There are lots of events that take place in a given year of Hollywood movie news, but few result in quite the news-filled entries of The Weekly Ketchup as does the mid-July gathering at the San Diego Comic-Con. Especially, that is, if your interest lies in the areas of movies based on video games and comic book super heroes. Included in the mix this week are movies based on the video game franchises Assassin’s Creed, Deus Ex, God of War, and the Marvel superheroes Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and The Wolverine.
This Week’s Top Story
MICHAEL FASSBENDER SAVES ASSASSIN’S CREED
Video game company Ubisoft has been trying to get an Assassin’s Creed movie going for a few years now, but recently discussions with Sony Pictures were put on hold. This week, Assassin’s Creed got an unexpected savior in Michael Fassbender, star of such recent genre hits as X-Men: First Class, Prometheus, and Inglourious Basterds. Michael Fassbender has signed a deal to both co-produce and star in the movie version of Assassin’s Creed, which is expected to open up a new round of discussions with studios. The Assassin’s Creed series focuses around a bartender named Desmond Miles who discovers that he is the descendant of a long line of assassins whose adventures he relives through a device called the Animus that draws upon genetically stored memories, all in an attempt by a shady corporation to find the whereabouts of ancient artifacts. What is unknown is which specific setting will be depicted (the first game was set in 12th century Israel and Syria), or whether Fassbender will play both Desmond Miles and his ancestors (though he probably will). There’s also no screenwriter or director attached as of yet. One has to guess that this announcement was timed to come just before the start of San Diego Comic-Con, as the rest of the column will show it wasn’t the only video game movie to make the news this week.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 DUSTY FROM TWISTER KNOWS HOW TO PLAY THE HUNGER GAMES TOO
The latest actor to join the cast of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Boogie Nights, Twister). Hoffman will be playing Plutarch Heavensbee, the next Head Gamemaker for the 75th Annual Hunger Games, who also plays a significant role in the final book Mockingjay. Plutarch Heavensbee is actually mentioned in The Hunger Games as well, as the official who lands in a punch bowl after Katniss shoots the apple out of the pig’s mouth (which opens up the possibility that Lionsgate might someday go back and CGI Philip Seymour Hoffman into that scene for a Special Edition Blu-Ray?). As for that third novel, Lionsgate also announced this week that it will be adapted as two films, following the tradition of the final entries in the film adaptations of both the Harry Potter and the Twilight Saga. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is now scheduled for November 21, 2014, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is scheduled for November 20, 2015, making it only the third movie to claim a 2015 release date, after The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind (6/19/15) and The Smurfs 3 (7/24/15).
#2 THE WOLVERINE LINES UP MORE ACTORS THAN HE HAS CLAWS
It’s only been seven days since the last entry of The Weekly Ketchup, but in that short time, it feels like The Wolverine went from a movie with just one actor (Hugh Jackman) to a fully cast project ready to start filming any day now (which it basically is). Altogether, there are now seven names to add to Jackman’s, and six of them are Japanese, as has been long promised (for a story about Logan’s early adventures in Japan). First up, we heard about Hiroyuki Sanada (Dogen from S6 of LOST) and Hal Yamanouchi (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), who have been cast as “Shingen” and “Yashida,” either one of which might be Shingen Yashida, a Yakuza crime boss integral to Logan’s Japan story (though his age suggests it’s probably Yamanouchi). Two Japanese actresses who are less well known to American audiences are next, as Logan’s love Mariko will be played by Tao Okamoto, and Lord Shingen’s assassin Yukio will be played by Rila Fukushima. When those four names came out, my first thought was, “what about the Silver Samurai?”, and then a few hours later, we found out that Will Yun Lee (Die Another Day) has been cast as exactly him, with Brian Tee (TV’s Grimm) also cast as the corrupt politician intended to marry Mariko (instead of Logan). Finally, just as this column was being sent in to Rotten Tomatoes, the news has broken that Jessica Biel has been cast as Viper (AKA Madame Hydra). This news is a bit more on the surprising side because it wasn’t known that Viper would be included in The Wolverine, and also because one might have guessed that a traditional Captain America villain might have already belonged, rights wise, to Marvel Studios. Perhaps this just goes to show exactly how inclusive those X-Men movie rights that 20th Century Fox owns are. 20th Century Fox expects to start filming of The Wolverine soon under the direction of James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line), replacing Darren Aronofsky, who had at one time been attached to direct. And that brings us to some news for Aronofsky’s Noah (to get as many stories as possible covered in a very busy week), which is that Sir Anthony Hopkins has been cast as Methuselah.
#3 CHANNING TATUM IS A MOTORCYCLE BIRD WHO IS NEVER COMING DOWN AS EVEL KNIEVEL
One of the advantages of getting close to my 15th anniversary now of doing this movie development writing thing is the questionable advantage that memory gives me. For example, I don’t need Google or Wikipedia to tell me that at one time Matthew McConaughey was developing an Evel Knievel biopic he wanted to star in called Pure Evel, because every time I go in my garage, I see my copy of that script, just gathering dust and moisture. Anyway, that little nugget comes in handy this week because it allows me to connect some dots, as McConaughey’s Magic Mike costar Channing Tatum is now basically doing the same exact thing. Of course, now, I have to go back and do a little explaining for those who got lost a few sentences back. Back in the 1970s, “Evel Knievel” was the stage name of a daredevil performer who gained as much attention for his many broken bones as he did when his stunts actually were successful (which they weren’t always). Evel Knievel was such a big thing for a few years there that he actually inspired a successful line of action figures and related toys. Channing Tatum’s producing partners on the untitled Evel Knievel project also made the news this week for coming on board the recently announced movie adaptation of the best selling “mommie porn” novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which infamously got its start as erotic Twilight fan fiction. And the phrase “mommie porn” allows me to really bring this series of stories full circle, because Channing Tatum has also been talking this week about his ideas for a sequel to Magic Mike. Because… sure, why not. On the Fresh or Rotten front, this paragraph was a bit hard to rate, but the 79% Fresh rating for Magic Mike will tip this one borderline Fresh, and we’ll just ignore the whole Fifty Shades of Grey… thing.
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#6 RED VELVET LINES THE BLACK BOX: RUSSELL CROWE’S UNDEAD, UNDEAD, UNDEAD, UNDEAD
In an example of somewhat burying the lead, it was learned this week that Eli Roth has made a deal with Warner Bros to direct the Victorian thriller Harker, which reinvents Bram Stoker’s character as a Scotland Yard investigator. We’ll come back to Eli Roth shortly, but the real lead here is the role of Dracula (trivia: the most frequently played movie character ever) has already been cast, and that actor is a certain Australian you might have seen in stuff before: Russell Crowe. Crowe’s only on board for this first movie, but the studio is seeing Harker as a franchise starter (ala Sherlock Holmes), with Harker no doubt going on in sequels to investigate other late 19th century boogeymen (probably werewolves, though re-animated corpse collages were hot back then, too). Anyway, going back to Eli Roth as promised, he hasn’t actually directed a movie since 2007’s Hostel: Part II, but if all goes as plans, the 2013 filming of Harker will come right after Roth also films The Green Inferno, probably in Chile, probably later this year. As for why Harker is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas, it’s mostly because of the RT Tomatometer scores for Roth’s Hostel movies (the Fresh-rated Cabin Fever being the Inglourious Basterds costar’s only other actual movie as director).
#5 ED HELMS WILL BE THE LATEST RUSTY GRISWOLD IN VACATION
Count Dracula may, as mentioned above, hold the record for the most film appearances by a character, but that advantage is also spread over several decades. Another fictional character who has been played by several different actors is one Russell “Rusty” Griswold, the son of Chevy Chase’s character in the National Lampoon’s Vacation film franchise. Anthony Michael Hall originated the character, but Jason Lively, Johnny Galecki, Ethan Embry, and Travis Greer all got their chances at the role as well. One could argue that Rusty Griswold is sort of like the Hamlet of cheaply made post-Saturday Night Live family comedies, except he’s, you know, totally not. Anyway, the latest actor to inherit the role will be Ed Helms, who is now in negotiations with New Line Cinema to star in the quasi reboot sequel that is now titled simply Vacation. This seventh entry in the franchise will mark the feature film directorial debuts of the Horrible Bosses screenwriting team of Jonathan Goldstein and former Freaks and Geeks star John Francis Daley. Presuming that Ed Helms signs on the line that is dotted, filming of Vacation will probably start in 2013 after Helms wraps up filming of the presumed franchise ender The Hangover Part III.
#4 CBS FILMS EXECS SAY “DEHR…” AS IN DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION
They might still call it San Diego “Comic”-Con, but those flimsy little stapled pieces of colored paper no longer have anything resembling a monopoly on movie deals that get announced in mid July. Depending upon how you measure the news, video game movies either beat comic book movies this week outright, or are at least tied in the amount of deals going on. One such deal was made by CBS Films, which has acquired the film rights to the entire Deus Ex game franchise from Square Enix. What CBS Films plans on actually producing however is much more specific, as they have their sights on the 2011 hit stealth RPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Like other games in the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in a future that stylistically resembles such movies as Blade Runner, Minority Report, or Total Recall. Basically, Deus Ex resembles any movie you can think of that started as a Philip K. Dick story, except that the game series itself did not. The lead character of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is “an ex-SWAT security specialist who must mechanically augment his body to fight a global conspiracy.” The producers developing Deus Ex: Human Revolution for CBS Films also have Abduction and Hitman on their filmographies. As for why Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas… where does one start? Well, here’s a link to the Wikipedia page for CBS Films. Put simply (and nicely), the studio really hasn’t had a great streak critically.
#3 GOD OF WAR MOVIE GETS REVIVED BY THE WRITERS OF FOUR OF THE SAW MOVIES
It’s already been four years since Universal Pictures made quite a bit of news with video games fans by announcing plans for a God of War movie, based on the popular Sony videogame franchise about a violent Spartan warrior who fights various Greek mythological creatures and such. Back then, Brett Ratner was expected to direct, but in the time since, Ratner has since departed to focus on other projects (including Hercules: The Thracian Wars, which bears some resemblance to God of War). The latest names to be attached to God of War, however, keep this title firmly in “Rotten Idea” territory. The new God of War screenwriters are Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, whose films include Saw 3D, Saw IV, Saw V, and Saw VI. Their RT Tomatometer scores cover seven different films, and there’s not a bit of red for “Fresh” in the mix.
#2 WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO FILMMAKERS COMING UP WITH ORIGINAL IDEAS?
Generally, it’s fairly easy to pick up on which movies get announced at San Diego Comic Con. A remake of What Ever Happened to Mary Jane? probably would not be included in that category. But that’s exactly what director Walter Hill (Red Heat, 48 Hrs, The Warriors) and the Aldrich Company (bearing the name of the original film’s producer/director) have in mind. For those unfamiliar, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a 1962 psychological thriller starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis about a crippled former child star and her sister, who basically keeps her prisoner in her own home, and the subject of cruel treatment and mind games. Surprisingly, it sounds like Walter Hill doesn’t intend to modernize the setting for this remake, but to instead remake it again, keeping the period piece trappings, but just modernizing the look of the film. This writer has to admit that this approach almost earned a spot as a Fresh Development, but it’s still… a remake of What Ever Happened to Mary Jane? Walter Hill’s RT Tomatometer scores since 1992 also don’t help the argument much either.
#1 FOX STILL HAS THE RIGHTS TO DAREDEVIL AND FANTASTIC FOUR… AND MARVEL DOESN’T
That headline right there basically says all you need to know about why this final story is the week’s most Rotten Idea. Marvel Studios has consistently shown exactly how well they can handle their own material, and so it is frustrating whenever one considers that some of Marvel’s best superhero characters remain the film properties of other studios. Although 20th Century Fox doesn’t really have much of a presence this year at San Diego Comic Con, the studio didn’t let that stop them from making the news three times for three of their biggest Marvel properties (the third being The Wolverine, up above). The character that is closest to returning to Marvel’s control is Daredevil, which 20th Century Fox has to start production on by this fall. Director David Slade (30 Days of Night, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) recently dropped out of the planned Daredevil reboot (good thing) to focus on the NBC pilot Hannibal. Slade’s departure, however, is only making Fox buckle down either more resolutely to find a new director (bad thing… for us) and get started before they lose the rights to Marvel (good thing). The other Marvel property that 20th Century Fox hopes to start filming in the next 18 months to avoid losing is yet another reboot, this time of Fantastic Four. In that case, the director that Fox has recruited is actually a glimmer of hope, Josh Trank (Chronicle). For the screenplay, however, Fox has hired a writer named Jeremy Slater who doesn’t yet have any produced films to his credit (so, no luck on the Tomatometer helping us figure it out). Fox actually has a little more wiggle room with Fantastic Four because it’s only been five years since the second film, but the studio appears to want to not waste any time it doesn’t have to, with a 2013 production start rumored to be the target. What this writer personally thinks would make both Fox, Marvel and the fans all around the happiest would be if Fox would just agree to collaborate with Marvel Studios directly on not just Daredevil and Fantastic Four, but any future X-Men related project as well. If something like that could happen, then really there would just be Spider-Man still floating out there outside the cinematic Marvel Universe. In the meantime, every time we hear about a Marvel property that isn’t really a Marvel movie… it’s hard not to call it a “Rotten Idea.”
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook.