M. Night Shyamalan is on a roll. His latest directorial
effort, "Signs," scored a 17-day domestic gross of more than $150
million. The four features since 1999 on which he received writing
credit - one numbers "The Sixth Sense," the original "Stuart Little"
and "Unbreakable" among them - will by the time you read this have
grossed domestically somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million.
In last month's In Focus interview, the highly sought writer-director-
producer confided his understandable fear of being copied
prematurely, so it should come as a surprise to no one that Shyamalan
officially has absolutely no new projects on the immediate horizon.
While we wait for word of his next effort to leak, a few of "Signs'"
other principal participants have signed on to new gigs.
Mel Gibson emotes, warbles and dons his producer's hat for "The
Singing Detective." The drama, set in 1950s Chicago, concerns a pulp
novelist whose debilitating chronic psoriasis causes him to
hallucinate and blend the details of his life with those of his long-
out-of-print detective series. It's based on the classic 1986 BBC
miniseries starring Michael Gambon. Keith Gordon ("Waking the Dead")
directed from a screenplay by the series' late creator, Dennis Potter
("Pennies From Heaven," "James and the Giant Peach"). Robert Downey
Jr. ("Wonder Boys") stars as the novelist, Robin Wright Penn ("White
Oleander") as his ex-wife and nurse, and Carla Gugino ("Spy Kids 2")
as (in flashbacks) his mother. Gibson takes the role of the writer's
psychiatrist. Jeremy Northam ("Possession") and Katie Holmes ("Wonder
Boys," "Abandon") costar. Paramount has a first-look deal with
Gibson's Icon Entertainment, but no distributor has been announced
for the film's tentative 2003 release.
While Gibson is wearing that producer's hat, he may slip into the
director's chair to make "Passion." Gibson reportedly met with
Catholic Church officials, scouted Italian locations and courted Jim
Caviezel ("The Count of Monte Cristo") to play Jesus in this story of
Christ's last two days on earth.
Joaquin Phoenix has seen his career light up following his smarmily
evil turn as the Roman emperor Commodus in "Gladiator." He may next
lend some of that star power to "Voltage." The ensemble comedy is
about a new engineering-school grad (Phoenix) who finds his bosses'
goals impossible to meet when, at the beginning of the 1991 Gulf War,
he accepts a job with a defense contractor. It's based on the
novel "A Shortage of Engineers" by Robert Grossbach ("Easy and Hard
Ways Out"). Robert Altman ("Gosford Park") was set to direct from a
screenplay by Alan Rudolph ("Breakfast of Champions," "Trixie") in
May, but the film has reportedly had difficulty garnering its $21
million budget. Phillip Seymour Hoffman ("State and Main"), Steve
Buscemi ("Spy Kids 2"), William H. Macy ("Focus"), Liv Tyler
(the "Lord of the Rings" series), Tony Shalhoub ("Men in Black II"),
Taye Diggs ("The Way of the Gun"), Harry Belafonte ("Kansas City"),
Bob Balaban ("Gosford Park") and Elliot Gould ("Ocean's Eleven") were
set to costar.
Phoenix has a less respectable job title in "Aurora Island." The
romantic drama, set in the early 1960s, concerns a mother, her
daughter, and the mother's best friend - all of whom get involved
with a mysterious drifter (Phoenix) on a southern resort island.
Martha Coolidge ("Out to Sea") directs from a screenplay by Robert
Newton. It's based on a short story by Marianne Gingher. Kim Basinger
("Bless the Child"), "Signs" costar Abigail Breslin, Mandy Moore ("A
Walk to Remember") and Sloane Momsen ("We Were Soldiers") costar.
Premiere Marketing and Distribution, a mid-range distributor that
made its bow at ShoWest 2002, plans a Feb. 21 release.
Cold in Phoenix? More like Phoenix in the cold: He stars next
in "It's All About Love," a romantic drama, set in the future during
a new ice age, about two former lovers who reunite in New York. Dogme
95 director Thomas Vinterberg directed from a screenplay by
Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov ("The Celebration"). Claire Danes
("Brokedown Palace") costars with Phoenix and Sean-Michael Smith
("Dancer in the Dark"). The film, which opened in Europe this summer,
has yet to secure U.S. distribution.
Like Joaquin Phoenix, "Signs" son Rory Culkin is one of the youngest
of a multi-actor family. By the time you read this, Culkin will
likely already be back on the big screen - opposite older brother
Kieran - in "Igby Goes Down." (Read more about "Igby" on this month's
"A Few Good Years" finds young master Culkin playing make-believe
with another famous acting family. Michael Douglas ("Don't Say a
Word"), Kirk Douglas ("Diamonds"), Cameron Douglas ("Mr. Nice Guy"),
Diana Douglas, Michelle Monaghan ("Unfaithful") and Bernadette Peters
("Snow Day") star in a dark comedy about three generations of a
dysfunctional New York family and their attempts to reconcile. Fred
Schepisi ("Fierce Creatures," "Last Orders") directs from a
screenplay by Jesse Wigutow. MGM puts a bow on the project,
previously known as "Smack in the Kisser," for Christmas Day, 2002.