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Cruise conjures ‘War Magician’

Michael Fleming - Dish

Fresh from tackling the high seas with Russell Crowe on “Master and Commander,” director Peter Weir is negotiating to direct a WWII epic for Paramount and producers Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner.

Weir is being enlisted to direct “The War Magician,” the Peter Buchman-scripted story of magician-turned-war hero Jasper Maskelyne. Drawn from the David Fisher book, “The War Magician” tells the story of a patriotic British stage magician who volunteered his illusionist abilities to help battle the Nazis. After proving his potential value to skeptical commanders, Maskelyne and a few cohorts were sent to North Africa, where British troops were being pounded by Gen. Rommel.

According to the book, Maskelyne helped halt Rommel’s charge through a campaign of deception. He camouflaged a key British-occupied harbor by creating a bogus one that bore the brunt of nightly bombing raids; shielded troops in the Suez Canal through a system of anti-aircraft searchlights and mirrors that blinded Nazi pilots; and camouflaged British weaponry and used props to give the appearance of a stronger fighting force.

Cruise and Wagner set the book up several years ago as a potential star vehicle for Cruise, but he plans to limit himself to producer at this point. Weir, who directed the World War I pic “Gallipoli,” was intrigued by the latest draft by scribe Buchman, who scripted “Jurassic Park 3” and the version of “Alexander the Great” which IEG bought in a seven figure deal.

ANOTHER FRIGHT REMAKE FLIES: Fox Searchlight has just made a deal to remake “The Fly,” setting feature newcomer Todd Lincoln to write the script and direct. Lincoln’s resume consists of commercials, shorts and music videos. Add a good sense of timing. CAA began setting up feature meetings for Lincoln as Searchlight execs grew bullish on “The Fly” as they watched their Danny Boyle-directed zombie pic “28 Days Later” become a summer sleeper. A horror buff with an inventive take on the material and a strong reel, Lincoln won the job. Lincoln admits he’s treading on hallowed ground, counting himself as an admirer of the 1958 original and David Cronenberg’s 1986 redo. He swears he won’t fall into that fly-trap of regurgitating a well-worn plot. “I’m one of those comic book sci-fi fans who read the remake announcements and groan,” he said. “This is certainly inspired by the original but it’s a total re-imagining.” Pressed for details, he asked: “Why, in both films, did the fly never fly?” Searchlight execs Lawrence Grey, Claudia Lewis and Jeff Arkuss liked Lincoln’s new take on the human transformation, and the studio’s first ever remake is cocooning quickly.

“The Fly” joins a field that’s crowding for understandable reasons. Budgets are low, gross players are few and (“Willard” excepted) young audiences are sparking to road-tested concepts that are completely new to them. New Line tries next with a gorier version of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Universal wraps “Dawn of the Dead” on Saturday, and Dimension’s remaking “Suspiria,” “Pulse” and the classic telepic “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”

TONY’S SKIN TONE: Toronto Film Fest buzz on “The Human Stain” centers on the revelation that Anthony Hopkins’s white Jewish character is really a black man. It’s a major plot reveal, one that’s become hard for Miramax to keep secret. And rather than conceal, the studio’s concentrating on selling why Hopkins passes muster as an African American, even when the Welsh actor hasn’t altered his skin tone one bit. “There might be 100,000 African Americans who could seamlessly move through life as Caucasian, just as Coleman Silk does here,” said Lakeshore topper Tom Rosenberg, who produced and co-financed. “It’s hardly an anomaly.” Roth wrote the book after dating an black American student and discovered through her family that several light-skinned members had severed ties so they could pass themselves off as white and change their social station.

When Rosenberg got involved, he turned to a black real estate developer pal, Alison Davis, who served as consultant because he knew the issue so well. “His parents are African American and he is fairer than Anthony, so much so that when he went to boarding school, his mother suggested that he put pictures of family members around his room to eliminate any confusion,” Rosenberg said. Davis even plays a role in the pic — as a white character. Rosenberg said even he has been confused with being African American, back when he taught an all-black class of third-graders in Chicago. “One of the students said she’d overhead some grown-ups saying they were going to shoot me because they mistakenly thought I was white,” he said. “It was 1968, racial tensions were running high and the children decided they liked me and had to justify it by deciding I was one of them.” Rosenberg said that Hopkins merely cut his hair short, but his portrayal was made believable by their decision to cast a mixed race actor to play the character as a young man. “We were lucky to find Wentworth Miller, who’s (half-black) and who went to Princeton and once drew a cartoon that got him accused of being racist because people thought he was white,” said Rosenberg.

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