Weekly Ketchup: Vin Diesel to Star in Big Screen Version of Kojak

Plus, updates on the Muppets sequel and casting news for Tom Hardy and Samuel L. Jackson.

The last full week of 2012 was another sort of slow week in the world of movie development news. Things, however, will really slow down to a crawl until January (and indeed, the next two Fridays will see this column become the "Yearly Ketchup"). The last news items of 2012 included two movies based on 1970s TV shows (Kojak and Gaiking), two sequels (the next Muppets, and The Expendables 3), a spinoff of Cars called Planes, and a biopic about the early career of Hillary Rodham Clinton.


This Week's Top Story

WHO LOVES YA, BABY? VIN DIESEL TO BE THE MOVIE VERSION OF KOJAK

Some actors just perfectly age into a movie role, and when one hears of such a casting choice, one might think, "Well, yeah... duh." The news this week that Vin Diesel is producing and will star in a feature film movie adaptation of Kojak is definitely an example of that. This is especially for older fans who actually remember what Kojak was (but are also young enough to know who Vin Diesel is). Telly Savalas starred as Greek-American (and follicly challenged) NYPD detective Theo Kojak in the gritty CBS drama that aired from 1973 to 1978. Savalas's Kojak was cocky, had a swagger about him, and could frequently be spotted sucking a lollipop; in the 30 years since, it's become a cultural stereotype that has sort of overshadowed the original show (and its much less comedic tone) itself. There was also an attempted Kojak reboot on the USA Network in 2005 that ran for one season, with Ving Rhames in the lead role (sans the Greek American background, which basically just made him a bald cop who likes lollipops). Finally, in case anyone thinks Kojak is destined to be a joke project, the screenwriters have a fairly impressive claim to fame that may indicate otherwise. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are the British screenwriting team who were involved with five consecutive James Bond scripts in a row, starting with The World is Not Enough, right on through this year's Skyfall. And... here's a a bit of last minute news: Vin Diesel also said today that a studio wants to make a trilogy out of his long-standing interest in a movie based on the life of Hannibal the Conqueror. Why is this not its own story? That's the price movie stars and filmmakers "get" for breaking big news at 3:48 PM on the Friday afternoon before Christmas.

Fresh Developments This Week

#1 RICKY GERVAIS REPLACES JASON SEGEL AS THE HUMAN LEAD IN THE MUPPETS SEQUEL

Basically all of the press to date about the casting of the sequel to The Muppets has been on the role of an Interpol agent, initially announced as being Christoph Waltz, who was then replaced by Ty Burrell of TV's Modern Family. This week, it was clarified that Burrell's role is actually that of the sequel's antagonist, and not the human lead protagonist, who would be essentially replacing Jason Segel (sort of). Instead, that actor will be Ricky Gervais, who filmed a cameo appearance for the first film that was ultimately cut from the theatrical version. The details of Gervais' character aren't yet known. There's also still a third main human character yet to be cast, who is most likely a female character (since Amy Adams is also unlikely to return).


#2 THIS YEAR'S BLACK LIST OF UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAYS INCLUDES BIOPICS OF DR. SEUSS AND HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON IN THE TOP 10

Another year is coming to a close soon, and so we're in that pre-Christmas week when the news cycle is slower than usual. That's also the cue for the online publication of the "Black List of Unproduced Screenplays," which is the result of polling of hundreds of studio executives and producers who each year read all the scripts the rest of us don't have access to as readily. The Black List has in recent years become a common publicity tool, but one has to be a little wary; a script merely being "on the list" doesn't necessarily mean much when the list itself includes almost 100 titles. Instead, it might help more to pay attention to which scripts gained the most votes. This year's top choice was Draft Day, a sort of professional football version of Moneyball that has Kevin Costner and Ivan Reitman attached to star and direct, respectively (obviously). Two newsworthy scripts that are also in the top five (#3 and #4) are both biopics: Seuss tells the story of how an artist named Theodor Geisel met his future wife who inspired him to write children's books, starting with The Cat in the Hat. Seuss is in development at Illumination Entertainment, with Johnny Depp attached to star as Theodor "Ted" Geisel. Rodham tells the true story of a young rising star attorney named Hillary Rodham during the years of the Watergate scandal who is forced to choose between a promising political career and her ex-boyfriend from Arkansas. Rodham was written by a newcomer named Young Il Kim, who is neither the former (and late) leader of North Korea, nor The Notorious K.I.M.


#3 BANE AND (THE ORIGINAL) LISBETH VOLUNTEER FOR ANIMAL RESCUE

Quite a bit of press has been given in recent months to Warner Bros and their two different anti-poaching projects that are being developed as potential vehicles for the triumvirate of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Tom Hardy (who are all also producing). This week, Fox Searchlight may have succeeded in (sort of) beating WB to the thematic punch, with one of those three, Tom Hardy, now signed to star in Animal Rescue, which also trades upon similar anti-animal-abuse themes. Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) is also in talks to costar. Author Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) adapted the script based on a short story that first appeared in the collection Boston Noir. Director Michael R. Roskam, whose first film Bullhead was Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Langue Film last year, will make his English language debut with Animal Rescue. Tom Hardy will be playing a man who gets messed up with local gangsters after he finds a puppy in a trashcan.


#4 AUBREY PLAZA AND JOHN C. REILLY TO STAR IN THE INDIE ZOMBIE COMEDY LIFE AFTER BETH

How familiar one is with Aubrey Plaza might have to do with a) whether you watch Parks and Recreation and/or b) how many recent indie-flavored movies like Mystery Team, Damsels in Distress, and (especially) Safety Not Guaranteed you've seen. Plaza was also fairly prominently featured in the less-indie "comedies" Funny People and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Anyway, the deadpan actress' gradual road to eventual superstardom (and/or hey-whatever-happened-to...) will include the indie zombie romantic comedy Life After Beth. John C. Reilly is the film's other star, but there's no word yet as to whether either one of them will actually play a zombie (or maybe neither, or both... who knows?). Reilly and Plaza might seem mismatched age-wise, but that might be deceiving as 28 year old Aubrey Plaza often plays characters much younger than her real age (and BTW, John C. Reilly himself is 47). Life After Beth was written by screenwriter Jeff Baena, who cowrote I Heart Huckabees with director David O. Russell, and who will also be making his directorial debut with this one.


#5 JACKIE CHAN CHECKS INTO THE ACTION STAR RETIREMENT HOME THAT IS THE EXPENDABLES 3

The action franchise that continues with The Expendables 3 is basically custom made for action stars that are nearing retirement age. The second film added two notable stars known for their martial arts skills (Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme). The Expendables 3 continues that theme with the news from Jackie Chan himself that he is now indeed on board for the sequel. Chan is the first actor to officially join the franchise with The Expendables 3, following quickly debunked rumors earlier this year that Nicolas Cage had signed on (he hadn't). There's no release date yet for The Expendables 3, but it's looking increasingly likely that it won't be until sometime in 2014.

Rotten Ideas of the Week

#4 ANGELINA JOLIE TO DIRECT THE LOUIS ZAMPERINI BIOPIC UNBROKEN

Although In the Land of Blood and Honey was given a 2011 Oscar season release and the baby steps of an awards season push, the directorial debut of Angelina Jolie was panned by many critics, earning it a "Rotten" rating of 56%. Such a reception, however, won't necessarily keep a plucky multi-millionaire, A-list actress, and Hollywood near-royalty from getting a second chance to prove her directorial talents. And so, Angelina Jolie is in negotiations with Universal Pictures to direct their long-in-development biopic of Olympic athlete and World War II P.O.W. Louis Zamperini. Unbroken is based upon the best selling non-fiction book by Laura Hilenbrand, who also wrote the book that provided the source material for Seabiscuit. The latest draft of the Unbroken adaptation was written by screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, whose credits include Water for Elephants and The Bridges of Madison County.


#3 DISNEY'S DIRECT-TO-VIDEO CARS SPINOFF PLANES IS INSTEAD FLYING DIRECT-TO-THEATERS

It's perhaps difficult to imagine this today, considering the success of the film and Toy Story 3, but at one time, Pixar's Toy Story 2 was supposed to have just been a direct-to-video release. The connection of that analogy to today's story, however, mostly ends there. Planes is the title of a CGI animated movie (that was produced by Disney, not Pixar) that was originally intended as a direct-to-video spinoff of Pixar's Cars franchise. The plans changed today, however, as Walt Disney Pictures has now scheduled Planes for a theatrical release on August 9, 2013 (the same date as Neill Blomkamp's Elysium and the comedy We're the Millers). As for why Planes is one of the week's Rotten Ideas, it mostly has to do with the 38% "Rotten" score for Cars 2 (and that movie was at least produced by Pixar). This writer also just has a problem with Pixar movies being sequelized or spun off in general... the Toy Story trilogy notwithstanding.


#2 THE GIANT ROBOTS OF PACIFIC RIM ATTRACT ATTENTION FOR MOVIES LIKE GAIKING

It's funny how easy it is sometimes to draw a direct line between something that's awesome and a similar project that gets news a week or two after that. In this case, the first thing was the online debut on December 13 of the trailer for Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, with all of the awesome Giant-Robots-vs-Giant-Monsters action that it promises to deliver. And so, this week, the live action movie based on the 1970s cartoon known in the USA as Gaiking also got some news. Namely, Valhalla Entertainment, the production company of Gale Anne Hurd, is joining forces with Toei Animation and All Nippon Entertainment Works for the Gaiking movie. The idea of a Gaiking movie is hardly news, of course, as a test footage clip appeared online earlier this year. The interest of Gale Anne Hurd, however, may help get things moving, as her past films include action movies like the last two entries in both the Punisher and Hulk franchises, and the first two Terminator movies. So, we are possibly closer to getting a Gaiking movie, and yet, the world is still deprived of its big budget Voltron movie. That also includes, for that matter, Shogun Warriors, though Gaiking actually was one of the Shogun Warriors toys back in the day.


#1 SAMUEL L. JACKSON IS SICK OF THESE ***KING KITES IN HIS M*****F***ING MOVIE CALLED KITE

There's definitely ways of spinning gold out of stories that a more cynical movie writer can also spin as being completely "Rotten." Take, for example, the new live action anime adaptation Kite, which will reunite Samuel L. Jackson with David Ellis, the director of Snakes on a Plane. That movie has a special little warm and fuzzy place in the hearts and minds of many movie fans. When one actually looks at Ellis' RT Tomatometer page for his career as a director, what one finds is that Snakes on a Plane is the one "Fresh" film, and every other movie he's directed (like Shark Night 3D and two of the Final Destination movies) is "Rotten." Anyway, you can read about the original Japanese Kite anime episodes here. Samuel L. Jackson will likely be playing one of the corrupt detectives that takes in a girl who was orphaned by the double homicide of her parents, and then he and his partner proceed to train her in the ways of an assassin. This probably wasn't exactly the perfect week, though, to be promoting a movie with that particular story element. But, you know, this was also the week before the release of Django Unchained, and so, it was Jackson's chance at free publicity for his next project.

For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook.

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