Acquisitions made in the afterglow of the Toronto Film Festival:
· Sony Pictures Classics appears to have won a bidding war over Black Book (Zwartboek), a WWII drama from Danish director Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls, Starship Troopers) about the Danish resistance that became somewhat notorious for its Verhoev-ian displays of female nudity and graphic sex. The film is the first Verhoeven had made in his native country in 23 years. (Hollywood Reporter, 9/21)
· The Pleasure of Your Company, a romantic comedy about two strangers — Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers) — who get engaged, was acquired by MGM. The quirk-fest is the feature writing and directing debut of VH1 talking-head mainstay Michael Ian Black (Ed, Stella). (Hollywood Reporter, 9/22)
· El Cantante, a biopic of salsa pioneer Hector Lavoe starring Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, nabbed the highest bid, nearly $6 million, from Picturehouse. ”This is the first film I ever produced,” said a beaming Lopez, ”so the stakes were a bit higher for me on every level. It wasn’t just like, ‘Oh, I’m just acting in it.’ This is my baby.”
· The Weinstein Co. snapped up edgy teen slasher All the Boys Love Mandy Lane for $3.5 mil and the up-and-coming standup-comic doc Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show — hosted by the Wedding Crashers star — for about $3 mil.
· First Look Pictures embraced Paris, je t’aime, a collection of 18 short films set in the City of Lights directed by the likes of the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Wes Craven, Alexander Payne, and Gus Van Sant, with a beau monde cast including Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Nick Nolte, Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bob Hoskins, and Gérard Depardieu.
· MGM swooped in on Rescue Dawn, buying the Vietnam War drama — starring Oscar-buzzed Christian Bale and Steve Zahn and directed by Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) — before the film even had a chance to premiere at the festival.
· Away From Her, the feature-length writing and directing debut for indie mainstay actress Sarah Polley (Go, The Sweet Hereafter), was purchased for a reported $750,000 by Lionsgate, which will release the film in 2007 with an awards push for star Julie Christie’s performance as a woman dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.
· And the two films with the trickiest titles (and subject matter) both found homes: Newmarket Films paid a reported $1 mil for Death of a President, the now-infamous Bush-bashing faux doc; and Netflix struck up an unusual distribution deal for The Prisoner, or: How I Tried to Kill Tony Blair, a doc about a man wrongly imprisoned in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The direct-mail DVD rental company’s new original content arm, Red Envelope, will work with the filmmakers to expand the 54-minute doc to feature length, then partner with a traditional film distribution company to release the film in select theaters. (Additional reporting by Missy Schwartz)
Hoping that Pirates of the Caribbean and not The Country Bears set the standard for the theme-park-ride-to-feature-film genre, Walt Disney Pictures is moving forward with Jungle Cruise, an adaptation of their rather august river ride featuring animatronic piranhas, gorillas, hippos and elephants. Al Gough and Miles Millar, scribes of Shanghai Noon and executive producers of Smallville, are in talks to pen the script. (Hollywood Reporter, 9/21)
Justin Long (Accepted) and Maggie Q (Mission: Impossible III) will play rival tech-heads in the long-gestating Live Free or Die Hard. Long will play a kid who helps out Bruce Willis’ John McClane, while Q will work against the long-suffering cop in a plot that has the country’s digital networks crashing in an apparent terrorist attack. Underworld auteur Len Wiseman is set to direct the Fox production, which will begin filming this month. (Hollywood Reporter, 9/22)
Zooey Deschanel (Elf, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) will play Janis Joplin in The Gospel According to Janis, a film based on the late singer’s time with former Rolling Stone writer David Dalton, who co-wrote the script with director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World). Deschanel will do all her own singing in the independently financed drama, which is due to begin production in November. And because Hollywood’s never met a project it didn’t want to do twice, another Janis Joplin-based flick is still in the works at Paramount Pictures, with Renée Zellweger looking to star. (Variety, 9/19)
George Clooney will direct and star in Leatherheads, a romantic comedy that chronicles the beginnings of professional football in the 1920s. Renée Zellweger is in talks to co-star in the film, which has taken a long and winding road to the green light — at one point, the Universal flick was reportedly due to be Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s next film after 1998’s Out of Sight. (Daily Variety, 9/18)
Making absolutely sure he’s explored every possible permutation of Mob life, Robert De Niro is attached to star in The Winter of Frankie Machine, an adaptation of a Don Winslow novel out next week about a retired hit man pulled back into the family business. Brian Koppelman and David Levien, whose script for Ocean’s Thirteen is currently under production, will write the screenplay for De Niro’s Tribeca Films and Paramount Pictures. (Daily Variety, 9/15)
Furthering its quest to be an independent film company, Marvel Entertainment has hired X-Men: The Last Stand scribe Zak Penn to adapt The Avengers — about the team of superheroes that, at various times, has included Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp — for the big screen. (Hollywood Reporter, 9/14)
Oscar winner and Mad About You star Helen Hunt will make her feature directing debut in Then She Found Me, a drama about a teacher (Hunt) adopted as a child whose life gets upended when her birth mother (Bette Midler) seeks her out. Matthew Broderick will play Hunt’s husband, and Colin Firth a man connected to one of her pupils. (Comingsoon.net, 9/12)
They’ve won an Oscar, they’ve guested on Justin Timberlake’s No. 1-debuting album, and they were prominently featured in the highly anticipated series premiere of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. So what’s next for Three 6 Mafia? An MTV reality series exec-produced by Ashton Kutcher, but of course. The show, called Adventures in Hollyhood, will document the group’s career trials and tribulations as they move from their Memphis, Tenn., cribs to the trickier climes of sunny Los Angeles. (Hollywood Reporter, 9/21)
HBO is developing P.E., a comedy from Gary Sanchez Productions, the company announced with much bizarre fanfare earlier this year by Will Ferrell and longtime collaborator Adam McKay (i.e. director of Anchorman and Talladega Nights). The show will follow a disgraced big-league pitcher who becomes the PE teacher at his old middle school in his Southern hometown. (Hollywood Reporter, 9/20)
After three decades of scrupulous work by his son, J.R.R. Tolkien’s last great unfinished epic tale, The Children of Húrin, will finally be published as an independent work, by Houghton Mifflin in the U.S. and HarperCollins UK worldwide. Familiar to Tolkien die-hards from the 1977 posthumous publication of the Silmarillion, the book was reassembled by Christopher Tolkien from his father’s various manuscripts and notes on the story, which the professor had kept as far back as 1918. The book will feature a map created by the younger Tolkien and several paintings by Alan Lee, one of the principle architects of the look and feel of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.