Everyone is hot on the trail for the new miss thang in Hollywood--Brittany Murphy (Girl, Interrupted). She's got 'em all talking about Oscars and what not, especially in her new movie, Don't Say a Word, with Michael Douglas, in which she once again plays a trouble lass stuck in a mental institution. She's also costarring with Drew Barrymore in Penny Marshall's Riding in Cars with Boys, due in Oct. And now she's signed up to join Mekhi Phifer (O) in The Untitled Detroit Project directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and also starring rapper Eminem, in his first feature film.
This is what I read in the Hollywood Reporter about the film: "An honest and provocative fictional examination of a critical month in the life of a young man named Jimmy (Eminem) as he searches for identity and a sense of purpose. Against the familiar backdrop of indifference and community decay, he learns to express his anger, fears and frustration as he struggles to transcend his bleak circumstances." In other words, Eminem plays a street punk who tries to break out. Why can't they just say that? Geez, they're trying to make it sound like an Ivory/Merchant film. Murphy is going to play Eminem's girlfriend. Lucky girl.
Vin Diesel: Part I
The buff star of The Fast and the Furious is banking some serious bucks lately. He's going to do the sequel to his claim-to-fame film Pitch Black for a reported $11 million. Not bad. The sequel is called The Chronicles of Riddick, in which Diesel will reprise his role as Riddick, a brooding convict who was being transported as part of a space mission that got shipwrecked on a mysterious planet. You remember, where the big bad bug-things came out at night and ate most of the cast? Sure. But Diesel's big payday didn't come easy. Apparently the studio brass had a difficult time shelling out the dough to get Diesel, but hey, he keeps making movies that do well at the box office. So, he's got the clout.
Vin Diesel: Part II
And that's not all Diesel is doing. He's also got a new film starting production in November called XXX. I don't believe there's any porno in it, but I could be wrong. Samuel L. Jackson is in negotiations to join the film as a government agent who recruits and trains Diesel's character for an undercover operation designed to infiltrate a Russian crime ring. Apparently, Diesel is playing one tough mother in XXX, a cross between James Bond and Limp Bizkit's lead singer Fred Durst, and will be performing some death defying stunts. And his asking price is only $10 million for this one. OK. Whatever.
Travolta and Jackson's "Basic" instinct
Speaking of Samuel L. Jackson...Pulp Fiction fans have a new reason to rejoice: John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson--who both starred in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 hit--are pairing up again for Phoenix Pictures' new military thriller Basic, set to begin production in November. Hold on-didn't I just say XXX was shooting in November? How is Jackson going to manage that one? Oh, who knows. He's Samuel L. Jackson; he can do anything he wants. In Basic, he and Travolta will play the leads in a drama centering on a Drug Enforcement Agency officer's investigation of the mysterious disappearance of a famed U.S. Army drill instructor and a group of cadets. John McTiernan (The Thomas Crown Affair) will direct Basic based on the screenplay by newcomer James Vanderbilt.
A date with Cool J
LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea) and Gabrielle Union (Two Can Play That Game) are going to star in the USA Film's Deliver Us From Eva about three guys who pay a smooth ladies' man (LL Cool J) $5,000 to go out with their meddling sister-in-law, Eva (Union). However, after a disastrous first date, the unlikely pair begins to fall for each other, while the three men are left without much help. Sorry, LL and Gabrielle, you two are interesting up-and-coming actors, but this script sounds pretty lame.
Just a couple of quick tidbits about movie actors going back to the thee-a-tar: First, Jason Biggs, that lovable goof ball from the American Pie series is going to be recreating the immortal Benjamin Braddock in the Broadway stage production of The Graduate. Of course, Ben was brought to life so vividly by Dustin Hoffman in the classic 1967 Mike Nichols' film, so Biggs has some big shoes to fill. Kathleen Turner is taking on the Anne Bancroft role of Mrs. Robinson and Alicia Silverstone will play daughter Elaine Robinson, played by Katharine Ross in the film. This casting choice makes me cringe a little.
And second, the lovely and talented Vanessa Williams (who would have thought a Miss America would turn out so well) will be reviving the role of the witch in an updated stage production of the James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods. The part was originally played by Bernadette Peters in 1987, who simply wowed them as the main foil to the travails of some fairy tale bigshots. But no matter, I'm sure Williams will give it her all.
The Hollywood studios are already hyping their crop of blockbusters for summer 2002, and it started long before Entertainment Weekly put Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst on its June 29 cover.
The hype went into overdrive in a galaxy far, far away, when George Lucas announced that he would unveil Star Wars: Episode II in May 2002.
In fact, sequels like Episode II seem to be a dominant theme for next summer's big releases. And chances are, if it's not a sequel, it's an adaptation of a cartoon or comic book hero. Could Hollywood be on to something?
"Until recently, sequels were lucky to do 60 percent of what the first film did," Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations said. "But with films like Mission: Impossible 2, Austin Powers 2 and Hannibal, the tide has changed."
Sequels are indeed proving to be a good summer formula. Dergarabedian noted that sequels are now outperforming their original counterparts.
"There is a built-in fan base inherent in sequels. They are pre-marketed," he said.
Video rentals don't hurt the cause either. Austin Powers, for example, found an audience on video that helped fuel the sequel's success.
Is the hype for summer 2002 too much, too soon? Only next summer will determine that. While the formula of sequels and hyping works now, you can only fool an audience so long.
Here are some films to watch out for next summer:
Spider-Man's senses must have been tingling on the set of this Marvel Comics classic. Since shooting began in January, death, injury and theft have plagued the troubled set. Let's hope the film, which explains how shy high school student Peter Parker acquires his web slinging abilities, has better luck at the box-office. Tobey Maguire takes on the role of Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst the salacious Mary Jane Watson and seasoned Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. (Sony Pictures)
Release date: May 3, 2002
Star Wars: Episode II
Set 10 years after Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace, Darth Sidious takes over the Republic, turns it into an empire and controls everything. The Clone Wars reach their pinnacle as the Jedi Knights struggle to defend the galaxy from the forces of evil. Meanwhile, Anakin Skywalker falls in love with Queen Amidala but begins to succumb to the Dark Side of the force. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman will reprise their roles. Ewan McGregor will take on the part of Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi as a young man. Cool guy Samuel L Jackson will play Jedi Knight Mace Windu. But will the presence of the all-CGI character Jar Jar Binks spawn as many venomous anti-fan Web sites as he did with The Phantom Menace? (20th Century Fox)
Release date: May 22, 2002
How can you go wrong with a group of teenagers who ride around in a van called "The Mystery Machine," solving crimes with their dog, Scooby-Doo? This is a live-action adaptation of the half-hour animated Hanna-Barbera series The Scooby-Doo Show, which aired on ABC from 1969 through 1974. It will be interesting to see how true the film stays to the story and its characters. But will there be a romance between real-life couple Freddie Prinze Jr and Sarah Michelle Gellar who play Fred and Daphne? And will those references we never got as kids be kept in? (Warner Bros.)
Release date: June 14, 2002
Adam Sandler plays a small-town guy who inherits a fortune and moves to the big city where he is quickly besieged by opportunists gunning for their piece of the pie. One of them is a pretty girl played by Winona Ryder. Seems someone finally told the actress that she needs make herself more marketable. Based on the Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. (Sony Pictures)
Release date: June 21, 2002
Steven Spielberg directs this sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic judicial system in which killers are arrested and convicted before they commit murder. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who also wrote Blade Runner, it stars Tom Cruise as Officer John Anderton. (20th Century Fox)
Release date: June 28, 2002
Men in Black 2
Fans have been anticipating this sequel to the 1997 blockbuster hit based on a Marvel Comics comic book about agents who protect Earth from extraterrestrial aliens. The irreplaceable Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprise their roles as Agents J and K, and Linda Fiorentino as Elle. If the anticipation is too much, check out the WB cartoon Men in Black: The Series on Saturday mornings.
Release date: July 3, 2002
Stuart Little 2
Who ate my cheese? It can only be Stuart Little (voiced by Michael J Fox), the super-intelligent mouse. He returns alongside his adoptive family (Geena Davis,Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki. Melanie Griffith lends her voice to Margalo, a bird out to romance the lovable rodent. (Sony Pictures)
Release date: Summer 2002
Austin Powers 3
Mike Myers is back as the International Man of Mystery. This prequel to earlier Austin Powers films follows the adventures of the world class playboy and part-time secret agent Austin Powesr as he finds his long lost parents. Also starring Heather Graham. (New Line Cinema)
Release date: Summer 2002