Weekly Ketchup

The Birth of a Nation Sets A Sundance Record, and More Movie News

New projects for Kathryn Bigelow, Jennifer Aniston, and Natalie Dormer. Also, Joseph Fiennes will play Michael Jackson.

by | January 29, 2016 | Comments

This week’s Ketchup brings you another ten headlines from the world of film development. Included in the mix this time around are stories about such titles as NickToons, a new Labyrinth, and new films for stars Jennifer Aniston, Rebecca Ferguson, Harrison Ford, and Zhang Ziyi.

This Week’s Top Story



When the Academy Awards nominations were announced two weeks ago, the 20-out-of-20 showing of exclusively white actors sparked online outrage and calls for change, both for the Academy Awards and in Hollywood in a larger sense. Last Friday, the Academy did indeed reveal new membership changes which followed a pledge to double the number of women and minority members of the AMPAS by 2020. If the Academy Awards are going to be increasing the number of minority actors that receive nominations, they are also going to need quality films featuring minority actors to nominate and vote for. So, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the biggest story involved just such a film. In a record setting deal ($17.5 million), Fox Searchlight has acquired the rights to the controversially-titled* slave rebellion biopic The Birth of a Nation. (*The Birth of a Nation was also the title of the 1915 D.W. Griffith film about the founding of the Ku Klux Klan)Nate Parker produced, directed, wrote, and stars in The Birth of a Nation as Nat Turner, the slave who led a rebellion in Virginia in 1831. Even though Fox Searchlight set a record with their $17.5 million winning bid, they actually were not the highest bidders, as both Netflix and producer Byron Allen reportedly submitted larger bids of $20 million each.  Nate Parker is joined in The Birth of a Nation by a cast that includes Aunjanue Ellis, Jackie Earle Haley, Armie Hammer, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Gabrielle Union.

Fresh Developments This Week



Director Kathryn Bigelow made her debut in 1981 (The Loveless) and built a fanbase with Near Dark and Point Break. In 2008, however, Bigelow’s career found new life and awards-friendly clout with The Hurt Locker, which was followed in 2012 by the hunt-for-bin-Laden drama Zero Dark Thirty. Both of those last two films were collaborations with screenwriter Mark Boal. After a few other false starts (such as with the South American crime film Triple Frontier), it appears that Bigelow’s next film will be her third collaboration Boal. If everything goes as planned, Kathryn Bigelow’s tenth film as director will be an untitled drama about the five days in the summer of 1967 now known as the 1967 Detroit Riot. The plan is for the project to start filming in the next several months so that the eventual film can be released next summer, in time for the event’s 50th anniversary. There are still a lot of “ifs” to fill in for that to happen, such as a studio and cast, but Bigelow has proven to be capable of bringing a film together quickly in the past (Zero Dark Thirty is actually something of a textbook example of a filmmaker doing that). The story of the 1967 Detroit Riots is very much an African American story, so in the aftermath of #OscarsSoWhite (and indirectly, the recent Flint water tragedy as well), are Bigelow and Boal primed to tap directly into the zeitgeist?



One of the biggest film development stories of early 2010 was the departure of director Sam Raimi from what would have his fourth Spider-Man film with Tobey Maguire. Six years later, whatever bad blood that rift may have left between Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures appears to have been healed, because the director and that studio are now in talks to reunite on a new film project. Raimi is now in talks with Sony Pictures to direct their English language adaptation of the 2009 French film Un Prophete, known in English as A Prophet. That film told the story of a 19 year old Algerian-French prison inmate who plays the odds between two prominent prison factions: the Muslims and the Corsicans. It’s extremely likely (ie, almost 100% certain) that at least one of the groups (the Corsicans) will be changed for this film to something more common in American prisons. The original film A Prophet received an impressive array of awards and distinctions, including the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival, 13 nominations (which set a record) and 9 wins at the Cesar Awards, an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and a Certified Fresh 97 percent Tomatometer score. Sam Raimi reportedly hopes to start filming this remake by this summer, so if these plans remain concrete, we should start hearing casting reports over the next few months.



Although her roles in The Good Girl, Cake, and (obviously) Friends have earned her many nominations and awards, recognition by the Academy Awards have thus far eluded Jennifer Aniston.  This early on (ie, casting news), it’s nearly self-defeating to try to guess which roles might have a shot, but her chance may be coming. That’s because Aniston is now attached to star in the Fox 2000 drama The Fixer, based on a Men’s Journal article about sports agent Denise White. Denise White is a former Miss Oregon USA who went on to become a sports agent and run her own agency (EAG Sports Management). The Fixer began its film development life as a pitch from screenwriter Melisa Wallack, who also cowrote Dallas Buyers Club, for which she was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award. Fox 2000 has not yet attached a director for The Fixer.



2015 was quite a breakout year for Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, but singling out her success comes at the price of forgetting that 2015 was also a great year for another young actress. Last year also saw the release of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which for many people was their first exposure to Rebecca Ferguson, who is also Swedish. Since that film’s success in July/August, Ferguson has been the focus of several casting stories, as she was confirmed to be costarring or starring in at least The Girl on the Train, Florence Foster Jenkins, and The Snowman (based on the novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo). Ferguson landed another role this week with the news that she is signed to star in a film called LifeLife, which appears to be science fiction based on its premise, will focus on the crew of the International Space Station, who recover a sample from Mars that reveals “signs of life, and proves to be more intelligent than expected.” Life will be directed by Daniel Espinosa, whose filmography includes the Denzel Washington film Safe House, and last year’s Tom Hardy film Child 44.  Although Espinosa’s filmography is currently only 1/3 Fresh, we’re giving this borderline story a “Fresh Development” nudge due to the involvement of Rebecca Ferguson.

Rotten Ideas of The Week



The two wars that the United States engaged in during the previous decade (and this one, too) continue to inspire new films. One such project is called Official Secrets, although it is an adaptation of a non-fiction book more lengthily and precisely titled The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katherine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion. This week, we learned that the film will feature five stars whose credits include Star Wars, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor, The Hobbit, and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Specifically, we’re talking about Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany (Marvel’s Vision), Sir Anthony Hopkins (Marvel’s Thor), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films), and Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones). Natalie Dormer will star as Katharine Gun, a young British intelligence officer who reveals a secret NSA operation intended to spark a war in Iraq. Bettany and Freeman will play figures at the British newspaper The Observer, Hopkins will play a British general, and Harrison Ford will play a CIA agent. Official Secrets will be directed by Justin Chadwick, whose filmography to date has been three films with Rotten Tomatometer scores, which is why we’re calling this one a “Rotten Idea,” despite the impressive cast which has all worked on films with excellent Tomatometer scores. The production of Official Secrets will need to be done with Harrison Ford by this summer, as we also learned this week that filming of Blade Runner 2 (which will feature Harrison Ford again) is scheduled to start in July, 2016.



When Netflix launches the sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny on February 26, 2016, Michelle Yeoh will be returning, but some of the other stars won’t be. One of them is Zhang Ziyi, but this week, the Chinese actress landed her own next major Hollywood project. Zhang is now attached to star in the Universal Pictures comedy East/West, to be directed by Jason Winer, who made his feature film debut in 2011 with the remake of Arthur. The connection between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and East/West — and the person who was probably integral in recruiting Zhang Ziyi — is producer David Linde, whose other credits include the recent horror film The Forest,and the upcoming thriller Desierto. The premise of East/West hasn’t been revealed yet, except that (as the title suggests), it will be a “cross cultural comedy.” We’re calling this one of the week’s Rotten Ideas based on the Rotten score of 26 percent that Winer’s Arthur earned back in 2011.



After making his feature film debut with the Sundance Film Festival hit Napoleon Dynamite (71 percent Fresh), director Jared Hess has never since delivered a film with a Tomatometer score above 40 percent. We just want to get that little nugget out of the way to explain why this is one of the week’s “Rotten Ideas.” Okay, still with us? The news is that there’s going to be a NickToons movie. Jared Hess will indeed direct NickToons, the (presumably animated) film which will attempt to create a new “cinematic universe” tying together some of the Nickelodeon network’s biggest hits of the last 20 years. The titles reportedly included in this film (compared by Deadline to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) run the gamut from pure “kids shows” like Rugrats, Rocko’s Modern Life, Aaahh! Real Monsters, and The Angry Beavers to edgier fare like Ren & Stimpy, KaBlam!, and Action League Now. The ball is now in the court of competitors like Disney and Adult Swim as to whether they will answer with similar films. Jared Hess’s next film as director will be this fall’s live action comedy Masterminds (9/30/16), starring Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis.



In the midst of #OscarsSoWhite and the reaction to this year’s 20/20 roster of Caucasian acting nominees, this story can be variably interpreted as either an example of horrible timing or perhaps an announcement that was timed this way completely on purpose (or, arguably, both). English actor Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) has been cast as African-American pop star Michael Jackson in the British comedy Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon. As the title suggests, the comedy is based upon the (most likely apocryphal) urban legend that claimed that Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando teamed up for a NY-to-LA road trip in the days after September 11, 2011. Michael Jackson’s family has been quick to fire back at the production, with Michael’s nephew T.J. Jackson telling Entertainment Tonight that after 9/11/01, “Michael stayed with a family friend in New Jersey for a week before flying back.” Defending his own casting, Joseph Fiennes said, “He [Michael Jackson] was probably closer to my color than his original color.” The casting of Joseph Fiennes has quite overshadowed the other 2/3 of the leads, who will be played by Brian Cox (as Marlon Brando) and Grease star Stockard Channing (as Elizabeth Taylor). Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon will premiere on the British pay TV network Sky Arts before its possible theatrical premiere via other companies.



Probably for unsurprising reasons, it’s far more common for celebrities to receive biopics after their deaths than while they’re still living. This particular headline feels like it’s in that vein, but it’s not a biopic in question, but rather a revisit to one of the most popular characters played by one of our most beloved recently departed stars. David Bowie died on January 10, 2016 at the age of 69, and twelve days later, the following news broke on January 22, 2016.  The Jim Henson Company is moving forward with plans for a reboot of the 1986 fantasy/family film Labyrinth, in which Bowie starred as Jareth the Goblin King. (And which was also the last film directed by Jim Henson.) TriStar, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures, has finalized a deal with the Jim Henson Company for the new Labyrinth. The new film will be written by Nicole Perlman, who’s best known for cowriting Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (and allegedly, for coming up with the idea of Marvel even doing a GotG movie at all). Perlman took to Twitter to clarify that the new film will not be a remake (and indeed, Perlman doesn’t even like the term “reboot”), which suggests that the film might be more of a sequel (or prequel, or something). Regardless of what Perlman’s film might end up being, even if it’s the greatest 30-years-later sequel-ish movie ever made, the timing of this news is really what makes this the most Rotten Idea of the week (which Perlman agrees with, saying “the timing of these rumors is so upsetting. I would never seek to profit from Bowie’s death”).  Unfortunately, as we’ve seen many times in the past, screenwriters are often not in control of a film’s online publicity.