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NEXT FROM HOLLYWOOD – PART 2

Nick Roddick continues his report on Hollywood’s latest moves, shakes and casting concepts – like maybe Julia Roberts & Adam Sandler and Mel Gibson & M Night Shayamalan and Toni Collette & Hugh Grant.

Who is the second most unlikely on-screen partner you can think of for Hollywood’s current favourite female star, Julia Roberts? (I modified the question to ‘second most unlikely’ after it occurred to me that the most unlikely had to be MTV gross-out guy Tom Green, star of this summer’s Freddy Got Fingered, the most critically reviled movie in living memory).

But second to Green could well be Adam Sandler, whose style of comedy is not that different from Green’s and is not really the sort of thing that Ms Roberts does - or did. But Sandler and she look likely to co-star in an as-yet untitled movie based on a netzine article called Genie in a Bottle: The Sex Drink That’s Rocking Little Rock. The drink in question is apparently called Niagara, and is the female equivalent of Viagra - or rather, it produces many of the same sensations. And they can’t get enough of it in the title (Arkansas) town.

Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison (which is based at Revolution Studios), has bought the article, commissioned a screenplay and approached Roberts. I’ll let you know if she says yes.

The actress, meanwhile, is about to start work on Tracks, based on the true story of a woman who crossed the Australian outback alone but for a trio of camels. And she reportedly wants Mel Gibson to direct her.

“Disney execs reportedly read the script on a Saturday and had a deal set up before the weekend was over”

Speaking of the Melster, he is reportedly in talks with Pittsburgh wunderkind M Night Shyamalan to take the lead role in his third film, Signs. Bruce Willis took the lead in the other two, each time playing it straight opposite a potential scene-stealer: the diminutive Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense; and Samuel L Jackson as a clairvoyant with a stick and an afro in Unbreakable. Whether Shyamalan, Willis or his co-stars should get the credit, the two films grossed just under a billion dollars between them internationally.

The new movie is going to be the first Shyamalan opus with a rural setting: a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where some mysterious crop circles appear. No prizes for guessing that they are not the work of some prank-playing kid with a tractor.

Disney execs reportedly read the script on a Saturday and had a deal set up with the writer/director before the weekend was over. Gibson - who is currently at work on Vietnam drama We Were Soldiers Once, directed by Braveheart writer Randall Wallace - apparently didn’t take much longer to get interested. Also likely to co-star is You Can Count on Me discovery Mark Ruffalo. How long it will all take to come together, however, is anybody’s guess.

“classic Aldrich stuff: tough underdogs facing up to tough overdogs in a trial of strength and endurance”

Fans of the late Robert Aldrich will be pleased to know that there are plans to remake one of his best late-period movies, The Longest Yard, a 1974 sports saga hailed by at least one eminent French critic as an enduring masterpiece. The original, you may (or may not) recall, was about a football match between prisoners and prison guards. It was classic Aldrich stuff: tough underdogs facing up to tough overdogs in a trial of strength and endurance. The ‘football’, of course, was the gridiron variety.

The remake will be different, however. Paramount is relocating the action to a British prison, and the game will, as a result, still be football. Only it will be soccer, as the Americans insist on calling it. Best of all, the Burt Reynolds role - the tough old football pro who co-ordinates the prisoners’ team and leads them to victory - will be played by Vinnie Jones. And Vinnie, non-Brits may need reminding, was the hard man of the British football pitch before he flew off to Hollywood to become a movie star (if you can call a supporting role in Gone in 60 Seconds being a movie star).

The new film will be directed by Barry Skolnick, with Vas Blackwood and Jason Stathem (who appeared with Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) also appearing.

“an ordinary guy who ends up doing some corporate espionage”

The progress to solo stardom of Ally McBeal regular Lucy Liu - from a dodgy supporting role in Payback, via the triple-headed Charlie’s Angels and Mike Figgis’ ensemble piece, Hotel - looks like reaching fruition with the upcoming The Company Man.

Liu, who stars opposite Jeremy Northam, plays a mysterious woman who seems to be the only source of salvation for Northam’s character, an ordinary guy who ends up doing some corporate espionage. The film will be the first directorial outing for Vicenzo Natali since his cult hit, Cube, and is also the first film to be announced by Pandora Films since it relocated from Paris to Burbank. Production began in Toronto on May 7.

“two powerful people have the same idea at much the same time”

That old Hollywood curse - the one that says that two powerful people have the same idea at much the same time, and end up making movies on the same subject which come out in the same month - looks like it has struck the life story of Harry Houdini.

A biopic of the famous escape artist and illusionist was one of the projects being developed by Ang Lee. Now along comes another ‘illusionist’ movie, admittedly not about Houdini, but about a French magician with a very similar name: Robert Houdin. It is called Smoke and Mirrors, and has cropped up in dispatches a few times in the past, with both Sean Connery and Mel Gibson mentioned as possible stars.

Now, however, it seems to be on the fast track. And, if you want a powerful cast, you don’t get much more powerful than this, at least in terms of Hollywood royalty: Michael Douglas in the lead, with wife Catherine Zeta-Jones co-starring, and a possible cameo role for father Kirk. John McTiernan was at one stage going to direct, but has since backed out again.

Just to complete the family picture, the film - which is set in the 1850s - is being produced by Michael’s older brother, Joel, together with Catherine’s brother, David Jones (who, unlike his sister, hasn’t incorporated his grandmother’s name into his own).

“the life story of a fellow Italian with even more of the myth about her”

Of late, the directorial career of Franco Zeffirelli has alternated between semi-autobiographical period pieces like Tea With Mussolini and operatic movies such as Otello. Now, however, the flamboyant Italian maestro is in the final stages of pre-production on Callas Forever, the life story of a fellow Italian with even more of the myth about her.

The film will not, however, tell the whole of Callas’ story: instead, it will focus on the last month of her life (July 1977), most of which she spent alone in an apartment in Paris. The title role was originally to have been played by Greek soprano Teresa Stratas, but she was recently replaced by the somewhat more bankable Fanny Ardant (although it is not clear who will do the singing). Jeremy Irons plays a theatrical agent who attempts to coax Callas out of retirement. Production has just started, in Paris.

Irons has been busy this (Northern) summer, since he has also taken over from John Malkovich in Claude Lelouch’s new film And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, which is being made in both French and English and began shooting in Paris at the beginning of May.

Irons plays a gentleman thief-cum-international yachtsman - a part which has gone through quite a few modifications since it was first penned. The role was reportedly originally tailor-made for Dustin Hoffman, then reshaped for Malkovich. But, with production delays on Liliana Cavani’s Ripley’s Game - in which Malkovich plays the title role - and the (then) looming actor’s strike, Lelouch decided to recast, in the process rewriting the role entirely to turn the central character from an American into an Englishman. Whence Irons.

“horror movies whose budgets were substantial by local standards, minimal in international terms”

In the 60s and 70s, when making films about contemporary reality in Spain was a tricky option given the energetic activities of Franco’s censor, a number of
directors developed a nice little line in international revenue with English-language (or dubbed) horror movies whose budgets were substantial by local standards, minimal in international terms.

For a while, thanks to the work of genre masters like Jesus (Jess) Franco, Spain was home to a certain kind of horror flick: stylish, gory and erotic in equal measure. Now, some 30 years later, expanding Spanish mini-major Filmax has returned to the source, putting together a stylish package which stands a pretty good chance of getting international distribution.

The highest-profile film in the package, set in a dark and brooding house in a remote part of the Spanish countryside, went into production in April 2001. It is called Darkness, and is directed by Jaume Balaguero, whose last film was a stylish, scary little number called Sin nombre (Nameless).

That film, however, didn’t boast much in the way of name cast. Darkness does. Heading the line-up are Oscar-winner Anna Paquin (seen most recently in X-Men) and Lena Olin, who recently appeared in husband Bille August’s Chocolat. Also cast, along with a number of Spanish actors, are Iain Glen and Giancarlo Giannini, whose most recent international outings have been Tomb Raider and Hannibal respectively.

Miramax’s Dimension Films - which recently took a step up the status ladder itself with Spy Kids - will be distributing Darkness in all English-speaking places.

“collapsed from exhaustion with three weeks of principal photography to go”

When Another Director is called in, it’s usually because the original one turns out to be useless, has gone way over budget or has fallen out with the star. Those who remember The Double will know that even helmers of the stature of Roman Polanski are not immune to this fate.

But with the new version of The Time Machine, this is apparently not quite the case. The original director - Simon Wells, great grandson of HG Wells, who wrote the original novel - has indeed been temporarily replaced, but that is reportedly because he collapsed from exhaustion with three weeks of principal photography to go. Warner Bros and DreamWorks had to bring in Gore Verbinski (a real chameleon director, having come to Time Machine by way of Mouse Hunt and The Mexican) to finish shooting for him. Wells will be back for post-production, according to the studio.

The film, which stars Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons and Mark Addy, began shooting on February 5, 2001, paused at the beginning of May and wrapped in early June. It is expected to be a Christmas 2001 release.

… JUST TO RECAP on the casting of About a Boy, about which this boy seems to have been spreading rumours since (at least) Christmas. The Working Title film - which went into production in mid-April with the Weisz brothers (American Pie) behind the camera - stars (as it has always been going to) Hugh Grant as the serial womaniser who forms a bond with the 12-year-old son of one conquest, then finds it hard to move on to the next.

The former (the mum) is being played by Toni Collette (not Emma Thompson), with Rachel Weisz segueing from her derring do exploits in The Mummy Returns and her harrowing wartime experiences in Stalingrad in Enemy at the Gates to play the girl with whom he falls in love.

There will now be no further mention of this film until it qualifies for the ‘Coming Soon’ section.

Published August 9, 2001

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Julia Roberts and Adam Sandler?


Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers Once


Lucy Liu fought her way to the top in Charlies Angels


Toni Collette - about to star in About a Boy

PART ONE







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