This week saw the movie development scene rewarded with a plague of blessings. The start of the Berlinale, one of the major film markets, provided lots of smaller announcements that would have normally made the "top ten" cut. However, they were mostly drowned out by bigger franchise stories, many of them thanks to Disney's various fanboy-friendly subsidiaries. Like the Hulk (or really, superheroes in general), animated movies, and Star Wars? This was the week for you.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 THE HULK'S CROWD PLEASING PERFORMANCE IN THE AVENGERS RUMORED TO LEAD TO GALACTIC-SIZED FUTURE FILMS
There were obviously a lot of winners following the $1+ billion box office success of The Avengers. One character that many audience members probably found surprisingly endearing was the Hulk, who in The Avengers was realized in a way that previous attempts had failed. As movie plans for Marvel's Phase 2 and Phase 3 have continued to be announced (most recently, Doctor Strange as part of Phase 3), this has left fans wondering, "Yeah, but what about the Hulk?" Now, it should be noted that some of the following info inherently contains "spoilers" for at least The Avengers 2, and possibly the hypothetical next Hulk movie (which hasn't actually been announced yet). Okay, so the gist here is that Latino Review is reporting that the plan might include adaptations of the Marvel events "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" in Phase 3. The movie blog site Collider also sums up the details of this rumored plan here. Now, I'm going to attempt to briefly describe what all of this means without too many spoilers (ie, I know and have read the actual comic events, so details I'm leaving out are on purpose). If these plans actually go through, in The Avengers 2, the Hulk would "somehow" end up on an alien planet. In a future Hulk movie which might be called Planet Hulk, the Hulk would have a John Carter of Mars meets Gladiator type adventure where he becomes a gladiator, and makes friends with various other alien warriors (called the Warbound). Then, "something happens," and the Hulk and some of his new friends come back to Earth, in what may be The Avengers 3, as an adaptation of "World War Hulk." Of course, that title alone sort of gives away what "World War Hulk" may (or may not) be about.
#2 THE RE-ANIMATION OF LIVE ACTION DR. SEUSS MOVIES INCLUDES HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
How one perceives movies is very often a generational experience. As this writer was browsing online this week in preparation for this particular story, I was surprised to find a lot of people (of a certain age) who consider the 53% RT rated live action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas to be a holiday classic that they enjoy every year without fail. As someone who actually had a gig at the time as a professional critic, yeah, that's not what I would have expected. Anyway, the news this week is that Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, The Lorax) have started development on a 3D CGI animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Universal and Illumination are in deep in the Dr. Seuss business, with another live-action-to-animation adaptation (The Cat in the Hat) already announced, as well as a live action/CGI hybrid Dr. Seuss biopic also in development. It's surprising, therefore, to discover that despite being the most recent project announced, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is expected to be the next Dr. Seuss project for Illumination to be released. There's no writers announced yet, but How the Grinch Stole Christmas will mark the directorial debut for animator Peter Candeland, who has previously worked on Balto and the 1990s Aladdin TV cartoon.
#3 SHADOW KING AND THE BOXTROLLS: MORE STOP MOTION GOODNESS, BOTH FROM THE MAKERS OF CORALINE
This week saw two completely different news stories emerge about stop motion animation projects, and they both share a common departure point in the 2009 film Coraline. First, let's talk about that film's director Henry Selick (who also directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Monkeybone). After Coraline, Selick made a deal with Disney and Pixar on a project that was eventually revealed to have the code name ShadeMaker. In 2012, however, it was reported that Disney had shelved the project, allowing Selick to pursue it elsewhere. Well, he's done exactly that, and the movie is now called Shadow King. Selick's new savior is Beasts of the Southern Wild producer Josh Penn. Shadow King will tell the magical tale of a young orphan with very long fingers whose ability to cast pretty awesome shadow puppets allows him to become a participant in a shadow war with an evil monster intent on killing the orphan's brother and ultimately destroying New York City. And this is where we ask collectively what in the world Disney was thinking when they let such an awesome sounding story go. Anyway, Shadow King has been saved, and the voice cast will include Brendan Gleeson, Catherine O'Hara, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jaden Betts as the young orphan Hap. And now, let's return to the company that Selick worked on Coraline with, which is Laika, which most recently produced ParaNorman. Their next film was revealed this week to be a fantasy called The Boxtrolls, which will be released on October 17, 2014 by Focus Features. The extensive voice cast includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Richard Ayoade, Toni Collette, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Tracy Morgan, and frequent costars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Anthony Stacchi, who was one of the codirectors of 2006's Open Season will make his solo directing quasi-debut with The Boxtrolls. Set in (and beneath) the Victorian Era British town of Cheesebridge, The Boxtrolls is about a quirky and loveable group of misfits who sneak out of their underground lairs at night to steal the two things the townspeople most cherish: their children and their cheese (not necessarily in that order for either parties).
#4 JOHNNY DEPP TO BEAT AFFLECK/DAMON TO THE PUNCH WITH THE WHITEY BULGER BIOPIC BLACK MASS
In the months since the 2011 Santa Monica arrest of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, the big movie news has mostly been about the biopic that Massachusetts' own Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were expected to be collaborating together on. Affleck was going to direct, and Damon was going to play Whitey Bulger himself. The likelihood of that ever happening took a serious nosedive this week with the news that Johnny Depp signed on to star in a completely different Whitey Bulger biopic called Black Mass. This movie will be an adaptation of the 2001 book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, written by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerald O'Neill, with a new ending by newcomer screenwriter Mark Mallouk to cover Bulger's arrest in 2011. Black Mass also has an impressive director in Barry Levinson, who won an Oscar for directing Rain Man, and was also nominated for directing Bugsy. Universal Pictures will be distributing Black Mass, and filming is scheduled to begin in May, 2013.
#5 REVENGE STAR EMILY VANCAMP LANDS MUCH SOUGHT AFTER FEMALE LEAD ROLE IN MARVEL'S CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
It's an old symptom of the movie news blogosphere: for certain high profile projects, sites will report every slightest development, and that includes every stage of the casting process. And so it is with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which has officially cast Sharon Carter, the female lead in the sequel. Sharon Carter is the niece (originally the sister in the comics) of Peggy Carter from the first movie, and is also a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent known as Agent 13. Sharon Carter is also the character in the comics closest to being the love of Steve Rogers' life. Among those who were rumored for the role of Sharon Carter were Alison Brie, Emilia Clarke, Felicity Jones, Anna Kendrick, Imogen Poots, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. That's all academic now, however, as the actress to actually land the role is Revenge star Emily VanCamp. Ms. VanCamp will join an extensive cast that already (reportedly in some cases) includes returning roles for Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Toby Jones, and Cobie Smulders, as well as new roles for Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) and Frank Grillo (Crossbones). Filming of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is expected to begin in April, and Marvel Studios has scheduled a release date of April 4, 2014.
#6 PARKS AND RECREATION COSTAR CHRIS PRATT LANDS MUCH SOUGHT AFTER MALE LEAD ROLE IN MARVEL'S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
So much of what you just read in that Captain America: The Winter Soldier story could (and nearly will be) just replaced for this story, Mad Libs style; there's just so many parallels. This time, the movie is the cosmic super team project Guardians of the Galaxy, and the extended casting process was for the lead role of Peter Quill, the human/alien hybrid also known as Star-Lord. Among those who were rumored or reportedly up for the role were Joel Edgerton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jack Huston, Zachary Levi, Lee Pace, Eddie Redmayne, and Jim Sturgess. That's all academic now, however, as the actor to actually land the role is Parks and Recreation costar Chris Pratt. There's no other cast announced yet for Guardians of the Galaxy. However, there have been recent rumors that the movie may include supporting roles for Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, and possibly the introduction of the galactic super cop Nova (yes, Nova's back story is a lot like Green Lantern). Now that Star-Lord is accounted for, there's still at least two more humanoid (Drax and Gamora) and two CGI voice roles (Groot and Rocket Raccoon) to be cast. Marvel Studios has scheduled Guardians of the Galaxy for a release date of August 1, 2014.
#7 840,002 FACEBOOK FANS OF VAMPIRE ACADEMY SHOULD FINALLY BE HAPPY NOW
Back in 2010, this column became the focus of a minor social networking firestorm when I made some dismissive "Rotten Idea" remarks about the popular YA series Vampire Academy, and the movie plans for an adaptation of such. Almost three years later, the movie appears actually to be happening, and hey, there's even reasons to call it a "Fresh Development" now. The first movie in the potential franchise will be called Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters, and will also be the result of a brotherly collaboration. Screenwriter Daniel Waters is known for writing Heathers and Batman Returns, and his brother Mark Waters directed Mean Girls, the Freaky Friday remake, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Both Waters brothers have therefore obviously worked before on teen-female-centric stories, as well as movies that have more gothic/fantastic elements. There's also already some casting news to report. Zoey Deutch (from the upcoming Beautiful Creatures), Australian newcomer Lucy Fry, and Russian actor Danila Kozlovski have been cast as lead characters Rose, Lissa, and Dimitri. Here's a link to the Vampire Academy Wikia to help you get started figuring out who any of those characters actually are.
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#2 THE ZOOLANDER SEQUEL WILL HAVE TO WAIT, BECAUSE, YOU KNOW... NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 3
Ben Stiller has been in some great movies, and some very funny movies (sometimes even at the same time). And then there's the two Night at the Museum movies, which are his #2 and #6 biggest box office hits to date. So, just like the inevitability that there would be (at least) three Madagascar movies, this week we received confirmation that Night at the Museum 3 has been scheduled by 20th Century Fox for a December 25, 2014 release date. Director Shawn Levy (Just Married, Cheaper by the Dozen), who directed the first two movies, has also been confirmed for the third. Previous screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon are also expected (but not actually confirmed, confirmed) to pen this third movie's script. The setting hasn't been revealed yet, but famous museums that seem like possible choices include The Louvre (probably the most obvious and likely choice), the Field Museum in Chicago, and well, more of the Smithsonian not covered in the first movie.
#1 THIS WEEK'S OBLIGATORY OBSCURE TV REFERENCE: "I JUST DON'T REALLY WANT TO BE AGENT 47, NOT EVEN FOR ONE DAY!"
Up above, we had news about Agent 13, well, oddly enough, here's a news story about Agent 47. Agent 47 is the title of a new movie that is going to essentially reboot the Hitman video game adaptation concept under a new title, with a new lead actor. The first Hitman movie came out in 2007, with Timothy Olyphant as the folicle-deprived lead character. That movie was a critical bomb (14% on the RT Tomatometer) , but it did pretty decent business at the box office ($99 million globally on a budget of $24 million). Anyway, for this reboot, Fox International Productions and Square Enix have cast Paul Walker to replace Timothy Olyphant. Walker will shave his head for the role, which will start filming in Berlin and Singapore this summer after he finishes promoting Fast & Furious 6. Commercials director Aleksander Bach will make his feature film debut working from a script by Skip Woods (Swordfish; cowrite of X-Men Origins: Wolverine), who also adapted the original Hitman screenplay.