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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Our UK correspondent Nick Roddick's regular 'tour de studios' unearths the latest casting and professional bed swapping deals; Arnie's back in the saddle, Leonardo is in a gang and Samuel (Jackson) is remaking Shaft! Plus: 2 more Matrixes with Keanu.

Man of the moment Tom Cruise looks like being the star of two of next year’s biggest potential hits. He’ll be back in action in Mission: Impossible 2, which has now, as a result of production delays, been moved to a (northern hemisphere) summer 2000 berth from its original run-up-to-Christmas ‘99 booking. And he stars in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi drama Minority Report, about a future society in which murderers get arrested before they commit the crime. That was, at one stage, going to open within a few weeks of Mission next summer but has now in turn been moved back to Christmas 2000.

Cruise and Spielberg won’t be the only above-the-title names in Minority Report, though: the other lead looks like being played by Matt Damon, who (unlike Cruise) has worked with Spielberg before - the title role in Saving Private Ryan.

Damon - who recently wrapped Billy Bob Thornton’s All the Pretty Horses and is currently in Italy playing the title role in Anthony Minghella’s movie version of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley - looks set to play Cruise’s brother in Spielberg’s film. This is a more conflicted role than it sounds, since Cruise is a cop and Damon one of the future murderers he is assigned to arrest.

Cruise’s production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, meanwhile, is developing a remake of the Roger Corman-produced action flick, Death Race 2000. The original was directed by (of all people) Paul Bartel, and featured a relatively fresh-faced Sylvester Stallone battling Keith Carradine in a cross-country car race in which there were no rules.

The new version will be the work of Brit director Paul Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon), who apparently got to know Corman when the latter distributed Anderson’s debut movie, Shopping, in the US. The remake - which, inevitably, will be called Death Race 3000 - will up the ante by making the race a round-the-world event that starts in Tokyo, and will use computer-generated cars, roads and cities. The drivers, though, will be human. Well, sort of.

Leonardo DiCaprio certainly seems to be working his way through the A-list directors of an earlier generation. He filled his time between two box-office hits (The Beach has yet to open and is unlikely to match Titanic, but is equally unlikely to sink without trace) with a role in Woody Allen’s Celebrity. Now, there is talk of him doing one for Martin Scorsese (pic).

Gangs of New York is a period piece about hoodlums in the Big Apple in the twenties, and has been written by regular Scorsese collaborator Jay Cocks. The project is set up at Disney and is expected to roll in November, using sets at Cinecittà in Rome rather than the actual mean streets of Manhattan.

What makes Gangs different from such other Scorsese sorties into the world of organised (and disorganised) crime as Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino is the ethnic background of the hoods in question: the gangsters in Gangs will be Irish, not Italian. Scorsese is expected to complete the big-budget project before starting on his Dean Martin biopic, Dino, at Warner Bros some time early next year.

Forget those rumours that Sean Connery might be playing Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s three-movie version of The Lord of the Rings. He isn’t: Ian McKellen is. The juve lead has also been cast. Frodo, whose quest links the three books in Tolkien’s trilogy, will be played by former child star Elijah Wood, seen most recently in The Faculty and Deep Impact. Currently, he’s just off Shiny New Enemies, in which he appeared opposite Salma Hayek and Jeff Goldblum.

The original hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, meanwhile, will be played by Ian Holm; Liv Tyler recently signed on as Queen of the Fairies; and veteran British horror star Christopher Lee will play the traitorous Lord Saruman of Isengard, who shows up in Book Two and is finally abandoned to the Ents by Gandalf. Production begins this month.

Another long-cherished project - John Singleton’s remake of BLAXPLOITATION classic Shaft - is also firming up by leaps and bounds. Joining Samuel L Jackson (who was always pretty much first choice for the title role) is Christian Bale, who will play the killer of the young woman whose murder sets the movie in motion. Shaft is trying to track down the only eyewitness. So is the killer.

It will be quite a change of tone for Bale who, prior to 1999, was best known for playing innocents in a wicked world (The Secret Agent, Preaching to the Perverted, All the Little Animals, The Velvet Goldmine). Whatever else they do, American Psycho (in which he stars) and Shaft should broaden his range a little. Also featured in Shaft will be rapper Busta Rhymes (who was in Singleton’s Higher Learning).

Jackson, meanwhile, will additionally headline action/comedy The 51st State, which is to be directed by Hong Kong’s Ronnie Yu. The story of an American drug dealer caught up in the Liverpool underworld, the script is one of those fairytale success stories. Writer Stel Pavlou, who was working in an liquor store in the North of England, wrote it in his spare time, then sent it off to Tim Roth. Roth was busy with his own projects but passed it on to Jackson, who liked it enough to commit to produce it as well as star in it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been absent from the screen for quite a while (but will be back up there soon in Universal’s supernatural thriller End of Days), has earmarked a new superhero role for himself as the pulp magazine character Doc Savage. He will play Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, which Castle Rock will produce for Warner Bros but which is not likely to go into production this side of the millennium.

Still to be worked out is whether the film will have one director or two. Both Chuck Russell (whom we think the man most likely to direct Jim Carrey in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and writer-turned-director Frank Darabont (whose Tom Hanks-starrer, The Green Mile, will be out in the US the week before Christmas) are attached to the project. They may team up as joint directors, or one may direct and the other produce. We’ll see.

Whatever happens, the Schwarzenegger-powered Doc Savage is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the low-budget 1975 film of the same title, in which Ron Ely played the metal man. That was sci-fi legend George Pal’s final production credit, and it ended up so out-of-tune with the decade into which it was released that Warners tried to market it as a camp spoof.

Times have changed since then, of course, and early 21st-century audiences are likely to have less difficulty accepting what was, when it first appeared in comic form in the thirties, basic, no-nonsense entertainment stuff. Given that the Depression was at its height (the first Doc Savage comic came out in 1933), creator Lester Dent made his hero a millionaire philanthropist (not unlike the later Bruce Wayne or, for that matter, the slightly earlier Shadow), whose superhero activities were enabled by his wealth and fuelled by his implacable belief in truth, justice and the American way.

Austria’s No 1 film export, meanwhile, is staying with Marc Abraham and Armyan Bernstein of Beacon Pictures - which produced End of Days - for a remake of Budd Boetticher’s classic 1956 western, Seven Men From Now. For those agog at the idea of Arnie climbing up the side of a horse, however, I should add that the story - which, in its original, had Randolph Scott’s sheriff tracking down the bandits who had killed his wife - has been updated in the remake’s screenplay, which was written by Paul Schrader.

Incidentally, whatever Arnie’s fans might have you believe, other movie stars have been born in Austria - Klaus Maria Brandauer among them. And, while the latter’s post-Mephisto career may never quite have hit the same heights, the actor has recently established quite a niche playing real-life characters.

Brandauer it was who, in this summer’s hit HBO biopic Dorothy, played director Otto Preminger to Halle Berry’s Dorothy Dandridge. Now, in the first of two biopics shortly to be released in France, he plays the Dutch artist in Rembrandt, directed by Charles Matton, with Johanna ter Steege as his wife, Saskia.

Brandauer will then down brushes to play the father of the Russian revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, in a Finnish-Russian co-production, Belief, Hope and Blood. Half the film - the Finnish half - has already been shot. But the Russian bit is proving more difficult to set up: not only does the subject matter remain potentially explosive, but the financial crisis in Russia makes setting up any production a dicey business.

Belief, Hope and Blood is more about Lenin the man than Lenin the leader, with the early part of the story (and subsequent flashback) focusing on a love affair he had in Finland, where he was hiding out in 1907. Maria Yarvenhelmi plays his Finnish lover, Marjatta, who was the father of his child, with Igor Muzhzhukin appearing in the already-shot scenes as the young Lenin. Brandauer will take over when the time-frame of the film moves to Moscow in 1919. Actor/director Nikita Mikhalkov also stars in a unspecified role, guaranteeing that the film will arouse even further controversy in Russia.

You liked Matrix? You want some more? How about a double dose? Directors Larry and Andy Wachowski and star Keanu Reeves are in talks to shoot two episodes back-to-back for Warners and Village Roadshow Pictures towards the end of next year.

Poor old Keanu: however hard he tries to move off in other directions with movies like A Walk in the Clouds and Feeling Minnesota, those ol’ action pix just keep calling him back. Still, he baulked at Speed 2 (wisely, it turns out), so there must be something special about the Matrix concept to hook him back again. In addition to the $20 million each plus gross points, that is.

With scant regard for those who are uncertain whether the plural of matrix is matrixes or matrices, the Wachowskis - like George Lucas before them - apparently always saw their sci-fi epic as part of a trilogy. Wisely, they did not insist on this when they persuaded Joel Silver, Warners and Village Roadshow to assemble the $50 million it took to make the first film.

Now that Part I has grossed over $350 million worldwide, however, the brothers have reportedly had little trouble talking Warners into going for the triple, with a massive 250-day (as in: eight months) shooting schedule set for some time in the autumn of 2000. Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss are expected to go along for the ride again as well.

No mention of whether, like the first film, Matrix 2 and 3 will film in Sydney. But one assumes that the Wachowskis will once more call on the services of Hong Kong fight choreographer Woo-ping Yuen, whose wire-assisted mid-air battles made the original memorable.

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Tom Cruise

Matt Damon

Leonardo diCaprio

Ian McKellen

Arnold Schwarzenegger


The Sequel next week!


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