The Dog Days of Summer brought us and Hollywood a sort of “meh” week in movie development news stories. Included in the mix in this week’s Ketchup, however, are stories involving one of Disney’s big animated movies for 2016 (Zootopia), new projects for directors Darren Aronofsky and the directors of Mud and Oblivion, and new roles for Vin Diesel and Kristen Wiig.
This Week’s Top Story
DISNEY’S BIGGEST D23 ANNOUNCEMENT: THE 2016 ANIMATED MOVIE ZOOTOPIA
This weekend’s D23 fan convention understandably arrived with a lot of expectations from fans of such Disney properties as Marvel and Star Wars. Those fandoms also have a lot of sway with the various online movie media sources, and so maybe that’s why the big new movie that actually was unveiled at D23 barely got much coverage at all. Walt Disney Animation Studios has announced plans to release a CGI animated movie called Zootopia in the year 2016. Zootopia will be directed by Byron Howard, who previously directed the Rapunzel adaptation Tangled for Disney. Zootopia will be set in a version of Earth in which humans never existed, and so an animal-run city called Zootopia is instead the center of civilization, as members of the world’s animal races live together, mostly at peace. The story will focus on a fast-talking fox who is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and so he has to go on the run, pursued by the city’s top cop, a self-righteous rabbit. Disney also confirmed plans for the Cars spinoff sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue, which will be in theaters next summer, July 18, 2014. Besides this being a slow week with no more obvious “big story,” Zootopia is also this week’s top story just as a reminder that besides all the perpetual talk about superhero movies, at the end of every year lately, there’s always a few animated kids movies in the top ten box office hits as well.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 DARREN ARONOFSKY MAY DIRECT A FEMALE RUSSIAN SPY ADVENTURE CALLED RED SPARROW
Director Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan) is currently working on post-production on his Biblical epic Noah for 20th Century Fox (the studio at which he also almost directed The Wolverine). Aronofsky apparently likes being in business with Fox, because this week, the director started early negotiations for another project at the studio. This project is an adaptation of the Jason Matthews novel Red Sparrow, and is a female spy adventure set in modern Russia, about an intelligence officer drafted to become a “sparrow, a trained seductress.” In other words, this character is not Marvel’s Black Widow, but Fox’s Red Sparrow?
#2 KIRSTEN DUNST JOINS MIDNIGHT SPECIAL FOR DIRECTOR OF MUD AND TAKE SHELTER
His career may not have yet displayed the typical flourishes that seems to impress many movie fans, but there’s little denying the impressive critical track record of director Jeff Nichols, whose latest films were Mud and Take Shelter. For his next film, Jeff Nichols is stepping up fully into the Hollywood big leagues, delivering a sci-fi drama called Midnight Special for Warner Bros. We’ve known for a while that Michael Shannon (Man of Steel) was going to be starring as a father who goes on the run with his eight year old son who starts displaying special powers (and the movie is compared to John Carpenter’s Starman if that gives you hints). We now know that Kirsten Dunst has signed on to play the female lead, and that Joel Edgerton (who shows up again later in the column) is also cast in a role.
#3 KRISTEN WIIG TO HEADLINE INDIE DRAMA NASTY BABY
Speaking of critically acclaimed directors getting more attention (or in this case, specifically, star power), we have this news story for Chilean director Sebastian Silva (Crystal Fairy, Magic Magic). Silva’s next movie will be a drama called Nasty Baby about a gay couple in Brooklyn who are trying to have a baby with the help of a female friend. Sebastian Silva himself and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe will play the gay couple, and if all talks go through well, Kristen Wiig will play the best friend and would-be surrogate mom in question. Nasty Baby will definitely be a drama, and not a comedy, but one can’t help but remember there was that other time when two well-liked Saturday Night Live alumni starred in a surrogate mother movie… 2008’s Baby Mama, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
#4 CHRISTIAN BALE AND JOEL EDGERTON TO SPAR, OLD TESTAMENT STYLE, IN EXODUS
The Bible is comprised of a lot of “books,” but some of them are more commonly adapted into movies than others. Hollywood’s favorite Biblical books include Genesis (like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah), the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (for obvious reasons), and Exodus, which tells the story of Moses. The story of Moses is a Hollywood perennial and tradition that dates back to the earliest days of Silent Hollywood, and includes the Charlton Heston movie The Ten Commandments, and the very first DreamWorks animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. The Biblical epic genre is one that has been relatively untouched by modern Hollywood, but that’s not necessarily for a lack of trying, as there have long been various projects (including a Moses project at Warner Bros called Gods and Kings). The studio that seems to be making the most actual progress on greenlighting such movies is 20th Century Fox, which has the Darren Aronofsky movie Noah scheduled for March 28, 2014. Fox has also scheduled for the same year (December 12, 2014) the Moses project Exodus, which will be directed by Ridley Scott (Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven, 1492: Conquest of Paradise). Christian Bale has been rumored as being in talks to play Moses for a while now, but it was this week that his casting was confirmed, along with the news that Joel Edgerton is in talks to play the Egyptian Pharoah Ramses. Edgerton comes to the role of Ramses after an initial offer was made to Javier Bardem (who worked with Ridley Scott on The Counselor), which eventually was rejected. Filming of Exodus is scheduled to start next month (September, 2013) at locations in Spain and Morocco. It’s fairly easy to guess why this big budget Hollywood project about Ancient Egypt won’t be filming in Egypt this year.
#5 VIN DIESEL TO SAY “I AM GROOT” IN MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (WITHOUT ACTUALLY SAYING THAT)
Over the last month or so, Vin Diesel has posted a few hints online that led Marvel fans to speculate that his recent talks were regarding the roles of the cosmic conqueror Thanos or the android villain Vision. This past weekend, the speculation mostly came to an end when Vin Diesel (briefly) updated his Facebook profile photo with an image of Groot, the living and talking tree member of Guardians of the Galaxy. Soon after, Diesel was asked further about being cast as Groot, and it was a spectacular exercise in talking about a news story without ever coming straight out and officially confirming that which was being discussed. In other words, in discussing his role as a character best known for the catchphrase “I am Groot,” Vin Diesel never actually said… “I am Groot.” But he totally is.
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#4 INSIDE (STUDIO) BASEBALL: THE CONTINUING EFFECTS OF LEGENDARY’S DEPARTURE FROM WARNER BROS
Hollywood was shocked recently when it was announced that as of 2014, Legendary Pictures will be fully parked at Universal Pictures, instead of their longtime home, Warner Bros, where the production company gave us such movies as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and The Hangover trilogy. This week, there were a series of stories that were rippling effects from that move, none of which were that exciting by themselves, but paint a larger picture for those who care about studio politics. First off, there was the deal that Legendary made with Warner Bros that gave up any rights to the Man of Steel sequel that will feature Batman, in trade for sharing with Warner Bros and Paramount the rights to next year’s Christopher Nolan science fiction movie Interstellar. This was soon followed by the news that Warner Bros likewise no longer wants anything to do with Legendary’s fantasy movie Seventh Son, starring Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges, which was formerly going to be released on January 17, 2014. That movie will now be released (at some point) by Universal Pictures. That leaves just two Legendary productions still to be released by Warner Bros: the sequel 300: Rise of an Empire (March 7, 2014) and the monster remake Godzilla (May 16, 2014). All the other various projects that Legendary previously was working on at Warner Bros, like the video game adaptations Mass Effect and Warcraft, the toy movie Hot Wheels, and the Michael Mann science fiction movie Cyber are in studio limbo, though Universal Pictures is likely to pick up most of them. This story is listed as a Rotten Idea, just because the column doesn’t have a middle ground. It’s not easy to call these sort of stories “Fresh Developments” either.
#3 HERE’S EVEN MORE VIN DIESEL NEWS: SOLDIERS OF THE SUN
Finishing reading that story about Vin Diesel playing Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, you may have thought, “well, that’s enough Vin Diesel news for this week.” Ah, but you would be wrong. You can never have enough Vin Diesel news. With that in mind, Vin Diesel has made a deal with Universal Pictures (the studio behind many Diesel projects, including the Fast and Furious and Riddick franchises) for a new science fiction action (potential) franchise called Soldiers of the Sun. Officially, Soldiers of the Sun isn’t based on any pre-existing intellectual property, but… well, here’s the story, and let’s see if the commenters pick up on any similarities: Soldiers of the Sun will be set in a post-apocalyptic future and will focus on a squad of soldiers searching for a fabled city of gold in Mexico while liberating the area from the alien race known as orcs. Vin Diesel will produce and star in the project, which started as a spec script pitch from screenwriter Arash Amel, whose next film, the Grace Kelly biopic Grace of Monoco, doesn’t sound anything at all like Warhammer 40,000. This is a Rotten Idea for no other reason than just because it isn’t actually a Warhammer 40K movie.
#2 KALEY CUOCO, JOSH GAD, AND KEVIN HART TO STAR IN A WEDDING MOVIE… FOR DUDES
Kaley Cuoco (TV’s The Big Bang Theory), Josh Gad (Broadway’s The Book of Mormon) and comedian-turned-actor Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man) are all in various levels of negotiations to star in a currently untitled comedy to be directed by Jeremy Garelick, cowriter of such movies as The Breakup and The Hangover. Josh Gad and Kaley Cuoco will play an engaged couple at the center of the comic highjinx that arise when the groom makes up all nine of his groomsmen, owing to his being “socially challenged.” (And yet, he wasn’t so socially challenged that he wasn’t able to get engaged to Kaley Cuoco.) Kevin Hart will play a businessman who offers exactly such services to engaged guys who don’t have any friends to attend their wedding. The comedy formerly titled Best Man Inc will be produced and distributed as a coproduction of Screen Gems and Miramax, and should be a late night cable rerun movie staple by this time in 2016 or so.
#1 THE DIRECTOR OF OBLIVION AND TRON: LEGACY IS GOING TO THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Sometimes the news story title tells you pretty much the entire story. And such is the case here. As noted above, Warner Bros is sort of bleeding movie projects, and so, they’re apparently moving forward with everything they still have left after Legendary’s departure. That’s the only way to make sense of the fact that we’re going to be getting another movie version of The Twilight Zone (the first one was in 1983). Director Joseph Kosinski is now in talks with Warner Bros to direct the project, which will also be produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. This looks to be Kosinski’s third movie, after the sequel TRON: Legacy and this year’s box office disappointment Oblivion. In a sort of “meh” week, this story gets the “Most Rotten Idea” label by default, due mostly to Kosinski’s previous films both being “Rotten” on the RT Tomatometer (though just barely). We don’t yet know much else about this version of The Twilight Zone, except that it is not expected to be an “anthology” movie, but rather more of a standalone story, possibly with a “twist” ending of some sort.
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook.