Because Will Smith's last foray into the Western genre was so successful, he just has to strap on cowboy boots and six-shooters once again, doesn't he? Anyone who saw Wild Wild West (or heard the song) knows that's sarcasm. The Wrap reports that the After Earth star is in talks with Warner Bros. to star in their remake of The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah's brutal 1969 classic. Smith will also likely serve as a producer through this Overbrook Entertainment company. Until his suicide last year, Tony Scott had been developing the remake from a script by Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential).
The new Wild Bunch will be decidedly different from the original, a rapidly-edited, explosively violent elegy to the Old West in which aging outlaws try to hit paydirt one last time along the U.S.-Mexico border before the West they know disappears forever. Weintraub and Warner Bros. plan something far more radical, though: they want their Wild Bunch remake to be set in the present day and following a disgraced DEA agent (Smith) as he assembles a posse to cross the border and apprehend a Mexican drug lord. Meaning that it's basically an entirely different film.
No release date has been set, and representatives for Smith and Weintraub didn't immediately return requests for comment.
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How do you follow up your improbably successful hit about a foul-mouthed teddy bear? Make a movie in the genre that, of late, has been improbably successful: the Western. Yep, Family Guy mastermind, upcoming Oscar host, and Ted director Seth MacFarlane is next helming a Western comedy in the mode of Blazing Saddles called A Million Ways to Die in the West. And Hollywood.com has confirmed that its comedic pedigree just got a major boost, in that Charlize Theron is in final talks to star. She'll play an outlaw's wife who teaches an easily spooked farmer (MacFarlane) to shoot in order to win back his wife, who left him after a gunfight.
The Western lay fallow in Hollywood for so long that fans of sagebrush and saguaros have been particularly excited by the blockbuster success of a couple recent oaters: 2010's Coen Brothers remake of True Grit, which grossed $171 million domestically (off a $38 million budget!), and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, which has scored $147 million since it's Dec. 25 release. That's a lot of money for your saddlebag. Not to mention that Disney looked to the Old West when they pinned their hopes on what could be their next big franchise-starter, The Lone Ranger (out July 3). Still two hit Westerns, and one hoped-for hit that's far from a sure thing, aren't enough for us to declare that Hollywood cinema's greatest, and most uniquely American, genre is ready for a full-fledged revival.
And make no mistake, the Western is Hollywood's greatest genre. It's the summing up of American mythmaking, a dusty canvas on which filmmakers have interrogated the ideals and values, compromises and crimes that make up the American character and have defined this country's history. Far from being some retrograde idealization of a violent, even genocidal time, the best Westerns like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, Ride Lonesome, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Unforgiven don't seek to escape into the past but use history to explain the present. They also just tell damn good stories. So are cowboys and outlaws really set for a comeback? Well, excuse the pun, but we'll have to hold our horses. Here are four reasons why the recent crop of Western hits may not signal a lasting revival.
1. The Lone Ranger
Yes, Disney has invested a lot of faith in this project. A reported $250 million worth of faith. That's a production budget that's going to be extremely difficult to recoup. It has likable stars — Armie Hammer as the titular masked avenger and Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick Tonto — and a classic premise time-tested on radio and TV. But Disney recently spent $200+ million on another film with a classic premise, John Carter, a bomb so big the company ended up cleaning house at its movie division. Not to mention that Lone Ranger director Gore Verbinski's last two Pirates of the Caribbean movies were pretty much the definition of bloated, CGI-larded excess. If The Lone Ranger fails — reports of shooting delays aren't promising — it'll stop the Western's revival right in its tracks. And even if it's a hit, what success it achieves will be difficult to duplicate. It's not like there are many other instantly recognizable Western franchises like Lone Ranger just waiting to be resurrected. You also have to recognize that the best Westerns of recent years have come from directors with a vision. And we all know...
2. ...Directors With a Vision Can Be Hard To Come By.
True Grit had the Coens. Django Unchained had Tarantino. But for every hit like either of those, there are multiple non-auteur duds like Appaloosa, The Missing, or The Alamo. The Coens and Tarantino already have fans who will come out to see anything they do. And no wonder. Because they're able to tap into the inherent flexibility of the genre and make it completely their own, not just homages or nostalgia trips. How many other directors are there waiting to contribute something really new and valuable to the Western? Maybe MacFarlane can be that director if he can actually make a comedy that deconstructs the Western without merely replicating what Blazing Saddles did 40 years ago.
Twenty years ago, an independent film from an unknown director appeared on the scene and immediately launched a legend. The film was Reservoir Dogs, and the soon-to-be filmmaking prodigy was Quentin Tarantino. Flash forward to a more contemporary setting and the release of each new Tarantino film has become a celebrated event. The man is an auteur of the highest regard and much of his acclaim has been a byproduct of his ability to bring out the absolute best performances from the actors he painstakingly selects. Often times these actors are not those who would immediately jump to mind as being the apt choice. But one need only look at what he was able to do with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction to understand that Tarantino knows precisely what he’s doing.
This Christmas, we’ll see Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx (Ray) get his moment in the QT spotlight when he headlines Django Unchained. The film is the story of a slave, Django, taken on as an apprentice by a bounty hunter; promised his freedom if he can help track down a pair of ruthless outlaws. All the while, Django is also on the trail of his wife who was kidnapped by a sinister, eccentric plantation owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Speaking to Foxx in a roundtable interview after Django Unchained’s wildly successful panel at San Diego Comic-Con, the actor had plenty to say about his role, his costar Kerry Washington, and his longtime-coming opportunity to work with Tarantino. The first question was possibly the most routine. So often actors are asked about their toughest scene to shoot. When the question was presented to Foxx, he humbly deferred to his costar.
“The most courageous person in this movie is Kerry Washington,” said Foxx. “You do something bad to guys, that’s sort of to be expected. But when Kerry had to take lashes, that was the toughest scene for me. Quentin played music in-between takes of this scene. So I asked him to play this song by gospel singer Fred Hammond.” At this point, Jamie began to briefly ply his trade as a singer as he vocalized the lyrics, “no weapon formed against me shall prosper.” If you ever suspected his silk-like voice was the product of studio magic, put that misconception to rest right now. “That song was playing on the speakers set up through the whole place. Some of the extras, one woman from New Orleans who had never been on a set before…she knew that song. She began to rock back and forth with her child. As Quentin was shooting, he was wiping away the water that had filled his eyepiece. It was very emotional.”
Transitioning from here to talking about his director, Foxx used a descriptor we wouldn’t have expected. “Quentin’s a hip-hop artist, I told him. People keep talking about seeing surprises in the various clips, and that’s because of Quentin’s hip-hop. A hip-hop artist will drop a single, then leak something over here, and drop something over there because he knows it’s hot. He’s on the spot with the way he does things. The way his dialogue works, it’s musical.”
Further perpetuating the hip-hop comparison, Foxx spoke highly of Tarantino’s wild improvisational skills on set (possible spoilers ahead). “On the spur of the moment, he rewrote the end of the movie. He blows up [a] house, and says ‘my ending doesn’t work.’ I said, ‘what are you going to do with it?’ He goes, ‘gimmie a second.’ And he’s walking on the rubble like this—(imitates some sort of aggravated beast). Then he goes, ‘I got it.’ He goes to his trailer and comes back with the end of the movie. It was dope. Nobody does that. When a writer writes a movie, he goes and gets a cabin. Usually he’s there for nine months and comes down like Moses with the tablets. This dude just went in his trailer. That’s the difference in his musical quality. He’s riffing, but he’s riffing as a genius like Mozart.”
A different ending is one thing, but Foxx is quick to mention that Tarantino is also up to the task of topping himself “Are you serious? I don’t want to cuss, but…crazy. There’s just no way to describe it. There are talented people and there are God-gifted people. He’s God-gifted. There was something that was troubling him, he went away, and when he got it, he came back like ‘I got this muthaf*****.’ When you see the ending, I don’t want to give it away, it’s classic. It ends up with myself and Samuel Jackson at the very end of the movie.”
Speaking of, what did Foxx think of working with Tarantino mainstay Samuel L. Jackson? “Jackson was housing the part. People wouldn’t go to sleep. I know Kerry will probably tell you, we wouldn’t go to sleep if we knew we had to act against Sammy Jackson in the morning. He was kicking everybody’s ass. So Quentin made the ending appropriate. ”
Foxx’s short musical refrain still lingering warmly in our ears, we wondered if he would get to do any singing in the movie. He disappointed us with his response. “I sung, but I sung badly…on purpose.” We wondered if pretending to be a bad singer, given Foxx’s abilities, was difficult. “Yeah, it was. I had to do it, but it was only a little bit so it was cool. It makes sense in the movie.”
Well, how about a song for the soundtrack, Jamie? “Yessir! I wouldn’t sing it, but I already wrote something. I ran into Rick Ross and told him he should come by the set. I know Quentin doesn’t do original stuff, but Django is hip-hop, it’s a different thing. So Rick Ross shows up, huge fan of Quentin. I told him, if you’re gonna write a song for Django Unchained, should say these words…” And Foxx proceeds to lay out the lyrics that will comprise what could be the first original song on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack…
“I need a hundred black coffins
For a hundred bad men.
Dig a hundred black graves
So I can lay they ass in.”
Knowing Quentin’s propensity for paying reverence to his favorite exploitation and otherwise obscure films, we asked Foxx if there were any films he was assigned to watch in preparation for this role. “The original Django. It was amazing. And to actually have the original Django himself (Franco Nero) in the movie. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him, but he was the biggest star on that set. And for him to give his blessing…wow. And I think this film follows true to Django, and I think that’s what’s going to be the pleasant surprise for people. It’s a western, and it stays along the lines of a western that just happens be set against the backdrop of slavery. Slavery almost becomes secondary at a certain point. He starts as a slave, traditional slave story. But once he becomes a bounty hunter, now it’s about revenge and about getting his girl.”
One of the most compelling aspects of many westerns is the love story. We asked Foxx about reuniting with Washington (the two worked together in Ray) to create that love story. “Kerry’s a rider. She’s not a daffodil; she’s not weak. She’s in there with the big boys and giving a performance that makes the movie move. If it was just simply about revenge, you’d tire with it. But the fact that this man just wants his wife and the way she holds on for him, is just amazing.”
Foxx couldn’t help but close the conversation by praising his director. “All I can say is thank you to Quentin Tarantino. I told him that if he gets married, I’d sing at his wedding. I’ll deejay his bedroom if I need to. In this business, it really does come down to moments like this; moments that change your career. This movie is one of the ones, I think, will change the trajectory of where I was going. So thanks to him.”
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[Photo Credit: Weinstein Company]
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