Weekly Ketchup: Howard Out, Cheadle In for Iron Man 2, Plus Brad Pitt's Odyssey in Space

Also, movie project cancellations galore! "Goonies never say die!"

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Shockingly, we've gone two weeks in a row without hearing any new remakes announced, but there are some interesting-sounding projects for a few popular and/or talented directors. This week also saw an unusually high number of ambitious titles being cancelled. Read on for the Weekly Ketchup!

#1 TWO MORE POSSIBLE BRAD PITT MOVIES: THE ODYSSEY IN SPACE, MONEYBALL

Brad Pitt's name was mentioned this week in articles about two different movie projects. First, Warner Bros. is looking to follow up on Troy with an adaptation of Homer's The Odyssey, which takes the story to...outer space (yes, really). The epic poem about a ship of Greek war heroes on their long way home has been loosely adapted before, with O Brother, Where Art Thou? described as an Odyssey adaptation, although you have to sort of squint to see the connections. Depending upon how it's done, I can see The Odyssey working as an outer space project, although I'd much rather have a movie more in the style of Clash of the Titans that actually handles the ancient Greek mythology rather straight forwardly. Warner Bros is hoping that George Miller (Mad Max, Babe), with whom they had been working on the Justice League movie, will direct. The other movie that Brad Pitt is being courted to star in is a Columbia Pictures adaptation of the book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, about the efforts of Oakland A's manager Billy Beane to build the perfect baseball team using computers and projections (imagine it as being a bit like creating a fantasy baseball team, only for real). David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) is expected to direct, from a script by Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, American Gangster).




#2 THIS WEEK IN SHOCKING (RE)CASTING NEWS: TERRENCE HOWARD OUT OF IRON MAN 2

Last May's Iron Man was a gift to fans of both comic books and superhero movies in general: a tight, humorous-when-appropriate adventure movie that managed to simultaneously be an origin story and bounce through a few other short stories as well. Iron Man was also well cast, with Terrence Howard hitting just the right notes as Tony Stark's friend, James "Rhodey" Rhodes, a military man destined to get his own suit of armor as the weapons-packed War Machine. This week, however, brought us surprising and disappointing news, as Terrence Howard has been replaced by Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights, Hotel Rwanda) over what are being called "financial differences." It's pretty easy to interpret what probably happened: Howard's agent tried to play hard ball on salary, and Marvel and Paramount called his bluff. This has got to be seen as a crushing blow to Howard, a rising star and acclaimed actor who just got his first big hit, and could have solidly followed up with this sequel, in which War Machine is expected to be a major character. A bit more perplexing is the choice to go with Don Cheadle, who is a fine actor, but does not have the physical heft and presence associated with Rhodey Rhodes and War Machine. A female friend pointed out that Cheadle's not "sexy" like Terrence Howard, either, though I can't attest to that. It's not like there's a shortage of talented black actors today... how about Blair Underwood, Mekhi Phifer, Omar Epps, Djimon Hounsou, etc.?




#3 KEVIN SMITH'S BIG SPACE COMEDY

Director Kevin Smith announced this week that his next project after Zack and Miri Make a Porno and the horror movie, Red State, will be an untitled "space comedy" that is not the long talked about Ranger Danger and the Danger Rangers (seen on a t-shirt in Clerks II). The budget for this space comedy is estimated to be in the $45-50 million range, which will be Smith's largest ever. The exact status of Ranger Danger isn't completely known, and sifting through what Kevin Smith's said about his upcoming projects is a bit confusing, as it's hard to tell if what he says is about Ranger Danger, or this new outer space comedy, which is said to be a "father/son" story that references many other previous sci-fi movies (Star Wars, for sure). For example, Kevin Smith has expressed interest in working with Seth Rogen in a science fiction "superhero" comedy, but is it this one or Ranger Danger? Ranger Danger was once described as being an homage to Flash Gordon, and was expected to costar Smith's pal Jason Mewes.




#4 BRETT RATNER TAKING ON YET ANOTHER PROJECT WITH CONAN?

Director Brett Ratner already has an insanely tight development slate that is only rivaled, perhaps, by Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott; Beverly Hills Cop 4, Rush Hour 4, Playboy, God of War and Harbinger are all reportedly top priorities. And yet, his name is being bandied around this week as the top choice for Lionsgate's long-in-development adaptation of the Robert E. Howard barbarian fantasy, Conan, which reportedly strives to be closer to the source material than the 1980s movies starring the current governor of California. This story isn't being run (yet) in any of the trades, but Harry Knowles' AICN is saying Ratner's involvement is "official," and so it's got to be true, right? Brett Ratner is a capable director known for working reliably and within budget, but a chief criticism of him is that he lacks a certain artistic flair. You'd be hard pressed to identify a movie as being "Ratnerian," for example. And Conan probably would be best served by someone who brings something special to the project, I think. What thinkest thou?




#5 TATTOO TO LIVE AGAIN IN MY DINNER WITH HERVE

With a title that references My Dinner with Andre, Steve Zaillian's (American Gangster) production company (which has a first-look deal with Sony) has picked up rights to My Dinner with Herve, based upon a 1993 interview done just before the death of actor Herve Villechaize, most famous for playing Tattoo on the classic 1970s TV show, Fantasy Island. Writer-director Sacha Gervasi (cowriter of The Terminal) will be working from his own script. It sounds like the movie will tell Herve's story in flashbacks, with that final interview providing the starting points for each. While Fantasy Island was on, Herve Villechaize was one of TV's biggest stars, but his life after the show ended also kept him in the headlines, including incidents involving guns, violence, alcohol and a reportedly well-earned reputation as a womanizer. Villechaize was a French-Filipino "little person," so casting him may prove quite challenging: do they cast a little person and try to make them look like Herve, or do they go for looks (and acting talent), and then shrink that person using Hollywood movie magic?




#6 STEVE CARELL TO GET ALL NAPOLEONIC IN THE ADVENTURES OF BRIGADIER GERARD

Oh, no, yet ANOTHER comedy set during the Napoleonic Wars? Hollywood, get some original ideas! I do, of course, kid. Steve Carell has signed to star in The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard, about a brave but stupid soldier in Napoleon's French army who is there for every step of the conqueror's career, from his rise to his finish in exile. This is the type of comedy that Hollywood used to make much more often (Little Big Man, Love and Death, History of the World Part 1), but teen sex comedies and idiotic spoofs have since come to dominate. The production company is hoping for a spring 2009 start, from a script by John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky (cowriters of Blades of Glory), but they have to compete with a couple of other possible Carell projects like Get Smart 2 and Date Night, with Tina Fey.




#7 RIDLEY SCOTT'S OTHER SCI-FI NOVEL PROJECT: THE FOREVER WAR

Last week, director Ridley Scott (Alien, Bladerunner, Gladiator) talked at length about his work with Leonardo DiCaprio's production company on an adaptation of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Now this week, it's being reported that Scott has also signed with Fox 2000 to helm a movie version of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, which Variety says Scott had originally wanted to adapt way back in the 1980s. The Forever War is an intergalactic science fiction war story, as Earth fights an alien race called the Taurans (not the cow people from World of Warcraft), and a new race of cloned humans that is created to fight the war. This type of story is extremely common in sci-fi novels and TV shows, but there's been a surprising lack of big screen movies with this premise (probably because movies of this scale tend to be very expensive). Ridley Scott's always got a full schedule, and often ends up making movies that weren't even on his previously-announced slate, but if this ever happens, it sounds like the next big space epic after James Cameron's Avatar.




#8 PETER WEIR FINDING THE WAY BACK

Australian director Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) has signed to work next on The Way Back, a globetrotting survival-adventure drama, with filming set to start in March of 2009 in Bulgaria. Based upon a true story, from Weir's own script, The Way Back is about six prisoners (3 Poles, a Latvian, a Lithuanian and an American) of a Soviet gulag in Siberia who make their escape in 1940 -- but that is only the beginning, as they then must make their way across Asia, which takes them through Russia, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, the Himalayan Mountains and into Tibet and India. I'm not sure how well Bulgaria can feasibly stand in for all of those places, but maybe other locations will be used as well. Peter Weir has one of the most consistent records of quality of any director, so this is definitely an intriguing project to keep an eye on.




#9 TAYLOR HACKFORD TAKING HIS POUND OF FLESH WITH MERCHANT OF SHANGHAI

The next project for director Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman), AKA Mr. Helen Mirren, AKA Mr. Lucky Bastard, will be Merchant of Shanghai, which is not an adaptation of a Shakespeare play, but rather a biopic about one Silas Hardoon. Mr. Hardoon's life story couldn't be much more interesting: Jewish, but born in Baghdad, he made his way to Shanghai, China, where he worked as a debt collector before getting into real estate, cotton and the opium trade. His business dealings helped Shanghai grow into a modern city, fueled by the tens of thousands of Jews who fled there from Germany in the 1930s. Oh, and he also became a Buddhist later in life. I'm going to take a wild guess here, adding up ties to Buddhism and Taylor Hackford, and speculate that this might end up being a role for Richard Gere? Filming of Merchant of Shanghai is scheduled to start in Shanghai and surrounding areas in the fall of 2009 from a script rewrite by Timothy J. Sexton (cowriter of Children of Men).




#10 A BIG WEEK IN CANCELLED MOVIE PROJECTS

This week saw an unusual amount of potential movie projects being announced or mentioned by key players as being cancelled, kaput, dead. Director Richard Donner is responsible for two, saying that both Goonies 2 and Lethal Weapon 5 are no more. Efforts are being put forward to turn The Goonies into a Broadway musical, and Lethal Weapon 5 reportedly fell apart because Mel Gibson turned it down. Director David Fincher has given up on the George C. Clarke adaptation, Rendezvous with Rama, ostensibly because its producer Morgan Freeman is in such poor health following his near-fatal car accident. Finally, there is the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe adaptation known as Grayskull, which Latino Review reports is "dead" at Warner Bros following the departure of the execs who were most vocal in shepherding the project through development. With so many projects being announced this week, but only a few movies actually in wide release each week, it stands up to reason that movies do get cancelled. We just so rarely actually hear confirmation about it.




For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS through his MySpace page or via a RT forum message.

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