Canadian box-office stats — April 6

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Run Fat Boy Run — CDN $841,310 — N.AM $4,463,000 — 18.9%
21 — CDN $4,860,000 — N.AM $46,533,000 — 10.4%
10,000 B.C. — CDN $9,220,000 — N.AM $89,323,000 — 10.3%
The Bank Job — CDN $2,740,000 — N.AM $26,732,000 — 10.2%
Superhero Movie — CDN $1,640,000 — N.AM $16,887,000 — 9.7%

The Ruins — CDN $639,724 — N.AM $7,840,000 — 8.2%
Stop-Loss — CDN $658,769 — N.AM $8,213,000 — 8.0%
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! — CDN $9,340,000 — N.AM $131,060,000 — 7.1%
Nim’s Island — CDN $857,861 — N.AM $13,300,000 — 6.5%
Leatherheads — CDN $657,643 — N.AM $13,485,000 — 4.9%

A couple of discrepancies: Run Fat Boy Run, The Bank Job and Stop-Loss were #8, #9 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #16, #14 and #11 in North America as a whole), while Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, Drillbit Taylor and Shutter were #7, #8 and #9 on the North American chart, respectively (the first film was nowhere in the Canadian Top 20, and the other two films were #12 and #11 in Canada).

The Year One — anachronism alert? has posted a report from the set of The Year One — the Judd Apatow-produced, Harold Ramis-directed “biblical comedy” formerly known as just plain Year One — and while they don’t reveal all that much, a few new details do leak out:

Essentially, it’s a biblical epic road comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera as Zed and Oh, two primitive hill people who travel across the globe encountering various characters from the book of Genesis, all handled in a very funny way. Eventually, they end up at Sodom and what Ramis and his production team did was build a nearly five-acre recreation of the city of Sodom atop a desert-like sandlot, a pretty amazing feat that’s probably even more impressive when filled with the hundreds of local extras that make up the various inhabitants of the city from centurion guards to lowly peasants and slaves, not to mention dozens of live animals! . . .

We spent the majority of the day on the set surveying the different buildings, shops and alleyways, plus we got to watch a couple scenes being shot with Cera and Black. We also got to sit down and talk with both of the actors, as well as with Ramis and Oliver Platt, who plays the high priest of Sodom, and comedian David Cross, who plays Cain. . . .

Cain? As in, the Cain? The Cain who lived thousands of years before Abraham and the Sodomites? Oh-kay. Hmmm, and now that I check the film’s IMDb page, I see that this information has already been posted there — along with the news that Christopher Mintz-Plasse, best known for playing “McLovin” in Superbad, is going to play Isaac, while someone with the wonderfully churchy name of Gabriel Sunday is going to play Seth.

Jumper — a sequel and a quasi-prequel

I’m a bit late in posting this, but oh well, here goes: I finally finished reading Reflex, the sequel to the original book version of Jumper, on the flight to Atlanta last week — and it so, so, so rocks.

In many ways, it’s a completely different book from the original: it is told in the third person rather than the first; it gets into all sorts of crazy, paranoid conspiracy-theory stuff that goes way beyond anything hinted at by the first book; and it deals with marriage and similarly mature issues, rather than the basically adolescent parent-child relationships that dominated the first book.

It also takes perfect advantage of certain aspects of “jumping” that were spelled out in the original novel but never really used in the original novel. You would almost think the author, Steven Gould, had written those bits of the original novel simply to set up the sequel — except that the sequel came out 12 whole years later, which, among other things, means the characters are now living within a very different political and technological milieu. A lot of things changed between 1992 and 2004!

I am tempted to say that Reflex might — might — be a better book than Jumper, mainly because it follows a more traditional sort of narrative arc, without feeling episodic or without tossing in some out-of-the-blue surprises like the first book did. The sequel holds together, is what I guess I’m saying, without feeling arbitrary in places the way the first book kind of did.

Anyway, it was all I could do to refrain from laughing and cheering as I read the last chapters of Reflex on the plane. Or to refrain from getting openly emotional in other ways, in a couple of places. Yes, it would seem I have really become attached to these characters.

Now here’s where things get a little weird. There is a third book called Jumper: Griffin’s Story. And it, too, is written by Steven Gould. But because the movie and the original books have almost nothing to do with each other, this third book is actually based on the movie and not on the earlier books.

Among other things, this book is a prequel based on a brand new character who was actually invented just for the movie. But because Gould reverts to the first-person technique that he used in the original novel, and because the story is once again about a boy who discovers his power when he is still pretty young — and who later has difficulty opening up to girls, etc. — the book feels awkwardly similar to the original novel.

Admittedly, I have not quite finished the book yet; but I did read all but a couple chapters on the flight home. And what I can say is this: The movie version of Griffin is supposed to be very different from the movie version of Davy, yet the book version of Griffin kept reminding me of the other books’ version of Davy, so I never completely bought the idea that the guy narrating Gould’s book was the same character that Jamie Bell plays in the movie. (Got all that?)

That said, Griffin’s Story does introduce two ideas that I found rather interesting. Whereas Davy keeps photos and videos of his “jump sites”, to help him remember them, Griffin draws sketches, partly because he feels you remember things better when you study them closely. And there is a sequence where Griffin acquires a “jump site” inside an armoured car — and then “jumps” into it when the car is parked in a different location from where it was parked before. I don’t believe Davy ever tried to do that.

Finally, I am puzzled by the tagline on the third book’s cover:

Based on the film JUMPER, soon to be a major motion picture!

Eh? If the book is based on the film, that would seem to put the film in the past, so how can the film still be in the future (“soon to be”, etc.)? True, the third book came out a few months before the movie did, due to differences between the book and movie release schedules. But if the book is based on the film, doesn’t that mean the film is already, well, a film? Or does a film not become “a major motion picture” until it has been released? Help me. I’m confused.

Charlton Heston, 1923 – 2008.

Charlton Heston has passed away at the age of 84.

I’ve always liked Heston, even when I haven’t liked his acting. He starred in three of the biggest Bible epics of the Bible-epic era, namely The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); and then he starred in three of the biggest doom-and-gloom sci-fi movies of the doom-and-gloom era, namely Planet of the Apes (1968), The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973).

I wonder sometimes if Heston’s performances seemed as funny to people in his day as they seem to us now. I remember watching Planet of the Apes on the big screen in the early ’90s with an audience that laughed uproariously throughout the film. And the scene in The Greatest Story Ever Told where Heston, as John the Baptist, defiantly tries to force-baptize the soldiers that have come to arrest him is a strikingly ridiculous moment in an otherwise sombre film.

Certainly it was almost impossible to watch him in his more recent films without laughing — and at times, at least, he seemed to be in on the joke.

His cameo in True Lies (1994), as Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s cranky, eyepatch-wearing boss, was hilarious — and in his autobiography, Heston claimed that director James Cameron cast him in the role because Heston, according to Cameron, was the only actor who could convincingly intimidate Schwarzenegger.

I also have very fond memories of seeing Alaska (1996), directed by Heston’s son Fraser, with my sister Michelle. If memory serves, there is a moment in that children’s film where Heston is immobilized by a bear, and after the bear scampers off, Heston yells “Dammit!”, and then the film cuts to a more distant angle, and Heston yells “Dammit!” again, and then the film cuts to an even more distant angle, and Heston yells “Dammit!” all over again. My sister and I could not help but laugh.

And as bad as a movie like Town & Country (2001) might have been, I did enjoy his cameo, in which — as I put it in my review — “he bravely sends up his image as a psychotic gun-toting homophobe.”

And yet, for all the self-parody, Heston was still capable of good acting, even in his later years. His small role as the Player King in Kenneth Branagh‘s Hamlet (1996) was easily one of the best things about that film — and it is remarkable how Heston, known for his bombast in other roles, showed “a real aptitude for Shakespeare’s language, as well as a sensitivity to the nuances of the material,” as Paul Clark at The Screengrab puts it, while Branagh filled much of the rest of the film with his own brand of bombast.

The IMDb lists over 120 credits in Heston’s filmography — and that’s not counting the times he played himself. Even if we bracket off all the bad films, there are still quite a few good ones that I need to see. Come to think of it, it was only since starting my blog three years ago that I got around to seeing classic Heston films like The Big Country (1958), The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) and The Four Musketeers (1974), for example.

I also happened to watch El Cid (1961) for the first time just a couple months ago, and I was pretty impressed by the sheer scale of it all, from the melodramatic performances to the battle scenes with the seemingly literal cast of thousands. And even there, we find humour; in the bonus features, it is revealed that Heston refused to look at Sophia Loren more than he had to — even during their love scenes — because he didn’t like her breath. If you watch the film with that in mind, certain scenes become more subtly amusing than you might have expected. And Heston, to his credit, admits in the making-of documentary that he probably wasn’t as fair to Loren as he could have been.

I had to stop and think for a second how I should write that last sentence; because Heston is no longer with us, I had to choose between relegating him to the past tense and using the present tense in a way that made sense. Heston himself is gone, but his performances, including the interviews he gave, live on; those peformances will have to do for now, and hopefully we will get to see the man himself again some day. Rest in peace, Chuck.

APR 7 UPDATE: CT Movies editor Mark Moring reminds me that I reviewed the book and video versions of Charlton Heston Presents the Bible (1993) for BC Christian News nine years ago.

Quantum of Solace — a few more details

The Associated Press seems to begin its latest report on Quantum of Solace with a major spoiler, but if you skip over that bit, there are some other interesting tidbits about the newest James Bond film:

Despite the heightened realism of the last Bond film, not to mention its commercial success (over $500 million worldwide), the German-born Swiss director was wary of joining the bombastic franchise.

Forster negotiated with producers to ensure he had as much creative control as possible on the $200 million-plus production. Nevertheless, he’s still squeezed into the “framework of Bond.”

“But I like it because you feel like it can make you very creative,” he said. “And a lot of interesting things come out of that. Because, if you look at filmmakers that worked under politically repressive regimes, (they) made sometimes really interesting movies.”

Filming is about halfway done on “Quantum,” which is the name of the organization Bond is going up against. Craig said the emotional tone is lighter than “Casino Royale,” in which Bond’s lover Vesper Lynd betrayed him and then died — but only a smidgen so.

So “Quantum” is the name of the villain’s organization? Oh-kay, if that’s true, then this title may fit into the who-it’s-about category of Bond titles, and perhaps even the techno-threat category, albeit in a more indirect sort of way. It is curious, though, that Paul Haggis, who wrote the final draft of the script, would say that he had “no idea” why the producers gave the film this title. Was the organization called something else in his version of the script, then?

Meanwhile, Reuters notes that this film’s villain will not have any of the overt distinguishing characteristics that previous Bond villains have had — no white cats, no facial scars, no third nipples, no prosthetic limbs. Oh, and this will be the latest film — following the likes of Evan Almighty, The Simpsons Movie and The Day the Earth Stood Still — to pursue an environmental theme:

Amalric’s character is part of a sinister organization helping to restore a dictator to power in Bolivia in exchange for land rich in natural resources. The film is set in the context of global warming and growing water shortages.

The Bond films are, if nothing else, good at capturing the zeitgeists of their respective eras. It will be interesting to see how these themes hold up in a couple decades’ time, compared to how, say, Bond’s support for the religious warriors in Afghanistan in The Living Daylights (1987) now looks to us.

Newsbites: Billy! City! Caspian! Blue! Passion! W! Messiah! Tropic! Circuit! etc.!

Time for another batch of newsworthy goodness.

1. Variety reports that Armie Hammer — the 21-year-old rumoured to be playing Batman in George Miller’s Justice League movie — has been cast as the young Billy Graham in Billy: The Early Years. The cast also includes Martin Landau, Lindsay Wagner, Kristopher Polaha, Josh Turner, Stephanie Butler, Jennifer O’Neill and Sierra Hull — but there is no mention in this story of Hal Holbrook, who was the only cast member announced one month ago.

2. Dark City (1998; my article) was my favorite movie of the year it came out, and it was also one of the very first movies I bought on DVD. Now, co-writer David Goyer tells that the film has been re-cut and “all of the parties involved” have been interviewed for “an over hour long making-of” that will be included on the new DVD and possibly on a Blu-Ray edition, as well.

3. Quint at Ain’t It Cool News has visited the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian editing bay and posted his thoughts on the 45 minutes or so of footage that he was shown — and, gadzooks, it sounds like they are seriously diverting from the book in just about every way.

4. CT Movies has an interview with Steve Taylor, who made his feature directorial debut with The Second Chance and is now working on an adaptation of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, which begins shooting in May.

5. The Associated Press has a brief update on The Passion of the Christ co-writer Benedict Fitzgerald‘s lawsuit against Mel Gibson:

In court filings Tuesday, attorneys for Gibson and his production company asked the court to seal the movie’s financial records and only allow Fitzgerald’s lawyers access to them. The information details the movie’s domestic and foreign box office receipts, production costs and distribution expenses.

The defense is also seeking to dismiss some of Fitzgerald’s claims, including fraud, which if proven would allow Fitzgerald to seek punitive damages.

6. ABC News takes a sneak peek at the script for Oliver Stone’s W. They published it on April Fool’s Day, so some people have regarded it with skepticism, but Jeffrey Wells, who is quoted in the piece and has read the script himself, assures us the piece is genuine.

7. Matt Page has discovered a month-old CNN video depicting clips from The Messiah, AKA Jesus, the Spirit of God, the Iranian film that tells the story of Jesus from a Muslim point of view.

8. The New York Times says Tom Cruise‘s cameo as “a bald, hairy-chested, foulmouthed, dirty-dancing movie mogul” brought the house down at a recent industry screening of Tropic Thunder — the trailer for which looks hilarious. And for what it’s worth, as other bloggers have noted, this is not the first time Cruise has worked with Ben Stiller.

9. Now that WALL-E seems to be paying homage to Short Circuit (1986), it was probably only a matter of time before someone came along and re-made the original film outright — and according to Variety, the “someone” in question is Dimension Films, the primarily horror-oriented company owned by the Weinstein brothers. What, don’t they want to do another 20-years-later sequel like the Indiana Jones and Rambo franchises have done?

10. Variety says Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere will provide the lead voices in Alpha and Omega, a cartoon about … two kidnapped wolves. That’s an … interesting … choice of names.

11. Errol Morris has written an interesting essay on the use of re-enactments in documentaries, and how to distinguish them from fraud, based in part on some unexpected reactions that certain people had to his film The Thin Blue Line (1988):

It never occurred to me that someone might think that the re-enactments were not re-enactments at all, but honest-to-God vérité footage shot while the crime was happening. It’s crazy for someone to think I had just happened to be out on that roadway, that night, with a 35-millimeter film crew and many, many cameras – cameras taking multiple angles, high angles from overhead, low angles at tire-level looking under the car, even angles inside the suspect vehicle. How could anyone think that? How could anyone believe that? Of course, people believe some pretty amazing things, and it made me think: is it a legitimate question? How do we know what is real and what is re-enacted in a photograph? What is real and what is a simulacrum? It’s a question about images. How do we know what is happening for the first time and what is a re-enactment of an event? In a photograph or in a movie? How do we know it hasn’t been doctored or altered to deceive us about the “reality” we imagine we are observing?

This, of course, ties into Morris’s earlier musings about the Robert Fenton photographs, as well as his upcoming documentary Standard Operating Procedure, which is about the Abu Ghraib photographs.