Like last week, this shortened post-Labor Day week was a slow one for Hollywood, with many movers and shakers either taking even more time off or busy at festivals like Telluride, Venice and Toronto. The movies that did however get press this week include Universal’s ambitious plans to adapt Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, possible casting news for The Hobbit, sequel news for Machete and news of a Ronald Reagan biopic.
In April, the news broke that Ron Howard, Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures were in negotiations about adapting Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series of novels into both a movie and a TV series. This week, Universal made their official announcement about The Dark Tower, and most of the news was stuff that was already revealed back in April. However, this is a really slow news week following Labor Day, so this story is still the week’s biggest news item (even if it’s not really news to fans who follow movie news consistently). Here’s what is news: the TV series will air on NBC, and it will supplement three feature films. Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind) will be directing both the first movie and the first season (every episode?) of the TV series. Coproducer Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin; cowriter of I, Robot, I Am Legend) will also write the first movie and the first season of the TV series. The first movie will be “immediately followed” by the TV series, which will serve as a bridge to the second film. After the second film, the TV series will then go back and follow Roland as a young man, which will likewise lead up to the third film “and beyond.” It’s unknown which of the seven novels will be adapted as the three movies, and likewise, which parts of the massive story will only be shown in the TV series. Stephen King also has plans for an eighth Dark Tower book tentatively titled The Wind Through the Keyhole, but that book was not mentioned in Universal/NBC’s announcement. As for what The Dark Tower is actually about, it’s a sprawling epic about the last member of an order of “gunslingers” that combines the American Old West with magical elements, in addition to alternate realities. The choice to adapt The Dark Tower as both three feature films and an ongoing TV series is a reflection of how lengthy and complex Stephen King’s seven books (to date) are, with a massive cast of characters and a complex fantasy narrative.
Although the future of the two planned movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit remains cloudy due to MGM’s financial problems, that studio and New Line Cinema are apparently still acting like they might still happen, and soon. The studios are reportedly talking to British actor Martin Freeman about starring as Bilbo Baggins (played in Lord of the Rings by Ian Holm). Martin Freeman is not a household name in the U.S., but he might be recognizable as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and supporting roles in Hot Fuzz and Love, Actually, and for the U.K. version of The Office. Martin Freeman also now costars as Dr. Watson in the BBC series Sherlock, but MGM and New Line have proposed a schedule that would work around that television commitment. Of course, considering how far off filming of The Hobbit might just be, that’s probably not much of a difficult thing to accomplish. There’s also no firm word as to who will direct The Hobbit, but it appears that there is still a good chance that Peter Jackson will indeed continue making Tolkien movies, replacing Guillermo del Toro as director.
Machete got its start as a (then) fake trailer in the double feature movie Grindhouse, so fans might understandly have thought that (spoiler!) the teasers for Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again were just jokes to end the movie (see also: Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part II). “Machete don’t joke,” says producer and codirector Robert Rodriguez, promising that he already has ideas for the two sequels. Although 66-year-old Danny Trejo might be in his 70s by the time the third movie is released, the frequent Rodriguez costar is indeed expected to return for the sequels as the former Mexican Federale out for bloody vengeance. Rodriguez doesn’t say what Machete Kills might be specifically about, but does say that he already has a trailer (filmed, or just an idea, we don’t know), and the story idea. Whether Machete Kills actually gets made will depend upon how Machete does at the box office and on DVD/Blu Ray, but with a $11.4 million opening, the signs are good. Of course, the real obstacle to the Machete sequels getting made is Rodriguez’s already crowded development slate, which include the long-awaited Sin City 2. Robert Rodriguez’s next film will be Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (something that Rodriguez definitely does not have in order to make all the movies he’s promised).
Keanu Reeves is best known now as an A-list star who stars in big-budget movies like the Matrix trilogy, Constantine and The Day the Earth Stood Still. So, it’s possibly easy to forget that Keanu’s roots include a fair number of indie-style movies like River’s Edge, Feeling Minnesota, and My Own Private Idaho (regardless of whether or not those movies were technically “indies”). More recently, Keanu has appeared in small roles in Thumbsucker, Ellie Parker and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, and is also starring in the upcoming Henry’s Crime. Keanu’s latest indie movie is called Generation Um, and it also features Bojana Novakovic (Edge of Darkness) and Adelaide Clemens (currently unknown but she’s got an upcoming role in Mad Max: Fury Road). Keanu Reeves will star with those two young actresses in Generation Um as a man who spends a day immersing himself in “sex, drugs and indecision.” Generation Um was written by and will be directed by Mark L. Mann, whose only feature length film to date is the documentary Finishing Heaven about a man trying to finish filming the movie he started 37 years earlier. Filming of Generation Um started in New York City this week on September 9th.
Classic children’s stories and fairy tales are hot commodities in Hollywood right now following the success of Alice in Wonderland. One of those is the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel, which is the subject of two competing projects. Michael Bay is producing Hansel and Gretel in 3D, which is scheduled to start filming in Germany in the spring of 2011. This week’s news concerns the other film: Paramount Pictures’ Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a horror comedy which takes place 15 years after the incident at the gingerbread house, as Hansel and Gretel are now bounty hunters on the chase after wicked witches. While speaking to Norwegian press, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) revealed that he is in talks to star in the movie, along with Noomi Rapace, the star of the Swedish versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the other two movies in the Millennium Trilogy. Soon after that news hit the web however, Renner’s “rep” contacted Entertainment Weekly to clarify that although there have been discussions, there are as yet no negotiations and certainly no deals. Which is basically what Renner had said (talks=discussions). Jeremy Renner does have a bit of a full schedule in the near future, as he will be starring in both the fourth Mission: Impossible movie and playing Hawkeye in The Avengers. It’s interesting to note that both of those movies are also Paramount productions, so his Hansel and Gretel “discussions” appear to be part of the studio holding onto the star as much as they can. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters will be directed by Tommy Wirkola, the director of the Nazi zombie movie Dead Snow.
When Meet the Fockers was released, that sequel’s title was something of a challenge for Universal to market, as the title was obviously very close to one of those words you can’t say on (regular) TV. Danny McBride (Pineapple Express) and Aziz Ansari (Human Giant, Funny People), who are currently filming 30 Minutes or Less in Michigan, have another new movie in the works with a title that is even edgier. The title of that comedy is Olympic-Sized Asshole, which MTV in reporting the title just lists as Olympic-Sized A–hole. The comedy is being written by Aziz Ansari and 30 Rock writer Matt Hubbard. Here’s how Danny McBride described the premise, “It’s about this Olympic athlete who comes back to his hometown and he bangs mine and Aziz’s girlfriends. So we go on this mission to destroy his Olympic life.”
Sam Peckinpah directed just fourteen movies in his 1961-1983 film career, but his filmography, which includes The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is beloved by movie fans. Peckinpah died in 1984, and his last film was the 1983 adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel The Osterman Weekend, starring Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Burt Lancaster and Craig T. Nelson. Rutger Hauer starred as a TV reporter who is recruited by the CIA to encourage known KGB agents to defect, which is a plan that (not surprisingly) doesn’t turn out that well for everyone involved. Following the success of the Jason Bourne films, the books by the late Robert Ludlum are a hot commodity in Hollywood, with adaptations of The Chancellor Manuscript and The Matarese Circle in development along with plans for a fourth Bourne movie. And now, Summit Entertainment is developing a new adaptation of The Osterman Weekend. Jesse Wigotow (It Runs in the Family) has been hired to adapt The Osterman Weekend. Wigutow worked (uncredited) on the Eminem movie 8 Mile and is currently adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and a Steve McQueen biopic called Divorcees. Although Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend was met with mixed critical reviews (43% on the Tomatometer), the criticism was mostly about the movie’s narrative style. Although “flawed” movies are often good candidates for remakes, this is still one of this week’s Rotten Ideas because this new adaptation will have an uphill struggle to match the legacy of Sam Peckinpah, even if The Osterman Weekend wasn’t one of his strongest movies.
Hollywood loves making biopics, but one career choice that is relatively uncovered (in comparison to say, musicians, athletes and painters) is acting itself. An actor who appears close to breaking that barrier is Ronald Reagan, who played the Gipper in Knute Rockne: All American, almost got the lead role in Casablanca and costarred with a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo. If that’s all Reagan ever did, he probably wouldn’t be getting his own biopic, unless he had died mysteriously perhaps like Bob Crane (Auto Focus) or George Reeves (Hollywoodland). Nope, Reagan is actually (obviously) more famous for what he left Hollywood for in 1964: politics. First-time producer Mark Joseph is teaming up with producer Ralph Winter (the X-Men franchise, Star Trek III-VI) on a $30 million biopic called Reagan which they hope to get done in time for a late 2011 release. Reagan will be based upon the biographies The Crusader and God and Ronald Reagan (both by Paul Kengor), and is being adapted by screenwriter Jonas McCord (The Body). Mark Joseph has been outspoken about his negative opinion of the 2003 Showtime miniseries The Reagans, so it is unlikely that Reagan will be similar to Oliver Stone’s W. In addition to the two careers that Reagan is most famous for, this quote from McCord suggests that the film will also focus on Reagan’s early life, which he says was, “a surreal Norman Rockwell painting with his alcoholic Catholic father, devout Christian mother, Catholic brother and ever-changing boarders the family took in.” This story also describes the movie as starting with the 1981 assassination attempt by John Hinckley (an unhinged fan trying to impress Jodie Foster), and then tell Reagan’s story leading up to his presidency through flashbacks. There’s no word yet as to who will be cast as Ronald Reagan, but the Hollywood Reporter has a casting poll up in which the front runners are currently Chris Pine and Zac Efron(!) Reagan is one of this week’s Rotten Ideas not because of Ronald Reagan himself, but mostly because the creative people involved don’t have the sort of filmographies one would normally associate with a high-profile biopic. Of course, that prediction could be turned around if a talented director is hired.
Dutch action director Jan de Bont started his film career off with two big hits (Speed, Twister), but his subsequent movies were less successful (Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Haunting and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life). Now, over seven years since the release of his last film, Jan de Bont is preparing to return with an adaptation of the Chinese 6th century tale of Hua-Mulan, a young girl who joined an all-male army and helped lead them to victory. The story of Hua-Mulan has most famously been previously adapted to film as the 1998 Disney animated movie Mulan, but there was also a Chinese live-action movie last year starring Zhao Wei. Jan de Bont’s Mulan will film this fall outside Shanghai, but it will also be in English and star Zhang Ziyi, who is familiar to Western audiences for her roles in Rush Hour 2, Hero, Memoirs of a Geisha and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Mulan script has been adapted by newcomer screenwriter John Blickstead. Mulan is one of this week’s Rotten Ideas not because of the story itself (which is indeed a classic), but for Jan de Bont’s involvement as director. De Bont quickly established a reputation for “over the top” action sequences and also an over reliance on CGI in movies like The Haunting and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.
Although there weren’t that many movie news stories this week, two of the biggest announcements have a common theme, and so they are being run together here as the week’s most Rotten Idea(s). The common thread here is that of excellent older actors taking on roles that appear to be all about cashing massive checks to costar in movies that appear to otherwise be quite likely “rotten.” It’s far from a new phenomenon for well-respected actors to take roles like these, but that it continues to happen doesn’t make any more of a good idea. Instead, whenever a fine actor appears in a big budget movie, it just seems more often than not sort of like a cash grab. Of course, both of the actors in question this week have done this sort of thing before. First up, there’s Liam Neeson, who will be costarring as Admiral Shane in Universal’s adaptation of the board game Battleship. The movie about naval forces fighting off an alien invasion also stars Taylor Kitsch (Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Neeson’s future son-in-law, newcomer Brooklyn Decker as Neeson’s daughter, Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) and singer Rihanna as a “weapons analyst.” Peter Berg (Hancock, The Rundown) is directing from a script by Jon and Erich Hoeber (cowriters of Whiteout and next month’s Red). Universal Pictures has scheduled Battleship for a big summer release date of May 18, 2012. Previous movies where Liam Neeson arguably starred in similar “cash grab” movies include Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and the Clash of the Titans remake (where he played Zeus, following Sir Laurence Olivier’s similar “cash grab” appearance in the original movie).
Also supplementing his retirement savings account this week is Sir Michael Caine, who will be playing the grandfather role in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, loosely based upon another book by Jules Verne. The New Line Cinema sequel stars Josh Hutcherson (reprising his role from the first movie), along with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as his mom’s boyfriend. Hutcherson and Johnson’s characters will be going to a strange tropical island looking for Caine’s character, where the mysteries of the island include a massive hive of giant bees, which were not in Verne’s novel, but were included in the previous 1961 movie, animated by monster legend Ray Harryhausen. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is being directed by Brad Peyton (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) from a script by Richard Outten (Pet Sematary II) and Bryan and Mark Gunn (cowriters of the direct-to-video Bring It On Again). Sir Michael Caine’s most infamous “cash grab” movie is definitely Jaws: The Revenge, which he was so busy filming that he had to film his Oscar acceptance speech for Hannah and Her Sisters from a remote filming location in the Bahamas. Here’s hoping that when Liam Neeson and Sir Michael Caine finish filming these big budget movies, they will be able to take some more roles in smaller movies that won’t so easily be labelled “Rotten Ideas.”