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It's on, it's off, and on again. Superman is back in the planning stages at Warner Bros.
My sources tell me that Keanu Reeves, star of Warner Bros.'s very successful The Matrix has been tapped by director Brett Ratner, to play the Man of Steel in Superman: Last Son of Krypton. Jeffrey Abrams, who wrote the feature Regarding Henry and invented TV's "Felicity" series, wrote the final, accepted script.
Ratner, director of the forthcoming Red Dragon, the Rush Hour movies, and the very interesting Family Man, is just about to sign to direct Last Son, finally ending Warner's tango with director McG, who is busy readying Charlie's Angels 2. Ratner had been rumored in Variety last month as a possible Superman director among many. But I'm told the deal is done and he is in.
Weirdly enough, Keanu's name is similar to that of the original beloved TV Superman, George Reeves.
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Keanu's first big hit of course was Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Imagine if those characters had had X-ray vision!
Superman of late has had a hard time getting back to the screen. At one point Nicolas Cage was set to play him. Kevin Smith, of Chasing Amy and Dogma fame, wrote a script but that was abandoned. Then a Superman vs. Batman movie seemed like it was taking shape, with Jude Law and Colin Farrell rumored to be set for the respective parts. Law dropped out, and the new rumor was that Josh Hartnett was replacing him. But a wildly high budget made that project prohibitively expensive and it was scrapped. Interestingly, Superman vs. Batman was supposed to be directed by another Warner's favorite, Wolfgang Petersen.
But Petersen (are you still with me?)-director of The Perfect Storm, Das Boot and Air Force One, abandoned Superman vs. Batman for the historical epic Troy. This is the film that Brad Pitt also recently jumped to, leaving Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain feature high and dry in Australia just as they were ready to go into principal production.
Before the S v.B-Troy shuffle, Petersen had a staunch fan and supporter in then-Warner's chief of production, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who proudly announced the Petersen project and touted it to the trades. But last week, di Bonaventura was ousted from his position at the studio. Is there a connection? Was Petersen Kryptonite to Lorenzo? Indeed, he-and the Superman vs. Batman epic were what did him in. Alan Horn, now running Warner's on his own, championed the Abrams/Ratner simpler Superman idea.
Ironically, news of this new Superman film is coming to light just as the original movie Superman, Christopher Reeve (yeah, I know, this name is really weird) has announced that he's making progress in his effort to walk again. Wouldn't it be great if Ratner's new screenplay includes some kind of part for Reeve? That would give this project, which has been jinxed so far, the imprimatur it needs.
Being scheduled after the season debut of The Sopranos is a little like following the Super Bowl. So HBO must believe in Mike Binder and his comedy, Mind of the Married Man. Its second season comes on Sunday night.
I've known Mike Binder since his salad days, and watched the first season of Married Man with some misgivings. It seemed like it was trying too hard to be the male Sex and the City. The nudity and foul language appeared forced. It didn't help that the show debuted last year on…Sept. 11.
"Our first premiere was on Sept. 11," Binder told me the other day. "And the day HBO brought us back for a second time we invaded Afghanistan."
Let's hope nothing big happens on Sunday.
I've seen the first four episodes (there are only 10 per season) and they are excellent, much improved and more sophisticated than last year. Mike's character, Micky, is wrestling with the guilt of having been pleasured in a masseuse parlor. That will be a theme all season. The big question is will he ever tell his wife about it? Binder reveals that before the end of the season Donna (the wonderful British actress Sonya Walger) will be tempted to cheat as well.
Some of the other upcoming plots and subplots are also quite good. In one, Donna decides to take the couple's toddler son and start going to church -- even though Micky is Jewish. The episode has a lot resonance for mixed couples and really hits home while still getting a lot of laughs. In another episode, Micky complains that because he's programmed his TiVO to record Will & Grace, the machine now thinks he's gay and keeps recording Queer as Folk. In this new season, Binder, who is the writer, the creator and the star, is settled, more self-assured and hitting his stride. Mind of the Married Man could be HBO's new breakthrough hit.
Binder, by the way, met Walger when he cast her for an independent movie he directed last year, called The Search for John Gissing. Binder says it's likely that the film, which was a hit with audiences at film festivals, will probably get picked up by HBO. I can't wait to see it.
Paul Schrader, the great screenwriter and filmmaker whose credits include Affliction, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and others has now made the life story of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane. I always vaguely knew this story, that Crane had been killed and the murder never solved. Thanks to Schrader, we will all know what happened, right down to the graphic detail.
Auto Focus, Schrader's film, is a hard little movie. Beautifully made, with exquisite performances by Willem Dafoe and Greg Kinnear, Auto Focus so fully uncovers the dark underbelly of Crane's life that when it's over you want to take a bath and a shower.
Crane, as is turns out, was a degenerate, creepy sex addict with a major hobby in pornography. As Schulz used to say, 'I know nothing!' Or, that is, knew. This movie is so convincing in its depiction of Crane's descent into hell that you actually start thinking you'd like to see him dead.
Schrader uses the same gauzy '50s style he employed in his Forever Mine, a film that didn't really work but maybe was a notebook for Auto Focus. He manages to get from Kinnear --who Jay Thomas once called "the luckiest man in show business" -- a great performance. It is so unexpectedly textured that Kinnear will likely be the dark horse in a lot of award voting this winter. Dafoe is good as ever as Crane's evil sidekick, a pornographer who doesn't quite get Crane's sex addiction but may have a crush on him as well. (There are the slightest hints of a homoerotic attraction.)
My only problem with Auto Focus is that, like Boogie Nights, it is harsh medicine. You know it will end badly, and you're loathe to like it or recommend it. But Schrader demands a lot from the audience -- Affliction was no walk in the part. And he's made a movie that in the end he can be proud of and will stand the test of time.
Very flatteringly, Liz Smith's syndicated column today picks up our story from last Friday about Lorraine Bracco playing Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate on Broadway. It's nice to see good news spread…On the other hand, the news that Warren Zevon has terminal lung cancer is just sad and terrible. Let's face it, this is the guy who wrote the song "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." But he has been a great writer and performer and made a tremendous contribution to pop music. All the songs from the Excitable Boy and Warren Zevon album stand the test of time, particularly "Desperadoes Under the Eaves," "Accidentally Like a Martyr" and "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner." Warren, peace be with you. And thank you for so much great entertainment.