This week’s Ketchup featuring casting news for both Batman 3 and the Spider-Man reboot, sequel news for Top Gun and new (or possible new) roles for Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Shia LaBeouf, Eddie Murphy and Sigourney Weaver.
Although James Cameron has had many successes, his two biggest hits have been Titanic and Avatar. Both blockbuster hits achieved “four quadrant” success by combining both flashy visual effects that appeal to the guys, while also having romantic stories that appeal to girls and women. Now, the director is reported to be talking to Sony Pictures Entertainment about possibly directing another very big movie that has the potential of repeating that same strategy: Cleopatra. Based upon the Stacy Schiff book Cleopatra: A Life, this project would be the first time James Cameron went back in history more than 100 years, as Cameron is more associated with futuristic stories. However, James Cameron’s possible involvement is not the only big name to this story, as Angelina Jolie is also attached to star as Cleopatra. Jolie reportedly has had a “lifelong fascination” with the Egyptian monarch, saying about this movie, “I haven’t done a historical epic of that nature and she’s always been fascinating to me because I feel like, as much of her story has been done big, it’s never been done accurately.” It is worth noting however that Ms. Jolie wasn’t entirely accurate in that statement, as she did in fact costar as a queen in Oliver Stone’s Alexander, although perhaps her point was more specifically that she hasn’t done a historical epic where she was the lead character. Sony has big budget plans for Cleopatra, and they include filming it in 3D, which might also be part of the reason for the studio to be talking to James Cameron, as Avatar was obviously a movie that utilized 3D in a way never seen before (or since, yet). The Cleopatra script was adapted by screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Robin Hood, A Knight’s Tale), whose work was described by Sony exec Amy Pascal as a “brilliant script deserving of epic treatment [about] what the Romans took from Egypt.” There’s no word yet as to when Cleopatra might actually be filmed (especially since James Cameron is not yet attached to the project), but it might be a few years, especially if James Cameron starts filming Avatar 2 anytime soon.
After months of waiting following the departure of previous director Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson has received a greenlight to start filming The Hobbit. Although called a “prequel”, The Hobbit was actually the original Middle Earth novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. That book later led to Tolkien writing the The Lord of the Rings. There have been many stumbling blocks for The Hobbit in recent months, the biggest of which was MGM’s financial problems. MGM and Warner Bros have however settled on a deal that allows for filming to start in February, 2011 in New Zealand. Peter Jackson, director of all three Lord of the Rings movies, has also officially come aboard to direct the two movies that will adapt The Hobbit (and Jackson also cowrote the script). Several actors, including Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf and Martin Freeman as Bilbo, have been on hold, waiting for a production start date. This filming release date still allows for the planned release date windows of the two Hobbit movies of December, 2012 and December, 2013.
Sam Raimi made a point in his three Spider-Man movies of (mostly) casting actors with indie street cred as the villains: Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Thomas Haden Church (sorry, Topher Grace). This week, Sony announced the casting of the reboot project’s villain, and the actor they have chosen fits right in with the sort of person that Sam Raimi might have chosen: Rhys Ifans. Rhys Ifans is a Welsh actor who has been sort of bubbling along just under the surface of fame with dozens of roles in the last decade. You may not know his name, but you probably recognize his face (he’ll always be the wacky roommate in Notting Hill to this writer). What Sony didn’t do, however, was say exactly who that villain is, leaving the fans to speculate. My immediate hunch was Electro, as he seemed to be a major Spidey villain that hadn’t yet been used, and one that I could see Rhys Ifans pulling off. It didn’t take long, however, for the secret villain to be sussed out, and that’s when the news got really surprising. Rhys Ifans will be playing Dr. Curt Connors, AKA The Lizard, which was the scientist/professor role played by Dylan Baker in the first three Spider-Man movies. Right from the first film, it was obvious that Sam Raimi was thinking of Baker as The Lizard, and with each new movie, fans wondered if we might finally get to see Baker turn all green and scaly. However, with the reboot, everything from Raimi’s movies is being thrown out, and unfortunately that includes Dylan Baker. The choice of Rhys Ifans is also an about-face in how Dr. Connors is likely to be portrayed, although not necessarily negatively so. Rhys Ifans is unlikely to portray Dr. Connors in any way similar to Dylan Baker, but it’s possible that what he does bring to the role might just be perfect for The Lizard. Ifans is going to work pretty hard, however, to overcome fan bias, as Dylan Baker pretty much made the role his own, even if his appearance in each film was relatively minor.
Sony’s announcement of Rhys Ifans as a “mystery villain” (even if that mystery didn’t last long) was accompanied this week by the news of the first new cast member to sign on for Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie. Tom Hardy impressed audiences this summer with his role in Nolan’s Inception, and he is now cast as a “lead role” in the new Batman, although we don’t yet know if Hardy will be playing a villain, or a completely different sort of character (though a villain would be a pretty fair assumption). Hardy’s availability for Batman 3, however, requires a bit of an explanation, as it ties into another of this week’s news stories. Hardy has been long attached to star in Mad Max: Fury Road, taking over the role from Mel Gibson for that franchise’s director George Miller. Filming had been expected to start in Australia soon, which would have conflicted with the filming of the third Batman. However, production of Mad Max: Fury Road has now been delayed by not just a few months, but over a year, with crew now told not to expect filming to start until February, 2012 (!). A specific reason for the delay wasn’t given, although this follows a previous delay caused by heavy rains that made the Australian locations too fertile (and no longer the dusty wastelands needed for the film). And so, this delay frees up Tom Hardy for a role in the third Batman movie. So, the question for fans to ponder now is what role might Tom Hardy be playing? There have been rumors of The Riddler being introduced, but Tom Hardy seems like an unlikely choice for the Riddler (though so was Heath Ledger as The Joker). Or might Christopher Nolan be introducing a completely different villain from the comics?
While Shia LaBeouf is currently filming Transformers: The Dark Side of the Moon, his future after that third movie is currently up in the air. Although LaBeouf is attached to star in the adaptation of John Grisham’s The Associate, that movie has been in development for quite a while now, and is not expected to be ready to start filming any time soon. That means LaBeouf’s representatives are reportedly in meetings with studio bosses and the like, trying to find the star’s next movie. The project that LaBeouf himself is said to be most interested in is called College Republicans, which would be a return to comedy for the former star of Even Stevens. College Republicans has a particularly original subject matter, as it tells the true story of future Republican svengali Karl Rove during his college days, as he attempted to secure “the position of chief campus conservative” at the University of Utah in the early 1970s. Karl Rove isn’t the only famous person in this story, however, as this was also where Rove met Lee Atwater, who served as Rove’s campaign manager. It’s unclear who Shia LaBeouf is interested in playing, and the roles of both Rove and Atwater are reportedly being pursued by several other young actors as well. Although the Karl Rove of today is definitely on the pudgy side, photos of Rove in college show that he hadn’t yet gained the extra weight, so if Rove is indeed who LaBeouf would play, Shia wouldn’t necessarily need to wear a fat suit or lots of fancy makeup prosthetics. There’s no director yet for College Republicans.
Dueling movie projects are sort of an old Hollywood tradition, but rarely is there a case where two similar projects actually come from within the same family. Even as The Muppets (now with a title shortened down from The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever) prepares to start filming, Brian Henson (Jim’s son) is at work on another movie set in a world where puppets and humans live together. Also a Jim Henson Company project, Happytime Murders was acquired this week by Lionsgate. Happytime Murders is described as a comedic thriller that is described as “Avenue Q meets L.A. Confidential“, but the premise most immediately brings to mind Who Framed Roger Rabbit? When the puppet cast of a 1980s children’s TV show called The Happytime Gang starts getting murdered, an ex-LAPD private detective (and puppet) with a drinking problem takes on the case with his former human partner. Happytime Murders was written by Todd Berger (cowriter of the direct-to-video Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five) and will be directed by Brian Henson, who directed both The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. It’s not yet known if any of the Muppets will have cameo roles in Happytime Murders (like the cameos in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). As for The Muppets, the human cast was expanded this week as the already cast (and cowriting) Jason Segel was joined by Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Rashida Jones. Disney has scheduled filming to start on the Muppets movie (which may yet be retitled again) in Los Angeles in November. The premise of this Muppets revival movie starts when Gonzo starts filming a new Muppets movie but blows the entire budget on the first day of filming. Chris Cooper will play a villain who buys the Muppets’ movie studio to drill for oil underneath it, Jason Segel will be a human who helps the Muppets, and Amy Adams will play his girlfriend. Whatever it ends up being called, this Muppets movie will mark the feature debut of director James Bobin, who has previously worked on Da Ali G Show and The Flight of the Conchords.
Except for Dreamgirls, Eddie Murphy has spent so long making “kids movies” now that modern audiences would be forgiven if they’ve forgotten the Eddie Murphy of the 1980s, who had a completely different reputation with movies like 48 Hrs, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop. With the Shrek franchise (probably) now finished and most of Murphy’s other recent kids movies underperforming, the star appears to be looking to return to movies not marketed at the under-10 crowd. With that in mind, Eddie Murphy has signed on to executive produce and star in the Universal Pictures crime comedy Tower Heist, to be directed by Brett Ratner, director of the three Rush Hour movies. Murphy’s participation in this movie harks back to the project’s origin several years ago, when it was first conceived as an “urban comedy” that would have starred both Eddie Murphy and other stars like (possibly) Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Chris Tucker. Back then, the crime in question was to be targetting Donald Trump and the Trump Tower (with the title even being Trump Heist for a while). In an effort to update the story to somewhat more recent headlines, the target of the heist is now to be a Bernie Madoff/Wall Street-type played by Alan Alda. Ben Stiller will also be costarring, as the manager of the building that Alda’s corporate crook lives in, and the one who orchestrates the heist, with Eddie Murphy playing a “safe cracking thug.” Tower Heist has gone through many screenwriters, but the latest version was written by Ted Griffin (Ocean’s Eleven; cowriter of Matchstick Men), followed by a rewrite by Jeff Nathanson (Rush Hour 3, Catch Me If You Can).
One of the most popular movies to premiere this year at Sundance was Buried (now in theaters), starring Ryan Reynolds as an American truck driver in Iraq who wakes up to find himself trapped in a coffin. Buried was the English-language debut of Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes (The Contestant) and this week brought news of Cortes’ next movie, which will see Cortes working with two of Hollywood’s most Oscar-friendly veteran stars. Red Lights will star Sigourney Weaver as a psychologist whose investigations into paranormal activity leads her to a famous psychic (Robert De Niro). As with Buried, Rodrigo Cortes will film Red Lights in his native Spain, with filming scheduled to start in February, 2011. This will be the first time that Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro have costarred in a movie together.
Although videogame adaptations still have a reputation as either critical or box-office disappointments (or both), many are still being actively developed. One example is Sony Pictures’ planned movie based upon the Playstation 3 game Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The Uncharted movie was first announced last fall, but at that time, the project did not yet have a director. Now, Sony has signed with David O. Russell (Three Kings, the upcoming The Fighter) to both rewrite and direct. That Russell’s deal includes rewriting should particularly be seen as good news, as the previous writers were Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, whose three credits include Sahara and A Sound of Thunder, both of which were critical flops. David O. Russell has written or cowritten many of the films he’s directed, including Three Kings, Spanking the Monkey and I Heart Huckabees. David O. Russell is newly available following his departure from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In fact, just last week, Russell also signed on to direct Old St. Louis, starring Vince Vaughn and (probably) Chloe Moretz. Given the necessity for a rewrite and the larger scale of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the jungle adventure is likely to have to wait until after Russell wraps Old St. Louis. As for who will some day actually star in Uncharted, there’s already an actor out there lobbying for the role. Nathan Fillion, who has a huge fan following thanks to his roles in the TV shows Firefly and Castle, has been using his Twitter account to get people excited about possibly starring in Uncharted. And yes, that is what we call “burying the lead.”
Many fans and other movie type people consider there to be a optimal window in which a sequel to a popular movie can be made. However, sequels to movies from decades past do still happen, with the latest example being Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. One of the biggest blockbuster hits of the 1980s was Top Gun, which also established Tom Cruise as a genuine box office draw, and not just the kid from Risky Business and All the Right Moves. Top Gun was also one of the most successful movies for the producing team of Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, whose string of hits at that point in 1986 also included American Gigolo, Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop. Jerry Bruckheimer, however, has now had a couple of recent movies (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) which did not perform at the expected level, so Bruckheimer appears to be interested in going back in time. And so, Bruckheimer is in talks with Paramount Pictures about developing a sequel to Top Gun. Included in the negotiations is director Tony Scott (True Romance, Enemy of the State), whose career took off after he directed Top Gun. Tom Cruise has also been wanting to make another movie in which he would again play a pilot (see last week’s news about his plans to star in Flying Tigers). And so, the plan for the sequel does reportedly include a small return for Cruise’s character of “Maverick.” There was a brief period this week when Entertainment Weekly debunked Tom Cruise’s possible involvement, but the magazine has since removed that story from their site. Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects; cowriter of Valkyrie), who has also worked on Cruise’s Flying Tigers project, has been hired to come up with a story that would tell a more modern story about today’s Naval pilots (who are less engaged in “dogfight” style conflicts than they were in the 1980s). Top Gun 2 is this week’s most Rotten Idea partly because there weren’t any other really horrible ideas this week. However, the idea of going back to Top Gun 25 years after the fact (by the time this movie would get made) still seems like a potential mistake, especially considering the differences in what exactly Naval pilots now do (mostly dropping bombs rather than engaging in aerial dogfights). Mostly, however, Top Gun 2 feels like a sequel that is just way, way, past its freshness date.