If Barry Sonnenfeld’s next movie, the one starring Kevin Spacey as a businessman trapped in a cat’s body, is too out there for you, perhaps you’ll be more interested in the one based on a true story that will follow. Then again, it’s about guys who can bend spoons with their mind. Or so they would have the world believing.
The Men in Black director has signed on to make a movie depicting Project Alpha, a hoax concocted by the famous magician and skeptic James Randi ‐ aka The Amazing Randi ‐ through which he planted two fake psychics in a scientific research experiment to debunk such academic studies of the paranormal.
It’s just one part of Randi’s life story, which is documented in the recently released film An Honest Liar. Sonnenfeld also has a credit as executive producer on that feature, and in the official announcement of the new project it is labeled an adaptation. I’ll call it a remake, if only to include it in my ongoing list of promised remakes of documentaries that still haven’t happened. Plus he was inspired to take up this story only after seeing it already done on the big screen.
“I sought out [the documentary’s directors Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom] immediately after I watched An Honest Liar at Telluride Mountainfilm”, Sonnenfeld said of the new project’s origins. “Not only did I love An Honest Liar, but I knew there was an excellent narrative film to be made out of this story, with James Randi playing the ‘behind the curtain’ puppeteer.” Weinstein and Measom will serve as producers on that now-certain narrative version.
As with any of these kinds of remakes, I have to ask why audiences can’t simply enjoy the excellent documentary film made out of the story. An Honest Liar is a very entertaining movie all its own, and one that has interested people since its inception. The doc launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $148k in early 2013 and was so popular that it took in an extra hundred grand.
Since premiering at Tribeca last Spring, it’s been a hit at a number of festivals, including Sheffield Doc/Fest, where I saw it. By year’s end, it was nominated for a Cinema Eye Honor and appeared on many best-of lists shared in the annual Nonfics year-end poll.
Last weekend, the doc opened on only two screens and made a promising $14k. That’s only the beginning, as it’s expanding throughout the country over the next month and a half (find your nearest theater here). I recommend seeing it, especially as there’s much, much more than the Project Alpha stuff.