In Case You Missed It: This week’s top TV and film news

Chris Fletcher

Four Italians and “The Irishman”

When thinking of gangster movies, the first names that come to mind would probably be Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Martin Scorsese, but never have these men all been involved in a film together. Now that might change, as Pacino and Pesci may join De Niro and Scorsese on the mob drama that the latter have been working on for some time now. “The Irishman” is based upon the life of mafia hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, which was documented in Charles Brandt’s “I Heard You Paint Houses.” Sheeran confessed in the book to handling 25 hits for the Teamsters and the Mafia, even taking responsibility for the murder of Jimmy Hoffa. This may be Scorsese’s next film after “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and will be a Paramount Pictures production with the script being adapted by Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Gangs of New York”).

Cameron going deep for Avatar 2

James Cameron changed the way 3-D was viewed in the film industry with “Avatar,” making it the highest grossing film of all time and changing film history. It now looks like Cameron wants to change history again, but this time he is looking to go seven miles below sea level to film scenes for “Avatar 2” in order to do it. The Oscar-winning director wants to shoot parts of the film at the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean where only two other explorers have ventured before in 1960. Cameron has commissioned a high-tech bespoke submarine capable of surviving the pressure at this depth, which will be used to film scenes in 3-D. The second film will reportedly focus on the oceans and exotic sea life of Pandora, the fictitious moon where the first film was set.

Spartacus lead drops out

Earlier this year, Andy Whitfield, the lead in Starz’s “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” was diagnosed with treatable Stage 1 non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

After initial treatment, Whitfield went into remission and was cleared to return to work on the show’s second season. Because of his treatment, Starz decided to produce a prequel series without the main character called “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena” to air in January, but now it seems that this may be the last chapter of the “Spartacus” series. In a statement from Whitfield and Starz, the 36-year-old actor’s cancer has returned and he will not be returning for the series’ second season. Starz’s plans for the series have yet to be released, but it appears that its only options are to recast Whitfield’s part, delay the series or cancel it altogether. As for right now, Starz has stated that its only concerns are with Whitfield and his family.

From Borat to Bruno to a Queen

While the Janis Joplin, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix biopics all seem to still be in development hell, a biopic about the frontman of the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury, may be ready to go. Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat,” “Bruno”) has signed a deal to star as Mercury in the untitled British film, which will be written by screenwriter Peter Morgan. The biopic will focus on the band’s early years and culminate with their performance at Live Aid in 1985, with the film having full access to Queen’s library of songs. Mercury died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991. Filming is expected to start in 2011, but as of yet there is no word on who will direct.

Joaquin Phoenix: real or hoax?

After his memorable appearance on the “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Feb. 11, Joaquin Phoenix was believed to be truthfully leaving his acting career in pursuit of a career as a rap musician. Casey Affleck, brother to Ben and Phoenix’s brother-in-law, directed a documentary called “I’m Still Here” that covered this journey and has been polarizing to critics as they interpret the film as a documentary or as performance art. In an interview with the New York Times, Casey Affleck has stated that the entire film was a performance, including Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman, saying, “It’s a terrific performance; it’s the performance of his career.” Affleck believes that the film is not a mockumentary made to be a hoax, but rather a study on the destruction of celebrity. According to Affleck, Letterman was not in on the joke, but it will be interesting to see what happens when Phoenix appears as a guest on the “Late Show” on Sept. 22.