Weekly Ketchup: Hugo and The Artist Top Oscar Nominees

The entire last week has seen much of Hollywood's movers and shakers in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, and so this was another slow news week, and more than that, it was also one of the most "Rotten Idea" filled weeks this column has ever seen. Given that the lead story is the Academy Awards, that's really saying something, too. The stories that did make the cut include a sequel for The Last Exorcism, two other movies involving ghosts or the supernatural, and new roles for Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Selena Gomez, Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon.


This Week's Top Story

HUGO AND THE ARTIST ARE THE TOP OSCAR NOMINEES THIS YEAR

This entire week made up the biggest chunk of this year's Sundance Film Festival, and so there was very little movie news of much note. In fact, much of what drove movie site traffic this week was actually re-reporting of earlier news stories, such as Steven Spielberg being in talks for a Moses movie, and the quasi-Monty-Python-reunion movie Absolutely Anything (previously covered in the Ketchup here and here, respectively). Nope, the one really big movie thing that actually did happen this week was the Academy Award nominations on Tuesday morning. As with any year, there were movies that did better than expected (Hugo leading the pack with 11 nominations), movies that did worse than expected (50/50, The Adventures of Tintin, Drive, and Young Adult), and movies that did pretty much as expected (The Artist, Moneyball). A few studios reacted immediately to the results, with the two films with the most nominations (Hugo and The Artist), and one of the films tied for 5th (The Descendants) all getting theatrical expansions today.

Fresh Developments This Week

#1 REESE WITHERSPOON AND RYAN REYNOLDS JOIN BIG EYES

The screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have been trying to direct a biopic called Big Eyes made since at least 2008, when Kate Hudson was first announced as landing the lead role. Big Eyes will tell the true story of American painter Margaret Keane, whose work became famous for depictions of girls and women with unusually large eyes, but it was actually her husband Walter Keane who took the credit. Tim Burton, who directed the Alexander/Karaszewski movie Ed Wood, recently came aboard the troubled project, and now Big Eyes is back on track, with filming finally scheduled to start this spring. Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Reynolds are now signed to star as Margaret and Walter Keane, which makes Big Eyes Reese Witherspoon's second biopic, after playing June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. Celebrity biopics are often made after the inspiration has passed, but such is not the case with Margaret Keane, who is still alive at the age of 84, and it's not yet known if Keane will be involved with the production. Although their first film as co-directors was the Rotten-rated Screwed, all three of Alexander and Karaszewski's previous celebrity biopics (Ed Wood, The People vs Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon) were rated Fresh, and so this story is, too.


#2 THE LAST EXORCISM JOINS FINAL DESTINATION IN THE IRONICALLY TITLED HORROR FRANCHISE GAME

Although many movie fans are not enamored of the current "found footage" horror trend, many of those movies (like, say, the Paranormal Activity franchise) get better RT Tomatometer scores than you might expect, just by gauging the online reactions. Lionsgate's 2010 release The Last Exorcism (73% Fresh) is definitely an example of that. And so, this week's news of a planned sequel to The Last Exorcism lands a spot as a Fresh Development. Ashley Bell will return to reprise her starring role as Nell Sweetzer in an as-yet-to-be-titled sequel which is expected to be produced quickly enough to be released in either late 2012 or early 2013. The sequel will otherwise have mostly new creatives, however, as both the director and screenwriter were not involved with The Last Exorcism. Director Ed Gass-Donnelly (This Beautiful City, Small Town Murder Songs) and screenwriter Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) also share a background in movies that most people have not yet really heard of, or have seen. One more difference that this sequel will have from The Last Exorcism is its planned MPAA rating, as the sequel will be aiming to be a hard-R-rated horror movie, instead of the PG-13 rating that The Last Exorcism received. Since this writer hasn't actually seen The Last Exorcism to know if that Fresh status is warranted, you can consider this one a borderline Fresh Development... which also sort of tells you exactly what an awful week this has been for movie news.

Rotten Ideas of the Week

#7 THE WEEK IN CAST DEPARTURES: EVIL DEAD, DESPICABLE ME 2, LOVELACE

Perhaps it was the otherwise slow news week, but three different actors/actresses dropped out of prominent movie projects this week. First up was Lily Collins, the star of the upcoming Snow White movie Mirror Mirror, who had recently been announced as starring as the female lead in the reboot of Evil Dead (as basically the female version of Ash, under a different character name). That old stand by of "scheduling issues" was given as the reason for Collins' departure, but it's easy to imagine the negative reactions from Evil Dead fans online could have also been an "issue." Not really that long after dropping out of the Star Trek sequel, Javier Bardem has dropped out of playing the villain in yet another sequel, this time being Despicable Me 2, in which Bardem was to have played a character called "El Macho." Finally, there's Demi Moore. You might have heard something else about her this week... this writer is nearly whipping himself trying to remember what it was. Anyway, Demi Moore has also pulled out of playing Gloria Steinem in Lovelace, the Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.


#6 JULIA ROBERTS, ALEC BALDWIN AND OTHERS JOIN THE NORMAL HEART

Julia Roberts, Alec Baldwin, Matt Bomer (TV's White Collar) and Jim Parsons (TV's The Big Bang Theory) have all joined the already cast Mark Ruffalo in the film adaptation of the Tony Award winning play The Normal Heart. The Normal Heart tells the nearly autobiographical story of the founder of a New York HIV advocacy group during the early 1980s, as written by Larry Kramer. Ryan Murphy, who is best known as the creator of the TV shows Nip/Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story, will be directing from Larry Kramer's own adaptation of his play, in what will be his third film as director after Running with Scissors and Eat Pray Love. Mark Ruffalo will be starring in The Normal Heart, with Julia Roberts playing his wheelchair-bound doctor, Alec Baldwin playing his lawyer brother, Matt Bomer playing his boyfriend, and Jim Parsons will play a Southern gay rights activist. It's also worth noting that a movie version of The Normal Heart had long been one of Barbra Streisand's top priorities, but the Glee guy is succeeding where Streisand is not. The Normal Heart is one of the week's Rotten Ideas mostly because both of Ryan Murphy's previous films as director received Rotten scores on the RT Tomatometer.


#5 SOME OF THE INSIDIOUS TEAM REUNITE FOR THE CONJURING

Another recent horror film that did much better on the RT Tomatometer than one might think was the 2011 release Insidious. Indeed, it was the first time that a movie from director James Wan scored a "Fresh" movie after four other movies that weren't simply Rotten; three of them earned Tomatometer scores of less than 21% (Saw IV, Death Sentence, Dead Silence). James Wan's next movie (for New Line Cinema) until very recently had the title The Conjuring (this week, that title got dropped). The now-untitled script was written by Chad and Carey Hayes, who also were responsible for three movies poorly rated on the RT Tomatometer (House of Wax, The Reaping, Whiteout). What's deceptive about The Conjuring, then, is that the four actors who were announced this week all seem like maybe they should be in better movies than these Tomatometers suggest The Conjuring has a chance of being. Patrick Wilson (Little Children, Watchmen) and Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Up in the Air) will play a husband/wife team of "ghost hunters" who investigate a haunted farmhouse in Rhode Island, and Ron Livingston (Office Space, Swingers) and Lili Taylor (High Fidelity, Say Anything...) will play the couple that lives there.


#4 THE SAINT GETTING REBOOTED (AGAIN)

In 1997, Val Kilmer starred in The Saint, an attempt to reboot the Simon Templar character first popularized in a series of novels by Leslie Charteris. The Saint has been the inspiration for 16 movies since 1938, and three different TV series, including the 1962-1969 version that helped launch Roger Moore's career (and land him the James Bond franchise a few years later). The premise behind Simon Templar, AKA The Saint, is that he is a "gentleman thief" who travels around the world, targeting wealthy criminals, politicians and otherwise evil types, in a sort of modern variation on Robin Hood. RKO Pictures was responsible for 9 of those early 1930s-1940s Saint movies, and now the revived RKO Pictures has set its sights on rebooting The Saint in a potential new trilogy of films. RKO Pictures is doing this by hiring screenwriter Travis Wright (cowriter of Eagle Eye) to adapt one of three of the nine Simon Templar movies that RKO produced, although which three they are is currently unknown. This story is one of the week's Rotten Ideas mostly due to the RT Tomatometer scores of the new version of RKO Pictures to date (such as Are We Done Yet? and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt).


#3 SELENA GOMEZ FINDS LOVE WHEN SHE NOTICES THAT THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE

The Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place recently ended its four season run, and the show's star Selena Gomez is as expected turning her attention towards a film career. These plans include having her own production company called July Moon. One of Selena Gomez's first new projects as producer is an adaptation of the Jandy Nelson young adults novel The Sky is Everywhere, in which Gomez is intending also to star. Selena Gomez will play a 17-year-old "bookworm and band geek" whose romantic life is changed drastically following the death of her older sister, whose boyfriend turns to Gomez's character, while she also attracts the interest of a French foreign exchange student. There's no writer or director announced yet for this project. The Sky is Everywhere is one of the week's Rotten Ideas partly because of the mixed RT Tomatometer scores for Selena Gomez's films thus far, but that's only part of the reason. This writer also can't help but think that a movie about how awesome a dead sister can be for one's love life is nearly as creepy as, you know, a teenage girl falling in love with a blood-thirsty zombie (or as some people might call it, a "vampire").


#2 RUSSELL BRAND TAKES ON THE BEETLEJUICE SEQUEL AS THE HAUNTREPRENEUR

Sometimes, the hidden subtext in the announcement of a new movie is not the titles that are mentioned, but the movie that doesn't get mentioned. In this case, it's easy to see the thorough line that connects to Warner Bros' plans for a Beetlejuice sequel. Paramount Pictures has signed Russell Brand to star in a live action "supernatural children's tale" called The Hauntrepreneur, about an expert (Brand) who is hired by a family to build a haunted house in their neighborhood. The concept is also similar to the plans for a movie based upon the British TV series Rentaghost, which Russell Brand was formerly attached to star in (until he was eventually replaced by Ben Stiller). The Hauntrepeneur doesn't have a director yet, and it got its start at Paramount as a spec script sold by screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (Con Air, Gone in Sixty Seconds; cowriter of Kangaroo Jack). The mostly Rotten RT Tomatometer track records of both Scott Rosenberg and Russell Brand are both part of why The Hauntrepreneur is one of this week's Rotten Ideas.


#1 THOR'S LITTLE BROTHER TO PLAY A TIME TRAVEL-INVENTING "SCIENTIST" IN TIMELESS

Australian actor Liam Hemsworth is the little brother of Thor star Chris Hemsworth, and one of the costars of the 2010 film The Last Song and this spring's The Hunger Games. And now, the 22 year old actor has already signed on to play a role that seems a bit old for Hemsworth: a married scientist with enough experience in his given field to invent a working time machine. The movie is called Timeless, and it's about a man who tries to invent a time machine after his wife dies. Timeless will be directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Bone Collector, The Saint) from a script by Bill Kelly (Enchanted, Premonition; cowriter of Blast from the Past). Although Phillip Noyce has directed many "Fresh" rated movies, Timeless is still the week's Most Rotten Idea simply because the just-turned-22 Liam Hemsworth seems entirely too young for this role. Of course, to be fair, Jerry O'Connell was a year younger when he played a grad student who invented an alternate reality portal device in his Mom's basement in Sliders, but... that was also Sliders.


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.

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