This week’s Ketchup brings you more headlines from the world of film development news, covering such titles as Dungeons & Dragons, Hello Kitty, and Searching 2.
Getting a feature film produced is difficult enough, even without the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic looming over society for the past year or so. Just over five years ago at the 88th Academy Awards, Alejandro González Iñárritu won the Oscar for Best Director for The Revenant (Certified Fresh at 78%), which also won Best Cinematography and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, and this week, Iñárritu was finally able to start filming his first feature film in the five-plus years since. The project, called Limbo, is now filming on location in Mexico City. Iñárritu also wrote the film, which doesn’t yet have an official synopsis, except that it “explores the political and social modernity of Mexico.” Iñárritu’s choice to film in Mexico City following his Hollywood success with The Revenant could also be compared to Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (Certified Fresh at 95%), which was filmed in Mexico City following his own Hollywood success with Gravity (Certified Fresh at 95%). No casting announcements have been made yet for Limbo.
It was just last week that producer J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company hired award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates to work on the new Superman reboot (featuring an actor of color as the lead, for a historic first). This week, Abrams moved forward with another “first” as Bad Robot has hired screenwriter Kalinda Vasquez to work on the next Star Trek feature film. This project should not be confused with the Star Trek that Quentin Tarantino was announced as partnering with Abrams and Bad Robot in 2017 (as that one appears to have cooled down in the years since). If Vasquez’s work on this project makes it to production, she will become the first woman ever to write a Star Trek feature film. In addition to serving as executive producer on shows like Runaways, Star Trek: Discovery, Once Upon a Time, and Fear the Walking Dead, Kalinda Vasquez has also written episodes of all of those shows, plus four episodes of Prison Break and seven episodes of Nikita. It is not yet known if her Star Trek project will introduce a new cast or use one of the previous casts (like say, the “Kelvin” crew of Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, etc.) Paramount Pictures does not currently have any Star Trek feature films on the studio’s release schedule.
Diana Nyad is a record-breaking long distance swimmer whose accomplishments include swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, swimming from Jamaica to Florida, and swimming around the island of Manhattan in under 8 hours. Nyad’s amazing life is now set to be adapted as the biopic Nyad, with four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening attached to star. Nyad will mark the narrative feature film directorial debut of the team of Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for their 2018 documentary Free Solo (Certified Fresh at 98%), which depicted a similar form of endurance sport (free solo mountain climbing). Nyad is being adapted from her autobiography Find a Way, with filming expected to start sometime this summer.
There have obviously been dozens of biopics about famous painters, but so far, we have relatively few to date about abstract painters (Pollock, Certified Fresh at 80% starring Ed Harris, is a notable exception). That “field” will soon expand as the life of artist Mark Rothko is about to be portrayed by Russell Crowe in Rothko. Mark Rothko is best known for his “color field” paintings of large fields of bright colors in squares or rectangles. Rothko will be directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Nowhere Boy). The Rothko cast will include Irish actress Aisling Fraciosi (as Rothko’s daughter), Jared Harris, Michael Stuhlbarg, and the director’s husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro from Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron). Adapted from the book The Legacy of Rothko by Lee Seldes, Rothko will focus on “the protracted legal dispute between Kate Rothko and the painter’s estate executors and the directors of his gallery, Marlborough Fine Art,” which you can read more about here.
Some of the funniest surprises in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok (Certified Fresh at 93%) came early in the film when we first saw some Asgardian actors depicting the events of earlier Thor movies, including Matt Damon as Loki, Sam Neill as Odin, and Chris Hemsworth’s brother Luke Hemsworth as Thor. There has been a fair amount of new coverage of actors like Matt Damon returning to Australia for filming of the fourth movie, Thor: Love and Thunder (5/6/2022), but this week, we actually heard about someone new. Several photos have emerged online this week of comedic actress Melissa McCarthy in costume on the sets in Australia as the villainous character Hela, as portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Thor: Ragnarok, with the other actors-playing-actors like Matt Damon also on set with McCarthy. In similar news, we also learned this week that the upcoming sports comedy sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy (7/6/2021) will also feature cameo appearances by some of Warner Bros’ other film properties, including Batman, Mad Max, and Casablanca.
Although both films are now a few years old, the box office successes of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman (Certified Fresh at 89%) continue to have a ripple effect on other musical biopics getting produced. That includes musical biopic projects which have languished in development for years, or in some cases, decades. The life story of famed reggae musician Bob Marley is one such example. Paramount Pictures is finally getting closer to production with the news this week that the studio has hired director Reinaldo Marcus Green, who comes to the Bob Marley biopic even as he continues work on another biographical film, King Richard, about the father (played by Will Smith) of future tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. In a sad coincidence, the movement on the Bob Marley biopic comes in the same week that saw the passing of Marley’s musical partner Bunny Wailer at the age of 73. British pop star Robbie Williams is also getting a biopic called Better Man to be directed by Michael Gracey (The Greatest Showman). In a bizarre revelation, this week, Deadline reported that the role of Robbie Williams will be portrayed by a “CGI monkey,” apparently, quite seriously.
Actor Jeremy Irons has had a film career with many great heights, but one of his lowest lows may have come in 2000, when he starred as the evil villain in the first Dungeons & Dragons feature film (Rotten at 10%). One has to speculate that Hugh Grant is hoping for a better result with his decision this week to take the role of the main villain (called Forge Fletcher) in the new Dungeons & Dragons movie (5/27/2022). Sophia Lillis, who has recently starred as both Nancy Drew and Beverly in the IT movies, has also take a role as a character named Doric (neither of these names seem to point towards popular characters from existing D&D stories). This new Dungeons & Dragons reboot is being written and directed by the team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who also collaborated on Game Night (Certified Fresh at 85%). It is not yet known if the Dungeons & Dragons movie will be set entirely in a fantasy world, or if some part of it might also depict “real world” players. Hugh Grant and Sophia Lillis are joining a cast which already includes Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton), Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Justice Smith.
Although it wasn’t a box office blockbuster, the independent social media mystery drama Searching (Certified Fresh at 92%) was still a surprise hit relative to its budget. Jon Cho and Michelle La starred as father and daughter in the first Searching, but apparently for the upcoming sequel, a new cast is being sought as the formula will be applied to a new family and setting. We don’t know specifically how different or similar the sequel’s premise will be, so we have relatively little to guess on, but we can report that 17 year old actress Storm Reid is now in talks for a lead role in Searching 2. Reid made her feature film debut in 12 Years a Slave, had the lead role in A Wrinkle in Time, and is also one of Zendaya’s co-stars in HBO’s Euphoria.
The Japanese design company Sanrio has had over 45 years of success with their popular Hello Kitty character, including in the United States, but for the most part, attempts to carry Hello Kitty over in formats like TV or the movies have not taken off outside of Japan. Back in October of 2019, we reported that New Line Cinema had acquired the film rights to Hello Kitty, but we hadn’t heard much since then. This week, we finally got confirmation that the studio is actively developing a Hello Kitty feature film that will combine live action and animation (like this week’s Tom and Jerry). New Line Cinema has hired two directors for their Hello Kitty movie: Jennifer Coyle and Leo Matsuda. Coyle’s credits as director include 23 episodes of DC Super Hero Girls and 13 episodes of Bob’s Burgers, while Matsuda’s credits are mostly as an animator or story artist on projects like The Simpsons Movie, Wreck-It Ralph, and Zootopia.
One of the shows that premiered right in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when many people were hungry for something to binge was HBO’s spooky Lovecraft Country, starring Jonathan Majors. In the months since, Majors was able to translate that show’s success to a new gig at Marvel Studios as one of the company’s most prolific super villains, Kang the Conqueror, in the sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (TBA 2022). This week, Majors signed on for another project, which will be a drama called 892 about a marine war veteran who suffers from PTSD. In somewhat related news, following recent allegations, rapper-turned-actor T.I. will not be returning for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania after co-starring in the first two Ant-Man movies. It is unclear if this was always the plan, or if Marvel Studios is making the change based on the allegations against T.I. and his wife Tameka “Tiny” Harris. Likewise, we also don’t know if the other Ant-Man supporting characters played by Michael Peña and David Dastmalchian will be returning or not.