This week’s Ketchup includes new projects for Daniel Radcliffe, Matt Damon, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum and director M. Night Shyamalan, news about movies based upon Dr. Strange, The Martian Chronicles and those freaky little Troll dolls.
Magicians have had their place in comic strips and comic books since pretty much the beginning (remember Mandrake? No? Well, he’s also got a movie deal in development). Comics are after all a visual medium, and without a doubt, the character that most benefitted from bizarre hallucigenic-style artwork (it was the 1960s, after all) was Marvel Comics’ Dr. Strange, courtesy of Steve Ditko. Doctor Stephen Strange is a former surgeon who is given the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme, and it is his duty to protect Earth from the many multi-dimensional magical entities and forces that would seek to do harm to our world’s inhabitants. The idea of a live action Dr. Strange movie has been talked about for decades now (I remember it being listed back in the 1980s in Comics Scene magazine). In 2005, there were even reports that Guillermo del Toro was going to direct a Dr. Strange movie from a script by Neil Gaiman. Instead, all we have seen so far was a 1978 CBS made-for-TV movie and a 2007 animated DVD movie called Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme. And now, Marvel Studios has hired screenwriters to adapt Dr. Strange in what may be the first new deal that will belong to the company’s new corporate owner, Disney. The potential bad news, however, is that the writers that Marvel have hired are Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, whose three released films to date are Thoughtcrimes, Sahara and A Sound of Thunder, the latter two of which are sort of infamous now for being both financial and critical bombs. Other movies that Donnelly and Oppenheimer have in the works include the new Conan and the adaptation of the videogame Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. I should note that if this wasn’t also this week’s “Top Story,’ the choice of these two writers would also land Dr. Strange (sadly) in the “Rotten Ideas” section. However, this wasn’t the only news about Dr. Strange this week! Latino Review also reported that Marvel Studios plans on introducing some of their lesser known characters (Dr. Strange, Luke Cage and Black Panther were given as examples) through 10-minute short films that would be shown before their upcoming feature films (like possibly Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers). Basically, Marvel is borrowing an idea from another company with close ties to Disney (Pixar), although since there was a time when nearly every movie was preceded by short films, it’s also a very, very old idea. This part of the Doctor Strange news this week should definitely be considered “Fresh.” Short films are a great way to make the moviegoing experience feel more complete (rather than just having to sit through 20 minutes of advertisements), and should be encouraged in any form, in my opinion.
Few directors divide fans quite the way that M. Night Shyamalan does. Is he the modern master of “the twist,” or just a hack that relies upon that particular storytelling device just a bit too predictably? Some would argue that the results of the last few films should mean that any new M. Night Shyamalan project should automatically be considered a “Rotten Idea,” but this writer remembers how effective movies like Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense were, and is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Especially, as with his latest project, when we don’t know what the movie is actually about. What is known is that M. Night Shyamalan is shopping around a mysterious project to various studios that has Bruce Willis (making this his third M. Night project), Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Cooper (The A-Team, The Hangover) already attached to star. Shyamalan’s latest film, the anime adaptation The Last Airbender, opens in theaters next week, and so it is possible that this untitled script might be what M. Night hopes to start filming next.
Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front has been adapted as two films, first in 1930 (winning the year’s Best Picture Oscar) and again as a 1979 CBS TV movie. And now, nearly repeating that “once every 40 years” cycle, there are plans to start filming a third All Quiet on the Western Front in 2012. The novel is about a young German soldier named Paul Bäumer, and his experiences in the trenches of World War I, the many other soldiers that he fights alongside, and his attempts to adjust back to civilian life after the war. However, what will probably give this latest adaptation its highest profile is not the source material, acclaimed though it may be, but the young star who will be playing Paul Bäumer: some British kid named Daniel Radcliffe (well, he’s 20 now, but he’s still a kid to me!). Radcliffe already has experience playing a World War I soldier (on the other side) in the 2008 PBS movie My Boy Jack. This adaptation doesn’t yet have a director, and it’s basically an independent production as the screenwriters are also producing. The writers/producers are Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson. Their previous work has been short films, and this may be their first feature length film (if their two other projects The Negotiation and You Can’t Hurry Love aren’t made before 2012). The reason that the movie won’t be made until 2012 is that Daniel Radcliffe has a commitment to the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Topiary (n.): 1. sculptures made of trees or shrubs (think Edward Scissorhands); 2. with an “A,” the next movie from independent writer/director Shane Carruth. Carruth’s first movie was 2004’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Primer, which was a challenging, low-budget science fiction movie about two young engineers who accidentally invented a time machine. However, it’s been a long wait for Carruth’s next film, which we now know is called A Topiary. Carruth has launched a website for the film, but there’s nothing much there yet except for the tag line, “Over and over you have been promised ADVENTURE, but have not found it.” Although Carruth isn’t divulging what A Topiary is about, ThePlaylist has posted a script review which describes the story as “an abstract arthouse take on Pokemon.” The strange story is about ten boys aged seven to eleven who have access to a mysterious black box called a “Maker” that allows them create white discs called “Funnels” that can then be used to create objects (like plants, hence the title) and sentient beings called “Choruses.” A Topiary sounds bizarre and creative and exactly like the sort of movie we all bemoan that not enough people make these days (or ever?). Hopefully, Shane Carruth will be able to start filming A Topiary as soon as possible.
Director Cameron Crowe’s reputation was pretty high in 2005. Sure, his last film Vanilla Sky had not been beloved by critics, but his filmography still included movies like Say Anything…, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. And then he released Elizabethtown, and it became clear that Crowe was not incapable of delivering an extremely flawed movie. And now, five years later, Crowe is preparing to finally making another drama, and it’s an adaptation of We Bought a Zoo, a memoir by Benjamin Mee. We Bought a Zoo is the true story about a man (whose wife is dying of brain cancer) who buys a rundown British zoo with over 200 exotic animals, which he takes over with the help of his young children. And now, to the news part: Matt Damon is in early talks to star as Benjamin Mee. (If Damon takes the role, he’ll someday be able to print up t-shirts and caps that say “I’ve been Mee” and fans everywhere will get the joke.) Aline Brosh McKenna (27 Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada), who also has Morning Glory opening soon, adapted the script from Mee’s memoir. We Bought a Zoo is a 20th Century Fox production, and the studio reportedly hopes that it will play as a heart-tugging animal dramedy similar to their 2008 hit Marley & Me. Filming of We Bought a Zoo is scheduled to start filming in the UK in January, 2011 and to be released on December 23, 2011.
Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges are in advanced talks to star in a dramedy called Great Hope Springs. When the project was first announced this week, the director was listed as Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam). However, within a few hours, the news broke that Mike Nichols (Closer, Charlie Wilson’s War) is now in talks for the job. Nichols and Streep previously worked together on 1984’s Silkwood, which earned them both Oscar nominations. Great Hope Springs will tell the story of long-married couple who spend a weekend attending an intense counseling session to decide the fate of their marriage. Streep’s Doubt costar Philip Seymour Hoffman had been interested in costarring as the counselor, but reportedly dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Great Hope Springs will be the theatrical debut of television screenwriter Vanessa Taylor, whose previous work includes episodes of Alias, Everwood and HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me. Great Hope Springs is an independent production that appears likely to start filming this fall.
Here’s a fun new drinking game: whenever you read an article about a new 20th Century Fox/Fox 2000 science fiction project, drink every time you see the word Avatar. For example, the announcement that Channing Tatum (Step Up, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) will star in the Ridley and Tony Scott-produced science fiction project Ion will require an entire six pack of your favorite beverage. And yet, the word “Channing” only shows up twice. The premise of Ion revolves around a man (Tatum) who travels to other Earths and dimensions looking for his reincarnated lover (presumably a girl, though with reincarnation, you never know…). Ion was picked up as a spec script by Fox 2000 and Scott Free Productions from British screenwriter Will Dunn, who has not yet had a screenplay actually produced. Ion is on the borderline between “Fresh” and “Rotten,” but what tips it slightly into the Rotten Idea category is that the casting of Channing Tatum seems like Fox couldn’t get Sam Worthington, so they found someone that will look like him (at least on a movie poster). Channing Tatum might be a really nice guy, but he has a certain je ne sais quoi screen presence that this writer mostly finds to be sort of… dull. But, who knows, maybe the girls (and some guys) think he’s awesome and pretty. If Fox and the Scott brothers had recruited an actor with more proven acting ability and personality, this one easily could have ended up in the Fresh category.
When 20th Century’s Fox’s adaptation of the 1938 children’s book Mr. Popper’s Penguins was first announced a while back, it sounded like it might be a “indie smart” adaptation in the vein of Fantastic Mr. Fox or Where the Wild Things Are. That’s because the director was originally slated to be Noah Baumbach (Greenberg, The Squid and the Whale). The attached star was Ben Stiller, and the presumption was that he might be bringing more of the vibe from his Wes Anderson movies, than say, A Night at the Museum (although those were also Fox movies). Well, the studio has apparently decided to change the target tone of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, as the new director the studio is talking to is Mark Waters, whose past movies include Freaky Friday and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Ben Stiller is also likely to be out, with the studio reportedly talking most earnestly to Jim Carrey to play Mr. Popper. However, if Carrey doesn’t sign on, Stiller might still be a possibility, in addition to Jack Black or Owen Wilson. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, written by Richard and Florence Atwater, is the story of a poor house painter whose correspondence with an Antarctic explorer leads to him being sent a penguin that soon leads to a large family of penguins that Mr. Popper raises in his humble home. I imagine the studio pitch was probably something like “it’s 101 Dalmatians meets March of the Penguins!” The script is being adapted by Sean Anders and John Morris, who also wrote Sex Drive and She’s Out of My League, and cowrote Hot Tub Time Machine. Obviously, those three movies don’t seem to suggest a family-friendly audience, but perhaps either new writers to be brought aboard soon, or Fox figures comedy is comedy, regardless of whether it involves sex with hot chicks or (penguin) chicks showing up in the darnedest places. This change in the adaptation of Mr. Popper’s Penguins is one of this week’s Rotten Ideas because it just seems unlikely that the resulting comedy will probably be anything other than yet another lowest-common-demoninator “family-friendly” animal comedy. And if you need any more evidence of this, read the next story to learn more about the filmography of the film’s producer, John Davis.
The success of Avatar has financially inspired Hollywood to reconsider big-budget science fiction movies on alien planets with the obligatory alien characters. Disney’s adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars is also waiting in the wings (although not until the summer of 2012) to potentially prove whether or not Avatar was a fluke. The latest property to be put into development is one of the genre’s greatest classic novels, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. First published in 1950, The Martian Chronicles reads like an anthology of short stories about mankind’s colonization of Mars after a cataclysm nearly drives humanity to extinction. The stories are set over a span of decades, starting in the far-fledged future (for Bradbury at the time) of 1999 and reaching into the 2050s. The stories detail the experiences of the human colonists and (sometimes) their interactions with the Martian natives. Despite the book’s status as a sci-fi classic, it has only been adapted once before, as a 1980 TV mini-series starring Rock Hudson and Bernadette Peters. The producer behind this first attempt to bring The Martian Chronicles to the big screen is Fox-based John Davis, and that brings us to the part where this story is being pegged as one of this week’s “Rotten Ideas,” despite the novel being such a great and landmark read. You see, John Davis is mostly known for producing family comedies like Garfield, Marmaduke and Doctor Dolittle. However, Davis also produced Predator and some of its sequels, as well as Eragon, Waterworld, Paycheck and I, Robot. While those titles let us know that Davis has experience with science fiction/fantasy movies, they also don’t inspire much confidence that Davis’ The Martian Chronicles is likely to be a really GOOD movie.
Pixar’s latest hit, Toy Story 3 has charmed audiences and critics the world over, and continues to raise the bar for animated features. That doesn’t mean that everyone else’s animated films are doing well by comparison. DreamWorks Animation, for example, was last year spoofed quite well in this comic strip that compares the studio’s films with Pixar’s. And last week, I think audiences were probably as united by their love of Toy Story 3 as they were united by a communal “WTF?” when Sony Pictures Animation unveiled the teaser trailer for The Smurfs. Tying those two sentiments together is this week’s news that DreamWorks Animation has licensed the rights to Troll dolls, those ugly-yet-somehow-adorable little plastic dolls with the crazy hair that were a big thing in (mostly) the 1960s and 1970s. The little troll dolls with brightly colored hair were first created in 1959 by a Danish company currently called Dam Things, and have been reintroduced to varying levels of popularity every ten years or so. They have been marketed under many different names, but the name being used for this DreamWorks Animation movie will be Good Luck Trolls. The script is being adapted by a brother-sister team of Adam Wilson and Melanie Wilson LaBracio (who don’t yet have any produced movies to their credit). There’s no word yet about what the story might be, but there was a 2005-2007 animated series on CBS Saturday mornings called Trollz that might be a hint. Or, since DreamWorks is using a completely different title, perhaps there will be no narrative connection whatsoever. Good Luck Trolls is this week’s most Rotten Idea for a lot of reasons, but mostly because those darn Troll dolls are, well… UGLY. Yes, it’s cute to see one hanging from a girl’s rear view mirror in passing, but does anyone really want to see a 90-minute movie where their gawky eyes are where you’re supposed to be focusing your attention? Imagining an entire movie about those freaky little dolls, I just keep thinking of all the nightmares they’re likely to inspire among little children, perhaps to the refrain of this classic line from Freaks: “One of us! One of us! One of us…” (Shudder.)