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Casting Net: Chiwetel Ejiofor could be the next Bond villain; Plus, Ryan Reynolds, more

• Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) is reportedly the front-runner to antagonize James Bond in the next film in the series. According to the report, no offer has been made yet. Daniel Craig will return to star as 007, and Sam Mendes, who directed him in Skyfall, is returning to direct. Production is supposed to begin this summer on Bond 24, scheduled for a Nov. 6, 2015, release date. [The Wrap] READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: Ryan Reynolds talks to the animals in 'The Voices' and Aubrey Plaza goes zombie in 'Life After Beth'

There’s a certain kind of oddball film that seems like it could only have its coming-out party at a place like Sundance. Marjane Satrapi’s dark serial killer comedy The Voices is one of those films. The best way I can think to describe it is: imagine Fight Club if Brad Pitt’s part was played by a talking dog and cat.

Tyler Durden comparisons aside, Satrapi, the Iranian director of 2007′s Persepolis, has created a totally unique, genre-defying film. Which isn’t to say The Voices is great. Far from it. It’s wildly uneven and it never finds a tone and sticks with it. But it’s a boldly gutsy and giddy experiment mainly because it gives us a likable, sympathetic, gee-whiz protagonist (Ryan Reynolds) and then spends the next hour and a half showing him go on a psychotic killing spree. The hook of the film –and it’s a doozy — is that through it all, Reynolds  is egged on in his homicidal deeds by his cat (Mr. Whiskers) and cautioned against them by his dog (Bosco), both of whom talk to him. Like the devil and angel that hover over all of our shoulders, Mr. Whiskers is a nasty piece of business who speaks in a Fat Bastard Scottish brogue, while Bosco is a dumb-but-moral mutt with a southern drawl.

Despite his hunky, leading-man good looks and relative box-office currency (Green Lantern and R.I.P.D. aside), Reynolds has always been an interesting actor because he’s at least willing to take chances. Sometimes those chances pan out, sometimes they don’t. But looking at movies like The Nines and Buried, you can’t say that he plays it safe. He had to know going in that The Voices would never be a mainstream multiplex hit, but that doesn’t stop him from delivering a surprising and ballsy performance. Jerry begins the film as a bubbly, optimistic factory worker who we slowly learn through sessions with his court-appointed shrink (Jacki Weaver) has a history of mental illness. And, of course, there’s the whole talking pet thing.

When Jerry develops a crush on one of his coworkers (Gemma Arterton), Bosco encourages asking her out. Meanwhile, Mr. Whiskers only cares about whether or not he will close the deal and have sex with her (well, that and making sure that Jerry feeds him on time: “Where the f—’s my food, f—face?”). Jerry’s date goes horribly, tragically, fatally wrong. So does the one after that with another coworker (an excellent Anna Kendrick). And as Jerry’s world starts to unravel, Bosco and Mr. Whiskers do their hilarious, chatty push-and-pull routine yanking at the wishbone of his soul.

I wish I could say that the second half of the film lived up to the promise of the first. Or that the film probably won’t offend some folks with its glib, played-for-laughs treatment of mental illness. Still, The Voices is never less than unpredictable and amusing in a that’s-so-wrong kind of way. For those who take their comedy black, you could do a lot worse.

Like Ryan Reynolds, Aubrey Plaza is an actor who’s drawn to rolling the dice and taking risks — usually with a deadpan expression on her face. In Safety Not Guaranteed, The To Do List, and on Parks and Recreation, Plaza has a special and all-too-rare gift for totally committing to embarrassing situations and finding the absurd humor in them. Which is exactly what she does again in the gonzo zombie rom-com Life After Beth.

I could say that Plaza’s new film is the funniest zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead, but the truth is there haven’t been many decent contenders for that title. I laughed while watching Life After Beth, but not as much, or as hard, as I felt like I should have. Like The Voices, it promises more than it ultimately delivers.

Written and directed by Jeff Baena, Life After Beth stars Dane DeHaan as Zack, who, at the opening of the film, is grieving over the death of his girlfriend (Plaza), who was bit by a snake while hiking. As he mourns along with her parents (a pair of aces John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), he beats himself up over all of the things he never got to say to her while she was alive. But he soon gets a second chance when Beth reappears. She’s not a zombie exactly — not yet, at least. And the film has fun with the nonchalance with which Reilly and Shannon meet her return. After all, why look a gift horse in the mouth?

At first, Zack is freaked out. But soon he’s taking advantage of his romantic do-over with the girl he loves — even if she is acting a bit…odd.  Plaza’s Beth is moody, violent, horny, and what’s the deal with her new sweet tooth for smooth jazz and the strange decomposing rash on her face? Scared that she’s becoming one of the walking dead, Zack asks her: “You don’t want to, like, eat me, do you?” Plaza’s response: “Zack, not with my parents around!”

Things get worse when other deceased folks start turning up wanting to listen to smooth jazz and eat people too. It turns out World War Z has arrived and its soundtrack is Spyro Gyra and Chuck Mangione.

Life After Beth has a slew of strong supporting performances from Reilly and Shannon, Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines (as Zack’s oblivious parents), and Anna Kendrick (there she is again!). But it’s Plaza who literally and figuratively chews the movie up. With a premise as absurd as Life After Beth‘s is, it’s a testament to Plaza that she gives it everything she’s got. The sight of this wonderful actress — bloody, foaming at the mouth, and lumbering around with a stove strapped to her back is one I won’t forget anytime soon.

Sundance 2014: Ryan Reynolds does not like cats, especially the one that tells him to kill in 'The Voices'

Iranian filmmaker Marjane Satrapi is known best for Persepolis, the award-winning 2007 animated film based on her own graphic novel about growing up during Iran’s Islamic Revolution. But she’s turned that reputation upside down with the Sundance film The Voices, a twisted, disturbing horror-comedy that stars Ryan Reynolds as Jerry, a man with few friends — but two talking pets. During the day, Jerry is the sweet but slightly-off warehouse worker who catches the eyes of the office girls at a bathroom factory in a small blue-collar town called Milton. At night, he comes home to discuss his life with Bosco, his loyal bull mastiff, and Mr. Whiskers, a brogue-accented tabby who fans the flames of Jerry’s darker urges. When Jerry sorta accidentally-on-purpose kills one of his pretty co-workers, he finds it difficult to cap those tendencies, and before long, his apartment is full of body parts packed neatly in Tupperwear and a fridge full of severed heads.

Um, what gives, Marjane?

“When first I read the script and I said to my producer, ‘We are not going to do any gore,’” the director said on Sunday after the film’s world premiere in Utah. “I don’t like blood. No way I’m going to do this kind of stuff. Then there was that first scene where there’s blood all over [Gemma Arterton] and I was like, ‘More blood! More blood!’ And I realized actually that I really liked that. I showed my mom a version of the movie, and she told me, ‘You’re completely sick in your brain.’” READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: Michael Fassbender, Nick Offerman, and Roger Ebert headline Premieres

The Sundance Film Festival announced the titles selected to screen in its out-of-competition Premieres and Documentary Premieres sections. Last year, the movies that were launched in these categories — which typically highlight filmmakers who’ve appeared at Sundance before — included Before Midnight, Don Jon, and The Way Way Back; this year appears to be just as promising. In Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, a young woman stuck in arrested-development (Keira Knightley) has her life upended by an unexpected marriage proposal. In David Wain’s They Came Together — surely, a naughty pun, yes? — Wet Hot American Summer alums Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd reunite for Wain’s satire of what seems to be a Woody Allen romantic-comedy. Poehler’s Parks and Recreation co-star Nick Offerman takes center stage for his own concert film, Nick Offerman: American Ham. “He’s very much a storyteller and humorist,” says Sundance’s director of programming Trevor Groth. “It actually has not just laughter, but some emotion, in terms of his views on life and love.”

But the slate isn’t just comedies. (This is Sundance after all.) Michael Shannon and Nicholas Hoult star in Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones, a genre-bender “that’s really a Western in its form and function,” says Sundance’s director John Cooper.

For those of you hoping to see Michael Fassbender in a Sundance movie, you’re in luck… aaand you’re out of luck. Fassbender plays a musical genius in Lenny Abrahamson’s movie, Frank. “His character wears a giant ceramic head the entire film, so you’ve got this [actor] who can basically take any film role out there and he takes one where he hides his face,” says Cooper. “A brave choice from someone who’s known for his brave choices.”

At least Ryan Reynolds has the good taste to be in a Sundance movie that doesn’t hide his face (or trap him in a coffin). That’s not to say his character in Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices doesn’t have some baggage. Reynolds plays a mentally unbalanced factory drone whose attempts at office romance don’t work out. When things turn unexpectedly violent, he begins to hear the voices of his pets as they advise him what to do next. “It’s a jolt,” says Groth. “[Ryan] does something really inventive. Believe me, the talking cats and dogs are the least of your problems in this movie.”

As always, some of the festivals most promising movies are documentaries. Rory Kennedy (Ethel) returns to Park City with the Last Days of Vietnam, which investigates the U.S. orders to evacuate only American personnel, leaving behind loyal South Vietnamese as Saigon fell to the Communists. Amir Bar-Lev digs deep into Happy Valley to investigate the culture that enabled Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky to abuse countless youths. Steve James, who directed Hoop Dreams, chronicles the career of the late Roger Ebert in Life Itself.

Mitt Romney will also make an appearance of sorts. The former Salt Lake City Olympics CEO and presidential candidate is the subject of a documentary from Greg Whitely, simply titled Mitt. “It gave me a whole new sort of perspective on politicians and what they have to go through,” says Cooper. “Just the rigor if it, and how the family has to be part of this process.”

One potential breakout documentary is The Battered Bastards of Baseball, the true story of the Portland Mavericks, an independent minor-league baseball team founded by actor Bing Russell in the 1970s. “He put together this team that ended up being this great David versus Goliath, Bad News Bears story of these rag-tag group of players that became winners,” says Groth. “Kurt Russell was there as a young guy following the team around and [Little Children director] Todd Field was the bat-boy. It’s just an amazing story and I think it’s going to be a real crowd-pleaser.”

Click below for Sundance’s complete listing of Premieres. READ FULL STORY

Box office report: 'The Conjuring' spooks 'R.I.P.D.' with $41.5 million debut

Animated movies have topped the box office for the past four weekends, but this time around, audiences were ready to embrace something a bit edgier. As such, Warner Bros.’ horror film The Conjuring easily topped a crowded weekend with an eye-popping $41.5 million.

The $20 million James Wan-directed title garnered the best horror debut of the year, trumping The Purge‘s $34.1 million bow in May. It also had the second-best debut ever for an R-rated horror film, trailing only Paranormal Activity 3, which opened with $52.6 million in 2011. The film notched a powerful $14,306 per theater average, and if it receives strong word-of-mouth (which seems likely), it could become a $100 million smash. Audiences, which were 53 percent female and 59 percent above the age of 25, issued The Conjuring an excellent “A-” CinemaScore grade — an especially impressive rating given the fact that the horror genre that has seen its fair share of “D” and “F” grades.

The Conjuring‘s debut marks a career high for Wan, who broke onto the scene in 2004 with his $55.2 million hit Saw, a film so buzzy it steered horror films into the torture direction for years after its release. In 2011, Wan scored a spookier hit with Insidious, which, like The Conjuring, starred Patrick Wilson. Insidious earned $54 million against a $1.5 million budget and now has a sequel hitting theaters on September 13. The Conjuring will easily outgross both of those films, though it’s all but guaranteed that Wan’s next effort, Fast & Furious 7, will be his biggest hit yet. READ FULL STORY

Ryan Reynolds exits 'Highlander' remake

Ryan Reynolds might look like an immortal, but he won’t be playing one in the new Highlander remake after all. Reynolds had been attached to star as Connor MacLeod, a legendary Scottish warrior who’s fought rival gladiators throughout the ages. (Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, and some Queen tunes rocked the 1986 original, a cult fave that made only $5.9 million in theaters.) Summit Entertainment is resurrecting the property, and it thought it had the goods with Reynolds and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later). But Fresnadillo dropped out of the project last fall, and no new director had come aboard. The Wrap website first reported that Reynolds was no longer involved.

Reynolds can next be seen with Jeff Bridges in R.I.P.D. (July 19), and he’s about to begin shooting Selfless for director Tarsem Singh.

Take a look at what he decided to pass on, the 1986 trailer for Highlander. READ FULL STORY

Casting Net: Scarlett Johansson to star in Luc Besson film; Plus James Franco, Nicki Minaj, more

• French director Luc Besson, who introduced the world to Natalie Portman in The Professional, has cast Scarlett Johansson as his lead in his newest film, Lucy. In the film, Lucy is forced to be a drug mule. But, when the drug gets into her system, she turns into a super-being with telekinesis abilities, martial arts skills, and the helpful bonus of being immune to pain. Johansson is certainly finding a new life as an action star ever since she took on the role of Natasha Romanoff for the Marvel universe. She also stars in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut (and festival favorite) Don Jon, which finally hits theaters on October 18. [THR]

• James Franco is continuing his auteur tour, and may sign on to star in Werner Herzog’s (Grizzly Man) Queen of the Desert about Gertrude Bell, the turn of the 20th century British adventurer. Jude Law was attached to star but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. The report says that Ridley Scott may also have a Gertrude Bell in the works that Angelina Jolie is interested in. There is no word yet on which actress would play Bell in Herzog’s version. [Deadline]

READ FULL STORY

Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges team up in the afterlife in first 'R.I.P.D.' trailer -- VIDEO

Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges are joining a long line of buddy cop duos with upcoming movie R.I.P.D. The twist this time around? These cops are dead.

The title stands for Rest in Peace Department, a group that defends the living from “deados,” monstrous bad souls that have managed to escape judgement. In the supernatural comedy, based on the Peter Lenkov comic book, Ryan Reynolds plays Nick Walker, a police officer killed in the line of duty, who finds a new job waiting for him in the afterlife. Soon after his death, Nick starts tracking down bad souls alongside experienced deados hunter Roy Pulsipher, played Jeff Bridges in a performance rather reminiscent of his turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

Check out the first trailer for the film below: READ FULL STORY

Casting Net: Ben Affleck coming into 'Focus.' Plus: Beyonce leaves 'A Star is Born'

• Not so much a casting “net” as a casting “release” item: Beyoncé has bowed out of Clint Eastwood‘s long-gestating remake of A Star is Born due to scheduling difficulties and the lack of a male star. About an up-and-comer who falls for a dimming male star, the film was put on hold after Beyoncé became pregnant. Will Fetters had penned the latest version of the script. The first version of the film was released in 1937, with Janet Gaynor and Fredic March; then again in 1954, with Judy Garland and James Mason; and finally in 1976, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. [Variety] “I was looking forward to the production of A Star Is Born and the opportunity to work with Clint Eastwood,” said Beyoncé in a statement Tuesday evening to EW.com. “For months we tried to coordinate our schedules to bring this remake to life but it was just not possible. Hopefully in the future we will get a chance to work together.”

Ralph Fiennes is in talks to join the ensemble of writer-director Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel, playing the concierge of the eponymous establishment with the Wes-Anderson-y name of M. Gustave. [Variety]

Ryan Reynolds is in initial talks to star in the psychological thriller The Voices, about a man who works at a bathtub factory who owns a talking cat (that’s evil, obvs) and a talking dog (that’s good, of course). Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums) will direct from a Black List script by Michael R. Perry (Paranormal Activity). [Deadline]

Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen will star in Outcast, a period action pic set in medieval China. Veteran stunt man Nick Powell will make his feature directorial debut from a script by James Dormer (Cinemax’s Strike Back). [TheWrap]

-Solvej Schou contributed to this report.

Read more:
Casting Net: Anne Hathaway joins Mindy Kaling-penned comedy. Plus: Ron Perlman, Paul Dano
Casting Net: Kim Basinger joins Paul Haggis’ romantic drama ‘The Third Person.’ Plus: Patricia Clarkson, Katee Sackhoff
Casting Net: Samuel L. Jackson and Dominic Cooper face ‘Reasonable Doubt.’ Plus: Adam Brody, Trey Songs, Demian Bichir

Casting Net: Shia LaBeouf courting Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac.' Plus: Ryan Reynolds, Malin Akerman, Kim Basinger

Shia-Lebouf

Image Credit: Rob Kim/FilmMagic.com

• Shia LaBeouf — apparently undeterred by the onslaught of "Shia LaBuff" jokes in the wake of his full-frontal appearance
in a recent Sigur Ros music video — is in talks for an unspecified role in director Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac. As the title implies, the film follows the erotic adventures of a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) from her first sexual experience through age 50, with von Trier shooting both explicit and not-as-explicit versions of the film. Stellan Skarsgard will play the woman's husband, but likely not her only sexual partner, because that would be a bit of a let down, frankly. [THR]

• Ryan Reynolds is going spooky, starring in the psychological thriller Queen of the Night, about a father who begins to think is missing daughter is still alive eight years after she was abducted thanks to a series of unnerving clues. Director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) also penned the script with David Fraser. They’ll start shooting in February. [Deadline]

• Malin Akerman is negotiating to join the expanding cast of the thriller Breacher, about a team of DEA agents who start dying off one by one after they use an official operation as cover for a robbery. Arnold SchwarzeneggerSam WorthingtonTerrence Howard, and Dawn Olivieri (House of Lies) costar, with Joe Manganiello also recently in talks for a role. David Ayer (Harsh Times) is directing. [Variety]

• Kim Basinger has signed up for the indie drama One Square Mile, as the mother of a troubled teenager (Kelly BlatzProm). Richard JenkinsCam Gigandet, and Analeigh Tipton costar. Charles-Olivier Michaud (Snow & Ashes) is directing. [THR]

• Donald Faison (Clueless, NBC’s Scrubs) is in talks to join Kick-Ass 2 as Dr. Gravity, a heroic compatriot (and Columbia University English major) to the title masked vigilante. Aaron JohnsonChloe Moretz, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are all returning for the sequel. Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) is writing and directing; original helmer Matthew Vaughn is producing. It starts shooting this fall. [Deadline]

Read more:
Casting Net: Reese Witherspoon will be ‘The Beard.’ Plus: Julianne Hough, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Casting Net: Jennifer Lawrence may go to ‘Ends of the Earth.’ Plus: Mickey Rourke, Kevin Costner, and a ‘Catching Fire’ baddie
Casting Net: Kristen Stewart aiming to ‘Lie Down in Darkness.’ Plus: Diane Kruger boards Terrence Malick’s Lincoln biopic

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