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HOLLYWOOD NOTES: JULY 31, 2003

Tim Burton goes cute, M. Night Shayamalan goes into The Woods and Renee Zellweger may just get into Janis Joplin’s wardrobe, according to Nick Roddick in his second report this month on what’s doing with whom and when, in Hollywood.

WHEN IT COMES to film fantasy, there are few more consistently successful names than Tim Burton and M. Night Shyamalan, even if one of them has been around for a decade, while the other shot to the front of the class with The Sixth Sense in 1999.

Both directors have new projects lined up, but they could scarcely be more different. Burton, whose gothic imagination has tended towards the macabre, is going cute with a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is being made with the full approval of the estate of the late Roald Dahl, who apparently detested the earlier version, which was retitled Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory so as to focus attention on its star, Gene Wilder. Of course, being Burton, the director plans to "reimagine” Dahl's book, and will be working with Brad Grey, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's new production company, Plan B.

Shyamalan, meanwhile, will be sticking closer to the style of his previous movies with The Woods. For once, though, the film will be a period piece: it is set in 1897 and is about a small community that lives in fear of the race of mythological beings that are supposed to inhabit the woods surrounding their village (chances are, this being a Shyamalan film, that the villagers are right).

The latter film will start shooting in October and will star Ashton Kutcher, Joaquin Phoenix and newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard - daughter of Ron - who replaced original female star Kirsten Dunst in early June. Burton's film has neither a cast nor a start-date so far.

IT MAY BE only rock 'n' roll, but we still love it. Or, to put it another way, here's another film about the devil's music that may or may not get made.

Regular readers of Hollywood Notes will recall occasional references, over the past five or six years to plans to make a film about the short and not especially sweet life of Janis Joplin, the legendary late-sixties singer who went from obscurity to drug-fuelled burn-out in less than five years (she started singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966 and died in October 1970). At one stage, there were even two competing Joplin biopics, with performers linked to the role have included Brittany Murphy and singer Melissa Etheridge.

While I'm not exactly holding my breath, the latest incarnation of the project - a co-production between studio Paramount and major indie Lakeshore - does sound a little more hopeful. No director has yet come on board, but Renée Zellweger - born, like Joplin, in Texas - is apparently committed to star in the film, with production due to start early next year.

In the meantime, of course, Zellweger has got to complete the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, for which, in an intriguing development, director Beeban Kidron has signed on.

And, before we leave rock 'n' roll entirely, I just thought I'd mention that the same studio (Paramount, but this time in association with MTV) is said to be developing plans for a full-scale Ozzy Osbourne biopic, right from when he dropped out of school in Birmingham at the age of 15, linked up with Terry 'Geezer' Butler and formed Black Sabbath.

The Real Cancun may prove that reality television doesn't necessarily translate into box-office gold, but a reality TV hit focused on a real person with a somewhat, er, colourful life is clearly a lot more promising. No dates, stars or directors attached to this one yet, though.

IT'S BEEN FIVE years since Richard Attenborough last made a film - the little-seen Canadian Indian tale Grey Owl, starring Pierce Brosnan. In the meantime, he has rarely been out of the public eye, thanks to his involvement with BAFTA and his more recent role as chairman of a new film facility, Dragon Studios, in Wales, whose ideal nature as a base for film production he has been promoting in his usual tireless fashion.

His new project as a director, Closing the Ring, is based in Northern Ireland and is set in two different time periods - 1943, at the height of World War II, and 1993 - and tells of a US airman whose B-17 crashes near Belfast. Just before he dies, he gives a local man a ring to return to his girlfriend in North Carolina.

What with one thing and another, it takes 50 years for the ring to be delivered (hence the double time-period), during which time the airman's girl has married his best friend. The script is an original by Peter Woodward, son of actor Edward, who is himself better known as an actor (his most recent roles have been in Puckoon and The Patriot). It has already attracted a fairly hefty cast list, including Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Hopper and Mena Suvari, with Brenda Blethyn, Peter O'Toole and Ryan Phillippe expected to sign on before production starts next month (September).

Meanwhile, Attenborough’s long-cherished project - a biography of American revolutionary Tom Paine, for which radical British playwright Trevor Griffith wrote a screenplay a decade or more ago - remains in limbo.

NOW HERE'S A question to puzzle people with at dinner parties: what's the connection between Noel Coward and Italian cooking? Well, the answer is not going to win you a lot of kudos outside film circles, because it is: Sandra Nettelbeck.

Nettelbeck is the director of Bella Martha (Mostly Martha), the German film which didn't win the Best Foreign Film Oscar but did do tasty business at box offices around the world. The Martha in question (played by Martina Gedeck) is a chef in an Italian restaurant in Hamburg who comes into conflict with the new temporary chef (Italian star Sergio Castellitto) before learning from him that obsessive attention to detail is no better a way of living your life than it is of running a kitchen.

And the Coward connection? Well, Nettelbeck is in talks with UK producers Steve Woolley and Elisabeth Karlson to write the script of and direct a screen version of Coward's 1932 play, Design for Living, which was first filmed the following year by another German film-maker, Ernst Lubitsch, in a version which, bizarrely, kept the story but jettisoned Coward's dialogue (the screenplay was by Ben Hecht and toned down - without entirely removing - the ménage à trois aspect of the play).

Martha has been good to Nettelbeck. Following the film's success, she has already lined up another English language film, Helen - described as "a portrayal of a marriage and a tale of friendship, one of courage, devotion and the triumph of the heart over the mind". The film is due to shoot in Canada next year. And she will start work next month (September) on Sergeant Pepper, the story of the friendship between a six-year-old boy and the titular character which is a talking dog. Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen and Germany's Barbara Auer and August Zirner star.

Meanwhile, another literary adaptation from the same era is due to start production rather sooner - this autumn, in fact. Piccadilly Jim is adapted from the novel by PG Wodehouse and tells the story of Jim Crocker, an American-born ne'er-do-well whose escapades interfere with the social-climbing aspirations of his step-mother, Eugenia. She tries to have him sent home to America; he tries to disguise himself as someone else.

The adaptation is being done by Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, and the film will be directed by John McKay (Crush). So far, the only confirmed piece of casting is rising American star Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), with Tom Wilkinson pencilled in to play the part of Jim's father, Bingley.

Published July 31, 2003

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