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February 28, 2009

Kingdom Come -- this week's update

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Will the New-Zealand-based life-of-Jesus movie Kingdom Come ever get made? Who knows.

Last week, it looked like the film was a goner: motel bookings were cancelled, construction crews were on standby, and some crew members had lost patience with the producers and begun taking other jobs.

Since then, the Dominion Post has reported that the filmmakers are still insisting that their movie will go ahead; they expect to secure bridge financing within two weeks, and they plan to resume pre-production in March for a start date in April.

But will anyone still be waiting for them by then? In addition to the crew members who have already bailed on the project, the Nelson Mail reported Thursday that some of the extras -- who were hired last year and have been letting their hair and beards grow long for the movie -- have given up hope and begun to visit their barbers.

Darryl Ware (pictured), who has worked as an extra in other movies, said he had never seen filmmakers be so bad at communicating with their cast and crew: "It's like waiting for the second coming."

February 28, 2009

True Nourishment from Nachos

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One of my favorite annual duties in my role with the teen magazine Ignite Your Faith (CT Movies' sister site for teens) is sifting through the votes for our most redeeming movie awards, The Golden Nachos. While all but one of their choices also appeared in CT Movie's top ten list of the most redeeming movies this year, the order is pretty different.

So what do I dig about the Golden Nachos? The readers' explanations of WHY they vote the way they do. Say what you will about the average teen's movie-going tendencies or tastes, but our IYF readers aren't just mindlessly watching movies--they're processing, discerning, and evaluating them.

For instance, one teen explains that she used her one pick for the year's most redeeming film on WALL*E because it "demonstrated the very definition of agape love." Another chose The Dark Knight because it "showed a perfect illustration of Satan. The Joker just attacks because he hates goodness."

For as much as Hollywood churns out thoughtless sex comedies and bloody horror to appeal to the teen market, these readers year after year have voted for very conservative, faith-affirming films (past winners include End of the Spear and Amazing Grace)--and had thought-provoking things to say about them.

Through the Nachos and personal discussion with youth group kids about movies like Man on Wire and The Visitor, I've learned again and again not to underestimate these fellow moviegoers but to continue asking them to articulate what they like, why they do, and what messages they're hearing. To hold up a higher standard for them than what Hollywood tells them they should like. And to encourage both their artistic taste and discernment.

February 27, 2009

'I Wish I Went with God's Plan 15 Years Ago'

Lapsed Catholic Mickey Rourke tells 'Relevant' about his rocky spiritual journey

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In an interesting interview with Relevant magazine, Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke talks about growing up in the Catholic church, a broken home that left him an angry young man, almost two decades of self-destructive behavior, an ongoing commitment to prayer, and the night he almost committed a murder/suicide before walking into a church and confiding in a pastor instead.

It was 1994, and Rourke's wife at the time, Carre Otis, was brutally raped while strung out on heroin. When Rourke learned who the perpetrator was, he grabbed a gun and wrote a suicide note, intending to kill the rapist and then himself. But en route, he felt a compulsion to enter New York's Church of the Holy Cross, where Father Peter Colapietro found a crying man, clearly in deep despair.

"I had reached a place in my life where living was living hard," Rourke told Relevant. "I was at a crossroads. . . . . I was ready to take care of business in a rather severe way and Father Peter talked me out of it, [asking me] 'Where in the Bible does it say, "Vengeance is mine, says Mickey Rourke"?'

"[He] took away my gun and had me leave the note with St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes. And he said that part of my life could be over now and I still had the opportunity to do things over again."

Rourke's self-destructive behavior didn't necessarily end that day, but a corner had been turned. He'd been trying to get to the point where he could make a great film again, and director Darren Aronofsky had just the right role for him, in The Wrestler. Rourke ended up winning the Best Actor Award at the Golden Globes, and was a runner-up to Sean Penn (for Milk) at the Oscars.

It's been quite a comeback for Rourke, who also told Relevant, "I wish I went with God's plan 15 years ago instead of mine. I'd be in a lot different place."

February 27, 2009

Shake Hands with the Devil comes to U.S.

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Regent Releasing has acquired the U.S. distribution rights to Shake Hands with the Devil (2007), the Rwandan-genocide movie based on the memoirs of former Canadian general (and UN peacekeeping commander) Roméo Dallaire; they plan to release the film in the summer.

Dallaire, who was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 2005, was the model for the Nick Nolte character in Hotel Rwanda (2004) and has been portrayed by an actor in at least one other Rwanda-themed movie, A Sunday in Kigali (2006). His memoirs were also turned into a documentary, also called Shake Hands with the Devil, in 2004.

Dallaire battled suicidal depression after his stint in Rwanda, but he has said that his experiences there actually convinced him of the existence of God. In the intro to his book, he writes: "After one of my many presentations following my return from Rwanda, a Canadian Forces padre asked me how, after all I had seen and experienced, I could still believe in God. I answered that I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God."

The later, dramatized film was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, whose credits include the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and the AIDS drama And the Band Played on (1993). I reviewed it during its original Canadian release here.

February 27, 2009

Voyage of the Dawn Treader gets a rewrite

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The first draft -- or one of the first drafts, at any rate -- was written by Steven Knight (Amazing Grace, Eastern Promises). The next draft was written by Richard LaGravanese (The Fisher King, Freedom Writers).

Now, reports Variety, the next draft of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be written by Michael Petroni, whose credits include The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned.

Petroni reportedly got the gig because the folks at Fox were impressed with his rewrites of Kevin Lima's Afterlife and the Julia Roberts vehicle Daniel Isn't Talking.

Walden Media hopes to start shooting the film in the summer and release it to theatres sometime around Christmas 2010 -- five years after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out, and right around the same time Warner Brothers plans to release the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

February 26, 2009

Kings makers discuss their series

Kings, the TV series that quasi-modernizes the biblical story of Saul and David, premieres March 15. ComingSoon.net attended a screening of the pilot episode a few weeks ago and has a handy summary of some of the key characters and narrative details.

The screening was followed by the Q&A below, in which, among other things, series creator Michael Green and a few of the actors discuss the show's real-life political inspiration, the reality of God and the role of religion within the storyline, the sexuality of the Jonathan figure, and whether the network ever censored story elements that happened to come straight from the Bible:

February 26, 2009

Newsbites: The reboots and remakes edition!

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1. Battlestar Galactica has already been rebooted for TV. But now that the series is winding down -- well, except for that upcoming prequel series Caprica -- the studio is thinking of rebooting the franchise again, but this time for the big screen. And this time, they'll be taking their cues from the original 1970s series, rather than the popular current version; original series creator Glen A. Larson is currently in talks to write the script. -- IGN.com, Hollywood Reporter

2. The ironically-named production company Original Films is planning to make a "contemporary version" of Total Recall (1990) for Columbia Pictures. -- Hollywood Reporter

3. Leonardo DiCaprio is one of a handful of people currently talking to Warner Brothers about rebooting The NeverEnding Story (1984-1994). -- Hollywood Reporter (x2)

4. Borat co-writer Peter Baynham will write a new version of the Dudley Moore comedy Arthur (1981) as a starring vehicle for Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bedtime Stories). -- Variety

February 26, 2009

Newsbites: The comics and superheroes edition!

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Is anyone else feeling superhero fatigue yet?

1. Marvel fans can rest easy! Samuel L. Jackson will be back as Nick Fury after all -- not once, not twice, not thrice, but in nine different movies, including Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers and possibly an entire movie devoted to Fury's organization S.H.I.E.L.D. -- Hollywood Reporter

2. Iron Man director Jon Favreau has apparently indicated that Emily Blunt will not be in the sequel after all. Meanwhile, the filmmakers have sent out an "ethnically diverse" casting call, and a sneak peek at the first page of the script has fans speculating that the next movie will follow the 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline from the comics. -- MTV Splash Page (x2, x3)

3. The Spider-Man musical being developed by Julie Taymor and U2's Bono and The Edge now has a title and an official opening date: it is called Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and it will open February 18, 2010. Bono previously co-starred in Taymor's Beatles musical Across the Universe (2007), and prior to that, U2 contributed a song to the soundtrack for Batman Forever (1995), the score for which was written by Taymor's husband Elliot Goldenthal. -- Hollywood Reporter

Continue reading Newsbites: The comics and superheroes edition!...

February 26, 2009

The Dude Abides . . . and Other News

'The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers,' a Schiavo doc, & Phil Vischer's new venture

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News and notes from here and there . . .

Our friend Cathleen Falsani, religion writer for the Chicago Sun Times and author of this terrific cover story on Bono for CT, just happens to be a big fan of the Coen Brothers too. And that just happens to be the topic of her next book, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, due from Zondervan this fall -- right about the same time the next movie from the Coens, A Serious Man, hits theaters (due Oct. 2).

Falsani, also the author of Sin Boldly and The God Factor, gives an early glimpse at the cover (at left) on her blog, also called The Dude Abides.

A Zondervan press release says the book "will look at the filmmakers' presentation of serious existential and theological questions using the dark, intelligent humor and epic storytelling that have been their trademarks in more than a
dozen films during the past 25 years. . . . Falsani will investigate the theological, mythological, moral, ethical, religious and philosophical content and what their overarching message -- their "Gospel" -- might be."

I've already been in touch with Cathleen about an interview to discuss her book and the Coen movies, so stay tuned . . .

* * *

A new documentary, The Terri Schiavo Story, promises to reveal "previously unexplored facts of the case . . . through in-depth interviews with participants on both sides of the issue. Hosted by author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, who became personally involved in the case in 2005, The Terri Schiavo Story sheds new light on the controversial decision that led to the death of a 41-year-old disabled woman."

Read more about the film or purchase it on DVD at the official site, and watch the trailer here:

* * *
VeggieTales founder, creative genius, and all-around good guy Phil Vischer has launched an online children's TV network called JellyTelly. The free network, which streams programming 24/7, is aimed at kids ages 5-11.

In an introductory video to parents on the website, after noting how many hours kids spend in front of the TV -- especially the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon -- Vischer says, "Is it any wonder that our kids are growing up knowing more about Hannah Montana than about the Apostle Paul? Or that they're more emotionally engaged in the outcome of American Idol than in the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the work of the church around the world?

"JellyTelly is a way to bring the Bible to life for kids on a daily basis, to show them the work of the church around the world and the role they can play in it, to teach their faith and what it looks like to live it."

If anyone can get through to children through the means of visual media and new technologies, it's Phil Vischer. May God bless this latest endeavor.

February 26, 2009

for Lent

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As Mark mentioned, Scorcese is working on an adaptation of Silence by Shusaku Endo. It's a searing story about Jesuit missionary work in 17th century Japan that I think everyone needs to read before the movie comes out. I was saying as much in a comment on Mark's post when I realized that Lent is starting today and it's a perfect read for this special season of reflection on sin and Christ's sacrifice for us. Below I've listed some more suggestions for movie-related reading and viewing for the next 40 days. This is a very short list in a category that is long on possibilities. Please jump in and share your own suggestions!

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
The Mission (1986)
Les Miserables (1998)
Into Great Silence (2007)

February 25, 2009

Newsbites: The people living in forests edition!

1. It turns out the rumours were correct: Cate Blanchett really will play Maid Marian in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood movie. The film, which stars Russell Crowe and was called Nottingham before it went through some extensive rewrites, "has evolved into a 'Gladiator' version of the Robin Hood legend. . . . Crowe plays Robin of Loxley in an origin story of Robin Hood that hews close to historical facts of the period. Abandoned as a child, he finds community with the common people of Nottingham. Robin's abandonment and trust issues hamper his ability to fall in love. He meets his match in Marian, a strong, independent woman." -- Variety, Hollywood Reporter

2. Eric Brevig -- whose last film, Journey to the Center of the Earth, was Walden Media's biggest hit outside of the Narnia franchise -- is going to direct the live-action version of Yogi Bear. -- Hollywood Reporter

3. Canadian actor Bronson Pelletier has reportedly been cast in the werewolf-heavy Twilight sequel New Moon. Meanwhile, series star Kristen Stewart is facing a backlash over suggestions that she regards Twilight as not a "great movie", but "just one that makes a lot of money." -- MTV Movies Blog (x2)

February 25, 2009

Agora -- the teaser is now online

The international teaser for Alejandro Amenábar's Agora -- starring Rachel Weisz as the 4th-century philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, The Nativity Story's Oscar Isaac as the imperial prefect Orestes, and Sami Samir as the Christian bishop Cyril of Alexandria -- is now online.

The teaser has no dialogue, only images, but at a glance, it almost looks like this film could be a feature-length version of that violent-Christian-mobs flashback in The Da Vinci Code. Hopefully the film itself will be a little more nuanced than that (regrettably, the historical Hypatia was indeed killed by a Christian mob during Lent), but even if it isn't, it could still serve as a launching pad for deeper, better conversations about early church history.


Click here if the video file above doesn't play properly. Hat tip to ComingSoon.net.

For those who don't recognize the director's name, Amenábar's previous films include the Oscar-winning euthanasia flick The Sea Inside (2004), the Nicole Kidman ghost movie The Others (2001) and the reality-bending Open Your Eyes (1997), the last of which was remade with Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky (2001).

February 25, 2009

Book Adaptations

On my personal blog, I wrote a post called How to Turn a Book Into a Movie culled from my experience as both a screenwriter and a story analyst specializing in book adaptations. Recently a reader wrote in with some additional questions and I thought I'd answer them here.

Continue reading Book Adaptations...

February 25, 2009

Finnish filmmakers and spiritual themes

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The best-known filmmaker working in Finland these days is probably Aki Kaurismäki, whose quirky, offbeat movies have often had a spiritual or biblical component. Probably his best-known film is The Man without a Past (2002), which concerns an amnesiac who gets to know certain members of the Salvation Army; I reviewed it for CT's sister magazine Books & Culture here.

But there is another Finnish filmmaker I have been hearing about for a while, every other year or so, and while I have not yet seen any of his films, I am curious to. His name is Klaus Härö, and whenever I have heard about him or his films, it has often been in contexts that suggest he is particularly interested in social and spiritual themes.

His newest film is Letters to Father Jacob, and while the IMDb lists it as being still in post-production, Variety has just posted a review based on a screening that took place at a European festival a few weeks ago -- and it just piques my curiosity even more:
A simple but transcendent story about faith and human frailty achieves a state of grace in "Letters to Father Jacob." Beautifully mounted fourth feature from Finnish helmer Klaus Haro ("Elina," "Mother of Mine," "The New Man") centers on a tough ex-con temporarily serving as a secretary for a blind pastor in rural Finland. The director's magisterial control over the proceedings makes something fresh and heartrending out of predictable material, particularly for older, thoughtful audiences. . . .
Definitely sounds like a film to watch out for.

February 24, 2009

'We're Going to Have Our Own Spielbergs'

Christian film fest founder draws battle lines, wants to 'build an industry around faith'

"We're here to send a message to the world that we no longer want our children immersed in toxic media which is in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian filmmaking is coming of age. Christian filmmaking is coming of age!"

So said Doug Phillips, organizer of the recent San Antonio (Texas) Independent Christian Film Festival, as reported by NPR.

The NPR piece quotes Phillips further: "I think we're going to see significant production houses that will be funding $200 million films done by Christians. We're going to have our own Steven Spielbergs. We're going to have our own filmmakers that can tell great stories, produce tremendous films, but they're going to be doing it with a Christian world view, and they're not going to be embarrassed about that."

The story also notes that Phillips told festival-goers "they were drawing the Maginot line in the culture wars."

I appreciate Phillips' passion for good content, but the feisty rhetoric about creating "our own" industry just doesn't sit well with me -- especially with such militaristic imagery as a "Maginot line" (built to keep the enemy -- in this case, Hollywood -- at bay) and "culture wars." (NPR may have paraphrased Phillips by using those exact terms, but his meaning apparently came across that way.)

But why create "our own" industry? Why not get really good at the craft of filmmaking within an already well-oiled machine -- aka, Hollywood -- and make the movies there?

Continue reading 'We're Going to Have Our Own Spielbergs'...

February 24, 2009

Oscar a Hit with Viewers

Sunday's telecast up 13 percent over last year

USA Today has the story and reader reactions.

February 23, 2009

Of Slumdogs and Beanies

Todd Hertz, Mark Moring discuss the Oscars -- and Philip Seymour Hoffman's goofy hat

February 23, 2009

Exposing Sex Slavery

New documentary turns its lens on the problem in Thailand

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My good friend Jeff Sparks, co-founder of Heartland Truly Moving Pictures in Indianapolis, has long known the power of film to change hearts . . . and move mountains.

Turns out his 25-year-old daughter, Rachel, gets it too. That's why she's made a documentary exposing the problem of sexual slavery in Thailand as part of The SOLD Project, which calls itself is "a grassroots organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering individuals to stop child prostitution before it begins."

Rachel recently told The Indianapolis Star, "At first all it was to me was a lot of statistics," she recalled. Then she met victims in Thailand, changing everything.

Read more of Rachel's story here, and check out the trailer below:

The SOLD Project: Thailand trailer from The SOLD Project on Vimeo.

February 23, 2009

Scorsese Plans Japanese Martyr Flick

Tells story of a Portuguese missionary in Japan in early 17th century

Zenit reports that Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese is planning a movie on Japanese Christians martyred in the 17th century, to be released in 2010. Daniel Day-Lewis, Gael García Bernal, and Benicio Del Toro have been linked to the project, based on the book Chinmoku (Silence), by the Catholic Japanese author Shusaku Endo. The novel tells the story of a Portuguese missionary in Japan at the beginnings of the 17th century.

February 23, 2009

Something we missed.

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Karina Longworth at SpoutBlog (not the person pictured to the right) reminds us that Capote director Bennett Miller made a short film that was supposed to kick off the Oscars, featuring interviews with various people about why they love the movies -- basically, the sort of thing that Errol Morris has done for a few of the more recent broadcasts.

She also reminds us that this short film was not, in fact, shown during tonight's broadcast (though the New York Times says it was "shown to the in-theater audience during a commercial break").

One of the people who was interviewed for the film -- though she may or may not have made the final cut -- was Sr. Rose Pacatte, a Catholic nun who writes quite a bit about film (and who is the person pictured to the right). It would be interesting to see if any other people of faith were interviewed for this short.

If Miller's short turns up online anywhere, please, by all means, let us know.

FEB 23 UPDATE: The short film is now online at the Vanity Fair website. And Sr. Rose got a single word in edgewise. The video is embedded below, after the jump.

Continue reading Something we missed....

February 23, 2009

Congrats to 'Slumdog'!

8 awards, including Best Pic and Best Director

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Others can diss it, and maybe it won't show in film school down the road. But it was a popular choice -- audiences love it -- and it's nice when a crowd favorite wins it all. It was certainly my favorite film of 2008. What about you?

Biggest disappointment of the night: That Mickey Rourke didn't win for The Wrestler. An astounding performance.

What were your favorite highs, lows, and biggest surprises?

February 23, 2009

Slumdog the new Crash?

Okay, so I liked Slumdog Millionaire, but it really was not the best film of 2008. I think that this best picture win will go down in the pantheon on the level of 2005’s Crash, 2002’s Chicago, or 2001’s A Beautiful Mind: that is, nice films that became buzz films that, a few years later, people forgot about. These are not films that will be essential viewing in film school in decades to come.

February 23, 2009

Oh, I bet Mel loved that.

Having his Braveheart pre-battle speech edited into footage from Milk, that is.

February 23, 2009

Nixonian irony

It's funny to hear Michael Douglas say that Frank Langella makes all other interpretations of Richard Nixon fall away ... when Anthony Hopkins, the star of Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), is standing right there on the stage with him. (With Douglas, that is.)

February 23, 2009

More statistical stuff

Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) famously won 11 awards each, thereby matching the record set by Ben-Hur (1959).

But only one other film in the past dozen years has won 7 awards, namely Shakespeare in Love (1998).

Slumdog Millionaire now has 7, and it could easily have 8 when the night is over.

Just for the record, The English Patient (1996) and The Last Emperor (1987) won 9, Amadeus (1984) won 8, Dances with Wolves (1990) and Out of Africa (1985) won 7, and everyone else in the past quarter-century has won less.

Um, not that anyone's counting.

February 23, 2009

And the Golden Hanger goes to...

In the spirit of Joan Rivers' annual honors, here are my best/worst dressed for the night.

BEST

Amy Adams: She may not have won her category, but she wins best dressed in my opinion. This dress really grew on me as the night wore on. Her necklace provided a burst of color on a night that really lacked color diversity.

Angelina Jolie: She always wears black, so no surprise there, but the draping of the dress was beautiful and her emerald earrings punctuated the look perfectly.

Taraji P. Henson: Cute as a, well, button.

Anne Hathaway: I have a feeling the gold discs made this dress even more spectacular in person. I am referring to her red carpet dress, not the one she changed into for the ceremony (not sure why).

Freida Pinto: Still deciding my thoughts on this dress. I have a feeling it won’t age well, but she looks glamorous tonight.

WORST

Melissa Leo: Her dress reminded me of that Burnt Sienna crayon I never wanted to use.

Amanda Seyfried: She is young and beautiful but her dress was trying to do too many things at once, and did none of them well.

Viola Davis: I can’t remember the last time I saw that much gold lamé. I think I’m good for awhile.

Beyonce: She went for the classic Barbie gown but decided to have it made out of tapestry.

Heidi Klum: This was supposed to be modern but came across as more 2082 meets 1982.

Overall, this wasn't a very adventurous year for Oscars fashion. No true surprises and no real gossip fodder...no Bjork in a swan dress circa 2001. What did you think? Who were your best and worst dressed for the night?

February 23, 2009

I Miss Tina Fey and Steve Martin

Can they come back out?

February 23, 2009

65-second stand-in for Peter Gabriel

John Legend was a good person to sing "Down to Earth" in place of the protesting Peter Gabriel. Too bad the song still could not overcome the unstoppable force that is Slumdog Millionaire.

February 23, 2009

Whatever else happens ...

... Slumdog Millionaire will at least tie for the most wins this year, now that it has six.

It probably will have the most awards, period, by the end of the evening. But there is still an outside chance that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which has won three awards so far, will win the three categories that it has not yet "lost".

February 23, 2009

why not a REAL actress?

Already in the past but I'm still fuming over Beyonce lip syncing during that dumb musical number. Broadway guy Hugh Jackman needed to be paired with someone with the lungs to sing AND dance. Srsly not cool guys.

February 23, 2009

Worth a Smile

Best Short Doc supports a great cause

I've never seen any of the nominees for Best Documentary Short, but the winner, Smile Pinki, was about a very good thing -- helping children around the world born with cleft lips and palates.

Watch this video about how the precious girl at the heart of this movie was transformed by the miracle of modern medicine:

February 23, 2009

And the Oscar for Best Film Editing goes to ...

... Slumdog Millionaire. This award goes to the Best Picture winner about half the time, and no film since Ordinary People (1980) has won Best Picture without being at least nominated for Best Film Editing.

February 23, 2009

If You're Interested...

...You can see a winner's list so far or read the acceptance speeches at the official Oscars site.

February 23, 2009

"Outstounding"!

I love the way Will Smith tied his flub into the award he was presenting. I bet he wishes they had a sound editor tonight!

February 23, 2009

The Roberto Benigni award for “wild European moment” ...

Goes to Philip Petit of Man on Wire, who made a coin disappear, balanced the Oscar on his chin, and thanked everyone for "believing in magic."

February 23, 2009

Bill Maher's Appreciation

While I have a hard time with Bill Maher's arrogant self-marketing approach and his assertion that "our silly gods cost us too much," I did find myself appreciating his comment that he is thankful that he lives in a place where he can make a documentary like Religulous.

I am just glad that we also have the same freedom to proclaim that the "silly gods" may cost us too much, but the real One provides us life as a gift.

February 23, 2009

The music playing over the documentary montage...

...was, I believe, the Solo Piano version of Philip Glass's end-credits theme for The Thin Blue Line, a documentary that was snubbed by the Oscars at that time.

February 23, 2009

"The musical is back"?

Didn't Dreamgirls almost win Best Picture two years ago? Didn't Chicago actually win Best Picture six years ago? Haven't people been talking about the comeback of the musical for years now?

And since Mamma Mia! is what Hugh Jackman cited at the beginning of this sequence: when we use the word "musical", is a bunch of pop songs, shoehorned into a story that may or may not fit the lyrics, really what we have in mind?

February 23, 2009

It's great that a cinematographer is presenting an award...

...considering how essential cinematography is. I mean, you couldn't have films without cinematography. It's much more essential than even screenwriting. (Witness all the improvised movies out there -- speaking of Judd Apatow -- and all the great movies without stories or actors, like Koyaanisqatsi.)

February 23, 2009

Stiller Visits Phoenix

Brilliant! And dead-on.

February 23, 2009

Roger Deakins should have won best cinematography...

For his amazing work in Revolutionary Road, which wasn't even nominated.

February 23, 2009

Aha, so this is how they're keeping the ceremony short!

Thanks to the economic downturn, they can't sell any ads. So the commercial breaks are shorter!

February 23, 2009

Thank goodness for Marley & Me.

In the midst of all these swooning, angry, and sometimes suicidal characters clogging the "romance" montage, there was a brief clip of Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston agreeing to start a family. At last, a clip that goes beyond the rush of hormones.

February 23, 2009

Best Costume Drama Award

"The Fashion Award" aka Best Costume Design, went to The Duchess. No surprise here, as period pieces generally win this category. I am happy to see this movie win; Keira Knightly played the fashionista of her day, and wore some truly beautiful, elaborate costumes. Great pictures are available here via the LA Times.

February 23, 2009

Does CGI Count as Make-Up?

In 'Benjamin Button,' apparently so

I thought that most of the miracle transformations of Brad Pitt's aging/de-aging in Benjamin Button were CGI induced. So how does it win Best Make-Up over The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2?

UPDATE: Button later won for Best Visual Effects -- and the little montage showed how they used CGI to age Brad Pitt's face. So, is it makeup or CGI?

February 23, 2009

The first film to win two Oscars tonight is ...

... The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (for art direction and makeup).

Whew. For a second, this was turning into a very democratic, spread-the-wealth kind of ceremony. At last, the hogging has begun.

February 23, 2009

First decidedly needless moment of the night

Is the "romance montage." Though I do like the Coldplay song, "Lovers in Japan" that was playing.

February 23, 2009

The Best Animated Short is ...

... one of the two films in this category that I have not yet seen. Darn!

February 23, 2009

Well, It's Something

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For the film that I believed was the best of the year, I guess being named Best Animated Film is enough. Will a cartoon ever again be nominated for Best Picture with the animated feature category now?

Well done, WALL*E.

February 23, 2009

Best Line of the Night

So far, anyway, goes to Jack Black

On his strategy for making money by doing animated films:

"Each year I do one Dreamworks project, and I take all the money to the Oscars and bet it on Pixar."

UPDATE: And Black's "strategy" proves true again, as Pixar wins again -- 'WALL-E' for Best Animated Picture, with a gracious speech from Andrew Stanton about finding beauty even in dark places. Amen. And hooray for WALL-E, our Most Redeeming Film of 2008.

February 23, 2009

Are the Oscars really more out of touch than ever?

Box-office-wise, I mean.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has already grossed over $100 million, and Slumdog Millionaire could very well cross that line by tomorrow.

The last time two Best Picture nominees grossed over $100 million was four years ago, when The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby just barely crossed that line.

Of course, the other nominees that year were Ray ($75 million), Sideways ($71 million) and Finding Neverland ($51 million), whereas this year's also-rans -- Milk, The Reader and Frost/Nixon -- are all, at the moment, somewhere below $30 million.

February 23, 2009

Milk Screenwriter: God Loves You

In a wonderfully emotional speech, Dustin Lance Black emphatically declared that no matter what--gay or straight--God loves you. I don't know where his faith stands at all, but a good message to have declared in this context.

February 23, 2009

Self-Deprecation?

Hugh Jackman's jab at the Academy for failing to nominate the year's most successful-- both critically and financially-- film, The Dark Knight, was funny, but if the Academy realizes what a foolish oversight that was, then why didn't they just, um, nominate it? Or at least admit that it was a major mistake?

(I realize that Jackman is not the Academy, but surely we can expect the views of the host to somewhat line up with those of the organization he represents?)

February 23, 2009

Brangelina Snub Seacrest Again

Favorite moment thus far happened on the red carpet: when Brad and Angelina avoided talking to Ryan Seacrest once again. Actually, Brad said a few passing words to Seacrest, though he clearly was in a hurry to move on. Angelina avoided him altogether. Apparently the Brangie-Seacrest feud which started at the 2007 Golden Globes continues...

February 23, 2009

Cruz Control

Penelope Cruz wins Best Supporting Actress for 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'

I'm sure she was marvelous, but of the five Best Supporting Actress noms, this is the one film I still haven't seen. I was pulling for Taraji P. Henson. And you?

February 23, 2009

A deep thought for Oscar night

If The Reader wins Best Picture, will it be kind of like Ralph Nader winning the presidency?

February 23, 2009

Hugh's Song and Dance

Refreshing!

No idea how the rest of the show is going to go, but I got a kick out of Jackman's song and dance to start the night. Kind of a refreshing change from too many crude and/or inside jokes. What did you think?

February 23, 2009

It's OK Hugh, I Didn't See The Reader Either

Well, I tried. (And it wasn't that the Iron Man lines were too long as Hugh sang in the opening song.) Instead, The Reader was one movie I had to shut off this year because of my fear for what it was doing to my head. I made it about 30 minutes in and while I appreciated some of the art to it, I couldn't get past the nudity and sex.My wife and I decided to shut it off. This has rarely happened for me, but the sexual depiction of this relationship between Kate Winslet and a teen was too much for me personally.So this is one film I really can't judge tonight...

But back to Hugh, what did you think of the opening? I thought it was fun--but I missed a lot of the lines so I'll need to read a transcript of the song at some point. Anne Hathaway's inclusion was fun. And my favorite part was that they didn't cut away after the song's inclusion--instead, the camera caught what felt like a very real party.It's obvious that they're going for intimacy and informality. It's a good tone so far.

February 23, 2009

Much Ado about Oscar

Some other stories of note about the Academy Awards

The Los Angeles Times wonders if host Hugh Jackman can save the show; The Chicago Tribune has a story about how the pre-Oscar shows and parties have cut back on the glam and bling in deference to the crummy economy; the Seattle Travel Examiner shows how the last 10 Best Picture Winners have literally been all over the map; and the Dallas Morning News lists 25 Random Things About Oscar, including, "I wish Cher would make another movie" and "I miss Billy Crystal"; and the Louisville Courier-Journal vent

February 23, 2009

Cute Kids Always Win

Can we please go back to the kids from Slumdog Millionaire? They completely steal the show every time the camera goes near them. I kind of want Slumdog to take home the big prize just so we can see those adorable kids celebrate on stage.

February 23, 2009

Getting into the Spirit

Indies were in the spotlight last night

We're less than an hour away from the start of the Oscars, but less than 24 hours ago, the best independent films and performances of the year were recognized at last night's Spirit Awards.

It's a more freewheeling show than the Academy Awards -- look no further than Mickey Rourke's profanity laced speech for winning Best Actor for The Wrestler. But it's certainly a celebration of some of the year's best movies -- like The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married, Frozen River, and Wendy & Lucy, among others.

As we're about to watch a spectacle that celebrates mostly mainstream blockbusters, it's good to take a moment to remember the great indies of 2008.

February 23, 2009

Black Tie = Black Hat?

I love Philip Seymour Hoffman. I really do. He's one of my favorite actors, and Doubt was my favorite movie of the year. But I really do not understand his choice to wear what looks like a knit beanie with that tux. He's inched past Mickey Rourke (who looked, dare I say, normal in a white tux) for Most Confusing Fashion Choice.

February 23, 2009

Supporting Actresses Make a Statement

Taraji P. Henson is an early highlight (via FabSugar). As the commentators on E! noted, she is rocking a statement necklace. I love the dress. It's a cream mermaid dress with a floaty layer effect. She looks adorable, and, for the record, nothing like Brad Pitt's mom. No offense, Mrs. Pitt.

Another great statement necklace on Amy Adams, also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She is also one of the many wearing red...an unusual choice, because she risks blending in to the carpet, but the colors in her necklace, along with the black piping on the upper half of the dress, dramatically sweep the attention up to her face.

More photos to come. What do you think of the style so far? Leave your comments below!

February 22, 2009

Live from the Red Carpet

Hello all! I'm here to liveblog tonight's fashion. The preshow is actually my favorite part of the Oscars?the anticipation! The awkward interviews! The dresses!

As the stars begin to filter onto the red carpet, here's my most anticipated list:

Anne Hathaway- She is a style goddess. Her SAG Awards look (Grecian gown with loose, slightly messy hair) is the best I've seen at any awards show this season?how will she follow it up?

Kate Winslet- The favorite for Best Actress has a lot of pressure to wear the "right" dress. I have heard rumors that we might not actually see her on the red carpet; something to do with the show's promoters wanting people to tune into the ceremony to see the biggest names.

Freida Pinto- To this point in the awards season, her dresses have been a ton of fun - very colorful and exuberant.

Amy Adams- She always takes a fresh approach to old school glamour.

Meryl Streep ? Older women have more of a challenge when it comes to looking both age appropriate and fashion forward. Like Helen Mirren, she always pulls it off well.

Mickey Rourke
- The Best Actor-nominated star is guaranteed to keep it interesting. He's a wild card in every sense of the word.

Sean Penn- He can wear a classic tux.

So far we've only seen Miley Cyrus. I'm having trouble capturing images off my TV so I am going to direct you over to FabSugar for the picture. What did you think of her glittery gown? At first the petal effect on the skirt looked like scales, but I think I'm a fan now. It's a fun princess dress, and she's 16...go for it while you can!

Leave your thoughts in the comments as the big stars begin to show up, and I'll be back soon.

February 22, 2009

Religion Crashes the Oscar Party

'Boston Globe' religion writer notes the films' faith themes

Michael Paulson, who covers religion for The Boston Globe, writes that this year's Oscar nominees "include multiple films with a faith angle -- from the Holocaust to Hinduism, with clergy sexual abuse and all sorts of good vs. evil thrown in."

Obviously he includes Doubt in the discussion, but also includes Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, and Milk with his observations.

February 22, 2009

New Look Oscar?

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Usually, I'm all about the business side of the Oscars. I could skip the glamour, glitz, and self-congratulation. The endless clips of movies? Keep them. The dancing? Eh. I just want to know the winners so I can either complain about the Academy or feel validated in my opinions.

So, I definitely feel the pain of Newsweek's Patrick Enright who asked this week, "Why do we subject ourselves to an experience we detest?" He actually admits to watching the Oscars every year; I often bow out completely.

But this year, for some reason, I'm looking forward to the ceremony. I might just be buying into the hype, but it seems as if the Academy has gotten the hint and will be trying to reinvent itself. That tends to happen when ad revenues are projected to be down 16 percent because last year marked the event's lowest viewership percentage.

The New York Times reported last week that architect David Rockwell, who designed the Kodak Theatre, is out to "redefine the show's DNA" with a new, intimate look. (Check out a quick slideshow of the stages over the years.) But the changes don't stop there.

Producers say they want to bring back the joy and celebration of the awards, return it to being a "communal experience," and are specifically using the 1969 ceremony as their model. "When I look at the old shows, one of the great things is they're all giving this party, and we're lucky to be invited to it," says ceremony co-producer Bill Condon. "Recently it's become just a TV show where they promote everything ?We wanted to restore a certain kind of mystery to it."

Even members of the academy don't know exactly who is showing up tonight to present or perform. (Anne Hathaway singing?) The Times did report that this year's Oscars "will have a storyline related to making movies and will lean heavily toward live theater instead of endless film clips, with the award presentations almost Shakespearean plays within a play."

Hey, "all's well that ends well" - as long as it ends before 1 a.m.

February 22, 2009

Kingdom Come not coming soon after all?

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First it was on, then it was off, and then it was on again -- but now it looks like Kingdom Come, the life-of-Jesus movie that was going to be filmed in New Zealand this year, may be off for good.

The Timaru Herald says no official announcements have been made yet, but "moteliers in Twizel have had bookings cancelled and an email received by them this week said the movie was no longer going ahead."

The production company is believed to have spent several million dollars on the film already, constructing replicas of Capernaum and other first-century settings in Wellington and other New Zealand locations; but the work was put on hold before Christmas so that the filmmakers could focus on securing the movie's financing and distribution.

The producers have since insisted that they plan to get things rolling again, but some crew members are doubtful about that, and a number of them have already moved on to other jobs.

Despite a casting call for extras that took place last year, there don't seem to have been any announcements with regard to who would be playing Jesus or any of the other characters, but the film does have a director, namely Dean Wright, who has several years of experience as a visual-effects supervisor on the Narnia and Lord of the Rings films, among others.

February 21, 2009

'Milk' and the problem of politics

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In case you missed it, Annie went on record last night predicting that Milk will sweep the Oscars-- or at least, that it will take Picture, Director, and Actor. Were I a betting man, I'd still put my money on Slumdog, but I think Milk is the only nominated film that really has a chance of taking it down, largely because the other three films are, um, really boring. But more to the point, I'm almost ready to say that I'm rooting for Milk; while I think that both it and Slumdog are significant achievements in filmmaking, and either one would be a deserving winner, it's the former that seems to be staying with me a bit more than the latter, at least on an intellectual level.

And yet, there's another part of me that dreads what seems bound to happen if Milk wins: All of the film's detractors-- be they folks who object to its politics, folks who think it's simply not that great of a film, or folks who were really gung-ho about Slumdog-- will, very probably, accuse the Academy of picking the movie not for its cinematic merits, but simply for its "cause." Indeed, that's a charge that has already been leveled by more than a few critics, who think the film is too conventional to warrant the heaps of praise it has received.

I'm certainly not privy to the Academy's intentions, so if indeed Milk does win, I really won't be able to say exactly why. I will say, however, that this movie-- perhaps more than any other I've seen, at least recently-- highlights the difference between a political film and a propagandistic one. Certainly, the movie has a political agenda, and, to that end, it's a bold and fearless piece of filmmaking, one that never shies away from its cause, one that seems determined to stir up trouble and get right up in the face of those who might not share the same ideology. That said, I would also say that the film is inviting a serious conversation. It makes a persuasive argument (and I use that term descriptively, not necessarily evaluatively) for its side, but since when is that such a bad thing? Most Christian films make persuasive arguments of their own, it seems, and Milk never strikes me as demonizing those on the opposing side, nor does it seem uninterested in truly engaging principles and ideas.

In short, it tackles divisive issues with fervor, conviction, humor, compassion, and heart-- and it invites (possibly heated) discussion. And I'm certainly not one to condemn a movie for having such grand aspirations, when so many films have such small aspirations. If Milk wins tomorrow, it may very well be because the Academy likes its politics-- but that doesn't mean it isn't a dynamite movie, as well.

February 21, 2009

Newsbites: The comics and superheroes edition!

1. It may not have been nominated for Best Picture, but re-releasing The Dark Knight last month has paid off in one small way, at least: the film has finally raked in the last few pennies it needed to gross a billion dollars worldwide. Only three other films -- Titanic (1997), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) -- have passed this milestone. Interestingly, The Dark Knight is the only film in the all-time Top 20 worldwide that has made more money in North America than it has overseas. -- Variety, Hollywood Reporter

2. Mickey Rourke recently suggested that he might not be co-starring in Iron Man 2 after all, though the studio apparently still wants him for the film. This follows earlier reports that Emily Blunt might not be able to co-star in the film due to scheduling conflicts with another movie, and that "an economic crisis in the Marvel Comics world" might prevent Samuel L. Jackson from reprising his role as Nick Fury. Of course, Terrence Howard has already been replaced by Don Cheadle in the part of Jim Rhodes. Let's hope Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow stick around, at least. -- New York Magazine, Entertainment Weekly

Continue reading Newsbites: The comics and superheroes edition!...

February 21, 2009

Newsbites: The supernatural stories edition!

1. Several new items on the Twilight front: First, director Catherine Hardwicke said last week that she turned down the opportunity to direct the sequels because she would have had to shoot them on a low budget and an extremely tight schedule. Second, the sequel currently in development, once known simply as New Moon, has had its title expanded to The Twilight Saga's New Moon. Third, the studio has already announced a release date for the next sequel, The Twilight Saga's Eclipse; it will come out June 30, 2010, which is only seven months after the release date for New Moon, which, in turn, is only one year after the release date for the original Twilight. Finally, Chris Weitz, who is directing New Moon, will not be the director of Eclipse. -- Associated Press, MTV Movies Blog, Nikki Finke, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Entertainment Weekly

2. The new version of Friday the 13th was such a big hit last week, it was inevitable that someone would try to reboot the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise too. And the man who has been hired to direct the film is Samuel Bayer, whose experience resides largely in the world of commercials and music videos; he helmed the video for Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', among other things. -- Hollywood Reporter

3. Paul Breuls is directing a romantic comedy called Meant to Be, about a guardian angel who falls in love with the woman he is protecting and tries to take her on a trip to Puerto Rico. -- Hollywood Reporter

February 21, 2009

Random thought of the day.

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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opened in December 2005 and made a lot of money. Its sequel, Prince Caspian, opened two and a half years later, in May 2008, and made just a little more than half as much money.

Many people blamed the difference between the two films' box-office grosses on the fact that one film was released during the family-friendly holiday season while the other film was released in a highly competitive summer market, within weeks of Iron Man, Speed Racer, Indiana Jones and the like.

Meanwhile, Night at the Museum opened in December 2006 and made a lot of money. Its sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, will open two and a half years later, in May 2009, in a highly competitive summer market, within weeks of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek, Angels & Demons, Terminator Salvation and Pixar's Up. (Yes, all of those films are opening just in May. And there will be more in June, July, etc.)

If Battle of the Smithsonian is a hit, will that invalidate the theory that some people made in Prince Caspian's defense?

February 20, 2009

Milk Will Take It All

Sure, Slumdog took a zillion prizes but last minute upsets do happen. Slumdog peaked early but has picked up a sizable backlash in recent weeks, thanks in part to the controversy surrounding production's treatment of the adorable urchins playing young Jamal and Salim.

Slumdog's main liability is that it's just not a good movie (though that didn't stop Crash). Milk, on the other hand, is a phenomenal film on every level. Excellent storytelling, masterful acting, and an important message about living the truth. I'm well aware that many Christians will refuse to see this film because it's about a gay activist, but the genius of Milk is that director Gus van Sant finds the universal story here. Harvey Milk was a politician but Milk has a lot more going on that just a political agenda. If only all Christians would live as openly and fight as hard for their beliefs as Harvey Milk.

Anyway, I predict that Milk will take Best Picture and Best Director, and Sean Penn Best Actor.

February 20, 2009

Americans Are Pro-Communist!

Box-office statistics don't paint the whole picture

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Editor's note: This post is slightly revised from an earlier version.

If you break down box office statistics in just the right way, you could conclude that American moviegoers care more about supporting communism and its causes than they do about widows and orphans and global poverty.

We could do that if we used a similar approach to the logic employed in this recent op/ed in the Wall Street Journal, written by Movieguide's Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder, who argue that "what succeeds [at the box office] is capitalism, patriotism, faith and values."

Baehr and Snyder base this on their analysis of "250 major films from Hollywood studios and independents for their social, political, philosophical, moral and religious content. . . . Once again, family-friendly, uplifting, and inspiring movies drew far more viewers in 2008 than films with themes of despair, or leftist political agendas."

Consider how statistics don't tell the whole story.

Continue reading Americans Are Pro-Communist!...

February 20, 2009

Is Slumdog a Slam Dunk?

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It's looking that way. As Entertainment Weekly wrote, "The crowd-pleasing hit has dominated the awards season like no other film in recent memory."

Last weekend--just days before Oscar ballots were due on Tuesday--the movie grabbed Best Film honors from the Art Directors Guild, the Cinema Audio Society, the American Cinema Editors and the American Society of Cinematographers. When added to other big association wins (like the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, Broadcast Critics, and SAG awards) that is, as EW reports, "a completely unheard-of pre-Oscar sweep." That's right, even Oscar heavyweights like Forrest Gump, Return of the King, American Beauty, and Titanic didn't do that.

So if the little-movie-that-could Slumdog loses, it will actually be a huge upset. Some of the acting categories are still toss ups (Best Supporting Actress especially), but the biggest shoo-in of the night is obviously Heath Ledger for Supporting Actor category. (By the way, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said this week that "if" he wins, the statue would go to his daughter Matilda when she turns 18. Reportedly his family would accept the Oscar on Sunday.)

For more on who is predicted to win (and who critics are saying should win), check out this handy list from EW and this ranking from Rotten Tomatoes.

February 20, 2009

Who are the greatest active directors?

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If you're not sure, Entertainment Weekly has a handy list, counting down the top 25 active filmmakers in the world. Lists like this one are generally fraught with annoying/inexplicable/totally lame surprises-- not unlike, say, the Oscar nominations-- but the biggest surprise about this list is how relevant it actually is. Art-house snobs and mainstream multiplex-goers alike can find plenty to like here. For the former, you've got your Paul Thomas Anderson, your Darren Aronofsky, and, of course, the Coen Brothers-- who, if I had made the list, would have been #1, but #10 is okay, I guess. On the other hand, you've also got Sam Raimi (Spider-man), Judd Apatow, and golden boy Ron Howard. Jon Favreau makes the cut, which would probably not have happened were it not for Iron Man, and Christopher Nolan makes the list for that other comic book movie from last summer. You can pretty much guess who takes the #1 spot.

One major surprise: Woody Allen is nowhere to be found. Yes, the man has had some clunkers, but he's probably still made more truly great films than most of the people on this list-- certainly more than Apatow, who probably wouldn't have a career if not for Allen's trailblazing work, and certainly more than Zack Snyder, whose biggest claim to fame, 300, is little more than a technically impressive but soulless exercise in violence pornography.

Someone whose absence is not surprising, but who I would have liked to see on the list anyway: Wes Anderson, who, apart from Tim Burton, just might be cinema's greatest stylist-- and, with at least some of his movies, a tremendous storyteller.

Are there any other directors who you think should have made the cut? Any who made the cut and perhaps shouldn't have?

February 20, 2009

Will the original Sarah Connor "be back"?

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Six months ago, it was rumoured that there might be a part in Terminator: Salvation for Linda Hamilton, the actress who played Sarah Connor in the first two Terminator movies. That turned out to be false, at the time, but now Hamilton herself has told the MTV Movies Blog that she is in "active negotiations" to do some voice-over work for the new film, which opens in three months.

If she does take the part, that would be interesting, as her character died between the second and third films. Also, while Sarah Connor provided the voice-over in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), her son John has been doing the voice-over work ever since, at least on the big screen, both in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and in the trailers for the new film.

So, will John be doing any voice-overs within the new film itself? Will both the deceased Sarah and the very alive John be sharing the narrating duties? And if they do share the voice-over chores, will their voices work together or will there be some sort of tension between them and their possibly differing perspectives on the story? (Recall how, in both the teaser and the trailer, John has said, "This is not the future my mother warned me about...")

Meanwhile, in related news, things are apparently not looking very good for The Sarah Connor Chronicles, ratings-wise. Variety says the show "opened meekly" when it moved to Friday nights last week, as a lead-in to Joss Whedon's Dollhouse.

February 20, 2009

The Big Fisherman -- Disney's "lost" biblical epic

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Jerry Beck posted an item at Cartoon Brew yesterday expressing his curiosity about a neglected period in the history of the Disney studio, and in doing so, he reminded me of a Bible epic that I have long been interested in but am pretty much resigned to never seeing.

The period in question is the late 1950s: Walt Disney, whose films had been distributed by RKO throughout the 1930s and 1940s, finally decided to distribute his films himself through a brand-new company he created called Buena Vista. But he didn't have enough material of his own, yet, to keep the people at Buena Vista busy year-round, so he agreed to distribute a handful of movies that were (co-)produced by outside companies.

One of these movies was The Big Fisherman (1959), which was based on a book by Lloyd C. Douglas, whose similarly biblical novel The Robe had been turned into a very successful movie over at 20th Century Fox just a few years earlier. The Robe (1953) had featured Michael "Klaatu" Rennie in a small role as the apostle Peter, but The Big Fisherman put Peter centre stage, and the actor playing him was Howard Keel, who had specialized in musicals like Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Kiss Me Kate (1953) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) but was apparently open to doing non-musical roles too.

Continue reading The Big Fisherman -- Disney's "lost" biblical epic...

February 20, 2009

Can Tyler Perry sell his movies overseas?

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Tyler Perry, whose newest film Madea Goes to Jail opened today, hopes to take his brand global in the near future, and he hopes to disprove the widespread belief that African-American movies just don't do all that well overseas. So says the Hollywood Reporter in a lengthy, three-page article, at any rate.

Best wishes to Perry, but if Canada -- where I live -- is anything to go by, finding an audience outside the United States may be something of an uphill struggle; after releasing his first few films more or less nationwide, the distributor here hasn't even bothered to release the last few movies outside of a few cities in Ontario and the Maritimes, i.e. places with a relatively strong black population.

According to CinemaClock.com, the trend will continue with Madea Goes to Jail, which is playing in only two Canadian cities -- or five, if you count Toronto suburbs Brampton, Burlington and Mississauga as separate cities -- compared to "1369 cities across the U.S.A."

Compounding matters is the fact that Perry's movies often have a pronounced faith element, and films that treat Christian themes explicitly tend to do proportionately less well overseas than they do in the United States.

February 19, 2009

WALL-E Gets 'Spiritual'

BeliefNet gives Pixar's latest their top prize for 2008

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With a very loose definition of the word "spiritual," BeliefNet has posted its annual film awards, with WALL-E taking the Judges' Award and Gran Torino the People's Choice Award as the year's "Best Spiritual Film."

Like I said, loose definition. And I was even one of the judges -- though I've always told our friends at BeliefNet that I thought their definition of "spiritual" needed refining. (For the record, I voted Doubt as the year's most spiritual film, having to choose from their short list of nominees -- Wall-E, Gran Torino, Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, and Doubt.)

Richard Jenkins in The Visitor won the Best Spiritual Performance (the people went with Queen Latifah in The Secret Life of Bees, and so did I), and Lord Save Us From Your Followers swept the Best Spiritual Documentary awards. (Inexplicably, Pray the Devil Back to Hell wasn't one of the nominees.)

February 19, 2009

Looking for Christ at the Oscars

A good read from screenwriter Brian Bird

Our friend Brian Bird has written a nice piece for Purpose Driven Connection about the relevant themes to be found in the five Academy Aware nominees for Best Picture.

Good insights throughout, but his conclusion is my favorite part:

"[S]ome films have the potential to be tremendous examples of art. And good art asks questions. Good films stir up cravings in people’s souls. . . .[A]s a Christian I want to be part of that world conversation, for big reasons and small. I want to have a ready answer when I’m standing at a water cooler and someone asks what films I have seen lately. I want to be able to engage people where they are, not expect them to come where I am. Whichever film wins on February 22, it’s going to present me with an opportunity for dialogue. And I plan to be ready."

Amen.

February 18, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (online)

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More images from the Spike Jonze adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are are popping up online. The much-delayed movie is currently slated for an October 16, 2009 release. It's always a bit nerve-racking to see a beloved book turned into a movie, but these pictures are making my heart race, in the good way.
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February 18, 2009

Tom Joad's Ghost in New England?

Upcoming film to address economic collapse

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New Hampshire's Either/Or Films, founded by a couple of Christians, is all set to begin production on Someplace Like America, which the company describes as "a contemporary tale set in the state's North Country after the closing of its paper mills.

"Focusing on the struggles of people who find themselves suddenly unemployed or even homeless, it reflects in dramatic and cinematic terms on the possibilities of personal and communal rebirth in the aftermath of economic collapse."

An image promoting a reading of the script includes this quote from a Bruce Springsteen song: "I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light, searching for the ghost of Tom Joad."

CT Movies critic Frederica Mathewes-Green recently interviewed Buzz McLaughlin, co-founder of Either/Or Films, which was named for a book by Soren Kierkegaard. The company's mission statement says they exist "for the purpose of developing and creating films of beauty and artistic excellence that provoke the public to engage with the providential mystery of grace."

February 18, 2009

God and the Oscars

ReligionLink takes a brief look at spiritually-infused films

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ReligionLink, which helps to keep journalists aware of stories with spiritual angles, writes:

"The 81st annual Academy Awards ceremony is this Sunday, and as always there are plenty of religious issues to provide a substantive backdrop to the red-carpet glam.

"Films have long grappled with questions of ultimate meaning, and this year's crop is no exception. Whether it's the more overtly religious Doubt, based on John Patrick Shanley's Broadway production, or the "life is beautiful" fantasy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there's a lot of potential here for out-of-the-box stories. Frost/Nixon explores moral ambiguity, and The Wrestler is a redemption tale both for the main character and for its real-life actor, Mickey Rourke."

CT Movies plans to blog away on Oscar night, so please come join the party!

February 18, 2009

The revisionist Robin Hood movie, revised

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There has been a lot of confusion lately over the nature of Sir Ridley Scott's Nottingham and the role that Russell Crowe is supposed to be playing within that film.

When the film was first announced almost two years ago, Crowe was going to play the Sheriff of Nottingham as "a noble and brave lawman", and the actor teased reporters with the possibility that the film might turn Robin Hood into something of a villain; at one point, Crowe claimed that the legend of Robin Hood had begun as the legend of Robin the Beheader, and he said the film would "look at how the mythology morphed over time".

Then, late last year, Scott seemed to indicate that Crowe would be playing Robin Hood as well as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and producer Brian Grazer's efforts to clarify how that would work just made the film sound even more puzzling.

But yesterday, that all changed, apparently, as Scott told the MTV Movies Blog that Crowe will be playing Robin Hood, and only Robin Hood, while the Sheriff of Nottingham will be a "less important" character. What's more, Scott said the film, which starts shooting in two months, will probably no longer be known as Nottingham, but as plain old Robin Hood.

Continue reading The revisionist Robin Hood movie, revised...

February 18, 2009

Did We Miss the Religion of 'The Wrestler'?

S. Brent Plate of 'Religion Dispatches' apparently thinks so

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In a commentary for Religion Dispatches, S. Brent Plate writes that our review of The Wrestler missed the film's religious references.

"How did reviewers from the New York Times to Christianity Today miss the obvious religious references in this Oscar-nominated hit? Did they blink and reach for popcorn at the images of a tattooed Jesus Christ on Randy's back, or was it more about the myth of modern individualism and body-soul dualism?"

But Plate's not done yet. He's just getting started.

Continue reading Did We Miss the Religion of 'The Wrestler'?...

February 18, 2009

Perfect Completion (Man on Wire)

I finally saw Man on Wire, the Oscar-nominated documentary about French wirewalker Philip Petit's illicit crossing between the World Trade Center towers back in the early 1970s. I really ought to have seen this sooner, because my husband, John Frisbie, did the lighting for all the recreations. (And might I add those recreations look incredible?) But with a baby taking up most of my time, I only made it to the movie theater once in 2008--perhaps my lowest number since I saw my first movie (Watership Down) back when I was very, very young.

Man on Wire moved me because Petit's act was so extravagantly senseless. There was nothing utilitarian or pragmatic in his decision to string a guywire between the two tallest buildings in the world and walk back and forth. The stunt was witnessed by a crowd and filmed by one of Petit's accomplices, but even though Petit was a performer to the core, I got the sense that the joy he derived came not from the applause of the crowd, but from the act itself.

Petit's act was senseless but it was not wasteful. As a writer, I struggle under the knowledge that my work can always use more revisions. Nothing I've written has ever been complete. Yet I believe that completion is possible. It must be--otherwise how could there ever be a sonnet? Petit's act was one of those perfect works of art, appropriate and complete and true. It took him a tremendous amount of effort to achieve. I'm going to remember his face, rapt in concentration, the next time I'm tempted by "well, it's good enough."

February 17, 2009

Dr. Jeee-kyll

The other night I saw the 1931 "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", starring Frederic March, on Turner Classic Movies. Wow, is it disturbing. Truly a horror film. As a pre-code talkie, it also has some surprisingly sexual moments with "Champagne Ivy", Miriam Hopkins. Rouben Mamoulian directed, and March won the Best Actor Oscar. (Reason for the entry title: everyone calls the lead character "Dr. Jeee-kyll").

What's disturbing is how effectively it shows that "The line between good and evil runs down the middle of the human heart" as Solzhenitsen said; how intractable, overwhelming the evil can be. Jekyll--an intelligent, well-behaved young doctor, a "good" person--believes that the good and evil inside a person can be separated, and invents a potion to do so. But it coalesces all the evil inside him, and releases it to control his whole person, becoming the cruel character Hyde. And bad stuff happens:

(URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVESREi5JhU)

That part is kind of scary, but that's not what makes this a horror movie. What's piercing is Jekyll's terror when he returns to himself, and realizes that he has no control over Hyde, that the evil side can now spontaneously emerge, and there is nothing he can do to stop it.

"Oh, God. This I did not intend. I saw a light but did not know where it was headed. I have trespassed on your domain. I've gone further than man should go. Forgive me. Help me!"

I think we live in an age where "repentance" doesn't make sense, because everybody is basically good at heart (as Anne Frank said, before her death offered evidence to the contrary). There are only a few really terrible people, and the rest of us are OK, only human, a few foibles, but the important thing is that we're nice. That kind of fuzzy feel-good helps grease the wheels of a consumer-focused economy, because people buy more stuff when they're flattered.

But the Gospels are so different--Christ's emphasis on repentance is so different. Life in Christ is a process of healing, and healing requires recognition of evil, enough to be scared by it, as Jekyll was. The psychology (and even theology) of this movie is so different from the way we look at things today; I found it very thought-provoking.

February 17, 2009

Jane Austen movies get a little stranger

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I guess you can only tell the same story over and over again so many times before you start looking for ways to make it "new" again.

In recent years, Pride and Prejudice has been adapted as a BBC mini-series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth and as a big-screen movie with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, and it has also been honoured and spoofed and recontextualized in everything from Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) to Bride and Prejudice (2004).

Now get ready for the time-travel and space-monster versions.

Continue reading Jane Austen movies get a little stranger...

February 17, 2009

Paul Newman's embarrassing Bible epic

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Bible movies were all the rage in the 1950s, so it isn't all that odd that an up-and-coming actor like Paul Newman, making his big-screen debut in 1954, would have ended up in a quasi-biblical flick called The Silver Chalice.

Alas, the movie itself was apparently nothing to brag about -- some years later, Harry and Michael Medved awarded Newman a 'Golden Turkey Award' for 'Most Embarrassing Movie Debut' -- and Newman himself hated, hated, hated the movie so much that he took out a full-page newspaper ad to apologize for his performance when it was shown on TV in 1966.

So we can only imagine how Newman, who passed away last year, would react to the fact that the film is being released on DVD today as part of the "Paul Newman Film Series", along with The Helen Morgan Story (1957), The Outrage (1964; this film is a Western remake of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon), Rachel, Rachel (1968; this film was Newman's directorial debut), and the disaster flick When Time Ran Out... (1980).

I have never gotten around to seeing the film myself, but I am curious to. In the meantime, Dave Kehr notes some of the film's more peculiar details in the New York Times, and Bible-movie blogger extraordinaire Matt Page gives the film a more balanced review than you might expect at his Bible Films Blog.

February 17, 2009

Friday the 13th and other low-budget hits

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Marcus Nispel's reboot of the Friday the 13th franchise grossed over $40 million this weekend, and in doing so, it set a few records.

For one thing, it scored the best opening weekend of any film so far this year. Its box-office haul ranks, in fact, as the best three-day weekend of any film since Twilight opened to $69.6 million in mid-November.

(Side note: The Christmas release Marley & Me opened on a Thursday, and it made $50.7 million by the end of its first Sunday; but its haul for the three-day period was $36.4 million. Friday the 13th was released on a four-day weekend too, since today is Presidents Day in the United States, but its estimated haul for the four days is only $45.2 million.)

Continue reading Friday the 13th and other low-budget hits...

February 13, 2009

Another Church, Another Movie

Tulsa congregation pitches in for 'Treasure Blind'

Brian Shoop doesn't know if his church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will ever have the same success making movies as Georgia's Sherwood Baptist (Fireproof, Facing the Giants), but you've got to start somewhere.

Shoop, 57, had seen Sherwood's first film, Flywheel, and said it "wasn't awful," according to The Tulsa World. When his pastor asked him if he thought they could do the same thing at Tulsa Bible Church, Shoop--who played a role in The Rookie with Dennis Quaid--thought, why not?

"(Sherwood's success) sort of pushed me off dead-center," Shoop said. "So I collected all of my favors and all of my friends, and we set out on it. I started writing, and for a year I was writing and rewriting. In 2006, we started shooting."

The result is Treasure Blind, which released to DVD this week. The film is about a Tulsa cab driver, part-time amateur treasure hunter (played by Shoop) whose life is enriched when he meets the blind grandson he never knew existed. The film is released by Cloud Ten Pictures, which did the Left Behind trilogy of movies.

Here's the Treasure Blind trailer:

February 13, 2009

Newsbites: The science-fiction edition!

Batman, Terminator, Gemini Man, TDTESS, and more

1. Will Chris Nolan make another Batman movie? Maybe, maybe not, but for now, Warner Brothers is staying on his good side by producing his next film, a sci-fi flick called Inception; the film is described as "a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind." So will it be sort of like Nolan's second film, Memento (2000), but with more special effects and chase scenes? -- Variety, Hollywood Reporter

2. Terminator: Salvation director McG may or may not be using Benjamin Button-style effects to put a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in his robot movie. McG says he is also talking to Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke about contributing to the movie's soundtrack -- but a Radiohead publicist says Yorke's involvement in the film is nothing more than a rumour at this point. -- MTV Movies Blog (x2), Entertainment Weekly

Continue reading Newsbites: The science-fiction edition!...

February 13, 2009

The newest Harry Potter movie poster

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I know it isn't part of the movie's actual title, but have any of the other Harry Potter movies been advertised this way, with a semi-numerical acronym? Or, come to that, with any sort of number?

Given that the seventh book is being split into two films, how do they plan to advertise those movies?

As "HP7" and "HP8"? That might annoy fans who know that there are only seven stories in the series, not eight.

As "HP 7.0" and "HP 7.5"? That sounds a little too tech-based for a story set in a world that is so ignorant of muggle technology that some people don't even know what a rubber duck is for.

February 13, 2009

Newsbites: The all-female edition!

Blanchett in 'Nottingham,' 'Vicky' tops Woody's list, 'Eastwick,' and more

1. Cate Blanchett is reportedly set to play Maid Marian in Ridley Scott's Nottingham. Blanchett's fellow Aussie Russell Crowe will play Robin Hood and/or the titular Sheriff. -- Daily Telegraph, Variety

2. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which earned Penelope Cruz an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (she plays neither Vicky nor Cristina, but a third woman named Maria Elena), has nudged past Match Point (2005) to become Woody Allen's top-grossing film since Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), at least before inflation is taken into account. -- Box Office Mojo

Continue reading Newsbites: The all-female edition!...

February 13, 2009

Where's Joaquin?

Apparently not in Phoenix, anyway

When Joaquin Phoenix said he was done with acting, he apparently meant it. His interview with David Letterman seems to indicate he has certainly checked out.

Letterman's best line: "What can you tell us about your days with the Unabomber?"

The audience has some yuks at Phoenix's expense, but it's also kind of sad to see what was once such a bright flame among Hollywood's finest actors flickering out to, well, whatever this is:

February 12, 2009

Jacked Up

Hugh Jackman is looking dapper for the Oscars

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ABC TV released publicity shots of Academy Awards host Hugh Jackman today.

The Aussie, best-known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men movies, will be hosting the Oscars for the first time. Few people have nailed the role, bringing just the right mix of charisma and humor to the gig. Here's hoping Jackman finds some of that magic when the telecast airs on Sunday, Feb. 22.

We're betting that sometime during the show that we'll see a teaser for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

February 12, 2009

Scandalous Preachers in Film

Haggard the only 'real' one in a list of rotten reverends

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The South Florida Sun-Sentinel compiled a slideshow called "Scandalous Preachers in film," and the No. 1 man on the list is Ted Haggard, now being featured in an HBO documentary

Haggard is the only real preacher in the slideshow; the other 10 are fictional characters from film over a number of decades -- including Rev. Henry Kane in Poltergeist II (pictured here), Silas in The Da Vinci Code, and Pentecostal preacher Eulis 'Sonny' Dewey in The Apostle.

(Hat tip to Sarah Pulliam.)

February 12, 2009

A Pixar Tearjerker?

'Up' may have a few downs

USA Today reports that Up, the latest Pixar project due in May, takes an animated gamble with "a plunge into tearjerker territory."

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The story, directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc. and co-writer of WALL-E), features a 78-year-old man wrestling with regret and loneliness after the death of his wife. And he feels so alienated by a changing neighborhood, and threats of being forced into a retirement home, that he takes desperate measures to escape -- by connecting thousands of helium-filled balloons to his house, floating up, up and away . . . to a mountaintop waterfall in Venezuela that his wife always wanted to visit.

"He can be a real jerk, but you still love him," Docter told USA Today. "Why is it so important for this guy to get to the falls? It needed that weight. I didn't want it to be just a fleeting thing."

USA Today reports that the potentially tearjerking segments include a "montage of their marriage [that] touches on themes rarely seen in bedtime storybooks: romance, financial hardship, a lost pregnancy, loneliness, and the blink-of-an-eye passage from childhood to wrinkles."

Wow. Pixar's films have always carried some weight along with their immense entertainment value, but last year's WALL-E was the weightiest of all, with its messages about greed, consumption, and stewardship of the earth. Might Up carry even more weight? Possibly, but not too much that all those balloons -- and Pixar's magic touch -- can't lift.

I can't wait. Sign me Up.

(photo from Disney/Pixar; Ed Asner voices Carl Fredricksen, and Jordan Nagai voices Russell)

Check out the trailer:

(If the video won't run properly, click here.)

February 11, 2009

The Biblical Origin of Movie Posters

Betcha didn't know that a flick about Jesus sparked the first one-sheet. (We didn't either.)

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There's a cool new exhibit at New York's Museum of Biblical Art called "Reel Religion: A Century of the Bible and Film."

MOBIA's official website says that the exhibition "probes the fascination the Bible has exerted over filmmakers as different and distinct as Cecil B. deMille, Mel Gibson, John Huston, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese. The exhibition features 80 rare vintage movie posters reaching back to the dawn of film in 1898."

That 1898 film was The Passion Play of Oberammergau, which actually sparked the very first movie poster. After a small flier proved ineffective for promoting the film, the promoters created a poster measuring 27" × 41" that became the template for the one-sheet promo we see in theaters everywhere today--with those very same dimensions.

A couple of interesting things about this first poster: It notes that the image is an "actual scene" from the movie, and makes a big deal that the film itself is "reproduced by means of 2554 feet of LIFE MOTION PICTURE FILM."

"Film is a recognized art form that has developed relatively recently," says Paul Tabor, MOBIA's Director of Exhibitions. "Not unlike painters, filmmakers from the outset turned to the Bible for emotionally powerful source material. The posters made to promote these films were often works of arts themselves."

We agree.

February 11, 2009

The Terminator goes to church

There's apparently more going on here than just being slain in the Spirit

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Radar Online recently posted some photos from the set of Terminator: Salvation -- including this one, of a nuked-out church.

I can't recall: have we ever seen a church or any other explicitly religious prop or set in the Terminator movies? (The faith elements have been rather pronounced in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, of course. But that's a TV show.)

February 11, 2009

'I am Wiccan. It is my craft. It is my life.'

Is Harry Potter to blame for witches coming out of the (broom) closet?

This commentary from The American Daily surmises that Hollywood and "the media" have contributed to the rise of Wicca . . . especially singling out the Harry Potter books and films.

The Harry Potter books, probably the best-known books on Witchcraft, have cast a spell on children," writes Marsha West in a guest commentary. "Hollywood has used its movie magic to promote Witchcraft and alter the public perception of witches for years."

She goes on to note such fare as The Wizard of Oz, The Witches of Eastwick, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks from the big screen, and TV's Bewitched, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Charmed.

Perhaps such fare has made Wiccans more "mainstream," but it's debatable whether there's been much, if any, negative fallout for children.

Yes, debatable. So, debate away.

February 10, 2009

No 'Doubt' About This Talent

Two Oscar nominees in a stunning scene

It doesn't take long to see why Meryl Streep and Viola Davis were both nominated for Oscars in this clip from Doubt at the NY Times site.

February 10, 2009

Jack Black Meets Cain & Abel

'Year One' doesn't quite get it right

You didn't expect a comedy with Jack Black and Michael Cera to be entirely reverent toward the biblical account, did you?

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Then you'll know that this clip from Year One, an exclusive at Crackle, isn't really a depiction of how Cain killed Abel. (Guilty giggles are strictly between you and God.)

Meanwhile, check out the official website of the film, which will also include appearances by Adam, Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Seth, and "Sodom Officer Rick." (Gold star if you can guess which one's fictional.)

Year One hits theaters June 19.

February 10, 2009

Jesus Christ, Movie Star

Hollywood meets the Holy in these messiah movies

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Facets, aka "your source for world cinema on video," recently compiled a list of Jesus films--just in time for Easter viewing.

The list spans almost a century, from 1912's From the Manger to the Cross to 2004's The Passion of the Christ. There are a few differences between theirs list and our Top 10 Jesus Movies, most notably their inclusion of the blasphemous Last Temptation of Christ and the somewhat irreverent Jesus Christ Superstar.

Of course, our list--compiled by our own Peter Chattaway--is better!

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