This week’s Ketchup brings you ten stories from the realm of film development news, covering the latest about movies that Hollywood is working on for the years to come. Included in the mix this time around are headlines about such movies as the video game adaptations Call of Duty and The Witcher, and new roles for Anne Hathaway, Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Rudd, and the comedy team of Key & Peele.
British singer Amy Winehouse had only been 20 for a few weeks when her first album was released, but her path to stardom took her to the top quickly. As the world learned in 2011, however, Winehouse’s struggles with substance abuse would eventually lead to her tragic death at the age of 27. Negotiations are now underway with Winehouse’s father Mitch Winehouse for the rights to produce a feature film biopic about the meteoric rise and fall of Amy Winehouse. The currently untitled project was written and will be directed by Kirsten Sheridan, who wrote her father’s film In America (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), and directed the 2007 film August Rush. These plans follow the recent box office success of the documentary Amy, which Winehouse’s father has “distanced himself from.” For the lead role, the producers are negotiating with Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who has been an in-demand actress in Hollywood since she first came to attention in 2009 as the star of the three Swedish films adapting Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy “nordic noir” novels as the gothic hacker Lisbeth Salander. Sony Pictures and director David Fincher followed those films with their own English-language adaptation of the first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. There had been an expectation that Sony would continue the franchise with an adaptation of The Girl Who Played with Fire, but this week, we learned that the studio is skipping Larsson’s remaining novels entirely. Instead, Sony Pictures is now developing an adaptation of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which was written by David Lagercrantz, continuing the Millennium series following Stieg Larsson’s death in 2004. Fincher, Craig, and Mara are all expected to not be involved with this film. Sony is reportedly considering another Swedish actress, Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), to take over the role originated by Noomi Rapace (but still in English instead of Swedish). British screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Pawn Sacrifice) is now in talks to adapt The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
One of the biggest trends in film development the last several years (but especially since the success of Marvel’s The Avengers) has been the notion of the “cinematic universe,” connecting various movies and characters together in one franchise. In addition to the comic book franchises from Marvel and WB/DC (in the works), there are also cinematic universe plans for Transformers, LEGO, the Universal Monsters, Godzilla and King Kong, and the various members of the Robin Hood supporting cast. And today, at their annual BlizzCon convention, the video game company Activision Blizzard announced plans for their own such universe, namely for their popular Call of Duty first-person-shooter franchise. The plan is for the first Call of Duty movie to be released in 2018 or 2019 and to be connected to TV shows set within the same world. The company is also working on a Skylanders TV series. It’s unclear if this new studio will be actively involved with the Warcraft movie franchise that is just beginning at Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures. There were also no details as to whether the Call of Duty movies will be set in World War II or in the contemporary settings of the Modern Warfare games.
On June 10, 2016, Universal Pictures will release the video game adaptation Warcraft, which is also the third feature film from director Duncan Jones (after Moon and Source Code). In something of a “one for them, one for me,” Duncan Jones has long planned for his fourth film after Warcraft to be one of his own, a “science fiction Casablanca” futuristic drama called Mute. At one time, Jones had expected to reunite with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role, but this week, we found out that the role will instead go to Alexander Skarsgard (HBO’s True Blood). Skarsgard will play a mute bartender in the Berlin of forty years from now, who must search for his missing love in the city’s strange “underbelly.” Paul Rudd will play an American surgeon who is (or appears to be) part of the disappearance mystery. By the time Mute is released, Alexander Skarsgard will have starred in his biggest movie to date, Warner Bros’ ambitious reboot of Tarzan (7/1/16).
Now that their Comedy Central show Key & Peele has wrapped (the final episode of 53 aired on September 9, 2015), comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are continuing to expand their presence into feature films. This includes their upcoming comedy Keanu (4/22/16), and Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, the horror film Get Out. Their next big project together will unite them with director Henry Selick in a movie called Wendell & Wild. Selick is best known for his work in stop-motion animation movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Coraline. Key and Peele will play the title characters, “scheming demon brothers who must face their arch-nemesis, the demon-dusting nun Sister Helly, and her two acolytes, the goth teens Kat and Raoul.” Wendell & Wild is just one of the projects Selick is currently working on, and given the time needed to deliver stop-motion animation, we’re probably several years from its release. A movie that we are much closer to seeing in theaters is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, the horror thriller Get Out, which this week cast its female lead, Allison Williams (HBO’s Girls), in what is being described as her feature film debut. (Allison Williams did costar in the 2014 indie musical College Musical).
Director Shane Carruth made his debut in 2004 with the indie sci-fi time travel drama Primer (on a budget of just $7,000!), and followed it up in 2013 with Upstream Color. In addition to complex storylines, both films lacked any traditional “name stars.” That’s all set to change with Shane Carruth’s third film, The Modern Ocean. The impressive names that are now attached to star in The Modern Ocean include Anne Hathaway, Keanu Reeves, Daniel Radcliffe, Asa Butterfield, Jeff Goldblum, Chloe Grace Moretz, Abraham Attah, and Tom Holland. In other words, Shane Carruth is going from working with unknowns to casting Harry Potter, Catwoman, Neo from The Matrix, the next Spider-Man, one of the stars of Jurassic Park, and the two young stars of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (one of whom was also “Hit-Girl”). Described as a “nautical thriller,” The Modern Ocean promises to “draw audiences in to a secretive world filled with mysterious technologies and bitter rivalries.” The Modern Ocean is currently being shopped to distributors at the American Film Market (like many of the movies reported on this week).
Warner Bros’ next big DC Comics movie after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (3/25/16) and Suicide Squad (8/5/16) will be Wonder Woman (6/23/17), so it’s going to be time soon for that film to start production. We’ve known for a while that Gal Gadot and Chris Pine would star in Wonder Woman as the title character and her romantic interest Steve Trevor. This week, however, we learned that Nicole Kidman is also in talks to join the cast as “a high-ranking Amazonian warrior.” There have been a lot of Amazons among Wonder Woman’s supporting cast in the last 70+ years of her publication, but the character that has inspired the most speculation from that hint is Hippolyta. In addition to being the Queen of the Amazons of Themiscyra, Hippolyta is also the mother of Prince Diana (AKA Wonder Woman). Hippolyta has even been depicted as herself being the original Wonder Woman during her World War II adventures, though it’s unclear if that could also happen in this live action film. We don’t know yet who the villain of the Wonder Woman movie will be, and there are candidates from the realm of Greek Mythology (like Ares, but also other Amazons). When we learn more about the story, that may give us more information about Nicole Kidman’s character. Wonder Woman will be director Patty Jenkins’ second feature film after making her debut 11 years ago with 2004’s Monster.
The next movie from director Peter Landesman (Parkland, Kill the Messenger), the football injury drama Concussion (starring Will Smith) doesn’t open until December 25th, but Landesman is already lining up his next fact-based film. (Parkland was about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Kill the Messenger was about journalist Gary Webb.) Liam Neeson is in talks to star in the biopic Felt as Watergate informant Mark Felt, who for decades was best known to the public by the codename “Deep Throat.” Diane Lane is also in talks to join Liam Neeson as Felt’s wife Audrey. During the years 1972 to 1974, Mark Felt was the Assistant Director of the FBI, and provided information to Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Filming is scheduled to start in March, 2016 on what is being described as a “spy thriller.” Felt is being backed by an impressive array of producers who include Ridley Scott, Tom Hanks, and Jay Roach. Liam Neeson also recently signed to star in another thriller called The Commuter, which will be distributed by Lionsgate.
This is indeed a big week for news about video game adaptation movies. Plans for an adaptation of the Polish fantasy RPG series The Witcher were also announced this week. Itself an adaptation of a series of fantasy novels, The Witcher (and its sequel games) follows the adventures of Gerald of Rivia, a genetically altered agent who works between and with the various factions of the fantasy world he lives in. The Witcher will be produced by the Sean Daniel Company, which has in the past worked with Universal Pictures on The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and The Best Man Holiday, and also is currently producing the Ben-Hur reboot and The Best Man Wedding for 2016. The Witcher will be directed by newcomer Polish director Tomasz Baginski, with a release target set for sometime in 2017.
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking cowboy spoof comedy Blazing Saddles. In the decades since, the spoof comedy as a sub-genre went on to great success, and then sort of faded away again. Earlier this year, Open Road Films acquired the rights to an animated family film called Blazing Samurai, which will loosely be based on Blazing Saddles, and is now scheduled for April 14, 2017. This week, we learned about some of the actors and celebrities who will be contributing their voices to Blazing Samurai. The lead character will be a dog voiced by Michael Cera, who “longs to become a great warrior and fights to save the town of Kakamucho from becoming the litter box of a nefarious feline warlord, transforming society and himself on his quest to become a true samurai.” Samuel L. Jackson will voice “a cat who once was a great warrior who now lives life hitting the cat-nip a bit too hard” who becomes a mentor for Cera’s dog character. Ricky Gervais will provide the voice of that aforementioned feline warlord, named Ika Chu. Mel Brooks, who directed and cowrote Blazing Saddles, will also voice a character. Other voice actors will include Djimon Hounsou, Gabriel Iglesias, Aasif Mandvi, George Takei, and Michelle Yeoh. Blazing Samurai will mark the feature film directorial debuts of animators Chris Bailey and Mark Koetsier, who previously worked on such films as The Lion King (Koetsier was Scar’s animator), Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Kung Fu Panda. Blazing Samurai is being produced by Rob Minkoff, whose filmography as director includes such films as The Lion King, Stuart Little, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
In March, 2014, 20th Century Fox acquired a comedy spec script called Vacation Friends, with the idea that the married couple team of Chris Pratt and Anna Faris would play one of the movie’s two couples. Vacation Friends is about two couples that meet while vacationing in Mexico, and the What About Bob? situation that happens when one of the pairs wants to keep being friends after they all get home. That, however, was 4 months before Guardians of the Galaxy became the #3 movie of 2014, and 15 months before Jurassic World became the #1 movie of 2015 (so far). Since then, Mr. and Mrs. Pratt have moved on to other projects. So, 20th Century Fox is now looking to retool Vacation Friends, and the way they are doing that is by having writer/director Steve Pink do a rewrite. Chris Pratt’s replacement will now be Ice Cube, and the studio is still looking for a female costar to play his wife. It’s not Ice Cube’s involvement, however, that is why we’re calling this a “Rotten Idea.” It’s because two of director Steve Pink’s three movies to date have Rotten Tomatometer scores (Accepted and Hot Tub Time Machine 2), while the only Fresh credit he has is the first Hot Tub Time Machine.