This week’s Ketchup is chockful of movies featuring CGI animation takes on classic characters, as the list includes new projects based on Bugs Bunny, Tarzan and The Terminator. This was also a big week for Hollywood biopics, as both John Belushi and singer/actress Peggy Lee made the news again posthumously. The directors of two of this weeks’ new movies (The Expendables and Eat Pray Love) are also represented, as are new roles for Jack Black, Idris Elba, Shirley MacLaine, Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon.
Back in January, there was a big auction to determine the future rights to the popular Terminator franchise, and we now know the first new movie to be covered in the new deal, following 2009’s Terminator: Salvation. This entry should start with a note that this writer would have normally slotted this more in the “rotten idea” category, but it’s also the week’s biggest story so it’s not buried down at the bottom (like last week’s Justin Bieber news). Hannover House has entered into a venture with Red Bear Entertainment to produce a $70 million, 3D-animated feature called Terminator 3000. Hannover House is a company that mostly specializes in direct-to-video titles, but also recently put Twelve in theaters, albeit in limited release. The writers and premise haven’t been announced yet, but the stated goal is “minimizing violence in order to obtain a PG-13 level of material.” Production is expected to start on Terminator 3000 in January, 2011. Although the idea of a CGI animated Terminator movie is borderline “potentially cool,” the idea of neutering the Terminator franchise away from its violent reputation in order to obtain a PG-13 rating is as much a Rotten Idea as when the same thing was done for Live Free or Die Hard. The Terminator movies are nearly synonymous with R-rated violent action, and Terminator 3000 sounds like it will be an attempt to focus on futuristic cyborgs at the expense of everything that fans like about Terminator.
In addition to non-Looney Tunes characters like this year’s Yogi Bear, Warner Bros is developing a slate of upcoming live action/CGI hybrid animated movies for characters like Marvin the Martian and Speedy Gonzalez. Both of those are supporting characters in the large Looney Tunes cast, but now Warner Bros has announced plans for a movie starring their biggest star of all: Bugs Bunny. Warner Bros has hired screenwriter David Berenbaum (Elf, The Haunted Mansion) to start work on the Bugs Bunny project. There’s no word yet as to what Bugs’ latest comedy outting will be about, or the tone. The recent movies starring Bugs Bunny (and friends) were 1996’s Space Jam and 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Warner Bros has also started making 3D Looney Tunes shorts, the first of which (a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner short) was shown before Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.
Constantin Films, the production company responsible for the Resident Evil franchise and Paul W.S. Anderson’s upcoming 3D adaptation of The Three Musketeers has announced plans to take over another classic franchise. Constantin will produce a 3D, CGI animated adventure film adaptation of Tarzan, based upon the jungle-dwelling character that starred in numerous pulp novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. No other details about the CGI animated version of Tarzan (such as a writer, director or premise) are currently known. Tarzan has been the star of dozens of adaptations over the years, including a (quite good) 1999 Walt Disney animated movie. In 2005, Disney produced a direct-to-video sequel called Tarzan II, but the studio appears to no longer be actively in the Tarzan business. What Disney is doing, however, is betting big on another Edgar Rice Burroughs character with John Carter of Mars planned to be one of their big movies of 2012, now scheduled for a June 8, 2012 release.
In 1989, Bob Woodward’s biography Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi was adapted into a movie starring Michael Chiklis as the original bad boy comedian of Saturday Night Live. Both the book and movie were critical of Belushi’s family, and so both versions of Wired were boycotted by those closest to him. John Belushi was of course one of the original Saturday Night Live “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” who went onto a film career that included Animal House and The Blues Brothers until his death from a drug overdose in 1982 at the age of 33. Now, John’s widow Judith Belushi Pisano has made a deal with director/producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Old School and the upcoming Due Date) for a movie based upon her 2005 book Belushi: A Biography. As of right now, Phillips is only on board as the film’s producer, and whether or not he will sign on to also direct is not yet known. Screenwriter Steven Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man) will adapt Judith Belushi Pisano’s biography, and Warner Bros has acquired the rights from Belushi’s estate. As for who would portray John Belushi in the new biopic, Zach Galifianakis has been mentioned as a strong contender, but at 40, he is considered to possibly be too old to portray the comedian in his 20s and early 30s. If Warner Bros and Phillips aim for someone closer to Belushi’s age, the list of rumored contenders include Jonah Hill (26), Seth Rogen (28), Ethan Suplee (34) and Tyler Labine (32), who already portrayed John Belushi in the 2005 NBC movie Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy.
Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, was (arguably) nearly as much a biopic about June Carter Cash as it was Johnny Cash. That film also won Reese Witherspoon an Oscar for Best Actress. Now, Reese Witherspoon has her eye on playing another singer who rose to fame in the 1940s: Peggy Lee. Peggy Lee was a jazz singer who rose from obscurity and her roots in small town North Dakota to have a string of big hits in the 1940s including “Fever,” “Big Spender,” “Mañana” and “Golden Earrings.” Lee also appeared in several movies and provided some of the voice roles in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. Peggy Lee continued performing well in the 1990s (sometimes from a wheelchair), and Lee died from complications of diabetes and a heart attack in 2002 at the age of 81. Reese Witherspoon is reportedly the driving force behind this biopic, including helping secure the rights at Fox 2000. Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia, You’ve Got Mail) is attached to write and direct this currently untitled biopic.
Alex Cross is a police detective and psychologist character who has appeared in many novels by author James Patterson. Movie fans best know the character as played by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Freeman, however, is now much older (73) than the character of Alex Cross, and since there are plans for a new Alex Cross movie, a new Alex Cross must be found. The actor who has been offered the role is Idris Elba, who is best known for playing Stringer Bell in The Wire, and for exciting some fan controversy when he was cast as the Norse God Heimdall in next year’s Thor. This next movie will be based upon Patterson’s novel Cross, and will be produced by Lloyd Levin (Watchmen, Green Zone). Paramount, which released the two Alex Cross movies starring Morgan Freeman, however will not be involved with this latest movie. Cross appears to be a prequel of sorts, telling the story of a younger Alex Cross as a “rising star in the Washington, D.C. Police Department when an unknown shooter gunned down his wife, Maria, in front of him,” and Cross discovers that the case of a serial rapist in Georgetown may have a connection to his wife’s death. There’s no word yet about who might be adapting Cross, or who might direct the crime thriller.
Ryan Reynolds obviously loves comic book movies. Reynolds started with playing Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity, then he played Deadpool in X-Men: Wolverine, and he has Green Lantern coming next year, as well as the planned Deadpool solo movie. Reynolds also played an imaginary superhero in Paper Man, but that one technically doesn’t count because it wasn’t actually based on a comic book. The latest comic book movie that Ryan Reynolds is attached to is Universal Pictures’ R.I.P.D., based on a Dark Horse Comics title about dead cops who investigate crimes in the afterlife. Universal hopes to start filming R.I.P.D. in the summer of 2011, and the director that they are currently considering is Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, The Time Traveller’s Wife), whose next film Red is also based upon a comic book. That is, of course, if Universal’s plans don’t conflict with Ryan Reynolds’ interests in possibly filming Deadpool soon, or Warner Bros’ rumored plans to film a Green Lantern sequel sooner rather than later. Speaking of Green Lantern 2, Warner Bros has hired screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; cowriter of Green Lantern) to work on Green Lantern 2. Warner Bros had previously hired three other writers to work on a treatment for the sequel, but they are favoring Goldenberg to write the actual script.
Director Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused) had one of his biggest hits in 2003 with the comedy School of Rock, starring Jack Black. Now, Linklater and Jack Black are reuniting in a comedy called Bernie which is inspired by the true story of a Texas mortician who develops a friendship with a wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine) who he then kills and keeps her body in a freezer in an attempt to maintain the illusion that she is still alive. In other words, it’s sort of like Harold and Maude meets Weekend at Bernie’s (and it even borrows part of that film’s title). Filming of Bernie is scheduled to start in October in Texas. Bernie is being produced by Mandalay Vision and Castle Rock Entertainment. Coincidentally, this week, Fox Searchlight also picked up the rights to a comedy pitch called Motherf***er. It’s about a man who falls in love with his girlfriend’s mother, which has a similar May-December chemistry to Bernie, even if the older lady in Motherf***er doesn’t end up in the guy’s freezer. Motherf***er will be directed by Daryl Wein (2009’s Breaking Upwards), who will cowrite along with his Breaking Upwards cowriter Zoe Lister-Jones.
With Eat Pray Love opening theaters today, that film’s director Ryan Murphy (who is also the creator of the TV shows Nip/Tuck and Glee) announced his next movie this week. Murphy will be directing the movie adaptation of Larry Kramer’s semi-autobiographical play The Normal Heart, with Mark Ruffalo already announced to star. Larry Kramer adapted his own play, and his previous film credits include 1969’s Women in Love and the 1973 musical version of Lost Horizon, and he also wrote the controversial 1978 novel Faggots. Set in New York City from 1981 to 1984, The Normal Heart is the story of a writer named Ned Weeks whose lover is dying from a mysterious new disease (AIDS), and follows his attempts to rally people to raise awareness about what at the time was called “the gay cancer.” Ryan Murphy is also reportedly one of the directors in the running to direct Universal’s adaptation of the hit musical Wicked.
Sylvester Stallone’s star-packed action movie The Expendables opens in theaters in today and many pundits are predicting that it might be the #1 movie, in spite of strong competition from Eat Pray Love and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. If The Expendables does indeed perform well both in the USA and internationally, Stallone is saying that he already has an idea for a sequel. Stallone doesn’t really say much more than that, but one has to guess that his plan would involve bringing even more 1980s action stars (as well as modern stars) into the team. This is just this writer’s guessing, but a few of the stars that were not included this time around include Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Wesley Snipes, Chow Yun-Fat, Kurt Russell and Harrison Ford (though that last one might be beyond this franchise’s budget). As for more recent stars, perhaps Stallone could try recruiting Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson, or if he wanted to add some estrogen, perhaps Milla Jovovich, Michelle Yeoh, Kate Beckinsale or Zhang Ziyi. The reason, however, that this is this week’s most Rotten Idea (and a borderline one at that, just because this week had mostly fresh developments) is that the Tomatometer for The Expendables currently stands at 43%. Of course, The Expendables is arguably critic-proof and there are undoubtedly many fans who would say that for that reason, The Expendables 2 shouldn’t be a Rotten Idea at all. I’ll leave that question for the fans to debate!