This week’s Ketchup includes new life for the Mortal Kombat film franchise (as well as another movie based on the Dead Island video game) and three different biopics (about Moses, Mount Everest, the founder of Casablanca Records and convicted murderer John du Pont).
This Week’s Top Story
WARNER BROS. SAYS “TEST… YOUR MIGHT (EXCELLENT). FIGHT! MORTAL KOMBAT!“
It’s now been sixteen years since New Line Cinema released the first movie based upon the martial arts/fighting video game franchise Mortal Kombat. There had been movies based upon video games before (like 1993’s Super Mario Bros), but Mortal Kombat had the distinction of being a genuinely successful action/genre film with a pretty great soundtrack that seemed to convey the entertainment of the video game to the big screen in a way that hasn’t been realized very often in the years since. That movie was followed in 1997 by the less effective Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and the video game franchise has been continuing on ever since. In 2010, director Kevin Tancharoen, who worked on the 2009 remake of Fame and Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, teamed up with other producers to deliver an 8 minute live action short film called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. This led to a series of short films called Mortal Kombat: Legacy, featuring actors like Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan. The reason for that original short was said to be as a “proof of concept” to show how Mortal Kombat could return as a feature film franchise. Well, this week, Kevin Tancharoen and crew got what they asked for, as New Line Cinema and Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment are now developing a new live action Mortal Kombat film that Tancharoen is attached to direct. Production is expected to start sometime in 2012 (the year that marks the 20th anniversary of Mortal Kombat) for a release in 2013. It’s not yet known if all of the actors from the Mortal Kombat shorts will return for the reboot.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE GOES BACK TO THE 1970S FOR SPINNING GOLD
Justin Timberlake’s expansion into the feature film business continued this week with the announcement of his first project as a feature film producer. Spinning Gold is the new title for the long planned biopic of music executive Neil Bogart, who founded Casablanca Records in 1973. Under Neil Bogart, Casablanca Records quickly became a label synonymous with two quite different, and yet parallel and integral developments in 1970s music: the rise of glam rock (KISS, T. Rex) and the popularity of disco (Donna Summer, the Village People, Cher), all of whom were signed to Casablanca. Neil Bogart’s legacy became cemented to the 1970s, ultimately, when he died at the age of 39 in 1982 after a battle with cancer and lymphoma. Two of Justin Timberlake’s producing partners on Spinning Gold are Neil Bogart’s sons Evan “Kidd” Bogart and Timothy Scott Bogart, who is also adapting the script. Now 30, Timberlake is currently almost exactly the same age that Neil Bogart was when he signed groups like KISS and Parliament in the early days of Casablanca Records. The next step is finding a director for Spinning Gold. A soundtrack album of classic songs by Casablanca recording artists covered by the pop stars of today (one of whom will almost certainly be Timberlake himself) is also planned.
#2 STEVE CARELL TO PLAY FOXCATCHER FOR MONEYBALL DIRECTOR
Director Bennett Miller appears to have knocked another one out of the critical park this past week with his second narrative feature, Moneyball (his first two films were The Cruise, a documentary, and 2005’s Capote). What all three of Miller’s films have in common is a basis on real life stories, and Bennett Miller is already lining up his fourth film which will also follow that pattern. Steve Carell will star in the dramatic film Foxcatcher, about the true story of the murder of Olympic wrestler David Schultz by chemical fortune heir John du Pont in 1996. John du Pont was convicted on a charge of 3rd degree homicide and was sentenced to 13 to 40 years in prison, where he died in 2010 at the age of 72. Bennett Miller plans to start filming this independent production in March, 2012, working from a script by E. Max Frye (Something Wild, Palmetto) and Capote screenwriter Dan Futterman (he’s also cowritten several episodes of HBO’s In Treatment). The casting of Steve Carell is significant in that it appears to mark a return to drama (ala 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine) after several years of an emphasis on comedies like Evan Almighty, Dinner for Schmucks and Crazy Stupid Love.
#3 DREAMWORKS DELIVERS THE BFG; VIDEO GAMERS DISAPPOINTED BY WHAT THAT ACTUALLY IS
In 1982, children’s book author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach) wrote and published a book called The BFG about a Big Friendly Giant who befriends a little girl named Sophie and then they go off and have magical adventures together. And then, in 1993, id Software unleashed the video game DOOM on the world, which featured the powerful weapon, the BFG 9000, and a whole generation got a completely different definition of those initials (“Big F***ing Gun”). Needless to say, DOOM fans may be disappointed to hear that the movie that DreamWorks is now developing as a feature film does not involve blasting away at demons from the gates of Hell. Although live action is not specifically mentioned in the lengthy article announcing the project, The BFG is also not described as being a DreamWorks Animation project, so the implication appears to be that it will be live action. Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, whose latest hit was The Help, are the producers working with DreamWorks on The BFG. For The BFG, the studio that Steven Spielberg cofounded is reaching way, way back into his filmography, by hiring screenwriter Melissa Mathison, whose biggest claim to fame was the script to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (as well as The Indian in the Cupboard and cowriting The Black Stallion).
#4 MICK JAGGER KNOWS A FEW THINGS ABOUT BEING A TABLOID STAR
It’s been a long while since Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones joined the ranks of musicians-turned-actors like Bob Dylan, David Bowie and John Lennon in 1970 with roles in Ned Kelly and Performance. Jagger has had intermittent roles in the years since in movies like Freejack and The Man from Elysian Fields, but his film profile has been much lower than David Bowie, in particular. Jagger now appears to be working to return to the movies with plans to produce and star in a movie called Tabloid. Tabloid will be an adult thriller about “a global media mogul with dubious morality” (who Jagger would play) and “a young journalist who gets seduced and sucked into that immoral world.” Screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence; cowriter of Batman: Gotham Knight) has been hired by Jagger’s production company to start work on the Tabloid script, based upon Jagger’s own story idea. Josh Olson also has contributed to the script for One Shot, the movie based on the novel by Lee Child which is currently filming, with Tom Cruise playing a character who in the books was described as a hulking, intimidating presence.
#5 REESE WITHERSPOON AND MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY WALLOWING IN THE ENSEMBLE CAST OF MUD
Independent director Jeff Nichols got his career started with 2007’s Shotgun Stories, and has his second film Take Shelter opening this week. Nichols started production this week on his third film, entitled Mud, which will feature a large and fairly impressive ensemble cast as part of its Southern coming-of-age dramatic tale about two 14-year-old boys who encounter a fugitive hiding out on an island in Mississippi. Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon (despite her recent head injury) were among the first actors to be cast. This week, they were joined by six more actors, including Joe Don Baker (Jack Wade from the Pierce Brosnan Bond films), Sarah Paulson (Serenity, What Women Want), Michael Shannon (The Runaways, Boardwalk Empire, General Zod in the upcoming Man of Steel) and Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, Days of Heaven).
#6 WHY MAKE A MOVIE CALLED EVEREST? BECAUSE IT’S THERE
George Mallory was an English mountaineer who became famous posthumously for his attempts to scale Mount Everest in the 1920s (nearly 30 years before Edmund Hillary). It was also George Mallory who gave the world the famous “because it’s there” quote about why people want to climb Mount Everest. Mallory, however, went missing during his third expedition in 1924 and his body wasn’t discovered until 1999. What Mallory left behind is a lingering mystery about whether or not he actually achieved his goal or not. Now, Sony Pictures has signed director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) to develop a film called Everest about Mallory’s quest to reach the mountain’s summit. Liman already has several other projects in development, including the science fiction projects Luna (a heist movie set on the Moon) and the alien invasion war movie All You Need is Kill (for which Brad Pitt’s name was mentioned this week, in other news). Everest is seen as having an advantage in getting made earlier because Doug Liman is himself an avid mountain climber. Screenwriter Sheldon Turner (The Longest Yard; cowriter of Up in the Air) is currently adapting the Everest script from the Jeffrey Archer novel Paths of Glory, which attempted to fill in the holes in Mallory’s true story.
#7 THE LONE RANGER IS BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN AFTER ALL
Back in early August, the story broke that Walt Disney Pictures was pulling the plug on their $250+ million live action reboot of The Lone Ranger. More often than not, these sort of big budget movies that are abandoned are never heard from again (though obviously, there are exceptions to that rule). The last several weeks have seen many articles and reports written about the attempts to get the project back on its feet. The stated goal was always to get the budget down to the $215 million range, as long as star Johnny Depp (who will play Tonto) stayed attached. Complicating matters was Depp’s insistence that he would only star in The Lone Ranger if director Gore Verbinski (the director of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies for Disney) was also still attached, despite reports that Verbinski (and his big action scene plans) was part of the budgetary problem. Another factor that appears obvious by the timing of when Disney initially pulled the plug was the box office failure of Cowboys & Aliens, which, as a western/genre mashup, bears some resemblance to The Lone Ranger. Or, maybe, Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig just don’t have the box office appeal of Johnny Depp. This week, however, all of that became material for the history books, as a deal has been reached, and filming of The Lone Ranger is now scheduled to start in January or February of 2012. Armie Hammer (The Social Network) is also still attached to star as the title character, and British actress Ruth Wilson (from the TV show Luther) is still expected to be the female lead. What is less certain is whether this delay in filming will cause Disney to change the current release date of December 21, 2012. The new budget deal may also mean script changes for screenwriter Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road; cowriter of The Clearing). Reports during this budget kerfuffle described the premise of The Lone Ranger as involving werewolves, Native American mythology and Verbinski’s plans for what may be the most ambitious railroad action sequence ever filmed. Whether this story about the revived film should be listed as a “Fresh Development” or a “Rotten Idea” depends upon the reader’s own opinion about whether a $200+ million tentpole action movie starring Johnny Depp as Tonto is a good idea or not.
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#2 WARNER BROS. WANTS STEVEN SPIELBERG FOR THE MOSES EPIC GODS AND KINGS
The late 1990s was the time of high expectations for the new studio called DreamWorks SKG, and one of the nascent company’s earliest and most ambitious projects was the 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt, which retold the Biblical story of Moses. Now, Warner Bros is attempting to develop a live action Moses movie called Gods and Kings, and the director WB is going after is Steven Spielberg (who is credited with giving Jeffrey Katzenberg the original idea of making The Prince of Egypt). At this point, Warner Bros has not yet begun official negotiations with Spielberg, but he has read the script. Spielberg already has a very busy schedule which includes post production on War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, as well as filming dates for both Lincoln and Robopocalypse that will likely keep him busy well into 2013. Gods and Kings is reportedly based upon the life of Moses as depicted in the Book of Exodus and other Old Testament stories. Gods and Kings got its start as a treatment by producer Matti Leshem (who has mostly worked on the USA Rock Paper Scissors League Championship broadcasts). Leshem’s treatment then became a screenplay by Michael Green (cowriter of Green Lantern; writer of several episodes of Smallville and Kings) and Stuart Hazeldine, who worked on the recent Riverworld TV movie as well as cowriting Warner Bros’ adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The catchy headline for this story is the idea of Steven Spielberg directing a live action Moses epic. However, the reason this is one of the week’s Rotten Ideas has more to do with the screenwriters that have been working on Gods and Kings, and the implication that Warner Bros might be eyeing Gods and Kings as some sort of flashy Biblical action movie (in the same vein as their other flashy quasi-Biblical action movie, Paradise Lost).
#1 LIONSGATE ANNOUNCES DEAD ISLAND MOVIE, MENTIONS THE WORD “TRAILER” 13 TIMES
Compiling the Weekly Ketchup each week, this writer reads a lot of press releases. This week, Lionsgate announced plans for a feature film based on the recent cross-platform survival horror video game Dead Island. That press release mentioned the word “trailer” thirteen times. The reason for that is that the trailer for the Dead Island video game was something like a short film, telling the story (in reverse) of a father being attacked by his zombiefied daughter while on vacation on a tropical island beset by a zombie invasion. It’s a very nice trailer, but it’s just sort of humorous exactly how much Lionsgate’s press release dwells on that trailer, and not so much on other little details, like say, the actual video game (which generally has received positive reviews). Lionsgate’s partner on the Dead Island movie will be producer Sean Daniel, who is best known for working with Universal Pictures on The Mummy franchise, as well as the 2002 spinoff The Scorpion King and 2010’s The Wolfman. As for why Dead Island is this week’s Rotten Idea, it’s basically due to the vibe that Lionsgate and Sean Daniel are perhaps a little bit too impressed with the narrative power of a dialogue-free music video that tells its story in reverse. Do they think they can make a whole movie like that?
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.