The Cannes Film Festival started this week, and as always, the associated film market has led to an unusual amount of high profile movie announcements, making for a very sensational Weekly Ketchup. Included in this week’s top stories are two remakes (Cliffhanger and Fright Night), three movie adaptations of TV shows, yet another Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie and confirmation that Martin Scorsese will indeed direct a biopic of Ol’ Blue Eyes.
A year ago this week, the Weekly Ketchup reported Nancy Sinatra’s negotiations with Universal Pictures on a biopic of her father, crooner and actor Frank Sinatra, that she hoped Martin Scorsese would direct. This week, the project was finally officially announced by Universal Pictures, with Scorsese indeed attached to direct. Titled Sinatra, the script will be written by Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, All of Me), whose last theatrical release was way back in 1992 with Sneakers. Although no actor is as yet officially signed to star as Frank Sinatra, one of the producers acknowledged that the top contender is indeed Leonardo DiCaprio, who has obviously emerged as Scorsese’s favorite actor in recent years, starring in Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and the upcoming Shutter Island. However, there is also a rumor that Universal is hot on the idea of Johnny Depp possibly starring as Sinatra, following their happiness with his performance in Public Enemies. There are many different elements of Frank Sinatra’s life that seem to be movie-friendly, including his status as one of the most successful singers of the 20th century, his career as an actor, his friends in the Rat Pack, his many romantic conquests, his friendship with J.F.K. and the alleged ties to the mafia. Producer Cathy Schulman said about the scope of the movie that it will be an “unconventional biopic that will touch on all phases of Sinatra’s life.”
At the end of a lengthy New York Times piece this week about his upcoming WWII action movie Inglourious Basterds, director Quentin Tarantino mentioned briefly a subplot about African-American soldiers stuck behind enemy lines that had to be excised from the lengthy script, saying that “I have a half-written prequel ready to go if this movie’s a smash.” Of course, it should be noted that Tarantino has talked a lot in the past about other spin-off movies, like a Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction prequel called The Vega Brothers and possible Kill Bill sequels that have as yet not been realized, so this brief reference to an Inglourious Basterds prequel might need to be taken with a grain of salt. However, it’s also been well publicized that the reason Inglourious Basterds took so many years to get started was that the original script was a massive one that Tarantino kept adding to and revising, so he might indeed nearly have his prequel halfway close to being ready for another movie.
The creator of the long-running international television franchise American Gladiators has announced plans to bring the concept to the big screen, teaming up with a producer formerly of Legendary Pictures (The Dark Knight, Watchmen). The goal of the project is to “create an action story that takes place inside the world” of American Gladiators. That’s still quite a vague description, considering what the show is. On American Gladiators, athletic contestants are matched up against flamboyantly named stars of the show (with names like Nitro, Blaze and Laser) in a variety of different physical challenges, such as running a gauntlet, or attempting to stay on top of a precarious platform, while the stars of the show use things like foam bats to knock them around. So, when the producer says he wants to give us an action movie set in that “world,” would the movie acknowledge that American Gladiators is basically a game show? Or is he talking about imagining the challenges as having some sort of dramatic, fictional framework, like, say Running Man? American Gladiators currently has no writer or director attached.
Last week, Universal announced plans for a modern retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Keanu Reeves, which is a separate project from the one involving director Guillermo del Toro’s take on a more faithful adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella. Those plans seemed like a good way of keeping the Jekyll and Hyde synergy in house, but director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York) is taking on Universal anyway with a third project. (Confused yet?) Titled Jekyll and Hyde, this will be Ferrara’s own modern retelling of the story, starring Forest Whitaker as Dr. Jekyll and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Mr. Hyde, the violent man Jekyll becomes after ingesting a potion. Filming is expected to start in the late summer of 2009 on this independent, international production. If the Whitaker/50 Cent movie makes it to theaters first, will there still be interest enough later for two more Jekyll/Hyde movies?
With both box office and critical success, Star Trek is to 2009 what Iron Man was to 2008, and in the same way that many comic book movies in the last year have been quick to compare themselves to Iron Man, it looks like Star Trek is now the movie that many of the remake projects will cite as an example. The first movie to try this angle is, quite surprisingly, a remake of Cliffhanger, the 1993 movie starring Sylvester Stallone as a mountain climber who gets involved with a heist of a plane full of cash that crashed up in the Rocky Mountains. Here is the exact quote from producer Neil Moritz, “just as they rebooted Star Trek, we’re going to do the same with Cliffhanger.” Neil Moritz is the same producer who hopes to remake the classic John Carpenter action movie, Escape from New York, and he is most famous as the producer of both the Fast and the Furious and xXx movie franchises. The Cliffhanger “reboot” is aiming to film in 2010, focusing on the adventures of a group of “young” climbers, which I guess is code for saying it won’t star Sylvester Stallone, and there is no screenwriter attached yet. The problem with producers randomly comparing their remakes to the reboot of Star Trek is that there has to be some sort of long-established franchise to begin with. However, there was only one Cliffhanger movie, and it’s not like Cliffhanger has a huge legion of fans like Star Trek does. So, word to all those remake producers out there… unless you’re truly taking on one of the biggest franchises in pop culture history, lay off with the “we’re just like Star Trek” claims, okay?
Now that W. has come and gone, a procession of movies about scandals in the Bush administration appears to be about ready to start, with Kevin Spacey signing on to star as Bush associate, lobbyist and convicted defrauder Jack Abramoff in a film called Casino Jack (formerly Bagman). Although Abramoff’s extensive career included time as a Hollywood producer (Red Scorpion, Red Scorpion 2) and the aforementioned friendship with George W. Bush, Casino Jack will apparently focus on Abramoff’s fraudulent treatment of four Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars which led to Abramoff pleading guilty and currently serving prison time until December, 2011. Casino Jack was written by Norman Snider (cowriter of Rated X, Dead Ringers) and will be directed by George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl, The Man from Elysian Fields), and filming of the independent production starts in Toronto later this month.
With the Jurassic Park franchise pretty much defunct following the death of author Michael Crichton, there’s an open opportunity out there for a new dinosaur franchise (depending on the success or failure Land of the Lost). Warner Bros and producer Akiva Goldsman (I Am Legend, Constantine) have picked up the movie rights to the popular British television series Primeval about a covert group investigating dinosaurs and creatures from the future that have begun coming to the present through wormhole time portals. Although Akiva Goldsman is best known as a screenwriter, for Primeval, he is looking to hire another writer. Other upcoming projects Akiva Goldsman has at Warner Bros include the DC Comics adaptations Jonah Hex and The Losers.
Production companies from six different countries (Japan, Australia, Canada, China, Singapore and the United Kingdom) are teaming up on a $30 million live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese Anime TV series Bubblegum Crisis, aiming for a 2012 release. Bubblegum Crisis is the story of four young female tech-equipped mercenaries called the Knight Sabers who unite to take on the Boomers, machines with artificial intelligence that are being used to violently oppress the world. The movie will be ultimately be filmed in Australia, and will be preceded by a reality TV series to find young cast members to star in the movie alongside “A-list” actors. There’s no word yet about who is writing Bubblegum Crisis and the co-production is looking for a director as well.
Rachel Weisz’s agent was extremely busy in the last ten days, with the British actress being attached to three movies. First off, there is the “indie political thriller” based upon a true story, The Whistleblower (technically announced last week, but well, it’s close enough). Weisz will star as a Nebraska cop who becomes an United Nations peacekeeper, and exposes a sex trafficking scandal in post-war Bosnia. Weisz will also star in Face Value, a biopic of famed MGM star Hedy Lamarr (not Hedley). Rather than focusing on her career as a Hollywood star, Face Value will instead tell the little-known story of Lamarr’s side career as a scientist and inventor, responsible for creating a new way of “frequency hopping” that was a precursor to modern wireless communications. Charlize Theron was once in talks for the role, but Rachel Weisz seems a much better choice as she actually bears a striking resemblance to Hedy Lamarr. Face Value will be directed by Amy Redford (Robert’s daughter), who made her directorial debut with The Guitar, which debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Finally, Weisz is also to star with Hugh Jackman and Robert Pattinson (Twilight) in Unbound Captives, a western drama that actress Madeleine Stowe has long been working on as her directorial debut (which she also cowrote with her husband). The long road to getting Unbound Captives made included a time in which it was a 20th Century Fox production which would have been directed by Ridley Scott and starred Russell Crowe, but Stowe backed out of the lucrative deal ($5 million) because there was no promise that she would be anything other than the film’s screenwriter. Rachel Weisz will be taking the lead role that Stowe was originally planning to play, a woman whose family is attacked by a Comanche war party in 1859, leading to her husband’s death and the kidnapping of her two children (Pattinson will play her son). Hugh Jackman will be playing a frontiersman who rescues Weisz’s character, and assists her in finding her missing children. Production of Unbound Captives is expected to start by late 2009.
When New Line Cinema put together the cast for their Valentine’s Day ensemble comedy, they sort of hit the jackpot: Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Anne Hathaway, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Bradley Cooper and Ashton Kutcher are all in final negotiations to costar. Valentine’s Day is an anthology of five loosely-connected stories set on the romantic holiday in Los Angeles, revolving around a cast of characters that includes a soldier on leave from Iraq (Roberts), a flower shop owner (Kutcher) who can’t choose between his girlfriend (Alba) and his best friend (Garner), a talent agency assistant (Hathaway), a publicist (Biel) with bad romantic luck, and a retiree (MacLaine) who reveals an old affair to her husband. The director tasked with assembling these many different threads into one coherent movie is Garry Marshall, an old pro at the romantic comedy game (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, the two Princess Diaries movies). Katherine Fugate (cowriter of The Prince & Me) wrote the original script, which was rewritten by the writing team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You). Surprisingly, the budget is still relatively modest, estimated to be in the mid-$30 million range. There’s no word yet on when filming starts, but presumably the goal is to get this movie in theaters by February 14, 2010.
Way before Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and before the movie even), the concept of a comedic horror movie about teenagers investigating vampires was realized just about perfectly by 1985’s Fright Night. Unfortunately, someone at DreamWorks has decided that they think that little gem of a movie needs to be remade for the 21st century, so they are teaming up with the producer of another 1980s remake project (Angel Heart). In Fright Night, a teenage boy suspects that his new neighbor is a vampire, so he enlists the help of the local late night horror host (played absolutely perfectly by the late Roddy McDowell) whose TV persona is that of a vampire hunter. The remake aims to “keep the comedy-horror tone while modernizing the effects,” which is a bit strange since Fright Night was hardly an “eye candy” type movie. The main problem I see with trying to make Fright Night today is that for the most part, the era of the “late night horror host” has passed us by. As seen in the recent documentary American Scary, it is true that there are still some horror hosts still out there doing their thing, but the phenomenon is nothing today like it was 25 years ago. The Fright Night remake has no writer or director yet.
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS through his MySpace page or via a RT forum message. Greg also blogs about the TV show Lost at TwoLosties.Blogspot.com.