Role Call: Crowe has “Green” in his eyes

Actor Russell Crowe has been turning down high-profiled parts left and right since his Oscar-winning turn as Maximus in Gladiator, leaving many studio executive scratching their heads. Well, here’s the reason why. He’ll make his debut as director, screenwriter, producer and, of course, also star in The Long Green Shore, a film about the Australian involvement in World War II. Based on a novel of the same name, the story centers on an Australian battalion whose orders are to beat back the retreating Japanese, after the Germans have already surrendered. Upon arriving on the beaches of New Guinea, they find both American and Japanese corpses strewn all over, evidence of a bloody battle recently fought. Pushed by a hard-nosed commander, the battalion presses on to engage battle with starving and inevitably beaten Japanese soldiers. Also in the novel, the Australian soldiers wax philosophical about their mission and the obligations to fight when there’s no clear-cut reason to. I guess when you’re a big time actor and want to direct, picking an epic subject close to your heart with lots of battle scenes is the surest way to an Oscar (i.e. Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner). But word of advice, Russell: Don’t go the Terrence Malick/The Thin Red Line route and bore the hell of out the audience. Please.

A “Chicago” update

The Miramax big-screen adaptation of the high-spirited Bob Fosse musical Chicago has just signed up lead No. 2-Renee Zellweger. She’ll join Catherine Zeta-Jones and play Roxie to Zeta-Jones‘ Velma–the two murdering dancer-singers who take 1930s Chicago by storm. Now, we know Zeta-Jones has extensive singing and dancing experience and is dying to hoof it up on the screen, but Zellweger as a singer-dancer? I thought she could only gained weight for a role. Apparently there’s more to this petite blonde who wowed audiences in this year’s Bridget Jones’ Diary than meets the eye. She showed off her talent to director Rob Marshall, who was suitably impressed and offered her the role. Also in consideration for parts in the film are Kevin Spacey as the sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn and Kathy Bates as Mama Morton, the prison matron who acts as a mediator between the murderesses and the press. This is gonna be fun.

Jackie Chan is back!

Thank God. I was getting a little concerned I hadn’t heard about the versatile Asian actor/martial arts master taking on any new parts in a few weeks. He was doing so well there, accepting just about everything under the sun. But alas, here he is again–and all is right in the world. He’s finalizing a deal to remake the Jerry Lewis‘ classic The Bellboy. Actually, this choice for Chan makes sense once you think about it–the bumbling and totally inept hero with a heart of gold, who works at a hotel and gets into any number of hilarious situations. And who can also kick the crap out of you. The script, being worked on as we speak, is apparently set in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Hotel. Chan, who is basking in the limelight with his newest box office record-breaker Rush Hour 2, has been attached to The Bellboy project for about a year. But his most recent keen response will most likely jumpstart the production. Still, I wonder what Jerry would say.

They are all headed for “Madagascar”

“They,” meaning Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Madonna and Jason Alexander, and Madagascar meaning the latest animated effort from DreamWorks of which this happy bunch will be lending their vocal talents. The studio has more than proven its mettle in the animation department with this summer’s smash success Shrek. So jumping back on the wagon, the execs have come up with a story about four zoo animals who become the target of a bleeding-heart animal rights group, who feel that the animals should be put back into the wild where they belong. They are sent, via ship, to their native homeland, but when the ship capsizes, they find themselves in Madagascar. An interesting choice of locale, but this sounds like an excellent follow up to Shrek.

What will they think of next?

It’s been standard practice to take old, forgotten televisions shows and turn them into movies, because apparently it’s too difficult to think of original ideas. Well, guess what? Those wacky guys over at MGM have decided to develop some of their more popular movies into compelling television series, including Fame and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. OK, wait, back up a minute. Wasn’t Fame already turned into a TV show? And they are trying it again? And, honestly, how can you make a TV series out of It’s a Mad…World? As a colleague of mine remarked on hearing this information–are they insane? Indeed, they must be. But, it doesn’t end there. MGM is also looking at turning their films The Thomas Crown Affair and Legally Blonde into televised messes. Oh, I’m not being fair. Some of these ideas might actually work. But then again, they may not.