1. The Lion of Judah is the first computer-animated feature to be made in South Africa, and it happens to concern a bunch of barnyard animals who witness the events surrounding the first Easter. The eclectic cast includes Ernest Borgnine, Sandi Patty and Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in the Visual Bible adaptations of Matthew (1993) and Acts (1994) and will apparently do so again for this film. The Lion of Judah doesn't seem to have either a distributor or a firm release date lined up just yet, but in the meantime, you can watch a trailer for the film at its official website. -- Variety, Cartoon Brew
2. Universal Pictures, having scored a major international hit with the Abba-themed musical Mamma Mia! last year, is now developing a remake of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). One director the studio has spoken to -- though they're not in active negotiations with anyone just yet -- is Marc Webb, whose credits include numerous music videos as well as the current indie hit (500) Days of Summer. -- Hollywood Reporter
Jehovah's Witnesses second, evangelicals third, according to poll
Just recently, we posted a blog bit about the top "faith-offending" films. Now we've learned which faith group is most easily offended: Mormons.
According to a recent Religion News Service story, "Mormons are the faith group most likely to say Hollywood threatens their values, followed by Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelicals, according to a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life."
The story also noted that "more than two-thirds of Mormons (68%) rebuffed the entertainment industry, followed by 54% of Jehovah's Witnesses and 53% of evangelicals. Less than half (42%) of the general population said Hollywood threatens their values."
1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader began principal photography yesterday ... and it sounds like the filmmakers may once again be adding more unnecessary peril and more gratuitous World War II footage to C.S. Lewis's story. The film's press release suggests that King Caspian and the others are embarking on their "entirely uncharted journey to Aslan's Country" in order to "save Narnia, and all the astonishing creatures in it, from an unfathomable fate." And last month, a casting agency was looking for actors to play English soldiers and nurses bidding farewell to each other. Somehow these bits don't jibe with my memory of the book.
Last week, I mentioned that there were one and maybe two new movies about Charles Darwin coming up in the near future, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Now comes word that yet another movie in that vein is in the works.
National Geographic Television, which is best known for producing documentaries, announced a few days ago that they have just finished principal photography on their first-ever dramatic production, a two-hour movie called Darwin's Darkest Hour that will air on the PBS series Nova October 6. Like Creation, the upcoming Jon Amiel film based on a book by one of Darwin's descendants, Darwin's Darkest Hour will focus on Darwin's relationships with his dying daughter and his devoutly Christian wife as he struggles to write his famous book.
Incidentally, Charles Darwin himself will be played in this film by Henry Ian Cusick, who is probably best known these days as one of the co-stars on Lost but previously got good notices for his performance as Jesus in The Visual Bible's adaptation of The Gospel of John. Darwin's wife Emma will be played by Frances O'Connor, who has starred in such films as Mansfield Park and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Last year, in my review of Journey to the Center of the Earth, I wrote:
Many of the more impressive scenes involve computer-generated backgrounds and other kinds of special effects, such as a sequence involving a loose bridge of levitating rocks that stretches across a deep, deep chasm. But there is wonder and awe to be had in some of the natural scenery, too. As Trevor, Sean and Hannah hike up an Icelandic volcano near the beginning of the film, we can see the other mountains and the landscape stretch for miles around them, and it's almost enough to make you wonder what an epic, scenic film like, say, Lawrence of Arabia could have looked like if it had been produced in 3D.
It's getting to the point where you could almost base a small theology course on Paul Bettany movies.
The actor has already played an albino assassin monk in The Da Vinci Code, a priest on the lam who joins a medieval morality-play troupe in The Reckoning, and a famous scientist who wrestles with his doubts in the upcoming biopic Creation, and he will soon star in the comic-book adaptation Priest as a man of the cloth who turns against the church to track down some vampires who have kidnapped his niece.
Right now, however, the religion-themed movie of his that's getting all the attention is Legion, in which Bettany will play the machine-gun-toting archangel Michael; director Scott Stewart appeared with co-stars Bettany, Tyrese Gibson and others at the San Diego Comic-Con to promote the film yesterday, and they unveiled a new poster for the film and a few clips, besides.
'Run Baby Run' slated for 2010, Emmy nod for 'Soldiers,' and more
A new movie about former gang member Nicky Cruz, whose story was told in The Cross and the Switchblade (the book and the 1970 film starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada), is on track for release next summer.
Run Baby Run, with a $12 million budget, will be intended for mainstream audiences, not just Christians, David Urabe, president of Convolo Productions, told the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Cruz told The Gazette that it won't be a "cheesy" Christian movie.
> Cloud Ten Pictures, the studio that made all the Left Behind movies, announces it will be releasing the DVD version of The River Within in November. The press release says the film "explores relationships between father and son, pastor and congregant, and God and man; and broaches head-on the age-old human dilemma of discerning God's plan for each of us."
LA Times includes 'Passion,' 'Da Vinci Code,' 'Golden Compass' on list
The Los Angeles Times recently put together a feature called "Faith-Offending Films," starting, interestingly, with Falling, the latest film from Richard Dutcher, the former Mormon who had already alienated LDS fans with edgier and edgier movies. (LDS Review refused to review Falling because of its R rating, prompting quite a spirited debate in its comments.)
Included in the Times list was The Passion of The Christ . But why?
The filmmakers behind 'Blue Like Jazz' ask: How much cussing is too much?
Steve Taylor, director of the someday-upcoming Blue Like Jazz movie (based on the Donald Miller book of the same title), wonders just how many bad words to include in the film. Since the story is set on what the book calls "the most godless campus in America," Taylor and his co-writers--including Miller--believed that truthful storytelling would include at least a bit of bad language, leaving some to wonder just how "blue" the script might be.
Writes Taylor on the BLJ website: "While the CussCount for Blue Like Jazz is lower than Al Pacino's shootout scene in Scarface, it is considerably higher than all the Pixar movies combined.
"For most of you reading this â€“ No Big Deal. . . . [You] expect, in a movie like ours, to hear a certain number of ****s, ****s, ***es, and possibly even the judicious use of ******* when spoken solely as an adjective."
Taylor went on to write that his posting was an "olive branch" to fans who want the language "scrubbed," adding, "We're open to your suggestions. Really. Please post a reply with your favorite non-curse word or phrase, use it in a sentence, and we'll try out the best ones as alternate takes."
High-Def Digest reports that Warner Brothers plans to release The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen on Blu-Ray later this year. There is no official word yet on whether the disc will include the original 1973 version of the film, but given the announced title -- which was given to the film when it was re-issued in 2000 with extra scenes and special effects -- it doesn't seem likely.
If the original version of the film is left off the disc, then that would be a pity, since the revised version, despite a few improvements, is basically inferior to the original version, thanks to some cheesy bits that I discussed at my blog three years ago. What's more, the original version of the film is long overdue for a remastering as it is; the only edition of it on DVD, at least in North America, is a single-layer disc produced for the film's 25th anniversary in 1998. (The revised version was released on a dual-layer disc in 2000.)
But an even bigger potential problem lurks in the shadows here. What if the Blu-Ray contains not the second version of the film that was released in 2000, but some brand-new third version? What if it really is a version that we've never seen? There would certainly be a precedent for this: director William Friedkin caused a huge controversy earlier this year when he produced a rather ugly-looking version of The French Connection (1971) for Blu-Ray, and there's no reason to assume he wouldn't do the same thing to this film. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
It has been 200 years since Charles Darwin was born, and 150 years since he published his revolutionary book On the Origin of Species. So, naturally, filmmakers are marking the occasion by making rival biopics.
The higher-profile of these, by far, seems to be Creation, starring real-life couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Charles Darwin and his wife Emma; the Toronto International Film Festival announced last week that its opening gala presentation this year will be the world premiere of this film, which was directed by Jon Amiel and based on a book by Randal Keynes.
(Trivia note: Keynes himself is the great-great-grandson of the Darwins, and he is also the father of Skandar, who plays Edmund in the Narnia movies. So one of the "sons of Adam" who sits on one of the thrones at Cair Paravel is also a "son of Darwin"!)
Kevin Miller must like controversy. Last year, the screenwriter and occasional actor co-wrote the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which provoked a lot of debate about creationism, evolution, Intelligent Design, and the social ramifications thereof. And now, this year, he has a new documentary coming out that just might offend some of the conservatives who rallied to his previous film's defense.
It's called "With God on Our Side," and it examines a phenomenon known as Christian Zionism. This theology teaches that the Jews are God's chosen people and that they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians. This leads to great suffering for Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatens Israel's security as a whole.
Our film suggests that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn't favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for Jews and Palestinians.
The filmmakers hope to release the movie sometime later this year, and it should be interesting to see what kind of debates this movie provokes.
In an upcoming review of the movie Adam, I write, "This has been a surprising summer for a number of reasons, one of which is how dreadfully dull most of the big popcorn films have been. The other is the extraordinary ability of a handful of tiny, independent films to redeem the season utterly. These films, from Away We Go to (500) Days of Summer and now Adam, are the antidote to the summer blight, delivering smart, hilarious, moving and cosmically life-affirming stories."
According to my latest copy of "Entertainment Weekly," they would seem to agree.
Other than impending litigation, Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson have been doing a marvelous job keeping an information black hole on both real news and rumors regarding The Hobbit. Which is probably why I feel the need to mention this:
That's how critics of upcoming 'Orphan' are responding
"Adoption advocacy groups are criticizing the soon-to-be-release horror movie Orphan for fueling harmful myths that could turn people away from the idea of adoption," reports The Christian Post.
The story continues: "A coalition of more than 50 orphan advocate and adoption organizations recently launched a national grassroots campaign centered around the website www.OrphansDeserveBetter.org. Through the site, the coalition aims to educate, dispel adoption myths and prompt response to the needs of orphans."
You didn't have to be a Christian to know about Stryper back in the 1980s. Unlike most other Christian rock bands of that era, Stryper, which supposedly got its name from Isaiah 53:5 ("by his stripes we are healed"), toured with secular bands and released its albums on a secular label. But for all their mainstream exposure, I don't believe they ever got played or mentioned in any of the movies made back then.
The filmmakers of today certainly haven't forgotten about them, though. If you look very closely at a couple of recent films, you can see that bits of Stryper iconography have begun to pop up, here and there, on the big screen.
Last year, in Wendy and Lucy, we saw a card or sticker bearing the Stryper logo in the office of a grocery-store manager who sends a woman's life spinning in an unfortunate direction after she is caught shoplifting by an employee who happens to be wearing a cross around his neck. The images are very subtle, but they do suggest that the woman is being judged, in some sense, by religious people who, for whatever reason, have refused to show her mercy.
And now we have the trailer for Whip It!, the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore and the first film to star Ellen Page since her breakout role in Juno. Note the T-shirt that Page's character wears in what seem to be at least three different scenes, in the final minute of the trailer below:
Alabama youth pastor shares faith in new film . . . sorta
The outrageous Sacha Baron Cohen pulled one over on an Alabama youth pastor while making his new comedy, Bruno, which opens in theaters on Friday.
Cohen, best known for playing the title role in 2006's Borat, plays a flamboyant homosexual Austrian fashionista in his new film, in which he dupes many into playing along with his con game--including Jody Trautwein, youth pastor at Point of Grace Ministries in Birmingham.
In an interview with Religion News Service, Trautwein admits he was duped, thinking that Cohen really was a gay man seeking counseling. In their time together, Trautwein told Cohen that faith in Christ could help lead him out of homosexuality, and even asked Cohen if he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. Cohen's smarty-pants reply: "Are you hitting on me?"
Trautwein says he doesn't mind being the brunt of a joke as long as his message ends up in the movie: "It obviously turned out to be just deception and perversion, but the message in my heart is actually going to be shared with millions. It's turning out to be a positive thing. If nothing else, people will hear me sharing Jesus."
The actor discussed his faith and 'It's a Wonderful Life' in 1977 article
Remember the scene near the end of It's a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart, playing the role of George Bailey, breaks down in a pub, crying out to God in utter despair? (Watch the scene here; fast-forward to the 5:30 mark.)
Apparently Stewart wasn't really acting; those tears were real.
In this 1977 article that Stewart wrote for Guideposts, the actor recalls that George "is unaware that most of the people in town are arduously praying for him. In this scene, at the lowest point in George Bailey's life, Frank Capra was shooting a long shot of me slumped in despair. In agony I raise my eyes and following the script, plead, 'God...God...dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if You're up there and You can hear me, show me the way, I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God...'
"As I said those words, I felt the loneliness and hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless had reduced me to tears."
In the article, Stewart further discusses the making of the film, his faith, and how his dad held him accountable to attend church once he moved to LA from little Indiana, Pennsylvania. A good read about a fine man and a classic movie.
Mix 'em all up, and you've got the fast-growing Nigerian film industry
Did you know that Nigeria cranks out 2,500 films per year? Or that most of them are made for less than $10,000? Neither did I. But those are among the statistics we learn about the growing "Nollywood" film industry, as depicted in the documentary Nollywood Babylon.
The film's fascinating trailer (at the end of this post) depicts a director laying hands on a camera and praying over it "in the name of Jesus Christ." One interviewee states that "the films have been taken over by born-again Christianity. . . . Nollywood has become the voice of Africa." Another says, "In a country like this, if you don't have Jesus, you can't survive."
Knowing comes out on DVD today, so now is as good a time as any to take another look at this bizarre but intriguing sci-fi thriller, which was widely panned when it played in theatres (it currently rates a mere 32% at Rotten Tomatoes) but also earned raves from none other than Roger Ebert, who gave the film a four-star review, expanded on the movie's themes in a thoughtful blog post, and then wrote a follow-up piece wondering why so many of his colleagues had gone negative on the film. (Just for the record, I gave it three stars in my own review for CT Movies, and my colleague Brandon Fibbs gave it three-and-a-half.)
There's not a whole lot that can be said about the film without getting into serious spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the film concerns prophecy, on some level, and it uses biblical imagery at key points, in a way that some critics found awe-inspiring and other critics found cheesy beyond belief. Sonny Bunch of the Washington Times wondered at the time if the film got so many negative reviews because of the religious content itself -- though it should be noted that the film takes these images in directions that are quite different from what the Bible itself does with them.
Last week, I mentioned that a filmmaker named Rob Kirbyson is currently directing a family film called Snowmen for Mpower Pictures, the company created a few years ago by Passion of the Christ producer Steve McEveety. I also mentioned that Kirbyson, who happens to be a Christian, had previously directed a number of short films, including Ctrl Z (2007), which features Zachary Levi of the TV show Chuck in a supporting role.
I learned afterwards that Ctrl Z is currently being spun off into a series of webisodes for NBC Universal, under the slightly shorter title Ctrl. Following in the footsteps of last year's sci-fi series Gemini Division, the new series will give prominent placement to a commercial product, in this case Nestea Red; in the original short film, a man discovers that he can manipulate reality using his computer keyboard after it has been hit accidentally by a football, but in the series, the man will spill a can of Nestea Red on the keyboard instead.
The series, like the film, is being written and directed by Kirbyson; there is no word yet on how many, if any, of the original cast members will be involved, but presumably Levi, at least, is rather busy with his TV show right now. The Los Angeles Times reports, via its 'Technology' blog, that Ctrl will be distributed this summer "through a variety of channels, including Hulu.com, cable video-on-demand services and a dedicated website."
Karl Malden, who passed away this week at the age of 97, is well-known for many roles, from his Oscar-winning performance opposite Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) to the cop he played opposite Michael Douglas on the TV show The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977). But the first movies of his that I remember seeing as I was growing up were, appropriately enough, movies in which he co-starred with children.
One of those movies was Captains Courageous (1977), an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story about a spoiled teenaged boy who falls overboard and learns a thing or two about maturity and growing up when he is picked up by a "crusty old sea captain" (as the IMDb puts it) played by Malden. I haven't seen this film in decades, but to this day, I'm pretty sure I can remember how Malden's character -- named Disko Troop, of all things, which makes him sound like a refugee from the Village People -- reluctantly takes the boy under his wing and barks the words, "Right hand, starboard! Left hand, port!" When I started taking canoeing lessons at summer camp a few years later, I credited this film with giving me a head start on the terminology.
The other movie was Pollyanna (1960), the first of several films that Hayley Mills starred in for the Walt Disney studio. Here, Malden played the Rev. Paul Ford, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who changes his ways when the title character, an irrepressibly sunny girl played by the 13-year-old Mills, compels him to look up all the "happy texts" in the Bible. So in some ways, this character was the opposite of Malden's role in Captains Courageous: in the Kipling story, the child learned from Malden, but in the Disney movie, Malden learned from the child.
So says John Piper in a blog post about no TV and rare movie watching
Are pastors more "relevant" when they refer to contemporary movies and/or include clips in their sermons? John Piper, for one, doesn't think. Matter of fact, he suggests that pastors--indeed most of us--should pretty much stay away from movies altogether.
"I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power - which are what we desperately need - are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies."
Piper went on to say, "If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don't watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.
"There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them."
What do you think? Is Piper right? Partly right? Does it "depend on the circumstances"? Weigh in with your opinion in the comments section below, and/or let us know at CT Movies.
'Never the Bride,' by 'Ultimate Gift' screenwriter Cheryl McKay, now in development
A few years ago, a little movie called The Ultimate Gift didn't get much attention, but it was one of my favorite "hidden gems" of 2006. The film starred Abigail Breslin (now carrying one of the main roles in My Sister's Keeper) as a young girl dying of cancer, part of the plot about a young man who had a lot to learn about what really matters in life.
Cheryl McKay, the screenwriter of that film, has written her next screenplay, Never the Bride, which has also been turned into a novel just released by WaterBrook Press. The film adaptation is scheduled to release sometime in 2010.
Here's how McKay, a Christian, describes the storyline in a recent interview: "Itâ€™s about a girl, Jessie Stone, who accuses God of being asleep on the job of setting up her love story. God shows up to face the charges. He tells Jessie that he canâ€™t write her story until she surrenders the pen. The purple pen sheâ€™s clutched for many years, penning her own ideas for how her love life should go in her 109 journals. The story is a tug-of-war between God and Jessie and who is really writing this story. Is she too afraid to trust God because he may not write what she truly wants? Or can she surrender that pen to God and let him write the best love story for her?"
Homeschool families pool resources to make action adventure epic
Cousins Chad and Aaron Burns know a little something about the term "family film." The 20-something former homeschoolers got their families together to form Burns Family Studio, scraped together $250,000, and took three years to make Pendragon: Sword of His Father, which won a "2009 Indie Best of Show" award at the Indie Film Festival.
We haven't seen the film yet, but we have seen the trailer--and for a production made by amateurs, for so little money, it looks surprisingly good. It caught the attention of execs at Trinity Broadcasting Network, which broadcast the film last month and may air it again.
Chad Burns, 27, directs the film, and Aaron, 21, plays the lead role of Artos, a young man in A.D. 411 who feels he has been called by God to defend his people from the marauding Saxons.
"Our family seeks to inspire Christians to embrace God's purpose for their lives," says Chad Burns. Their film is being distributed in Family Christian Stores, and is also available to order online.