Weekly Ketchup: Disney Buys Lucasfilm, Schedules Star Wars: Episode VII for 2015
Plus, new roles for Jamie Foxx, Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, Paul Giamatti, and more.
This week in movie development news pretty much seemed to begin and end with Star Wars: Episode VII. There was, however, actually other stuff going on, including Jamie Foxx in talks to play an Amazing Spider-Man 2 villain, and new roles for Zac Efron, Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, Paul Giamatti, and Kurt Russell.
This Week's Top Story
WALT DISNEY PICTURES BUYS LUCASFILM AND PROMISES STAR WARS: EPISODE VII FOR 2015
Most weeks, this writer has to take some time to decide what the "Top Story" is for that week's Ketchup. This week, not so much. This may just be the top movie development story of the year, much less the month or week. And, if you're reading this column, you probably already know about it, but play along as if it's news, and maybe one of these details will be new to you. Walt Disney Pictures has purchased LucasFilm from its sole owner, a Mr. George Lucas of Marin County, for the amount of $4.05 billion. Although LucasFilm is the company behind lots of other things too (like say, the Indiana Jones franchise), Disney's acquisition is almost entirely for the rights of the Star Wars franchise, including all the various media (movies, TV, games, toys, etc) that it encompasses. Specifically, more immediately -- and for the fans, most intriguingly -- is the big announcement that Walt Disney Pictures will be releasing Star Wars: Episode VII in theaters sometime (almost certainly in the summer) in 2015. Star Wars: Episode VIII and Star Wars: Episode IX will follow in 2017 and 2019, respectively. As part of the deal, George Lucas will continue to serve as an advisor for the franchise, but he will not be writing or directing any of the films in the new trilogy. Well, that's only slightly true, as Lucas has indeed written story treatments for episodes 7-9, but he won't be the writer of the actual scripts. We don't know for sure what the story will entail, except that it won't be based on any of the various Star Wars novels which have already covered in detail the events of (much of) the rest of the lives of characters like Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and their kids (and are usually considered to be "canon"). The search for the writer of Episode 7 is currently ongoing. We know that people have been talking behind closed doors about this new trilogy of sequels because Mark Hamill revealed as much this week, saying that he and Carrie Fisher met with George Lucas this past summer; what's unclear is whether they would actually appear in them. The sticking point could be that Star Wars: Episode VII will be set about 20 years after Return of the Jedi, when Luke Skywalker is in his late 30s or early 40s, and Mark Hamill is already 61. Instead, it seems likely that younger actors will be cast as the older versions of the series' characters. The move to Disney has got to be a blow for 20th Century Fox, the studio that released the first six Star Wars movies. The situation also represents a quandary for future boxed sets, as 20th Century Fox retains rights to Star Wars in perpetuity, and the other five movies until 2020. There's still some money left for 20th Century Fox theatrically, however, as the studio's deal to release 3D versions of Episode II and Episode III in 2013 and 2014 remains. As for that $4.05 billion that George Lucas is receiving, it's not just going in his bank account. Instead, George Lucas is expected to donate most of that money to the various education-related charities that he supports.
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 SHOCKING NEWS: JAMIE FOXX TO PLAY ELECTRO IN THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
Many of the most popular comic book superheroes were created in a time (1940s to 1960s) when (for whatever reasons) "caucasian" was the default race for most characters. In the 21st century, much has been done to balance this issue out, which has included such changes of race as Pete Jones on Smallville (possibly the first of this trend), Kingpin in Daredevil, Heimdall in Thor, and Nick Fury in the Marvel Studios movies (a change that actually happened first in the "Ultimate" line of comics). This week, Jamie Foxx was announced as being in negotiations to play the villain Electro in the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man. In addition to being caucasian, Max "Electro" Dillon is also skinny/lanky, sports a bright green costume with yellow lightning bolts coming off his head, and in the Ultimate version, he's completely bald because his electric power effectively removed his hair via electrolysis. It's also worth noting that there has already been a long-running African American superhero with almost exactly the same powers as Electro, which is Black Lightning, who dates back to the 1970s when African-American characters frequently had the word "Black" in their name. It's currently unknown whether Jamie Foxx's Electro costume will feature those awesome yellow lightning bolts. Perhaps the film can spend half its running time explaining exactly what keeps those things from flopping over.
#2 MICHAEL FASSENDER AND COLIN FIRTH TO SQUARE OFF OVER WHO'S MORE OF A GENIUS
Colin Firth and Michael Fassbender have signed on to star in the literary biopic Genius about publishing editor Max Perkins (Firth), and his relationships with various early 20th century authors, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe (Fassbender). Filming will start in early 2014, around the time that Fassbender will turn 37, which was the age that Thomas Wolfe was when he died of tuberculosis, soon after he had reconciled differences with Perkins. British actor Michael Grandage will make his directorial debut with Genius, working from a script by screenwriter John Logan, whose other upcoming films include Darren Aronofsky's Noah, Jon Favreau's Jersey Boys, and the next three James Bond movies (including Skyfall). Logan's script is an adaptation of the biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg, who also wrote biographies of Samuel Goldwin, Katherine Hepburn, and Charles Lindbergh.
#3 GUILLERMO DEL TORO RUMOR OF THE WEEK: A SUPERNATURAL SUPER TEAM MOVIE CALLED HEAVEN SENT?
The movie websites of today are admittedly a lot slicker than our collective roots, but there are still sites out there like Ain't It Cool News and Latino Review that harken back to that earlier, more rambunctious time. This story does indeed come from Latino Review, and it's also completely unconfirmed at this point, but it's also such a cool story, that we had to include it. Latino Review is claiming that Guillermo Del Toro so impressed Warner Bros with Pacific Rim that they have been trying to get him interested in other projects (like a V movie or a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sequel). What Guillermo Del Toro really wants to do instead is supposedly called Heaven Sent. If it's real, Heaven Sent would be a sort of super team movie featuring various "supernatural" heroes from DC Comics, which has way more such characters than Marvel does. The list of potential characters includes The Spectre, Deadman, Swamp Thing, Phantom Stranger, Zatanna, John Constanine: Hellblazer, and Etrigan the Demon. Of course, the down side to all of this is... this story could be completely bogus. But if it's real... the idea of Guillermo Del Toro being allowed to play with the very big toy box of the DC Comics magical characters is sort of a fanboy's dream.
#4 HORROR/WESTERN HYBRID BONE TOMAHAWK ATTRACTS KURT RUSSELL AND OTHERS
There is a certain casting technique, arguably perfected by Quentin Tarantino, in which a young director shows off his influences via the actor that he casts in his first film(s). That appears to be what's going on with the horror/western hybrid Bone Tomahawk from first time director S. Craig Zahler. If that's true, then it's possible that Zahler is a fan of the 1980s films of John Carpenter (Kurt Russell), The Cabin in the Woods (Richard Jenkins), Boys Don't Cry (Peter Sarsgaard), and the Showtime series Dexter (Jennifer Carpenter). Or... all of those connections might just be coincidental. Bone Tomahawk will be about four men who team up to rescue people being held captive by a group of cannibal troglodytes (aka cavemen).
#5 THE JFK ASSASSINATION DRAMA PARKLAND ATTRACTS THREE ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEES
Parkland is the title of a drama that Tom Hanks is producing about the Dallas hospital where President John F. Kennedy, his (presumed) assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and his assassin Jack Ruby all died in November, 1963. Filming is going to start soon so that the movie can be in theaters just in time for the 50th anniversary on November 22, 2013. As part of that, casting is well underway, with awards-friendly actors Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jacki Weaver all now cast in Parkland. The film will mark the directorial debut of Peter Landesman, who also wrote the script, based on material in the book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Bugliosi, author of Helter Skelter (and yes, I got that right off the book's cover).
#6 THE (SECOND) BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
Although far more time was spent discussing the success of The Avengers, or the disappointment of John Carter, an underreported yet surprising story was exactly how popular The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was internationally. Produced for the equivalent of $10 million, that British comedy has taken in over $134 million worldwide. As such, it shouldn't be surprising at all to discover that the film's writer Ol Parker is now working on a sequel. All of the cast members reportedly want to return, although that's probably not possible for at least one of them (for obvious reasons). It's unknown what the sequel might be about, except that it will probably continue the stories of a bunch of elderly Brits living in a hotel in India, and might possibly add some new residents/cast members (as sequels usually do). This is one of the Fresh Developments of the week due to the 77% "Fresh" rating on the RT Tomatometer (although this particular writer disagrees with that positive rating... just to get that out there).
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#3 JASON STATHAM SEQUELS THE EXPENDABLES 3 AND THE MECHANIC 2 CONFIRMED AT AFM
Some stories require a lot of explanation, but this one really doesn't. The American Film Market is an annual event in Santa Monica, California, where independent film producers hawk their movies to the distributors who actually get the movies in theaters around the world. AFM took place this week, and two of the movies that are being sold there are the Jason Statham sequels The Expendables 3 and The Mechanic 2 (which is a sequel to a movie which was itself a remake). Not much else is really known. As for why this is a Rotten Idea, well, it's mostly because of the 53% Rotten RT Tomatometer score for The Mechanic. As for The Expendables 3, well, maybe a third one is Rotten because eventually they will run out of aging action stars (though the eventual scraping of the bottom of the barrel could lead to some truly so-bad-they're-great choices, so there is that).
#2 ZAC EFRON SAYS TO HARRISON FORD, YOU BELONG TO ME
Harrison Ford and Zac Efron are in talks to star in You Belong to Me, a psychological thriller which will be the next film from director Rob Reiner (Misery, Stand by Me). Harrison Ford would play a psychiatrist who bonds with the brother (Efron) of one of his female patients who recently committed suicide, only to find that the brother starts seducing the doctor's wife and daughter. The tone of You Belong to Me is described as being like Cape Fear (because Cape Fear is a movie people generally like). Although Reiner had a string of excellent films from 1984 to 1994, the last 18 years have seen mostly "Rotten" RT Tomatometer scores for the director, and that's why this is a Rotten Idea this week.
#1 THREE STORIES IN ONE: CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN TO AIRSPACE TO CELL
Some weeks, the stories form Seven-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon style chains. This story connects four movies, starting with the long-in-development notion of a movie based upon the long running Castle Wolfenstein video game series, a shooter series set during World War II that involves battling Nazis and the supernatural monsters they've created. Or, as the independent producers described it, it's sort of a cross between Captain America: The First Avengers and Inglourious Basterds, because those are movies people know and like (versus, say, comparing it to The Keep, Dead Snow, or Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S.). Anyway, at least one of those comparisons is probably because Roger Avary used to collaborate with Quentin Tarantino, and now Avary is the guy they've hired to write and direct the Castle Wolfenstein movie. Roger Avary's agent was quite busy this week, because he's also been signed to direct the John Cusack airplane thriller Airspace, about a pilot who is chased mid-air by a "heavily armed MiG fighter pilot." And that leads us to two more movies, in which John Cusack is also going to star, in a series of castings Nicolas Cage would envy. Cell is the title of a Stephen King adaptation (Cusack also starred in the King adaptation 1408) about cellphone signals that turn people into massacre machines. Cusack also signed on for Due Process, which is set in the exciting arena of world... (zzzz...) finances. Here, Cusack will play a farmer who has to face off against two big city bankers who want to foreclose on his farm. As for why all of this is Rotten? Well, the two first two are because of Roger Avary's RT Tomatometer scores. As for all the John Cusack movies, well, it can be said at least that he's only had one "Fresh" movie (Hot Tub Time Machine) in the last five years (since 1408 in 2007).
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook.