We're now halfway into January, but Hollywood had another slow news week, possibly because so many movie industry types were preparing for their annual skiing vac... err, make that "the wonderful celebration of independent filmmaking known as the Sundance Film Festival." Movies that made the cut this week include Marvel's Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, and Magic: The Gathering.
This Week's Top Story
STAR WARS EPISODE VII TO FOCUS ON THE ADVENTURES OF HAN, LEIA, AND LUKE
When Disney first announced plans for a new trilogy starting with Star Wars Episode VII, the general understanding seemed to be that the movies would focus on a new generation, including the adult children of Han Solo and Princess Leia. There have been, however, rewrites since then, and this week, we learned that one big change in the process has been a decision (by J.J. Abrams and others) to focus the attention more on three of the characters that audiences already know: Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker. There was lots of other news this week, but that right there is huge news for fans who had sort of resigned themselves to another three movies of new characters that seem to take away from the characters they fell in love with first. Of course, we're just talking about Star Wars Episode VII, with Episodes 8 and 9 possibly doing exactly that, but at least 7 will be more of a transition film. Speaking of new characters, the casting process continues, with lots of names bandied about, some of which might be for the same roles. The growing list of names now includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael B. Jordan, Jack O'Connell, Alex Pettyfer, Saoirse Ronan and Sullivan Stapleton. This week, Adam Driver*, Michael Fassbender, and Hugo Weaving were added in one report, while Jesse Plemons (Todd from Breaking Bad) was mentioned in another. And that's just some of the names mentioned in recent months, although no one other than the returning stars (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill) are officially confirmed yet. Filming starts in a couple of months, so we should soon start getting inundated with stories. (* It's not Star Wars, but Adam Driver from HBO's Girls also joined the cast of Martin Scorsese's Silence this week).
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 GRAVITY, AMERICAN HUSTLE, AND 12 YEARS A SLAVE ARE TOP ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED FILMS
Strictly speaking, this story is not about movie development, but a) it was a slow news week, and b) it's the freakin' Academy Awards. If you're reading this, you're probably very into movies, which means this isn't really "news" to you, but yes, indeed, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards this week (which they're still, annoyingly, calling "the 86th Oscars"). The two movies with the most nominations (ten each) were American Hustle and Gravity, with 12 Years a Slave being close behind with nine. Those three were followed by another three films which all received six nominations: Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, and Nebraska. Her and The Wolf of Wall Street each received five nominations. Those eight films were joined by one other, Philomena (which received four nominations), in the Best Picture race. The 86th Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, March 2, 2014.
#2 BRUCE DERN AND CHRISTOPH WALTZ MIGHT BE 1/4 OF QUENTIN TARANTINO'S THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Late last year, Quentin Tarantino first revealed to Jay Leno that his next film would be another Western. This week, we learned that the title of the script QT is working on is The Hateful Eight, and we also learned who two of the actors are that Tarantino is writing the script for (which has long been his writing process). The title hints at eight characters, and one of them might be Bruce Dern, who had a small role in Django Unchained, and is currently nominated for an Academy Award for Alexander Payne's Nebraska. The other is Christoph Waltz, who Quentin Tarantino sort of helped put on the map with a starmaking role in Inglourious Basterds, and also a lead role in Django Unchained. Of course, Quentin Tarantino also sometimes takes years working on scripts, so a lot could change by the time filming starts.
#3 MICHAEL DOUGLAS JOINS PAUL RUDD TO PLAY THE ORIGINAL ANT-MAN
Marvel Studios is now making so many superhero movies that they are moving on from their strengths to actually doing things that DC Comics is traditionally known for. Specifically, there is the concept of the "legacy hero" which DC Comics has used repeatedly as a way of changing superheroes for changing times, with a new generation taking on a superhero identity from the previous one. This allows (some) characters to age gracefully, as the original heroes age with their reading audience. In the movies, however, it's something we seen done only rarely (though 1998's The Mask of Zorro is one movie that did it). When Paul Rudd was announced recently as the star of Marvel's Ant-Man, there was some confusion about which version he would be playing, and now we know clearly the answer. Michael Douglas has been cast as the original Ant-Man, inventor Dr. Henry Pym, who invents a suit that allows him to shrink and grow and, you know, fight crime. Director Edgar Wright has been hinting for years that he would do exactly this, with the film likely to have "a prologue where you see Pym as Ant-Man in action in the 60's, in sort of 'Tales to Astonish' mode basically, and then the contemporary, sort of flash-forward, is Scott Lang's story, and how he comes to acquire the suit, how he crosses paths with Henry Pym, and then, in an interesting sort of Machiavellian way, teams up with him." This approach also resolves the lingering questions of how Edgar Wright might handle some of the seedier sides of Henry Pym's back story. With filming scheduled to start this spring in Georgia, casting of other roles is also underway, with Michael Pena and Clifton Collins Jr. mentioned this week as possible costars (in unknown roles).
#4 BY THE HOARY HOSTS OF HOGGOTH: JOHNNY DEPP AS MARVEL'S DOCTOR STRANGE?
Online movie sites have been around for so long now (since the late 1990s) that we can sort of take it for granted that some/many of them are basically as established with studio publicists as any print publication (or more so). There are, however, still some independent voices out there that take chances other sites won't, and when they're right, they get huge exclusive scoops. One such site that has done that (with varying results) in recent years is Latino Review, which this week broke a story about Marvel's Doctor Strange. The story which was subsequently picked up (but not confirmed) by Variety is that Marvel is talking to Johnny Depp about possibly starring as Doctor Strange in an upcoming solo movie (and probably other movies, too). Doctor Strange is one of Marvel's classic 1960s characters, cocreated by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee (the same team responsible for Spider-Man), and Marvel's "Sorcerer Supreme" who is the go-to-expert on all things magical. The thing to remember is that just because his name is Strange, doesn't mean that he himself is "strange" (ie, not in a wacky Johnny Depp way), though he does wear a big red cape and a rockin' 1970s mustache. However, if frequent Disney star Depp does sign on, Marvel will have another big name for their films to help balance out the inevitable departures of Marvel regulars like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.
#5 AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON GETS ANOTHER VILLAIN
With Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel's Phase 2 will be coming to a close, and as such, it's to be expected that there will continue to be "world building" and foreshadowing for future Marvel movies. The title obviously tells us that the main villain will be the robot Ultron, but we learned this week that the terrorist organization HYDRA will also play a role in the movie. We know that now because Thomas Kretschman (Van Helsing in NBC's Dracula) has been cast as HYDRA leader Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. Baron Von Strucker is not currently a household name for non-comics-fans, but his back story as an enemy of both Nick Fury and Captain America (and related heroes) is quite epic. What people probably need to know is that Baron Von Strucker was 1) a Nazi from World War II, 2) who doesn't age, but he is 3) bald with 4) a huge facial scar, 5) a metal glove weapon called the Satan Claw, and 6) a penchant for green outfits for himself and his various henchmen. Marvel Studios has scheduled Avengers: Age of Ultron for release on May 1, 2015.
#6 HARRISON FORD JOINS BENJAMIN BUTTON-ISH FANTASY THE AGE OF ADALINE
In the same week in which it was revealed that Harrison Ford might be very busy in the 2014 with Star Wars Episode VII, the 71-year-old actor signed onto another movie which starts filming earlier in the year. Ford has joined the cast of the Lionsgate romantic drama The Age of Adaline, to be directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind, Celeste and Jess Forever). Harrison Ford joins the already cast Ellen Burstyn and Blake Lively, who will be playing the title character, a woman who stops aging at 29, leading to an "isolated worldwide journey" through the 20th century. The Age of Adaline starts filming in March, and Star Wars Episode VII starts filming sometime later in the spring of 2014 (though it will be a long shoot, so Harrison Ford might not be needed right away).
#7 A MAGIC: THE GATHERING MOVIE IS IN THE CARDS AT 20TH CENTURY FOX
Peter Jackson's film trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is obviously one movie away from completion, Legendary's Warcraft movie recently started filming, and Warner Bros is rebooting their Dungeons & Dragons film franchise. It's not the same attention given to comic books, but Hollywood has definitely not completely abandoned the fantasy hobbyist fascinations of Generation X (and older millenials). This week, one of the biggest gaming phenomenons of the 1990s got its own movie deal, when it was announced that 20th Century Fox is developing a project based on Magic: The Gathering. First published in 1993, Magic: The Gathering created a new kind of "collectible card game," in which some of the "best" cards were also the rarest, encouraging players to spend a lot of $$$ in pursuit of their dream deck. The success of MTG led to dozens of similar games, with the most popular competitor probably being the Pokemon Trading Card Game. The game's original publisher Wizards of the Coast (now owned by Hasbro) always stressed a concept of worldbuilding and narrative (including spinoff novels and comic books), so there's definitely material available to inspire a feature film. To help guide the Magic: The Gathering movie through development, 20th Century Fox has recruited writer-producer Simon Kinberg, who is already busy at the studio working on their Marvel franchises Fantastic Four and X-Men. At this point, Simon Kinberg is producing Magic: The Gathering, and it's not known if he will eventually adapt the screenplay as well.
#8 HARVEY WEINSTEIN'S MRS. STREEP GOES TO WASHINGTON IN THE SENATOR'S WIFE
First off, it should strongly be emphasized that the following story originates from a recent interview on Howard Stern's radio show. Which is not to say that there's no truth to the story, but just that if there's anywhere where one might be more conversational, and less didactic than, say, a prepared press release, the Howard Stern show would be one example of that. Now that you're properly prepared, here's the story: famous movie producer Harvey Weinstein revealed this week that he and Meryl Streep are working on a movie about gun rights in American politics. Specifically, referring to the National Rifle Association, Weinstein said, "going to wish they weren't alive after I'm done with them." The movie will be a drama in the tradition of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and will be called The Senator's Wife. Weinstein continued with, "Gun stocks ? I don't want to be involved in that stuff. It's going to be like crash and burn." This story first appeared in conservative newspaper The Washington Times.
#9 IN A SLOW MOVIE DEVELOPMENT NEWS WEEK, LET'S END THIS THING WITH... RELEASE DATES
The beginning of each year in Hollywood is an opportunity for each studio to tease their future plans, both for that calendar year, and also for the future past that. And so, in what was otherwise a slow news week, a few of the stories were about release dates, which we will cover briefly here in loose chronological order. ">September, 2014 release dates were announced for the Reese Witherspoon Sudanese refugee drama The Good Lie (9/10/14) and the Tom Hardy/Noomi Rapace/James Gandolfini crime drama The Drop (formerly called Animal Rescue) (9/19/14). 20th Century Fox announced several new dates, including the comedy Let's Be Cops (8/13/14), the remake of Poltergeist (2/13/15), and the third in their current franchise of Planet of the Apes reboot movies (7/29/16). Finally, Universal Pictures and the CGI animation studio Illumination Entertainment announced dates for three upcoming movies. First, there is an untitled musical comedy from director Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) on December 21, 2016, followed by the sequel Despicable Me 3 on June 30, 2017, and their new animated version of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas on November 17, 2017. It's worth noting that Despicable Me 3 should not be confused with the previously announced Minions spinoff movie, which Universal and Illumination have scheduled for July 10, 2015.