Sunday, 3 April 2011

Is the tide about to turn? (Film News - 02/04/11)

It's an odd week to be writing up, very little on the news front that could possibly excite anyone. That said I was interested in an unusual box office related piece which taken in conjunction with one film that I was planning to bury after the jump makes a fascinating leader.

Untitled Yang Guifei project

Or why Hollywood may stop being the Holiday destination for talent.

At CinemaCon's annual conference for U.S. theatre owners an interesting statistic was dominating the first day. Warner Bros. noted a 65% expansion in the Chinese Film Market in 2010, and with 3 new screens opening every day on average the total take in China is likely to outstrip the U.S. within the decade. Given the pummelling the U.S. box office is getting at the moment this could come sooner than they project. Overall studios will therefore need to be more mindful of the potential of overseas, especially Chinese, exports.

At present there's a strict quota on American films shown in China but whilst the Communist government is planning to relax that it will take more to persuade the audiences to switch to non-homegrown talent. Just look at France which still enjoys a thriving market for French produced films. As audiences and box office take increase the knock on effect will be an increase in budgets for Chinese films. With increasing budgets comes increasing salaries and before you know it everyone wants to work for the Chinese film industry.

Which brings me to the second story - it has already started. Antoine Fuqua, the very American director of Training Day and Shooter has been recruited to direct a tragic period epic about the relationship between the 8th Century Emperor Xuanzong and of the four most celebrated beauties of ancient China Yang Guifei. It's an immensely popular story in China, celebrated in poetry, art (like the example below) and opera over the years and it will certainly be a challenge to bring it to the silver screen.

With a budget of 200m Yuan (about $30m) it will add considerable international cachet to both the project and Fuqua which could substantially improve it's international box office potential. Whether Fuqua is the right (most subtle) person for the job is another question, as is the delayed Tupac Shakur biopic which he was due to film this summer.

Whatever happens though this is definitely something to watch out for.

Read on for Zombies taking over the world (if they can get the money) and politically challenging women (being fought over by men). Plus the latest casting news and round up of new projects kicking off production.

World War Z

Those of you who thought the big screen adaptation of Max Brooks' excellent Zombie Apocalypse novel was dead in the water (excuse the pun) fear not as funding discussions between Paramount and other studios in order to get together enough money to do it justice. The bad news is that they obviously think they need a lot of money to do it justice - given that the unique selling point of the book is that it's all done in interviews which shouldn't need much cash at all that makes me think it will be a lot more expansive and - potentially - rubbish.

Untitled Gertude Bell biopic

British minor aristocracy meddling in the Middle East seem to be the order of the day at the moment. A few weeks ago we looked at the potential biopic of Lady Hester Stanhope and today it's Gertrude Bell CBE (above), the archaeologist, writer and all-round good egg. Active on behalf of the British Government during the First World War she is credited, along with T.E. Lawrence of uniting the Arab tribes in order to fight the Ottoman Empire. After the way her work was instrumental in establishing what is now Iraq. Ridley Scott is saying he wants to direct a film of her life (cannily mixing the proto-feminism of Thelma and Louise with the geopolitical knowledge of Kingdom of Heaven) but he'll have to duke it out with Werner Herzog who's been planning a film of her life for many years. Now that's a celebrity death match I'd pay to see, my money's on Herzog getting out of the gate first after all Scott's already linked to about a dozen other projects.

Casting News

The biggest casting story this week is for Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson, which we briefly discussed last week, not that we have a replacement Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter (as the British royals on a jolly to the States) but Bill Murray has signed on as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Superb casting there, both with the look and the mix of humour and gravitas that only Murray can bring to the screen. We're on cameo alert with the confirmation that Johnny Depp will paint a little in Martin Scorcese's Hugo Cabret and the latest potential obligatory Avengers trailer for Thor which might be Jeremy Renner in full Hawkeye mode, which at least makes more sense than Samuel L.'s Nick Fury who we've met before (I still doubt it's necessary). Talking of Renner some websites have been reporting he's close to being announced as Matt Damon's replacement for The Bourne Legacy. I doubt that's true - wouldn't the character be just a bit too close to his Mission: Impossible franchise-stealing Brandt.

Production News

I've been on IMDb again. So sue me. The following projects, all of which we've mentioned before, have kicked off the production process: TV to movie adaptation The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Ski dramedy Woodchucks, Monk Meditation Silence and the Anjelina Jolie version of Cleopatra (now with David Fincher rumoured as director). This is on top of Hype Park on Hudson and the Yang Guifei project mentioned above.

The following, though, I had never heard of until I checked this week.


Well, it existed yesterday, but it's already been pulled into obscurity (in development) on IMDb. I know nothing but it's a comedy called "Bumped" from the director of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Man of the House so could be great fun or utterly dreadful.

Castro's Daughter

A biopic of Alina Fernandez, the exiled daughter of Fidel Castro (natch), who fled Cuba in 1993 (disguised as a bewigged Spanish tourist). Since then she's written a tell-all autobiography (below) and now hosts a Miami based radio programme which looks at Cuban politics. It's unlikely to be completely balanced.

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