NEWS: Leonardo DiCaprio possible villain for Django Unchained

DiCaprio on the set of Inception

Deadline is reporting that Leonardo DiCaprio is in early negotiations to play the villainous slave owner in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Spaghetti Western Django Unchained. According to Deadline, DiCaprio would play Calvin Candie, the owner of a club called Candyland where female slaves are used for sex and male slaves are pitted against each other in gladiatorial contests.

The role would be a significant break for DiCaprio, who despite his many spectacular starring roles as gritty and morally ambiguous protagonists, has yet to play an outright villain. It’s hard to see how a role like this would leave any room for the last of DiCaprio’s boyish Titanic-era charms, however. One thing is for certain, along with DiCaprio’s work with James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, his long-running association with Martin Scorcese and his lead role in the Clint Eastwood-helmed J. Edgar Hoover biopic currently in production, he has become the

In other Django news, the search for the titular character goes on, with Will Smith named as the front runner but not expected to commit, with other names such as Idris Elba, Jamie Foxx and even Chris Tucker in the mix. This at least puts paid to earlier rumours that Franco Nero, the original Django, might reprise his role.

It’s very difficult to imagine how a film with this sort of casting could possibly work, and the lurid, exploitative plot details leaked thus far sound abominable. However, subverting expectations and casting against type has been one of the trademarks of Tarantino’s career, and if he made a concept as bizarre and offensive as Inglourious Basterds work, who’s to say what else he can and can’t do?


NEWS: Gunsmoke star James Arness dead at 88

James Arness, star of Gunsmoke, has died in his Los Angeles home of natural causes.

Gunsmoke, the longest running live-action primetime drama TV series in American history, began as a radio series running from 1952-61, and is still cited as a canonical example of the radio play. With its gritty, realistic tone and attention to detail, it was one of the first cultural turning points leading to the darker and more complete Western we know and love today.

The series was brought to the screen in 1955 with all roles recast, and with Arness in the lead role of Marshall Matt Dillon. Arness, a two-metre giant with a lifelong limp from injuries received in World War II, was already a well-established actor with 30 films under his belt.

The Gunsmoke of TV was of necessity less brutal than its radio counterpart, and whereas the Marshall Dillon of the radio series was portrayed as almost as damaged as the criminals from which he protected Dodge City, Arness’ Dillon was a kinder, gentler Marhsall.

The series, which ran on CBS for 20 seasons and 635 episodes, ended in 1975, but Arness reprised his role in five made-for-TV movies between 1987 and 1993.

Arness was nominated for three separate Emmies over the run of the series, and was forever associated with his character, despite numerous other film and TV appearances, notably the miniseries How The West Was Won, and a starring role as a police officer in the short-lived TV series McLain’s Law.

Arness retired from acting in 1993 at the age of 70. He released his book James Arness: An Autobiography in September 2001.

NEWS: Trailer for AMC’s upcoming series Hell on Wheels

AMC has released a trailer for its upcoming Western series based in the Reconstruction-era South, Hell On Wheels.

The series, which was picked up for a 10-episode run in December, will follow the quest of former Confederate soldier and slave owner Cullen Bohannan (played by Anson Mount) to avenge the rape and murder of his wife by Union soldiers. It will recreate the construction of the Union Pacific transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, and attempt a Deadwood-like portrayal of the violent bacchanal that was the travelling collection of saloons, gambling houses and brothels known as ‘Hell on Wheels’, where the railroad workers spent their money and free time. The series promises to explore the gaping wounds of a nation coming out of a civil war, and the volatile post-emancipation Reconstruction era.

It looks good. AMC has built an outstanding reputation for quality serialised drama with Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead (all of which you should watch if you haven’t already), and can be presumed a safe pair of hands for this potentially epic story. The trailer certainly suggests they’ve got the production design down, with both the authenticity and grim and gritty style modern we’ve come to expect from modern Westerns.

The series is currently shooting with an expected North American air date late this year. For  antipodean peons like myself, I suggest picking the show up on DVD. No, I have not heard of this BitTorrent of which you speak.

NEWS: Tarantino to direct spaghetti Western

Tarantino in Sukijaki Western Django

Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill director Quentin Tarantino’s next film will be a Western, in news that should delight all lovers of the genre.

Tarantino will both write and direct the film, which will be titled Django Unchained. Like the Tarantino-produced Japanese spaghetti Western homage Western Sukiyaki Django, Django Unchained is expected to be partly based on the 1966 Django, directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero.

The infamously violent Western starred Nero as the eponymous Django, a drifter who dragged a coffin everywhere with a machine gun inside. Nero has said he will be in the film himself, but whether he will reprise the role or simply appear as a minor character is unclear.

News of Tarantino’s film was first leaked with the working title ‘A Southern’, but the front page of the finished script was leaked last week, marked as completed on April 26.  Plot details are scarce, but Christoph Waltz, whose powerhouse performance as SS Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds shot him to stardom, has reportedly been cast as a German bounty hunter who teams with an escaped slave to rescue the slave’s former wife from a Southern plantation.

More solid production information from Deadline says the film is casting quickly and will shoot before the end of the year.

Tarantino is well-known for his love for disregarded and underappreciated genres, and particularly for the post-Leone Westerns of the ’60s and ’70s. Although it’s never wise to get too excited about a project from such scant details, in this case some enthusiasm could be excused.

Hat tip AV Club, HitFix and Deadline.

NEWS: Ryan Gosling in talks to play Lone Ranger

Ryan Gosling - in talks for The Lone Ranger

Ryan Gosling, of Blue Valentine and The Notebook fame, is reportedly in negotiations to take the role of the Lone Ranger in the upcoming adaptation by Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp.

Verbinski and Depp have both already made it clear that Depp’s Tonto, not the Lone Ranger, will be the lead role, with Verbinski describing his plans as “‘Don Quixote’ from Sancho Panza’s point of view.” Depp, who is part Cherokee, says he sees the role as a way to ‘salute’ all the Native Americans who have been poorly portrayed in cinema.

The Lone Ranger first found life as a radio serial, running from 1933 to 1954, before going on to appear in film serials, on television, and in comics and novels. The notoriously clean-cut franchise features the Lone Ranger, his ever-present Apache companion Tonto, and his horse Silver. The Lone Ranger is a masked vigilante, who battles evil but never ethnic minorities, and always shoots to disarm.

The film has been described as taking a comedic take on the franchise, possibly invoking the slapstick action-adventure feel of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Depp has flirted with the Western before, with 2003’s Robert Rodriguez film Once Upon A Time in Mexico, and of course this year’s Rango.

At this stage, it’s hard to picture what sort of shape the finished project will take. The sometimes excessively self-aware tone of Depp projects is not something I relish the idea of seeing on-screen, nor can I claim to have enjoyed any Verbinski-Depp collaboration. I am willing to be surprised by a quality Lone Ranger, but I would be surprised.

Lone Ranger is planned for a 2014 release.

UPDATE – 08 June 2011: Ryan Gosling is now confirmed not to be available for Lone Ranger, which has been moved forward for a North American release on 21 December, 2012.