This week’s Ketchup saw Hollywood finally returning to work after what seemed like a long, two-week Thanksgiving vacation. Casting news for both The Hobbit and the Alien prequel are included, as well as a new action movie for the directors of the Matrix trilogy and the director of District 9, and new roles for Russell Brand, Matt Damon, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Adam Sandler and Chris Tucker.
Most of the familiar characters seen in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies do not actually appear in the J.R.R. Tolkien book that preceded it. However, it appears that as part of Jackson’s extension to making the story of Bilbo Baggins, a company of dwarves and the dragon Smaug, the director (and cowriter) is bringing back some characters that weren’t actually in The Hobbit. First up is Galadriel, the royal elf played by Cate Blanchett, who will be reprising that role in The Hobbit. The casting of Blanchett is just the latest of many roles to be announced (or confirmed) this week. Sylvester McCoy, who is most famous for being the Doctor Who actor in the role when it was canceled after 26 years, has been saying for a while that he will be playing the wizard Radagast the Brown, and McCoy has now been confirmed. Ken Stott (Charlie Wilson’s War) will play the dwarf lord Balin, and New Zealand actors Jed Brophy and William Kircher will play Nori and Bifur, will play the last two dwarves to be cast. British actor Ryan Gage will play Drogo Baggins (Frodo’s dad and Bilbo’s cousin), and Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt will play the shapeshifter Beorn. Among the characters still left to be cast are Bard the Bowman and the voice of Smaug the dragon. Among the actors that Peter Jackson is talking to about reprising their roles in The Hobbit is Orlando Bloom as Legolas, although like Galadriel, Legolas didn’t actually appear in Tolkien’s original 1937 novel. Bloom is reportedly near a deal to return for what is reportedly more than just a cameo. Three actors who have not yet officially signed on yet are Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Andy Serkis (Gollum) and Hugo Weaving (Elrond), despite their characters all actually appearing in the book (and in the case of the first two, being quite prominent to the story). Filming of the two parts of The Hobbit is scheduled to start in February, 2011 in New Zealand, in preparation for the movies to be released in December of 2012 and 2013, respectively.
This week, a lot more information was revealed about the two planned prequels to 20th Century Fox’s blockbuster Alien franchise, and it starts with the revelation that it might not even be called Alien… anything. The title for the first prequel is reportedly Paradise, with no hint that it would actually be something like Alien: Paradise, though it’s possible that Paradise may indeed eventually be a subtitle. On the other hand, Paradise may be an attempt to start a new franchise for director Ridley Scott, who directed the original Alien, if the story eventually goes on to touch upon elements separate from just humans running around trying not to get killed by, you know, aliens. The story for the prequels appears to be just that, however, as it “follows a group of space travelers who encounter a monstrous alien creature that picks them off, one by one.” In addition to Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) being the frontrunner for the lead role of Elizabeth Shaw, a few more characters are now known. One is David, an earlier version of the Bishop android model, who Michael Fassbender had been approached to play, but his agents pressed for a salary above the planned budget’s limitations. There’s also the role of Vickers, a “fortysomething, tough-but-sexy woman,” who Ridley Scott hopes to cast Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as. There’s also an older businessman and “Engineer 1,” who will be played by an actor in the six foot five inches range, but will be entirely CGI.
Andy and Lana (nee Larry) Wachowski (The Matrix, Speed Racer) have been working for a while on their controversial, formerly secret project called CN-9 (Cobalt Neural 9) for a while now. That movie is told from the perspective of “archeologists piecing together events from the U.S. occupation of Iraq using found footage and includes two male soldiers falling in love and a plot to assassinate George W. Bush.” However, CN-9 has been having problems finding financing, despite “talking head” filming already being done with people like Arianna Huffington, Salman Rushdie, Jesse Ventura and Cornel West. Now, the Wachowskis have signed with Warner Bros for a project that appears to be closer to their action movie roots. Hood will be a “modern, urban take on the Robin Hood myth,” and the siblings are already talking to actors, including Will Smith, about the lead role. The Wachowskis wrote the script (which is surprising in that it’s past tense), and will direct. It’s possible, but unconfirmed, that this could be a “one for us, one for them” deal in an attempt to get Warner Bros to sign on for CN-9.
While fans are still waiting for news about a sequel to the surprise hit District 9, director Neill Blomkamp is moving forward with another science fiction movie called Elysium. In Greek mythology, Elysium was the underworld afterlife devoted to the souls of “the heroic and the virtuous.” Sharlto Copley, who was an unknown before starring in District 9, will be reuniting with Blomkamp on Elysium as one of the leads. Universal Pictures is partnering with Media Rights Capital on financing Elysium, but the distribution rights are still up for sale. Sweetening the pot greatly is the second news story for Elysium this week, which is that Matt Damon is in talks to also star in the movie, the premise of which is still secret. Damon has a strong history with Universal, having starred in the studio’s first three Bourne movies. There’s also the added irony that Matt Damon’s most recent movie was Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, which also dealt with the afterlife (if the title of Elysium does indeed give us a hint of what it’s about).
Warner Bros was the winning studio in an auction this week for an untitled comedy pitch from Jay Roach. Roach was the director of the Austin Powers movies, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers (but not Little Fockers), this summer’s Dinner for Schmucks and the HBO political movie Recount. This new comedy project takes Roach back to similar political territory as Recount, as it will star Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as rival candidates (although it is unclear what office they are running for, but it may be President). The untitled comedy is expected to be produced in time to be released in the middle of the 2012 Presidential election campaigns. The screenwriters are Chris Henchy, who cowrote the Will Ferrell movies Land of the Lost and The Other Guys, and Shawn Harwell, who has cowritten every episode of the HBO series Eastbound & Down, starring Danny McBride. Following up on this news, Jay Roach revealed in an interview this week that the premise revolves around smear campaigns, and that Will Ferrell’s character will be a “narcissist driven by his own confidence,” while Zach Galifianakis will play “something else” (possibly more of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington character).
In 2001, James Franco was not yet a movie star, having appeared in just three movies and as one of the kids in Freaks and Geeks (Spider-Man didn’t come out until 2002). That year, however, Franco starred in the TV movie biopic James Dean, and won a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and an Emmy nomination. James Dean was, of course, a brilliant young actor who died in a car accident in 1955 at the age of just 24. His most famous movie is probably Rebel Without a Cause, which also starred three young actors all of whom had early deaths: James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. It is the story of Sal Mineo that James Franco is next taking on, as Franco has optioned the film rights to the recently released biography Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud. James Franco bought the rights with the intention of writing and directing the adaptation. Franco doesn’t intend to also act in the movie, but that could change (and even if he did, it’s very unlikely he would play Sal Mineo, though he could reprise his role as James Dean). With Rebel Without a Cause, Sal Mineo had the distinction of being the youngest Oscar-nominated Best Supporting Actor at the time (a record later broke by Kramer vs Kramer child actor Justin). In 1976, just a few years after coming out of the closet, Sal Mineo was stabbed to death in the alley behind his West Hollywood apartment at the age of 37 (his killer reportedly did not even know who he was).
Some actors (like Nicolas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson) appear in movies a couple of times a year. Chris Tucker, by contrast, has appeared in only two movies since 1999, and they both started with the words Rush Hour. There’s no current word on whether there will ever be a Rush Hour 4, but Tucker is now attached to star in a movie that has nothing to do with that franchise. Warner Bros has acquired a spec script called The Rabbit (no relation to Mel Gibson’s The Beaver), which Chris Tucker is attached to star in. Not much is known about the action comedy, except that it is in the same vein as Midnight Run, the bounty hunter comedy starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. The sale of The Rabbit could be an inspiration to the thousands of aspiring screenwriters out there, as its writer Micah Barnett has no previous credits. Hopefully, he will continue to sell scripts more often than Chris Tucker makes movies.
Last week’s big news was the revelation that DreamWorks Animation has plans for as many as four Madagascar and six Kung Fu Panda movies. One could speculate that the studio apparently saw how the fans reacted to this news, because this week, DreamWorks Animation announced an original new movie that is not a sequel. Me and My Shadow will be released in March, 2013 and will combine CGI animation, traditional animation and 3D. As the title suggests, the story will be about “Shadow Stan, an extremely frustrated shadow who yearns for a dynamic life but happens to be stuck with Stanley Grubb, the world’s most boring human. Finally pushed to the brink, Shadow Stan breaks the singular rule of the Shadow World (“They lead, we follow”), and takes control of Stanley.” There’s no word yet as to who will be voicing Shadow Stan or Stanley Grubb. Mark Dindal (Chicken Little, The Emperor’s New Groove) will be directing from a script originally written by Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman (cowriters of Open Season, Brother Bear). The latest rewrite of the script is by the writing team of Tom Astle and Matt Ember (Failure to Launch, Get Smart).
Warner Bros has acquired the film rights to the 1976-1984 BBC children’s television series Rentaghost. The studio’s plans are to develop it as a comedy in the style of Beetlejuice as a starring vehicle for British comedian Russell Brand, who is also starring in WB’s remake of Arthur. Russell Brand will play Fred Mumford, a recently deceased man who was a slacker when alive, but sets out in death to be more enterprising, setting up an agency of other ghosts that hire themselves out to the living for various odd jobs. There’s not yet any other talent, including a screenwriter, attached to the movie version of Rentaghost. This story is borderline Rotten, mostly because along with Arthur, this appears to be part of a trend where Russell Brand revisits older, more successful movies, either as direct remakes, or in this case, as a thematic copy of (the extremely good) Beetlejuice.
Sony Pictures has acquired the rights to a comedy pitch called Valet Guys. The project comes attached with Adam Sandler and Kevin James as parking valets at a Miami South Beach hotel who witness a murder and have to go on the run. Valet Guys will be written by Kevin James and Nick Bakay, which makes this the third movie they have written together, after Paul Blart: Mall Cop and next year’s Zookeeper, all three of which Kevin James also starred in. Valet Guys is also a coproduction between the same production companies (which include Sandler’s Happy Madison and James’ Hey Eddie) that are producing Zookeeper. Valet Guys is this week’s most Rotten Idea based mostly on the Tomatometer scores for their recent movies. Any movie based on a “comedy pitch” that starts with “Adam Sandler plays a guy who…” also gets bonus Rotten points for sounding like a quote from the “AWESOM-O” episode of South Park. Studio execs aren’t paid to think, Mister Scientist!