Newsbites: Vintner’s! Legion! Greenaway! T4! Behind! Persepolis! Sharif! Pixar! Rings! etc.

Time to play a little catch-up; some of these items are getting old.

1. Cameras have started rolling on The Vintner’s Luck, the film that re-teams Whale Rider (2002) director Niki Caro with her leading lady, Keisha Castle-Hughes. As I mentioned here nine months ago, the new film is based on a book about a decades-long relationship between a winemaking peasant in 19th-century France and an unconventional angel named Xas. Jeremie Renier is playing the winemaker, and Castle-Hughes his wife; as she puts it, “It is my first adult role and I was initially quite nervous.” No word yet on who is playing the angel. Dominion Post

2. Speaking of angels, Paul “albino monk” Bettany is set to play the archangel Michael in a film called Legion, which “follows what happens when God loses faith in humanity and sends his legion of angels to wipe out the human race for the second time. Mankind’s only hope lies in a group of misfits holed up in a diner in the desert who are aided by the archangel Michael (Bettany).” One curious detail about this film is the way the “legion” of angels is associated with God, whereas the best-known use of that word in the Bible refers to a man who was possessed by a “legion of demons“. Then again, there is yet another passage, in which Jesus says his Father has “more than twelve legions of angels” at his disposal. So who knows, if God is sending only one legion to wipe out humanity in this film, it may be that his heart isn’t really in it. Variety

3. Peter Greenaway, a painter turned filmmaker who specializes in nudity, cannibalistic themes and the like, “is planning to use dramatic lighting, projections and recordings of actors’ voices to transform [Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper] into something close to a film. Instead of capturing just one moment, as Da Vinci did, Greenaway will turn the Last Supper into a narrative that stretches from Christ’s birth to his crucifixion with voice given to the thoughts of each disciple as they work out which of them will betray him. . . . He plans to project on to the refectory walls ‘raw and heavy’ images of Christ’s genitalia and naked crucifixion, taken from Da Vinci’s other works. . . . Because of the painting’s fragility, only 25 people will be able to watch at a time, but it will be relayed to thousands more.” Greenaway is nothing if not a provocateur, and I don’t necessarily trust him to make the wisest use of this material, but I have to say I welcome any opportunity to look into the ways in which Renaissance artists tackled the humanity and thus the sexuality of Christ; for an excellent primer on the subject, see Leo Steinberg’s The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, a few bits of which I excerpted here. Guardian

4. Australian actor Sam Worthington has signed on to play Marcus, who may or may not be the main character in the next round of Terminator movies. And apparently he was recommended to the filmmakers by none other than James Cameron himself, who recently directed Worthington in his much-anticipated 3-D sci-fi movie Avatar. Variety

5. Svend White is Muslim, and he has just seen the Left Behind (2000-2005) movies for the first time ever. Needless to say, he doesn’t like what he sees. Religion Dispatches

6. Persepolis, the Oscar-nominated cartoon that is critical of the 1979 Iranian revolution, and which was condemned by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “Islamophobic” and “anti-Iranian”, has now been shown in Tehran — with the permission of the cultural authorities. Variety

7. Omar Sharif, who was threatened by some of his fellow Muslims not too long ago for playing the Christian apostle Peter, is now co-starring with his fellow Egyptian Adel Imam in a movie called Hassan and Morcoss, which “pokes fun at religious bigotry. . . . The story revolves around a Christian priest (Imam) and Muslim preacher (Sharif) who survive separate assassination attempts. Now on the run, the two men — who don’t know each other — take refuge in a safe house in a downtown Cairo neighborhood and assume different identities, with Imam’s character pretending to be a Muslim and Sharif a Christian.” Variety

8. A recent feature on the Pixar studio includes this fascinating anecdote: “One downside is a problem most computer users suffer – hardware and software that’s out of date all too soon. ‘To resurrect the Toy Story characters for the third Toy Story [due in 2010] we had to find an old machine somebody still had,’ Walsh says. ‘It was being used as a coffee table. If they hadn’t saved it, we’d have lost the original Buzz and Woody animations.’” Independent

9. Now that each of the Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) films has its own four-disc soundtrack album, every fan’s music collection oughtta be complete, right? Not so fast, says Howard Shore: “The ‘complete recordings’ are just that. The complete score to the extended cut of the film. Of course, that is everything that was in the film. There are still earlier pieces that were recorded before the final version. These rarities will be part of Doug Adams’ forthcoming book about the RINGS scores.” iF Magazine

10. The fallout from the box-office failure of Evan Almighty continues, as Universal Studios and longtime collaborator Tom Shadyac part ways. For the past several years, Shadyac had been operating out of “a big building on the lot”, but his most recent directorial effort went way over-budget and reportedly led to some pretty heated clashes between Shadyac and the studio bigwigs. Variety, Deadline Hollywood Daily

11. Mark Waters is still talking about re-making The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) with Mike Myers. Past actors attached to the project have included Jim Carrey and Owen Wilson. MTV Movies Blog

Jumper, plot points, and the two Brian Coxes.

Dirty Harry at Libertas articulates one of the bigger problems with Jumper in such a simple and concise way that I cannot help but wish it had occurred to me to put it this way in my own review:

In normal superhero films once the hero realizes the danger his place in the world puts on his loved ones, he separates himself from them. Much of our protagonist’s conflict in the better Superman and Spiderman films revolve around their giving up the women they love. David’s different though. As soon as he realizes Sam Jackson will stop at nothing to kill him he uses his powers to hook up with the old girlfriend from high school.

This way of approaching the film probably didn’t occur to me because I never really thought of Jumper as a “superhero” movie, influenced as I was by my reading of the book, which is more of a sci-fi coming-of-age story. The David of the movie may refer to comics once or twice, but the David of the book is more inclined to read classic literature; this, indeed, is why the first place he “jumps” to, in both the book and the film, is the local library.

Incidentally, Dirty Harry is also one of a number of critics — including Brandon Fibbs and Christopher Campbell — who have zeroed in on another aspect of the film that zipped past me, again because it had nothing to do with the book. There is a scene in the film where David Rice (Hayden Christensen) sees a flood and its third-world victims on TV, and a few critics have suggested that David could have just teleported out there and saved them — but he doesn’t, preferring to go surfing and night-clubbing instead.

The thing is, I am not so sure that David could have teleported out there and saved those people. The mechanism behind “jumping” — spelled out very clearly in the book, and followed in the movie more often than not, especially in the prologue — requires the Jumper to have a strong memory of the place that he is “jumping” to. He must either have been there before, or he must at least have seen the place he is “jumping” to. This is why the teenaged David cannot “jump” to places that he has seen only in postcards and travel brochures, but he can “jump” to a tourist spot that he remembers visiting with his mother. This is also why the teenaged David has to walk past the open bank vault before he can “jump” into it, and why Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), the “Paladin” who is hunting the Jumpers down and killing them, can confidently tell the bank manager that whoever robbed the bank has been inside that vault before. This mechanism is also implicit in the scene where Roland looks at all the pictures on David’s wall and tells a colleague that they now know what David’s “jump sites” are; those pictures are memory aides, helping David to remember the places that he has been to before, places that he would have had to visit the old-fashioned way first. (In the book, David flies to various airports so that he can “acquire” places to “jump” to there.)

Certainly, the film suggests a certain callousness on David’s part towards all those people who are suffering without his powers, and it is perfectly legitimate to discuss how the film portrays and possibly even encourages this callousness. But unless David has already made a point of “acquiring” a “jump site” near the place where that disaster happens to have occurred, there isn’t really any way he can intervene, at least not immediately.

And for what it’s worth, this callousness is just one of many ways in which the film completely ignores and, indeed, goes against the thrust of the original novel, once the prologue is over. The David of the book — and its sequel, Reflex — steals money when he is a runaway teen, yes, but he is also a compassionate kind of guy who makes a point of terrorizing wife-beaters and giving money to homeless people and saving airline passengers from skyjackers, etc. He’s a troubled guy, sure, but he is definitely not callous.

The David of the book also goes out of his way to use his newfound power to try and track down his mother, who left his abusive father when David was very young; and the David of the book also wonders constantly if there are other Jumpers out there. (In the book, there aren’t any, at least not that he hears about.) But the David of the film is so busy indulging in his hedonistic pursuits that he shows zero interest in his mother’s whereabouts and zero curiosity about the possible existence of other Jumpers; indeed, when he finally meets Griffin (Jamie Bell), a second Jumper who does not exist in the books but was invented just for the film, the new character chides him for thinking he was “the only one.”

So, read the book if you can, and don’t let the movie discourage you. And that’s all I have to say about that, for now.

But while we’re talking about the book and movie versions of Jumper, I do have to mention one fun little coincidence.

In the book, which came out in 1992, there are no mysterious Paladins but there is a shadowy American government official who tries to capture David, and whose name is Brian Cox.

Brian Cox also happens to be the name of an actor who has had experience with teleporters and with Jumper director Doug Liman — but not in the same movie. Cox played William Stryker, the shadowy American government official who mind-controls the teleporting mutant Nightcrawler, in X2: X-Men United (2003); and before that, he played Ward Abbott, the shadowy American government official who tries to capture Jason Bourne, in The Bourne Identity (2002), which was directed by Liman.

It’s a shame the movie version of Jumper didn’t follow the novel more closely, or we could have had an actor named Brian Cox playing a character named Brian Cox — and he wouldn’t have been playing himself! It might have seemed like typecasting, though.

Yet another movie not screened for critics.

Witless Protection comes out in the U.S. tomorrow, and there are still no reviews at Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes. This isn’t too surprising, since the film is being released by Lionsgate, a studio that often avoids showing movies to critics in advance, and it stars Larry the Cable Guy, whose previous live-action films Delta Farce (2007) and Health Inspector (2006) also had critics-avoidance issues. The film will open in Canada three weeks from now, and the local publicist says it “will not be screened prior to release.”

MAR 6 UPDATE: Libertas says the film won’t be opening in Canada at all, now. That wouldn’t happen to be because the film never managed to crack the Top 12 even in the U.S., would it?

Soon my collection will be complete! reports that the next round of ‘Walt Disney Treasures‘ sets will come out November 11, and will include The Chronological Donald Volume Four: 1951 – 1961.

And with that, I will have all but a very, very few of the animated shorts produced by the studio during Uncle Walt’s lifetime. (Naturally, I hope they don’t screw up the framing again, but I won’t get my hopes up too high.)

One of the other two-disc sets will revolve around Destino (2003), an Oscar-nominated short that was based on an abandoned collaboration between Walt and Salvador Dali back in the 1940s.

And meanwhile, somewhere down the road in the not too distant future, the long-out-of-print classic Pinocchio (1940) will finally be re-issued with some bonus features — and in Blu-Ray, no less.

Hoodwinked 2 — casting news, updates

Cory Edwards has posted an item at his blog listing some of the main cast members in Hoodwinked 2: Hood Vs. Evil.

Characters and actors returning from the first film:

  1. Cory Edwards, Twitchy
  2. Glenn Close, Granny
  3. Patrick Warburton, The Wolf
  4. David Ogden Stiers, Nicky Flippers
  5. Andy Dick, Boingo
  6. Benjy Gaither, Japeth the Goat

Old characters, new voices:

  1. Hayden Panettiere, Red (formerly Anne Hathaway)
  2. Martin Short, The Woodsman (formerly Jim Belushi)

New characters, new actors:

  1. Joan Cusack, “a new villainous witch”
  2. Brad Garrett, The Giant “from the notorious beanstalk”
  3. Wayne Newton, Jimmy Ten Strings, a “singing harp”
  4. David Alan Grier, “a troll”
  5. Bill Hader, Hansel
  6. Amy Poehler, Gretel

Sounds good. Let’s hope they can bring back Fleming & John for the soundtrack — and let’s hope this soundtrack album isn’t yanked off the market prematurely like the first one was.

Six degrees of Julie Christie and C.S. Lewis

It has been 42 years since Julie Christie won an Oscar for her part in John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965), and many people think she could win another golden statue this Sunday for her part in Sarah Polley’s Away from Her (2006) — and if she does win the award this year, it will apparently mark the longest gap between Oscar wins in Academy history. (Or so says Shinan Govani.)

That’s an interesting bit of trivia in its own right, but here’s another, which I was only alerted to the other day: Darling marks the one-and-only big-screen appearance of Hugo Dyson, a member of the Inklings and a key figure in the conversion of C.S. Lewis; he was there on that fateful night in 1931 when J.R.R. Tolkien explained to Lewis his belief that Christianity was a myth that happened to be true. (He was also the guy who reportedly said “Oh no! Not another fucking elf!” when passages of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings were read aloud at Inklings meetings.)

I have never seen Darling, but I think I will have to, now. Dyson’s uncredited performance isn’t very big, apparently — in fact, the five-minute video below is supposed to contain all the scenes that depict or refer to his character — but it would be good to see these scenes in the broader context of the entire film.

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Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.