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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Books

Jess Walter's 'The Zero' looks to make the math work

May 27, 2010 |  1:22 pm

EXCLUSIVE: It's never easy to turn an elliptical novel, no matter how funny, popular or well done, into watchable cinema (or a movie at all -- just ask the many who've tried to make "A Confederacy of Dunces").

ZerBut there's new traction for "The Zero," the surrealist post-9/11 satire from the cult novelist Jess Walter.

The start-up financier-producer LLeju Productions, which was behind the recently released Liam Neeson supernatural thriller "After.Life," has picked up "The Zero" in turnaround from Warner Bros., and the company is serious about making the movie. Principal Bill Perkins told us in Cannes that he was set to get the new draft from writer Brandon Boyce (who also wrote the war-criminal melodrama "Apt Pupil" for Bryan Singer), and if all looked good on the script, LLeju was to put the movie into production later this year. Derrick Borte, who's coming off another contemporary satire in "The Joneses," is set to direct. (Speaking of Cannes, apologies for the light posting over the last few days as we made our way back from said festival.)

"The Zero" is about a policeman named Brian Remy who, suffering from head trauma in the wake of 9/11, leads tours of ground zero while also beginning a Kafkaesque search for a mysterious character named March Selios. Sept. 11 is never mentioned specifically, but it's clear what Walter is referencing, and in addition to a general tone of subversive and oddball wit, Walter's book weighs in with some sly commentary about the marketing of tragedy.

It's not just Walter's online fan base that took to the novel, either -- the National Book Awards nominated it for its fiction prize back in 2006.

Of course, since so much of the novel's strength depends on tone, and the story is interior and intentionally disorienting, "The Zero" isn't the easiest script to crack. Boyce juggled some dark elements nicely in "Apt Pupil," but when a story and comedy are conceptual, not situational, it's not easy for any writer to pull off, at least any writer not named Charlie Kaufman.

Perkins, who made his fortune as an energy trader, has the financing to get this going right away. He gives the sense of someone who just wants to get some movies made without worrying too much about where every dollar is going. His basic goal was to break even, he said -- he'd already made his millions, so he' wasn't looking to make more in the movie business. That attitude could be a big help when deciding whether to put down the coin for a film based on a Jess Walter novel. Now it's just a matter of making a good movie.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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Hollywood's latest trip to 'Mars' lands on planet nonfiction

April 19, 2010 |  1:43 pm

The latest development craze for fiction films is...nonfiction bestsellers?

Summit announced today that it has acquired and would develop John Gray's gender-gap bible "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," with Hollywood mainstays Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun.

Men_Are_from_Mars,_Women_Are_from_Venus The news follows the success of 2009's "He's Just Not That Into You" -- the New Line sleeper based on the hook-y self-help bestseller from Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo -- as well as "The Blind Side," the commercial phenomenon based on Michael Lewis' football bestseller (also on the horizon is Lewis' "Moneyball," based on his baseball tome). And then there's "Freakonomics," a documentary derived from Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt's contrarian smash that will play the Tribeca Film Festival and has been picked up for theatrical release by Magnolia.

And there are still plans for an Al Pacino-starring movie based on Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink," although last we heard there were some development/financing snags holding that up.

Just what is it about these titles that Hollywood finds so appealing? There's the name recognition, of course, but also something more specific. Nonfiction books, even ones that don't aim to tell a distinct story, incorporate far more narrative elements than they once did. And Hollywood has gotten far looser about the development process, basically buying a title and then seeing if it  can be taken in any one of a number of logical directions.

Of course, just because this can be done doesn't mean that it will be -- or that, with such nonspecific subject matter, a story will be created that rises above the diluted and generic. Producers gave few clues as to what shape a "Mars" movie would take. "While men and women may never truly speak the same language, we're thrilled to explore their perpetually hilarious, painful and romantic conflicts on the big screen," Berman and Braun stated.  Let's hope the effort is more hilarious than painful.

-- Steve Zeitchik

'Twilight' producer: 'Breaking Dawn' could begin shooting this fall

January 10, 2010 |  6:00 pm


It's been one of the biggest questions surrounding Summit Entertainment's uber-successful "Twilight" franchise (apart, of course, from whether stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson really are a couple off-screen) -- just how the producers are going to manage to pull off a big-screen adaptation of "Breaking Dawn." The fourth book in Stephenie Meyer's juggernaut of a young adult fiction series about the epic love affair between high school student Bella Swan and her good-guy vampire beau Edward Cullen has plenty of heft, clocking in at upward of 750 pages, but it also has the distinction of being the most controversial entry in the saga.

When it was released in August 2008, fan reaction was intense and divided with some "Twi-hards" expressing confusion and dismay over a plot that involved *SPOILER ALERT* a recently graduated  19-year-old Bella giving birth to a half-human/half-vamp daughter named Renesmee, who grows much faster than the average mortal child and who possesses a unique way of communicating with those around her, clearly inherited from Dad's side of the family.

Wyck Godfrey, the producer of all the films in the "Twilight" saga, admits that the creative team still doesn't know how they'll handle the character in the "Breaking Dawn" movie, but said that the plan is absolutely for the production to go forward -- as either one or two installments -- with an eye toward beginning to shoot in Vancouver this fall. All three stars are signed for "Breaking Dawn," he said, meaning that Stewart and Pattinson will be dealing with the joys and woes of interspecies parenting and newly minted heartthrob Taylor Lautner will return as often-shirtless shape-shifter Jacob Black.

At the moment, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who's penned all the "Twilight" movies, is working on the "Breaking Dawn" script(s). "It's a work in process," Godfrey said in an interview Friday. "The issue [of whether there will be one or two movies] is not going to be resolved until we get the full treatment and see whether it's organic. If it's not organic, I don't think it will be done, and if it is, it will be. It really has to do with how much level of detail from the books there is, with all of these new vampires that appear in 'Breaking Dawn,' the whole section about Jacob... It's a very long single movie if it does become a single movie." 

Although there's been a great deal of online chatter about whether Chris Weitz, director of the second and most recent movie, "New Moon," would return to helm "Breaking Dawn," Godfrey downplayed that possibility, saying, "I think everyone would be happy and excited if he came back, but I don't think it's going to happen."

He and the other principals are formulating a list of potential directors, "but right now," Godfrey said, "we're just focused on the treatment and getting that right. At that point, we're going to see who's available and who's appropriate. It's such a complicated book because you have the emotions and the intensity of the love story -- so you need somebody who's just a wonderful director of actors -- and yet it's really complicated from an action and visual effects standpoint. They've got to have both tools in their kit." 

A visual effects background might be particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with the character of Renesmee.

"I keep having visions of '[The Curious Case of] Benjamin Button' in my head," Godfrey said, referring to David Fincher's Oscar-nominated 2008 fantasy about a man who becomes physically younger as he ages. "It's certainly going to be visual effects in some capacity along with an actor. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being a full CG creation, but it also may be a human shot on a soundstage that then is used to shrink down. I don't know. We need a director. When we get a director, that director will need to come with a point of view of how they want to tackle it."

The third movie in the series, "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," is due in theaters June 30.

-- Gina McIntyre


Taylor Lautner on Rob Pattinson: 'Sadly we don't hate each other'

'New Moon' premiere shines in Westwood

'Twilight' producer: Lautner is going to blow people away with his acting

Robert Pattinson, object of obsession

"New Moon" and "Lawrence of Arabia"? Let Chris Weitz explain

'Twilight' screenwriter says second film is better

Photo of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon": Kimberley French


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