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HOLLYWOOD – NEXT UP: PART 1

Nick Roddick casts a glance at the casting couch and some projects coming up next from Hollywood: is George Clooney going to Bat again? Will Sandra Bullock be a Wonder ful woman? Is Christopher Walken into the Bears’ den?

Elemental; that’s the only word for it - ‘it’ being the link between Wolfgang Petersen’s last film, The Perfect Storm, and the one he is preparing now, Endurance. Of course, ever since he became internationally famous with Das Boot, Petersen has had a fondness for films about men battling the elements. And for those who might think I’m being politically incorrect, it has always tended to be men. In Storm, for instance, much play is made of the fact that Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character is every bit as good a skipper as George Clooney’s. Probably better, in fact. But did she battle the big one on the Banks? No, she did not.

Anyway, like The Perfect Storm and Das Boot, Endurance is a story about chaps doing desperately brave (and sometimes just plain desperate) things under extreme circumstances. True things, as well: the film tells the story of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s disastrous expedition to the South Pole in 1915. The project has been hanging around (tempting to say ‘on ice’) for quite a while, with Columbia never quite convinced that there was an audience for a group of people dying of cold in a featureless landscape. But, if Perfect Storm proved anything, it’s that you didn’t need a happy ending to have a hit.

What is more, Endurance’s prospects warmed up considerably in early April 2001. National Geographic Films’ new feature production arm came on board to partner Columbia on the project, and screenwriter Steven Zaillian was hired to do a final polish.

“a historical epic about which no one is saying anything at the moment”

Zaillian’s most recent high-profile collaborations have been with Steven Spielberg (he won an Oscar for the Schindler’s List script) and Martin Scorsese, for whom he worked on The Gangs of New York before teaming up with Ridley Scott on Black Hawk Down.

The story of Endurance centres on how the British explorer’s ship was crushed in the ice, leaving him and his crew to attempt to escape Antarctica on a small, self-built boat in the middle of winter - an undertaking which makes conditions on board the ‘Andrea Gail’ sound almost luxurious.

No cast members or start dates have yet been mentioned, and even Petersen is apparently keeping his options open: he is reportedly working with screenwriter David Franzoni - who, just to tie up the loose ends, wrote Ridley Scott’s last movie but one, the Oscar-winning Gladiator - on a historical epic about which no one is saying anything at the moment. Except, of course, that it’s historical.

“Clooney is rumoured to be returning to what we all thought was his least favourite role”

Meanwhile Perfect Storm star Clooney is rumoured - nothing more than that at this stage - to be returning to what we all thought was his least favourite role: that of the caped crusader, which he played in the unrapturously received Batman & Robin.

The whole Batman franchise is busy being renewed by enfant terrible Darren Aronofosky as a follow-up to his addiction saga, Requiem for a Dream. And it was Aronofosky who told someone (who then told Le Film Français) that George would be playing Bruce Wayne in his Batflick, which bears the title Year One. Let no one say I don’t source my rumours.

My What Paul Verhoeven Is Doing Next report: having interviewed the Flying Dutchman myself this time last year at the time of Hollow Man, I can attest to the fact that he always has several answers ready for the inevitable, end-of-interview ‘So what’s next?’ question.

Last July, top of the list appeared to be a movie about American suffragette Victoria Woodhull - a role which Nicole Kidman was lined up to play. But that has now apparently joined a whole slew of projects - Houdini; Crusades; a biopic about Adolf Hitler - on the back-burner as a new one comes to the fore. It’s called Official Assassins, and its subject matter is only slightly less controversial than the Hitler pic.
It apparently tells the story of the race, in the months immediately following World War II, by the Americans and the Soviets to recruit the top German scientists who had developed some of the Führer’s most deadly weapons. Knowing Verhoeven, it is unlikely that the central moral question - why were some Nazis executed for war crimes while others were given well-paid jobs in New Mexico and Novo Sibirsk? - will be passed over in silence.

The script for Assassins is by Michael Beckner, who wrote the upcoming Brad Pitt/Robert Redford movie, Spy Game. And Verhoeven reportedly committed to it in early May 2001. The film, sources say, will be made for Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures and could start shooting in Berlin this (Northern) autumn.

But there’s a hitch. Only a week after Official Assassins was ‘confirmed’, producer Jeremy Thomas announced in Cannes that Verhoeven would be returning to Europe, not to shoot a Hollywood movie in Berlin, but to make a Dutch film - his first for two decades - in Holland, France and Italy.

“..he ain’t getting any younger”

Verhoeven’s next film, said Thomas, would be The Source, which he would produce alongside fellow Brit (but long-time Hollywood resident) Alan Marshall. The script, based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, will be by Gerard Soeteman, who wrote many of the director’s best Dutch films, including The Fourth Man.

But what is less than certain is whether or not this will be Verhoeven’s ‘next’ film: the earliest Thomas hopes to shoot it is next (Northern) spring, which would give the director a chance to make Official Assassins first. Only problem is, Verhoeven’s average turnaround time between pictures has, of late, been around two years. And, like the rest of us, he ain’t getting any younger.

What’s the connection between Simone Simon, Nastassja Kinski and Ashley Judd? Well, since French star Simon made only one really memorable movie during her five-year stay in Hollywood, that shouldn’t be too difficult for the movie buffs among you.

No? Well, the picture she made was Cat People, the classic horror flick directed by fellow French person Jacques Tourneur at RKO in 1942. And Kinski, of course, starred in Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake, which made sexually explicit all the things that Tourneur’s film only hinted at.

Before you start imagining the rather unfeline Judd transforming into a claw-wielding moggy, however, I should point out that the Catwoman currently being developed at Warner Bros with Judd in the starring role is an original, not a remake. And although precise plot details have yet to be revealed, it would appear that the actress - seen most recently in Someone Like You and just off The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, in which she co-stars with Sandra Bullock and Ellen Burstyn - will be playing a character more in the mould of a superhero (think Batman, Wonder Woman and so on) than a supernatural being. The catch, of course, is that she uses her superpowers for a little light stealing. Denise DeNovi will produce and John Rogers is writing the screenplay.

"Walken has toned down the threatening side of his public persona, developing an interesting sideline in cookery programmes”

Oh, and by the way, the real Wonder Woman (as it were) is on her way back, this time to the big screen, with Sandra Bullock in talks to don the star-spangled corset for Warner Bros.

ONCE, A LONG time ago, I sat at the next table to Christopher Walken in a Los Angeles restaurant. No big deal, admittedly. But it did make quite clear that the vaguely cool sense of threat which the actor has made his stock-in-trade since The Deer Hunter (if not before) was pretty much part of his real-life persona. It didn’t encourage you to ask him to pass the salt.

Walken, of course, is now nearly 60 and looks slightly different from his seventies heyday. I’d say The Dead Zone was the definitive Walken performance - a wonderful mixture of aggression and paranoia - although his cameo in Pulp Fiction still carried much the same kind of charge, as did a recent rock video appearance. More recently, though, Walken has toned down the threatening side of his public persona, developing an interesting sideline in cookery programmes (his father was, after all, a baker).

But none of these developments quite prepared me for the announcement that the prince of unease was to play the lead human character in Disney’s upcoming Country Bears movie. For those of you who have never been to Disneyland, I should point out that the ‘Country Bear Jamboree’ is (along with ‘It’s a Small World’) the one attraction to which you can safely take anybody, from very small kids to elderly relations riddled with the kind of complaints they warn you about at the entrance to high-speed rides.

The Country Bears are a group of fiddle-and-jug-playing animatronic musicians who specialise in the sort of country music to which no one would ever think of applying the word ‘new’: in their world, even Hank Williams would be too radical. And they are quite simply the last group of entertainers with whom anyone would ever associate Christopher Walken.

But the attraction has been running since the original California park first opened, and Disney obviously felt it was time to introduce the Country Bears to a wider audience. So the film, using animatronics and live action, went into production on March 12, 2001. Walken plays Reid Thimple, a banker who is looking to foreclose on the Country Bear Hall. Well, at least he is the bad guy.

The bears, meanwhile, are being voiced by the cuddlier likes of Haley Joel Osment and Charles Dutton.

Published August 2, 2001

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George Clooney - Back in Bat?

PART 2:
Julia Roberts & Adam Sandler?
Toni Collette & Hugh Grant?


Wolfgang Petersen - a test of Endurance


Sandra Bullock - Film's Wonder Woman


Ain't getting any younger - Paul Verhoeven


Christopher Walken - toned down the threatening side of his public persona







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