Most of the entertainment media’s attention is focused on the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, but there were still interesting film development news this week, including two new video game based projects, a surprising new movie for director David Fincher (Fight Club), an even more surprising remake of a Coen brothers classic, and new movies for Daniel Craig, Adam Sandler and Kevin Spacey. And oh yeah, the Academy is totally changing the way the Oscars works.
In a surprising move, this week the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that they are doubling the number of movies that will be nominated for Best Picture (from five to ten) reverting to the way the awards were nominated back in the 1930s and early 1940s, up until 1943. This is apparently a reaction to recent years in which popular movies didn’t make the cut (such as The Dark Knight last year), and is seen as something that limits the potential viewing audience on ABC. The down side to this move, however, is that by doubling the field, the Academy is also in effect cutting in half the prestige that one can now associate with with a Best Picture nomination, and the door is potentially being opened to some embarrassing choices sliding into the category. For example, summer blockbusters often do quite well in technical categories, but might they sometimes now also slide into Best Picture? Could something like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen stumble into being nominated for Best Picture? Another change announced this week addresses the category of Best Song; nominees must now receive a minimum of an 8.25 score by the nominating committee, and the award won’t be given out at all if no song meets that score. In spite of the expanded Best Picture field, Academy boss Sid Ganis promises that the ceremony will not be overly long this year. It should be interesting to see how exactly they pull that off.
Although 20th Century Fox’s 2007 video game adaptation, Hitman was a critical flop (15% Tomatometer) and only earned $39 million in the USA, the film did considerably better overseas, with a worldwide total just shy of $100 million. So the studio has hired screenwriter Kyle Ward, who is also working on two other video game adaptations; Kane and Lynch for Lionsgate and this week’s #5 story, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. There is no other news about Hitman 2, but it seems likely that Timothy Olyphant would probably return as the chrome dome assassin Agent 47. The fifth Hitman game is expected to be released in late 2010.
The Kevin James-starring live action comedy The Zookeeper found a large cast of stars this week to voice the many animals he encounters, making it sound quite a bit like the two Dr. Dolittle movies. Adam Sandler (whose Happy Madison is also producing) The Zookeeper will voice a capuchin monkey, while Sylvester Stallone will voice a lion, Cher will voice a giraffe, Jon Favreau will voice a bear and comedy director Judd Apatow will voice an elephant. Jim Breuer, Faizon Love and Bas Rutten will have other animal voice roles, and Rosario Dawson will have a live action role (probably James’ romantic interest, I’m guessing). In The Zookeeper, the inhabitants of (you guessed it) a zoo will help one of the humans working there learn the secrets of mating, so that he can win the heart of his dream girl. I think it’s worth considering the irony here, in that zoo animals are sort of infamous for having problems mating in captivity. Frank Coraci (Click, The Wedding Singer) is directing The Zookeeper, with filming scheduled to start later this summer. MGM is aiming for an October 8, 2010 release date.
Columbia Pictures is in advanced talks with visionary director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac) to direct The Social Network, a biopic of sorts about Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg and the 2004 founding of a little website called Facebook. The Social Network comes from the pen of screenwriter and television creator Aaron Sorkin, whose TV credits include The West Wing, Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and whose film credits include A Few Good Men, The American President and Charlie Wilson’s War. Sorkin’s favorite subjects obviously center mostly on the worlds of politics and television, so it is interesting that he is now turning his eye towards the Internet. As for Fincher, he seems an unusual choice for a movie which one would have to imagine will be mostly about a bunch of college kids sitting around computers, or standing around talking about sitting around computers. What are we going to get, an amazing CGI-enhanced shot of the camera’s eye zooming along an ethernet cable from a computer, through the wall, across the Harvard campus and then across the country to another computer on another campus? If Fincher signs on, production of The Social Network is expected to start later this year.
Columbia Pictures has acquired the rights to the hit video game Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, one of the best-reviewed games on the PlayStation 3 platform. Often described as a male version of the Tomb Raider franchise, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune combines 3-D platform action and first-person shooting in an story about an adventurer named Nathan Drake as he follows a map left by his ancestor, the explorer Sir Francis Drake, which promises to show the way to the fabled South American lost city of El Dorado. With its ties to actual historical events and people Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune has similar elements to the popular National Treasure franchise, and with more Uncharted games on the way, has the promise of establishing a new movie franchise. The screenwriter for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is Kyle Ward, who is establishing himself as a go-to guy for video game adaptations; he’s also working for Lionsgate on Kane and Lynch, which will star Bruce Willis, and Hitman 2 (see story #2 up above).
The movie that launched the Coen Brothers’ career, Blood Simple, is getting the remake treatment, according to the news that acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern) started filming his version of the story on June 9th. The project, which was formerly known as Amazing Tales: Three Guns is now titled The Stunning Case of the Three Gun Shots. Yimou’s publicist declined to reveal the plot details of the “thriller comedy”, but since it’s a remake of a well known movie, we can guess what the general story will be. Blood Simple was the story of a Texas bar owner (Dan Hedaya) who hires a private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill his wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover. It doesn’t go well. Since Yimou’s film is set in China, many details are likely to be changed, but it is still fascinating that he chose Blood Simple as the inspiration for his latest film.
The 23rd James Bond movie is still in the script stage (but aiming for a 2011 release), so Daniel Craig has plenty of time for some other live action work, along with his appearance as Red Rackham in The Adventures of TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn. So, Craig is in early talks with Morgan Creek to star in Dream House, a psychological thriller about a family that moves to a nice small town, only to discover that their new house is inhabited by the ghosts of the previous inhabitants. Dream House may have the potential to be more than just another haunted house movie, however, it’s set to be directed by Jim Sheridan, the award-winning director of My Left Foot, In America and In the Name of the Father (we’ll just forget that he also directed the 50 Cent movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin’). A strange element to consider about Dream House is that the screenwriter is one David Loucka, whose resume mostly consists of cowriting the nearly forgotten comedies Eddie (starring Whoopie Goldberg) and The Dream Team (starring Michael Keaton and Christopher Lloyd).
Obviously, the biggest news to emerge from Los Angeles this week was the death of Michael Jackson. As the entertainment world feels the reverberations of that event, two of his sisters are connected to movie news. The first bit of news is that Janet Jackson, has signed on to reprise her role as a psychologist and author who prefers to analyze other people’s problems rather deal with her own marital issues in the Tyler Perry sequel, Why Did I Get Married Too, which Lionsgate has already pegged as an April 2nd, 2010 release. The interesting coincidence there is that the news was actually announced just a few hours before Michael’s death. More directly tied to Michael’s death is the news about Bruno, which featured a scene in which Bruno asks Michael’s sister LaToya for his phone number, leading to jokes about Michael that you can probably guess the nature of. Last night, as Bruno was being prepped to be screened, Universal asked the film’s director, Larry Charles, to make a last minute edit to the movie, removing that scene. The studio is reportedly currently assessing whether to keep the LaToya scene in the movie, with just two weeks left before they must strike the final prints that will be sent out for the July 10th release date.
There was a time in the 1990s when movies based upon bestselling legal thriler novels by John Grisham were a regular feature: The Firm, The Client, The Chamber, The Pelican Brief, etc. However, Grisham’s relationship with Hollywood turned chilly, mainly because the author had little to no input about how his novels were adapted. Grisham adapations became less frequent, but in recent years, the author has started to warm back up to the idea of seeing his novels on the big screen. His latest novel, The Associate is already in development, and there was news this week that 1999’s The Testament, one of his best-received novels is now also in development. In the deal with Nashville-based 821 Entertainment (producers of the 2008 Billy Graham biopic Billy: The Early Years) Grisham will indeed have creative input, but no writer has yet been announced. The Testament is the story of a billionaire who commits suicide soon after leaving his fortune to an illegitmate daughter who works as a missionary in the wilds of Brazil, rather than his bickering six children from three marriages. This forces a lawyer to venture into the Amazon to find her, giving The Testament a grander scale than typically seen in Grisham’s legal thrillers. Other Grisham works also in development are Playing for Pizza and the non-fiction An Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.
Kevin Spacey is headlining an ensemble cast in an independent comedy called Father of Invention that also includes Heather Graham, Johnny Knoxville, Camilla Belle (10,000 B.C.) and Craig Robinson (Zack and Miri Make a Porno). Father of Invention is the story of a billionaire inventor who is sent to prison for eight years when one of his inventions goes horribly wrong, and is then forced upon his release to try to rebuild his reputation and his relationship with his family. Robinson will play the husband of Spacey’s ex-wife who now lives in his house, and who helps him get back on his feet. Camilla Belle will play Spacey’s daughter, Graham will play her lesbian lover, and Knoxville will play a store manager who gives the inventor his first post-prison job. Father of Invention is being directed by Trent Cooper, whose first movie was Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, which seems rather unlike the sort of movie that Father of Invention sounds like on paper. Filming of Father of Invention started this week in New Orleans.
In a surprising move, Columbia Pictures boss Amy Pascal pulled the plug last Friday on Steven Soderbergh’s baseball drama Moneyball, three days before it was to start filming on Monday in Phoenix. Although Moneyball had a budget of $57 million, the movie also had an extremely bankable star in the form of Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Apparently at issue are last minute changes that Soderbergh made to the script by Steven Zaillian (American Gangster, Schindler’s List), which gave the movie a more “experimental” structure, and incorporated interview segments with real life baseball players (including Darryl Strawberry), some of which Soderbergh had already filmed. Soderbergh’s track record is admittedly mixed, but I think it’s worth remembering that the last time he played around with story structure on a fact-based drama, Soderbergh gave the world an excellent movie called Traffic. What Pascal did over the weekend to Moneyball is to put it into something called “limited turnaround”, which allowed Soderbergh and the producers to shop the project around to other studios, with Warner Bros and Paramount expected to be the main targets. However, both studios passed. Now Soderbergh has to either work with the studio to make the changes they want, or he will either be replaced as director, or the project will be dead entirely. All of this ranks Moneyball as the Rotten Idea of the Week for me, because it feels like Pascal and Sony didn’t have the confidence to stand behind the director that they hired to do the job. And that… is kind of rotten.