Weekly Ketchup

Weekly Ketchup: Voltron Makes the Jump to the Big Screen

Subhead: Plus, Russell Crowe gets down with the RZA!

by | September 17, 2010 | Comments

After two slow weeks for movie news before and after Labor Day, Hollywood came back with a vengeance, with probably enough news for two Weekly Ketchups. Included in the mix this week are three different Mafia-related biopics, a Freddie Mercury biopic starring Sacha Baron Cohen, a movie that might reunite the surviving members of Monty Python, and new roles for Russell Crowe, Ice Cube and Milla Jovovich.



In recent years, while movies based on 1980s toy lines (and their related TV cartoon shows) like Transformers and G.I. Joe were made, another 1980s phenomenon has been struggling to make its way to the big screen: Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Unlike those two franchises, Voltron started not as a toy line, but as a Japanese Anime TV series, which then led to various toys (and comic books too). The concept of Voltron focuses on five young pilots who each control a different massive robot lion, which can then come together to form an even more massive humanoid robot. The news broke this week that Atlas Entertainment (Get Smart, The Brothers Grimm) is working on a big-budget adaptation of Voltron when three pieces of concept art were released. The images show off the massive scale of Voltron, including an image of the red lion robot perched up against the Statue of Liberty. A robeast and the blue lion can also be seen in those images. Voltron: Defender of the Universe is being adapted to the screen by the writing team of Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, whose resume includes cowriting duties on Sahara and A Sound of Thunder, as well as cowriting next year’s Conan reboot, the videogame adaptation Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Marvel’s plans for a Doctor Strange movie. The low Tomatometer scores for Sahara and A Sound of Thunder probably would have also landed this as one of this week’s Rotten Ideas, but Voltron, and the images that go along with it, is also this week’s Top Story.



Although most musician biopic projects (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley) seem to linger in development hell for decades, the newest one to be announced this week appears to be ready to go without a hitch. Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Brüno) has signed a deal to star in an untitled British biopic about the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. The casting of Cohen is particularly inspired because Cohen does indeed bear an uncanny resemblance to Mercury, and Cohen can reportedly sing (though whether he can sing anything like Mercury is unknown). The Queen biopic also has an impressive screenwriter in Peter Morgan, who coincidentally wrote The Queen, as well as Frost/Nixon and he also cowrote The Last King of Scotland. Morgan’s latest script, Hereafter, was directed by Clint Eastwood and will be released later this fall. What often holds up musical biopics are the rights to the music, but GK Films is partnering with Queen Films (aka the surviving members of the band) which means they have rights to all of the band’s songs, including the big hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” The biopic will focus on the band’s formative years and culminate with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. Freddie Mercury died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991. There’s no word yet as to who will direct the Queen biopic, but the producers expect to start filming in 2011.


There will obviously never be a real Monty Python reunion since Graham Chapman died in 1989. The other five members have gotten together over the years though, and this week brought news of the first time all five of them may appear together on screen since Chapman’s death. The troupe members got close with the 1996 film Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which featured all of them except Terry Gilliam. The new movie that may reunite the Pythons is called Absolutely Anything, and it will be directed by Python member Terry Jones (Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Erik the Viking). Terry Jones (whose writing credits include Labyrinth as well as cowriting the Python movies) cowrote Absolutely Anything with Gavin Scott (cowriter of Small Soldiers, The Borrowers). The storyline of Absolutely Anything hasn’t been exactly revealed yet, but it does involve “aliens, a goofy Brit, a talking dog and buckets of silliness.” The goofy Brit will be played by John Oliver, who is best known as one of the correspondents of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Robin Williams is in talks to provide the voice of Dennis the Dog. As for the aliens, that is where Jones’ Monty Python alumni come in, as Jones has “reached out” to John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam to provide the alien voices. Absolutely Anything will be a British production and is expected to start filming by the spring of 2011.


Robert De Niro costarred with Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II and Heat, and he costarred with Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and Casino. But what has never happened is a movie starring all three actors, but that may soon change. Both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are now “circling” a mob drama that Robert De Niro has been working on with Martin Scorsese for some time now. The Irishman is based upon the exploits of mafia hit man Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, as documented in the Charles Brandt crime book I Heard You Paint Houses. Sheeran confessed in the book to handling over 25 hits for both the mafia and the Teamsters, including the mysterious murder of union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Martin Scorsese is currently filming the 3D kids movie The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and has other movies on his slate, but it looks like The Irishman is getting closer to possibly being Scorsese’s next movie. The Irishman is a Paramount Pictures production, and was adapted by Steven Zaillian (American Gangster; cowriter of Gangs of New York), who also has Moneyball and the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo coming soon.


The focus of two of the most chilling documentaries to ever air on HBO was Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, who claimed to have murdered over 250 people in a career that started in 1948 when he was 13, and stretched until 1986. There has been talk of a movie based upon Kuklinski’s life since his death in 2006 (not so coincidentally right before he was to testify against Sammy “The Bull” Gravano). One obstacle, however, in casting for Kuklinski is that he was 6′ 5″ and weighed over 300 pounds. At 5′ 11″, Mickey Rourke is not short, but he might have to either start eating a lot of carby foods or put on a fat suit, because Rourke has landed the lead role in Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. Screenwriter David McKenna (American History X; cowriter of Blow) adapted the screenplay from the book of the same title by Philip Carlo. Ice Man is currently still seeking both a distributor and a director. As if two mafia-related movies weren’t enough this week, Warner Bros also announced plans for an Al Capone biopic called Cicero which will be written by veteran screenwriter Walon Green, whose impressive filmography includes cowriting duties on WarGames, Robocop 2 and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.


RZA, de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, has been preparing for his feature film directorial debut for several years now. Those plans include a remake of Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, which RZA has recruited Samuel L. Jackson to star in. First up, however, will be The Man With the Iron Fist, a kung fu movie that directors Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth have helped RZA put together. Director RZA will also play a “weapons-making village blacksmith in feudal China,” and he has now announced one of his costars: Russell Crowe. The details of the movie or Crowe’s role arent’ yet known, but RZA said of Crowe, “I won’t spoil it for you but Russell’s gonna be the baddest man alive,” continuing, “That man is in fighting shape. That man will knock you out.” RZA also promises that The Man With the Iron Fist will not hold back on kung fu bloodiness and will definitely not be rated PG-13. It’s worth mentioning that RZA’s movie should not be confused with Iron Fist, another martial arts movie in the works that will be based upon the Marvel Comics character. In addition to directing, RZA cowrote The Man With the Iron Fist with Eli Roth (Hostel; cowriter of Cabin Fever), who is also producing. The Man With the Iron Fist is a Universal Pictures production, and will start filming this December in Shanghai on a budget of $20 million.


The news broke out recently that director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow, Knowing) will start filming soon on Dracula: Year Zero, starring Sam Worthington. Warner Bros, however, has already set up Alex Proyas as the director of another big budget project for sometime down the road after Dracula: Year Zero. That movie will be Paradise Lost, an adaptation of the epic 17th century poem by John Milton. Paradise Lost details the aftermath of Lucifer/Satan’s fall from grace and defeat by the forces of God, Satan’s exile to Tartarus (Hell), and Satan’s subsequent attempts to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As for what the movie version will be about, it is described as depicting, “the epic war in heaven between archangels Michael and Lucifer, and will be developed as an action vehicle that will include aerial warfare, possibly shot in 3D.” Five different writers have worked on adapting Paradise Lost, but the latest draft was polished by newcomer Ryan Condal and Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark; cowriter of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).


After making his directorial debut with last year’s The Messenger, Oren Moverman is teaming up with crime novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia) on an original script called Rampart. Rampart will tell the story of the late 1990s scandal involving the LAPD Rampart Division and the C.R.A.S.H. anti-gang program that was the inspiration for both Training Day and the TV show The Shield. For Rampart, Moverman will be working again with two of the lead actors from The Messenger: Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. They are, however, just two members of a large star-studded cast which also includes Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver and Robin Wright. Filming of Rampart is scheduled to start in Los Angeles in October.



Last weekend, Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth movie in the franchise, was released to the biggest numbers yet for a series that is getting further and further away from the video games upon which it is set. So, while hosting a “Mercedes-Benz Tea Party” in London, star Milla Jovovich announced that, “…we’re definitely going to make another one.” Resident Evil: Afterlife was directed by Jovovich’s husband Paul W.S. Anderson, who also directed the first Resident Evil and is currently filming a 3D adaptation of The Three Musketeers (which Milla Jovovich also costars in). After saying that Anderson already has ideas for Resident Evil 5, Jovovich added that, “We’ve been talking to a lot of fans on Twitter and stuff, so it’s probably going to be one of the first movies where we really talk to fans to see what they want, and what characters they want to see. It’s going to be a more interactive process.” This is one of this week’s Rotten Ideas mostly because the three Resident Evil sequels have consistently low Tomatometer scores (the highest tops out at only 23%). So the chances are pretty high that Resident Evil 5 will also be received quite negatively. Unless, of course, Milla Jovovich divorces Anderson and takes up with someone like Darren Aronofsky or David Fincher instead.


People can be inspired by many different things, but apparently when you’re a studio executive, nothing’s more inspirational than a movie that makes over $1 billion worldwide. Warner Bros-based producer Dan Jinks (Milk, Big Fish, American Beauty) told Variety that he was “inspired” by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to begin work on a new live-action version of Pinocchio. Originally an 1883 Italian children’s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio has been adapted to film and television many times, but most famously as the 1940 Disney animated classic Pinocchio. Italian actor/director Roberto Benigni also attempted a live-action Pinocchio in 2002, which received some of the harshest criticism of Benigni’s career and definitively brought to an end the love affair Hollywood had with the director of Life is Beautiful. To adapt the live-action Pinocchio, Jinks has hired TV screenwriter Bryan Fuller, whose resume includes dozens of episodes of Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me and quite a few episodes of Wonderfalls and Star Trek: Voyager too. The live-action Pinocchio has the distinction of being this week’s most Rotten Idea because it appears to be solely a financially based project, hoping to cash in on audiences that enjoyed Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. However, Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice books and Pinocchio have very little in common, so there’s really no reason to expect that people will flock to another Pinocchio movie. They certainly didn’t in 1996, when Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Martin Landau starred in The Adventures of Pinocchio.

For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via a RT forum message.

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