Besson-written and -produced Jimmy Fallon/Gisele Bundchen/Queen Latifah vehicle (based, of course, on Besson’s hit French version), the filmmaker’s Transporter series definitely ranks high in his win column. Those three cartoonishly violent, meat-and-potatoes hits again saw Besson farm out directing duties, grafting Asian martial-arts action onto a decidedly European milieu of criminal intrigue and elaborate car chases, placing Jason Statham in the driver’s seat of a succession of luxury automobiles.

Today, Besson seems more intent on spending more time in the director’s chair after back-to-back outings as a producer-writer-director with The Family and The Lady—a biopic about the Myanmar human-rights activist and opposition leader Aung San Soo Kyi that premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. Besson has also returned to his roots depicting highly adrenalized female triumphalism with Lucy.

“I love to see a woman as a very strong character,” Besson told EW earlier this year. “It’s like cooking: sugar with a bit of salt, and Lucy definitely can get salty.”

This post has been updated to reflect that Lucy does not have a 98-percent “freshness” rating Rotten Tomatoes. It has a 59-percent rating. EW regrets the error. 

Casting Net: Tommy Lee Jones joins 'Criminal,' Rooney Mara replaces Jessica Chastain in 'The Secret Scripture'

Tommy Lee Jones is joining Kevin Costner and Gary Oldman in Criminal. Ariel Vromen is directing the thriller from Millenium Films, which tells the story of a prison inmate who is implanted with a dead CIA operative’s memories, secrets, and skills with the hope that he will stop a diabolical plot. Jones will play a neuroscientist who transplants said intelligence. Douglas Cook and David Weisberg wrote the script. Chris Bender, J.C. Spink, and Matt O’Toole will produce. [THR]

• Rooney Mara is heading to The Secret Scripture, which will be directed by Jim Sheridan. The drama follows a 100-year-old woman, Roseanne, who writes the story of her life in a secret memoir while spending time in mental institutions. Mara replaces Jessica Chastain as the younger Roseanne, who survives a brutal childhood, but later suffers at the hand of a vindictive Catholic priest. Vanessa Redgrave also stars. Johnny Ferguson is adapting Sebastian Barry’s 2008 novel of the same name. Noel Pearson is producing. [Deadline]

• Dan Stevens will star in the indie drama The Ticket. Oren Moverman is producing, with Lawrence Inglee joining him. Ido Fluk is writing and directing. The film tells the story of a blind man who is able to see again, but becomes entirely selfish, obsessed with the superficial. The film begins production in upstate New York in August. [Variety]

Marvel Studios reveals 'Ant-Man' Comic-Con poster -- EXCLUSIVE

Feast your compound eyes on this: an exclusive look at an Ant-Man image that Marvel Studios will be sharing this weekend at Comic-Con.

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'Ninja Turtles' trailer features theme song by Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa

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If nothing else, let this mark the first time you’ve heard an anthropomorphic turtle shout “woo” between the words “Wu “and “Tang.”

A new trailer for Paramount’s upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles finds the four adolescent amphibians fighting crime to the tune of “Shell Shocked” by Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, and Ty Dolla $ign, which was released just yesterday.

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Sean Astin bugs out in 'Cabin Fever: Patient Zero' clip

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How much does Sean Astin know about disgusting infectious diseases? A lot more now than he did a few years ago, probably.

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John Boyega wants to land a Marvel role

In a series of tweets Tuesday, actor John Boyega—of Attack the Block and Star Wars: Episode VII fame—said that he’s “aiming” for a Marvel role and “booking a flight to Wakanda”: READ FULL STORY

A college radio show causes chaos in 'Dear White People' trailer

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“Dear white people,” Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) begins her college radio broadcast. “The minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man, Tyrone, does not count.”

After taking the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance, first-time feature writer and director Justin Simien’s college race relations comedy is preparing to hit theaters with just as much verve as Samantha’s radio show. Dear White People‘s trailer includes some of Samantha’s best zingers (“dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism”) and also introduces the key players on Winchester University’s predominantly white campus.

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'Sinister Six' gets 2016 release date as 'Amazing Spider-Man 3' moves back

Slow down, Spider-Man. Take a load off. You’ve been going nonstop since 2002.

After bringing home more than $700 million around the globe in his last superhero adventure, Andrew Garfield and the Amazing Spider-Man franchise aren’t being rushed back into the fray. A third film was originally slated for June 10, 2016, but Sony announced today that Spidey wouldn’t swing back our way—at least in his own film—until 2018.

The twist is that we still might get a taste of Spidey in two years, because Sinister Six is now officially on the calendar for Nov. 11, 2016. That franchise expansion, to be directed by Cabin in the Woods‘ Drew Goddard, will feature a rogue’s gallery of ne’er-do-wells from Spider-Man’s neighborhood, some of whom were likely introduced in the most recent film. “With Sinister Six in the hands of writer-director Drew Goddard, we feel extremely confident placing the film on a prime date in 2016,” said Sony president Doug Belgrad in a statement.

Think there is a chance that our friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man makes a cameo to jump-start Sony’s next-generation franchise? Me, too.

Sliding into Spider-Man 3‘s June 2016 slot will be Uncharted, an aspiring franchise based on the popular video game that will be directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses).

See Chris Evans in his directorial debut

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Earlier this year, while promoting the second Captain America film, Chris Evans hinted that people shouldn’t expect to see him in superhero movies much longer. In fact, his real ambition was to direct, and he wasn’t speaking hypothetically. Once titled 1:30 Train and now titled Before We Go, his directorial debut was recently announced as one of the films that will premiere at this September’s Toronto Film Festival. According to the festival’s official release, “the story follows two strangers after their serendipitous meeting in Grand Central [Station in Manhattan]. Over the course of one night, they form an unlikely bond and the conflicts in their own lives become the basis for exploration into each other and themselves.”

At quick glance, it sounds like Before Sunrise, which is not the worst place to start. Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness) plays the pretty stranger, who misses her train home, and Evans portrays a musician in the right place at the right time. In 10 years, perhaps they can reunite in Paris.

Video: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell play with fire in 'Miss Julie'

The following clip is NSFW, assuming you’re a repressed 19th-century manservant.

If you’re not: Here’s a first look at Liv Ullmann’s Miss Julie, a period piece based on the 1888 Strindberg play of the same name. Jessica Chastain plays the titular character, the feisty daughter of a count; Colin Farrell plays Jean, the valet who’s loved Julie since she was a girl. (“Loved,” here, means he’s had “nasty thoughts” about her since childhood.) Naturally, things get complicated when the two become entangled—more along the lines of Quills than Downton Abbey, if this slow-burning international trailer is any indication.

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