Weekly Ketchup: Joe Johnston takes on The Wolf Man, and Rob Zombie may take on Conan

Plus, Josh Brolin may take on Bush and the next Terminator

by Greg Dean Schmitz | Friday, Feb. 08 2008

Welcome to the first edition of a new weekly column I'm going to start doing for Rotten Tomatoes. I suppose that's a rather generic introduction to a new column, but alas. Imagine something clever and insert it here, then, I guess. An introduction to the column is most definitely in order, however, so here it is, in neat order: each Friday, I will serve you up a dozen or so of the week's most pertinent bits of movie development news, in my opinion, with as much commentary as I can muster, which is basically how I will pick the items.

I know you really want to just get to the meat and potatoes of this column, so I won't dwell too long on a further introduction to myself. In fact, if you want one, it's down below, as a good bye of sorts instead of a hello. With that said, let's get to this thing.

This week's column starts off with the answer to a question posed by one of last week's big stories: whither The Wolf Man? Director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo, starring Robin Williams), who had been shepherding the atmospheric remake of the Universal classic monster, recently separated ways with the project (he wanted more time for rewrites, the studio... not so much). So, Universal Pictures started courting nearly every director in Hollywood not currently working on something, it seemed, and the name that seemed to jump out of most of the lists that surfaced was one Brett Ratner, a director known for stepping in after other directors, but not necessarily, you know... being particularly good at it (watch the X-Men trilogy back-to-back, and I think you will get my drift). Good news came this week, however, that it is not Ratner, but director Joe Johnston who will start work very soon on finishing what Romanek nearly started on The Wolf Man. Joe Johnston has never really emerged as a "name director" that fans follow the way they do others (either positively or negatively), but the seven films he has directed in the last 20 years, which include Jumanji, Jurassic Park III and two greatly underrated movies (The Rocketeer and October Sky), are all solid and demonstrate an ability to deliver mainstream popcorn movie entertainment. One could interpret Johnston's filmography as a negative, since his films don't reflect the darkness that one might expect from a revival of The Wolf Man. However, he's certainly got suspense chops, and much of the preproduction is already done (ie, a lot of that stuff that helps establish the "look and feel" of a movie anyway).

JOSH BROLIN NEVER MET A GOVERNOR HE COULDN'T PLAY

Just a few weeks after Oliver Stone announced his imminent plans to direct, for a release in the next several months, a Bush movie starring Josh Brolin (yes, Barbra's stepson) as our current president (and the former governor of Texas), McG recently revealed he has plans for Brolin of his own, which involve another governor, sort of. The director, best known for the Charlie's Angels movies, talked online recently (http://www.the213.net/php/article.php?id=977) about his plans for the awkwardly-titled Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins, which will star Christian Bale as John Connor, and stated his philosophy of how he wants to move the Terminator franchise past Arnold Schwarzenegger. Saying that a lot of today's actors are "effeminate", McG mentioned Josh Brolin as someone he'd like to work with as the Terminator of the 21st Century. As a rising star, Brolin is probably a lot cheaper than all those stars that McG thinks are such girly men stars, too.

CONAN

Another franchise that got its start with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but is being recast as it is revived (and re-imagined) for the 21st century is Conan, which by all reports will strive in future films to be closer to the original tales by Robert E. Howard, and less like... whatever the Schwarzenegger movies were. Usually, the news I've heard about Conan, as it has gone through a very long road over the course of the last several years is who might play the Cimmerian in question. The news this week, however, is a bit more related to the actual reality of the movie being made, which is namely that Lionsgate has worked a deal with the WGA to proceed with script development during the strike, and that they are continuing to meet with directors, with the most recent one apparently being none other than Rob Zombie. Zombie definitely has a handle on visceral violence, which the Conan stories are thick with, but he has not yet shown a knack for movies that are of a larger scope than low budget horror slashers. Of course, directors like Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro have gone down nearly the exact same path, with great effect, so maybe Rob Zombie really can pull it off. If nothing else, he's certainly one of the coolest directors one can imagine for Conan. With word that the upcoming Age of Conan MMO, which this movie will undoubtedly be tied to, is ultra-violent and sex-filled (decaptiations and nudity being included), Lionsgate is probably looking to make a film that will be like the Saw of sword and sorcery movies. I have a feeling Rob Zombie would love doing just that.

STAR WARS 7 IN 2008?

Coming as quite a surprise out of left field, and definitely to be taken with a grain of salt, is the news via a British toy site that Star Wars may be returning to the big screen in 2008 as a 7th original story... an animated story, that is. The new animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, has been known about for some time, but according to this latest story, there are plans to release the first three episode of the series in theaters first, in this coming September, and then continue the story on TV. The "but" to this story is that the site's information appears to just concern the U.K. Now, it seems likely that if this plan is going to happen in England, it is probably going to happen in the USA too, but for now, that's not confirmed. Check out http://www.starwars.com/theclonewars/ to see what the show, and potential movie, looks like.

VENOM

Another movie rumor that is worth mentioning, but in my opinion, hopefully unfounded, is a report at IESB.net that Marvel is meeting with writers about a potential solo movie for Spider-Man villain, Venom, who made his big screen debut in the vastly disappointing Spider-Man 3. Venom is a character that is sort of like a generational divide for comics fans, and representational of the type of character that made its debut in the 1980s just in time to become popular in the early 1990s, when comic book quality is seen by many (like, say, me) to have hit its low, even as sales actually hit record highs. Venom is a big, monstrous "anti-hero" that has always screamed style over substance to me. Add in the fact that even with a huge budget and Sam Raimi at the rein, Venom's big budget debut still didn't do much for me, and it's really hard to get very excited about an entire movie about the gooey black monster-as-hero.

NEUROTIC TV COMEDIES TO FILM NEWS

Two movies were announced this week that are oddly coincidental to each other's timing, given their shared roots in a certain type of TV comedy. First, there is word that the creative forces behind the cult favorite comedy series, Arrested Development has started development, which hopefully won't become arrested (yes, a terrible turn of a phrase, but how could I resist?), on a big screen adaptation (or continuation, more likely) of the series known for its huge ensemble cast of eccentric characters. The other project that seems related, somehow, is the news that Woody Allen is finally ready to return to New York after a few movies abroad, for his next project, and he's recruited the comedian who may be the root of the archetypal "neurotic Jew" as the type it's been known on TV over the last two decades, whether it be in Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, and that is of course, Larry David. Woody Allen directing a movie starring Larry David is almost like a "dream team", if your sense of humor skews in a certain direction, but it just seems too good to be true, and possibly doomed, at the same time, somehow. Although he has an occasional film that works, it has been far too long since Woody Allen's output was consistently great. But, if you are a Woody Allen fan, you cross your fingers every time the reviews for his next project start surfacing. I'd love to get a hilarious moviegoing experience from Larry David channeling Woody. Here's to crossing those fingers.

BIOPICS ABOUT PEOPLE KNOWN FOR LARGE WHITE EYEBALLS

Really, how do movies get announced in the same week that have such wonderfully odd things in common? I'm pretty sure no one actually sets out to time these things this well. But, hey, it gives me a great story to end the column with. The two movies are both biopics about people famous for creations that had large white eyeballs. First, there is Big Eyes, an eccentric sounding look at the life of painter Margaret Keane, who will be played by Kate Hudson. Normally, my breadth of trivia is pretty wide, but I have to admit I didn't know who Margaret Keane was, but it turns out her work is extremely famous. Remember those super-treacly paintings from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s of women and children with super huge eyes (see her official site at http://www.keane-eyes.com for a reminder)? Perhaps not all of them were by Keane herself (her style easily imitated, I think), but it appears she definitely set the standard, such as it is. Personally, as with the large eyes seen in anime and manga, eyes that large sort of freak me out, but I can see the strange appeal somehow, too. Big Eyes will be directed by the writing team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who are well known for biopics about eccentric personalities like Ed Wood, The People vs Larry Flynt and Man in the Moon (Andy Kaufman), with filming possibly starting this coming June.

And that other biopic involving large white eyeballs? I speak of Henson, about Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, many of whom, like Cookie Monster, had big white googly eyes. Hey, I take coincidental connections where I find them. A production company has announced plans to start filming possibly later this year, on a budget of $30 million, although they do not yet have a director or a star, and the screenwriter has only one low budget, relatively obscure feature (2005's Come Away Home) to his credit thus far. Jim Henson is definitely a figure whose impact reached millions of people, especially of a certain generation (although obviously his characters continue to touch kids today), whether it be strictly as comedy (The Muppets) or his contribution to early education (Sesame Street). As CHUD.com points out, however, one problem with Jim Henson's story, from a writing perspective, is that it's hard to see where the drama and conflict comes from. So, one has to wonder if any attempt to dramatize his life is doomed to be (here's that word again) treacly and lightweight. Of course, it would be very interesting to find out how Henson came up with some of his classic characters, but a documentary could probably do that just as well as a dramatic feature.

YOU SAY GOODBYE, I SAY HELLO

Ah yes, so that's the week as it was. I promised you a hello as a goodbye, and here it goes. My name's Greg Dean Schmitz, and I got my start in movie news back in 1997 with a site called Upcomingmovies.com that tracked movie news, information and such, starting right around the time that sites like Ain't it Cool News got their start. Things went well, and then I brought my "thing" to Yahoo! Movies in 2002, where my former site still resides as Greg's Previews of Upcoming Movies. Between there and here, however, I had some medical problems that lasted a few years, which made maintaining the site as a one man operation simply impossible on a daily basis. So it became weekly, and then less than weekly, and then it stopped.

The old site will be missed by me at least, but things have changed since 1997, and these days there is less of a need to keep up with doing 200 movie updates a week (thanks to sites like Wikipedia and the like). If I was born with a mutant ability, it was probably that I was ever able to do that. Well, somewhere along the line, I lost that power, and now I'm a mere mortal, but instead, I can give you the best of the week, here at Rotten Tomatoes, which I guess, to borrow the site's metaphor, is to say that you will get the freshest of movie news in this column. My apologies if that isn't a particularly fresh analogy.

Greg Dean Schmitz, for Rotten Tomatoes

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