My highly esteemed colleague Will Harris has been right on top of the huge small screen stories that seem to be breaking right and left at the TCA conference this week. Still, it’s not like there hasn’t been any news in movieland. It’s almost hard to know where to start.
* The Hollywood Reporter as well as Nikki Finke and new stablemate Mike Fleming (more on that below) are carrying the news that, in the wake of ongoing script problems, the kibosh has been put on Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman IV” with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and a 2012 reboot, written by James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac“) announced. The new film will feature a once-again teenage Peter Parker, so Taylor Lautner is no doubt already in touch with his agent.
THR says the script problems had something to do with a disagreement over supervillains between Raimi and Sony and/or Marvel Studios. Finke also notes that the fourth installment would probably not have been in 3-D and it seems reasonable that that might have been a factor, given the current mania for the process.
* In another apparent scoop for new Deadline team member Mike Fleming, Tom Hanks is returning as a writer-director for the second time since making his 1996 charmer, “That Thing You Do!” A comedy, “Larry Crowne” will reteam him with his “Charlie Wilson’s War” co-star, Julia Roberts. Like “Up in the Air,” according to Fleming it’s somewhat topical in that’s it’s about a middle-aged guy forced to reinvent his career at a time when past generations where just starting to settle down.
* Stuart Townsend (“The Queen of the Damned”) appears to be going for a lifetime Pete Best non-achievement award. Like the percussionist who was drummed out of the Beatles in favor of Ringo Starr, Townsend was famously sacked a decade ago just prior to shooting “The Fellowship of the Ring. The highly unlikely story back then was that Peter Jackson suddenly realized that Townsend was just a bit young to be play Aragorn. Cut to yesterday when, one day before production of Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” movie, Townsend suddenly developed a nasty case of creative differences and was ejected from his spot in the Warriors 3. His replacement is Joshua Dallas, mainly a theater performer until recently.
*89 year-old writer-director Erich Rohmer has passed on. A practicing Catholic, who Roger Ebert aptly describes as a “gentle and wise humanist of the movies,” he was a truly unique figure in the French New Wave of the 1960s and onward. No stylistic bomb-thrower, he made primarily what amounted to extremely literate, extremely low-key, philosophical sex comedies where eroticism was rampant but relatively little sex actually happened. You can get a taste of the great director, an obvious influence on American arthouser Whit Stillman and the provider of the classic source material for Chris Rock’s last comedy (!), over at my old digs and at the Auteurs.
* The American Society of Cinematographers has made its award nominations. Alongside such awards usual suspects as “Avatar” (director of photography Mario Fiore), “The Hurt Locker,” (dp Barry Ackroyd), and “Inglourious Basterds” (dp Robert Richardson) we have such newcomers as the minimalist black & white of the dark German drama, “The White Ribbon,” (dp Christian Berger), and the maximalist hoopla of “Nine” (dp Dione Beebe).
* The Writer’s Guild has made its selections, also. I’ve got to say that they’ve made some odd choices this year, like nominating “Avatar” at all. There seems to be near universal agreement that writing, at least in terms of dialogue, is definitely not the film’s strong suit.
A big part of the problem may be that several key films were disqualified because of Writer’s Guild rules. Still, I personally don’t mind seeing either “The Hangover” or “Star Trek” on the list. Both are solid examples of witty old school storytelling of the least pretentious type. Considering how much I disliked both “Transformers” and the “Fringe” TV pilot, also credited to Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, I’m kind of shocking myself here.
* One great screenplay that did get a WGA nod was for the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man.” With the brother-auteur-act now gearing up for a new version of “True Grit,” an old script of theirs for another remake has been revived. Starring Shirley Maclaine and Michael Caine, “Gambit” was an enjoyable little 1966 caper comedy, cowritten by Alvin Sargent — coincidentally the last writer charged with trying to save “Spiderman 4.” It’s story by Sidney Carroll involved more than one unusual twist and it’ll be interesting to see what the Coens made of it, if we ever get the chance.
* Speaking of awards, here’s something I’ve always kind of suspected thats revealed by the American Cinema Editors’ (A.C.E.) award nominations: film editors are big ol’ geeks. That’s a compliment where I come from. However, missing is “Inglourious Basterds,” probably because Tarantino’s preference for long scenes and long takes means that his films are less edited than most other contemporary films. Still, awards are supposed to be for quality, not quantity.
* Finally, Anne Thompson broke the story yesterday that NYC-based reporter Mike Fleming had left — or I should say “ankled” — Variety for a gig working with Nikki Finke, supplementing her Deadline|Hollywood blog with a new Deadline|New York site. This may be bad news for the venerable publication but is actually great news for online entertainment journalism as Fleming’s terrific work will not be hidden behind his ex-employer’s pay wall. Still, as she points out, there are some concerns — starting with the question of whether Ms. Finke is capable of getting along with someone else in a more or less co-equal role.
There is clearly no love lost between Finke and Thompson — my reference to her seems to have been the final straw that had Finke declaring me a “useless blogger” some time ago. Still, as Thompson implies, there isn’t that much love lost between Finke and any other writer on the planet. I certainly wasn’t bothered by her diss. On the contrary, it’s fairly clear that you’re nobody in this town until you’re insulted by La Finke.
Nevertheless, I don’t personally know Finke, so when I saw this quote from her in the press release announcing Fleming’s hiring, I thought maybe there was a better chance for this upcoming partnership than I first imagined:
Few people know that Mike and I, while fierce competitors, also have been friends for close to 20 years. I was a devoted reader of his old ‘Buzz’ column for Weekly Variety, and then addicted to his former ‘Dish’ column for Daily Variety.
But then, in an update, Thompson found a delightful item in which she called her friendly rival a “hypocrite” and accused him of being desperate to get noticed. Hopefully, 3000 miles will serve as enough of a buffer between Fleming and his new coworker/employer. Personally, however, I can’t imagine six more frightening words than “Nikki Finke is my new boss.”