Denis Villeneuve to Tackle Sci-Fi Classic Rendezvous with Rama, and More Movie News

This week’s Ketchup brings you more headlines from the world of film development news, covering such titles as Blue Beetle, The Masked Singer, and the Kanye biopic.


This WEEK’S TOP STORY

DENIS VILLENEUVE TO TACKLE SCI-FI CLASSIC RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA

(Photo by Jan Thijs/©Paramount Picture)

In many ways, science fiction authors in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were decades ahead of what Hollywood could adapt. Classics like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (now an Apple TV+ series), Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End all have development histories that date back to the 1970s itself. Another such sci-fi classic that has eluded adaptation is Clarke’s 1973 novel Rendezvous with Rama, about mankind discovering an alien ship in 2131. Savvy browsing of the Wayback Machine will deliver archives about a Rendezvous with Rama movie in the 1990s or early 2000s. With the sequel Blade Runner 2049 (Certified Fresh at 88%), and the recent remake Dune (Certified Fresh at 83%), director Denis Villeneuve is almost making a new career out of reviving sci-fi classics, and now he’s set to do the same for Rendezvous with Rama. Morgan Freeman, who has been attached as producer since the early 2000s (when he would have starred in the film for director David Fincher), remains involved as one of the producers. Freeman and his producing partner said in a statement, “Denis’ vision for Rama felt completely aligned with Arthur’s wishes, so we are confident that teaming with our producing partners Andrew and Broderick at Alcon is the right next step in this over-20-year odyssey!” Rendezvous with Rama will take a while to get ready for filming, so in the meantime, Villeneuve remains attached to direct Dune Part Two, which is scheduled for release on October 20, 2023.


Other Top Headlines

1. BLUE BEETLE SUPERHERO MOVIE TO FLY INTO THEATERS AFTER ALL

Concept art for Blue Beetle

(Photo by DC)

Hollywood is still very much in the baby steps stage of figuring out the balance between streaming services and traditional theatrical releases, and a film that could become emblematic of that back-and-forth is the DC Comics adaptation Blue Beetle. When it was announced just nine months ago, Blue Beetle was reported as an HBO Max exclusive (along with Batgirl, which, as far as we know, is still an HBO Max exclusive), as parent company Warner Bros. was expanding its DC Comics adaptations onto the streaming platform, similar to Marvel and Disney+ (with shows like Hawkeye). Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña was then cast as the character in August. Filming of Blue Beetle hasn’t started yet, but Warner Bros. has already changed their plans, as the film will now be an exclusive theatrical release, opening on August 18, 2023 (a week after Seth Rogen’s reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Blue Beetle was one of three projects Warner Bros. scheduled this week, with the other two being the Train to Busan (Certified Fresh at 94%) remake The Last Train to New York (4/21/2023) and the animated Wizard of Oz spinoff Toto (2/2/2024).


2. BLACK LIST 2021 INCLUDES BIOPICS FOR KANYE WEST AND MICHAEL BAY

Kanye West performing on stage

(Photo by Steve Mack/Everett Collection)

Since 2005, the Black List of Unproduced Screenplays (now shortened to just The Black List) has been a survey of entertainment industry insiders who nominate their picks for the best screenplays that have not yet been produced. Nearly a third of the screenplays since 2005 have been turned into movies, including American Hustle, Argo, Juno, The King’s Speech, The Revenant, Slumdog Millionaire, and last year’s Promising Young Woman. There is a lot to unpack in the Black List, so let’s start by looking at the biopics included this year. Unsurprisingly, entertainers make up the bulk of them, including The College Dropout (about rapper Kanye West’s first album), Michael Bay: The Explosive Biopic (about the eponymous director), and Shania! (about Canadian country singer Shania Twain). Biopics about non-entertainers include Believe Me, about former president Donald Trump, and The Villain, about “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli.


3. THE MASKED SINGER INCLUDED IN THE BLACK LIST 2021

Mickey Rourke singing "Stand By Me" dressed as a Gremlin on The Masked Singer

(Photo by ©Fox)

The screenplay that received the most votes in this year’s Black List is the high school wrestling drama Cauliflower (which refers to “cauliflower ear,” a common condition among wrestlers). The rest includes titles like See How They Run, Divorce Party, Killer Instinct, Ultra, Wait List, and the aforementioned The Villain. The current hit TV show The Masked Singer also made a surprise entry with a drama focusing on famous actor Mickey Rourke’s decision to appear on the show dressed up like a big furry gremlin (it’s unclear if Rourke would play himself). Other notable screenplays this year include Air Jordan (about Nike’s recruitment of Michael Jordan as their spokesman), A Hufflepuff Love Story (about a Hogwarts student frustrated by being sorted into the titular mystical house), and two whose titles explain themselves: Dennis Rodman’s 48 Hours in Vegas and St. Mary’s Catholic School Presents: The Vagina Monologues.


4. AWKWAFINA AND SANDRA OH TO STAR AS SISTERS

Awkwafina and Sandra Oh

(Photo by Priscilla Grant, Elizabeth Goodenough/Everett Collection)

There was a period when Netflix appeared to be snagging as many new projects as it could, but lately, they appear to be narrowing down and becoming somewhat more traditional and reserved. For example, the streaming giant is actually letting some projects go for other studios or producers to take over instead (in old school Hollywood parlance, that was called “turnaround“). 20th Century Studios has acquired the rights to an untitled comedy about sisters from Will Ferrell’s Gloria Sanchez production company, which Netflix had previously been developing. Awkwafina (The Farewell, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) and Sandra Oh (Sideways, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy and Killing Eve) have remained attached to star in the comedy throughout its development, and still are. The screenplay was written by Jen D’Angelo, who also recently wrote the upcoming Disney+ sequel Hocus Pocus 2. Awkwafina will star as a Jeopardy! fan who travels across the country with her “estranged trainwreck of a sister” (Oh) as they attempt to pay off their gambling addict mother’s debts with Jeopardy! winnings. Incidentally, while 20th Century Studios is producing the film, the popular trivia game show itself is produced by Sony Television.


5. DAISY RIDLEY INDIE FILM SAYS SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING

Daisy Ridley in Murder on the Orient Express

(Photo by Nicola Dove/©20th Century Fox Film Corporation)

There have been a handful of major events like World War II, the atomic era, and 9/11 that had direct impacts on the sort of movies that got made soon after, and there has been some speculation on what the COVID-19 pandemic will inspire. Some recent movies, for example, seem to have unusually nihilistic titles or premises, like last year’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Certified Fresh at 82%). In a similar vein, we have Sometimes I Think About Dying, an indie film currently filming in Oregon that Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and its sequels) is producing and starring in. Ridley will play a woman who sometimes thinks about dying (that’s literally half the logline) who meets a new guy at work. Sometimes I Think About Dying will be the third film from indie director Rachel Lambert, who made her feature debut in 2017 with In the Radiant City.


6. BEN SCHWARTZ STAR JOINS DRACULA SPINOFF RENFIELD

Ben Schwartz

(Photo by Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection)

Universal is currently in the midst of reviving their classic Universal Monsters characters with reboots, beginning with last year’s The Invisible Man (Certified Fresh at 92%) and including Ryan Gosling’s upcoming The Wolfman. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is represented in this new initiative by the spinoff Renfield, centering on Count Dracula’s creepy human lackey, to be played by Nicholas Hoult. Nicolas Cage was recently cast as Dracula himself, and Awkwafina also has an unknown supporting role. The latest star to join Renfield is comedian Ben Schwartz, possibly best known as the voice of Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog (Fresh at 63%) and its upcoming sequel (4/8/2022), who will play a “mobster” in the film. Renfield will be directed by Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War) when filming starts on location in New Orleans in early 2022.


7. MATTEL SLATE NOW INCLUDES TRUE STORY ABOUT A CHRISTMAS BALLOON

Mattel Logo

(Photo by Mattel)

The toy company that to date has had the most success getting Hollywood to adapt their licenses has been Hasbro, the brand behind such properties as G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Ouija, and Transformers. Mattel Films appears ready to compete, however, with over a dozen projects now in active development. Project #14, announced this week, is Christmas Balloon, which will be an adaptation of a true story in 2018 about an Arizona couple who delivered Christmas gifts to an 8-year-old girl across the border in Mexico after receiving her Christmas wish attached to a balloon; the gifts will, of course, be Mattel brand toys. The other projects Mattel Films is actively developing are American Girl, Barbie (starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling), Barney, Hot Wheels, Magic 8 Ball, Major Matt Mason (starring Tom Hanks), Masters of the Universe, Polly Pocket, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Thomas & Friends, UNO, View-Master, and Wishbone.


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