With Christmas less than 10 days away, Hollywood has already started to wind down, as the media in general turns away from reporting quite as many “new” stories, and starts work on their various “retrospective” projects. You can tell that just by the fact that Denzel Washington’s possible involvement in a movie version of The Equalizer, which in another week, might have been in the middle of the Ketchup, is this week’s Top Story. Among the other stories that did emerge this week are biopics based on the lives of Jackie Robinson, the Smothers Brothers, the West Memphis Three, and the guy who played Chewbacca (yes, really).
This Week’s Top Story
GOT A PROBLEM? ODDS AGAINST YOU? CALL DENZEL WASHINGTON, THE EQUALIZER
The idea of a movie based upon the 1985 CBS television series The Equalizer first really grabbed movie fans’ attention in 2010 when Russell Crowe was reported to be producing it. A year later, the idea of an Equalizer movie is still in development, but now it’s being eyed as a starring vehicle for Denzel Washington. In CBS’ The Equalizer, British character actor Edward Woodward (who also starred in the original version of The Wicker Man) played Robert McCall, a mysterious former secret agent who tries to make up for his past by helping people who respond to an ad he places in a New York City magazine. The Equalizer is part of a new deal between the Escape Artists production company and Sony Pictures which also includes the long-in-development new movie based on Mattel’s Masters of the Universe and Sex Tape, which is expected to be the next collaboration between Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel (the two also wrote The Muppets together).
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 HARRISON FORD REPLACES ROBERT REDFORD IN THE JACKIE ROBINSON BIOPIC, 42
The last time the (then-untitled) planned Jackie Robinson/Branch Rickey biopic made the news, Robert Redford was expected to star as the executive who signed Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey’s decision in 1947 to sign minor leaguer Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and effectively changed sports forever. Now called 42, the movie is getting closer to actually being filmed with the news that it is actually Harrison Ford who will be playing Branch Rickey. Jackie Robinson himself will be portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, an actor mostly known for TV work on short-lived series like Lincoln Heights and Persons Unknown, but who also costarred in the 2008 football movie The Express. 42 is being produced by Legendary Pictures, the Warner Bros-based company that is mostly known for big budget action movies like Clash of the Titans, The Dark Knight and Watchmen. 42 will also be the fourth film directed by Brian Helgeland (Payback, A Knight’s Tale, The Order), who also adapted the screenplay. Although Helgeland’s films as director do not have the most impressive RT Tomatometer track record, his films as screenwriter include L.A. Confidential and Mystic River. As for Robert Redford, all that free time on his hands not starring in 42 may be used to star in the “man vs nature drama” All is Lost, which director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) is attached to direct. Not that many details have been revealed yet about All is Lost, except that it is known to be a “long man against the water” drama that is expected to start filming in May, 2012 at the Baja Film Studios water tanks where much of Titanic and Pearl Harbor were filmed.
#2 GEORGE CLOONEY SAYS GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK TO THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS
George Clooney has been talking quite a bit lately about ending his career as an action movie star (resulting from an injury filming Syriana) to focus on his directorial career. To date, George Clooney’s films as director have been Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck, Leatherheads and this year’s The Ides of March, which when taken as a whole show off an emphasis on biopics, period pieces and (to some degree, at least) politics. The latest addition to George Clooney’s development slate as director fits all of those descriptions. George Clooney and producing partner Grant Heslov are now developing an adaptation of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Airing for three seasons on CBS (1967 to 1969), their show helped the comedic and musical team of Tom and Dick Smothers transform from an apparently harmless act to being agents of social and political commentary about the late 1960s counter-culture, the anti-war movement, and the presidency of Richard Nixon. The show also helped launch the careers of Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, featured musical performances from The Who and The Beatles, and went on to inspire such shows as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Dangerously Funny will be adapted by the screenwriting team of Brian Hecker and Craig Sherman, who do not yet have a produced film to their credit. Hecker and Sherman have however worked on Atari, a biopic for Paramount and Leonard DiCaprio’s Appian Way about Nolan Bushnell and the early days of the videogame industry.
#3 STEPHEN FREARS TO REMAKE ONE OF HIS MOVIES THAT MOST PEOPLE HAVEN’T SEEN: THE HIT
The topic of what movies should or shouldn’t be remade is one of the most discussed among online movie fans today. A movie that just got released in U.S. theaters a year ago, for example, many people say doesn’t really need to be remade. An obscure 1984 British crime drama called The Hit from a director that went on to make such movies as My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity and The Queen, arguably seems like a more appropriate source material. To sweeten the deal even more, it is Stephen Frears himself, along with the original film’s screenwriter and producer, who will be remaking the 1984 film The Hit. John Hurt and Tim Roth costarred in The Hit as two incompetent hitmen assigned to execute a mob informant (played by Terence Stamp) in Spain. Producer Jeremy Thomas said this week that the idea behind the remake is to exchange the settings of England and Spain for the United States and Mexico, and make “an American movie about an American gangster, to tell the story against the backdrop of the land of cinema.”
#4 REESE WITHERSPOON IS CAUGHT IN THE DEVIL’S KNOT
The West Memphis Three are three men who were arrested as teenagers in Arkansas in 1994 for the murders of three young boys. Their collective case became an international controversy that attracted the support of musicians, filmmakers and other celebrities (such as Metallica, Henry Rollins and Peter Jackson). The ongoing plight of the West Memphis Three was also depicted in the three Paradise Lost documentary feature films. This August, the West Memphis Three were finally released from prison. Soon after, Canadian director Atom Egoyan (Ararat, Where the Truth Lies, The Sweet Hereafter) signed on to direct Devil’s Knot, an independent drama about the West Memphis Three written by screenwriters Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman, the screenwriting team behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Urban Legends: Final Cut. The West Memphis Three themselves, however, haven’t been cast yet, possibly because, as prisoners, they could not sell their life rights until very recently. Instead, the first person to join the cast of Devil’s Knot was Reese Witherspoon, who signed on this week to costar as Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the young victims, who intially believes the West Memphis Three to be guilty until the evidence persuades her otherwise. Filming of Devil’s Knot is scheduled to start in the summer of 2012.
#5 THE CHEWBACCA MOVIE (SORT OF) MAKES THE TOP FIVE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAYS LIST
The “Black List” is an annual tradition (that really only started relatively recently) in which over 300 Hollywood film executives are asked to rate their favorite currently unproduced screenplays. The Black List for 2011 was published this week, and the list makes great reading for anyone with a curiosity for how movies get made, or what movies might be headed our way in the next couple of years. Of course, the Black List is not infallible, as Cop Out and The Sitter are both examples of scripts that did quite well on The Black List, only to become critical flops. This year’s top vote getter was The Imitation Game, the biopic about British cryptographer Alan Turing, who cracked the German Enigma code. Of particular interest to many movie fans might be the #3 film on the list, which is called Chewie, because it casts a satirical eye on the making of the original Star Wars film from the perspective of Peter Mayhew, the man who played Chewbacca. One of the movies tied for the #12 spot on the list, He’s **ckin’ Perfect, also made the news this week as one of the directors of the videos posted on the Funny or Die website is now in talks to direct that comedy about a girl who uses the Internet to change herself into a guy’s dream girl (based on what he posts on “social media” sites, AKA Facebook).
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#4 MCDREAMY GOES TO THE DOGS, STUDYING THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN
Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey has signed with Universal Pictures to star in the studio’s adaptation of the Garth Stein novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. The book is told from the perspective of “a dog named Enzo, as he watches his beloved owner Denny Swift struggle through life. Swift is a professional race car driver, and Enzo spends his days envious of his owner and waiting until he can be reborn as a man.” Patrick Dempsey will, of course, be starring as Denny Swift (it’s mildly interesting that “Denny” was also the name of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character on Grey’s Anatomy), so this will be a movie where Patrick Dempsey is a professional racer who is constantly being upstaged by the film’s true star, a (potentially talking) dog. The Art of Racing in the Rain will be adapted for Universal Pictures by screenwriter Mark Bomback (Unstoppable, cowriter of Live Free or Die Hard and Race to Witch Mountain). The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas because Patrick Dempsey has starred in dozens of movies in the last 20 years, but only three of them (Outbreak, Freedom Writers and Enchanted) earned Fresh ratings on the RT Tomatometer.
#3 WATCHING NICK SWARDSON’S STOP MOTION ACTION MAY FEEL LIKE GOING TO HELL & BACK
Comedian-turned-actor (and frequent Adam Sandler costar) Nick Swardson and Cloverfield/How to Train Your Dragon costar T.J. Miller have signed a deal with ShadowMachine to provide the voices for an R-Rated stop motion animated movie called Hell & Back. Swardson and Miller will play two friends who have to travel to Hell to rescue a friend who was accidentally dragged there. ShadowMachine is the production company behind the Adult Swim shows Robot Chicken and Morel Orel. The two directors of Hell & Back have worked on TV shows such as Morel Orel (Ross Shuman) and Tenacious D (Tommy Gianas). Hell & Back is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas because of Swardson’s RT Tomatometer track record, which would be entirely Rotten if not for his appearances in Bolt and Blades of Glory.
#2 RACHEL MCADAMS AND NOOMI RAPACE HAVE PASSION
Passion is the English title of a remake that director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way) has chosen for his next film, based upon the very recent (September, 2011 in the USA) French drama Crime d’Amour (AKA Love Crime). Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier starred in the original film as, respectively, a business executive and a young assistant who become the center of a muderous plot due to jealousy and revenge. For De Palma’s English language remake, Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace (who also costar together in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) are in talks to play the two leads. What is slightly confusing, however, is that Noomi Rapace (age 31) and Rachel McAdams (age 33) are nearly the same age, which is quite different from the age differences in the original film (KST’s 51 versus Sagnier’s 32). It’s also worth noting that Noomi Rapace is negotiating to star in a remake of a very recent thriller just before the release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a remake of a very recent thriller in which she played the title character. This is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas based mostly on the RT Tomatometer scores for the five films that Brian De Palma has directed since Mission: Impossible in 1996, which was effectively the end of De Palma’s long run of critical successes. Filming of Passion is scheduled to begin in Berlin in March, 2012 on a budget of $20 million.
#1 ANGELS AREN’T THE ONLY THINGS FALLING IN THE STORY OF THE PARADISE LOST MOVIE
One of the recurring themes in the film industry in 2011 has been an emerging carefulness on the part of the major studios when it comes to big budget movies. Among the films that have either experienced major stumbling blocks this year or have been shelved entirely are adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, and The Lone Ranger (the last of which appears actually to be back on track to start filming soon). This week, two upcoming projects at Warner Bros experienced similar hesitancy from the studio’s higher ups. First, there is Legendary Pictures’ adaptation of the epic John Milton poem Paradise Lost, which has been postponed while the producers attempt to rework the budget. If Paradise Lost doesn’t move forward, this will be yet another doomed project for director Alex Proyas, whose career has only produced five actual movies since his start in 1994 with The Crow. Warner Bros’ Arthur & Lancelot is also potentially facing budget restraints, as the once $90 million project is now reportedly close to going past $130 million. The budget woes of Paradise Lost and Arthur & Lancelot share the status as the week’s most Rotten Ideas mostly because the phenomenon of “runaway” budgets is something that hurts moviegoers regardless of whether or not they eventually see the movies (that do get made). If Hollywood had tighter control of budgeting to begin with, maybe moviegoers would get more movies each year, rather than just a handful of blockbusters from each studio?
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook or a RT forum message.