Flashback: Real life and fiction in Hardball.


Christianity Today posted an article today on Bob Muzikowski, a Little League coach who works with kids from the projects in Chicago. At the bottom of that article, they link to an article that I wrote for BC Christian News seven years ago, comparing and contrasting Muzikowski’s book Safe at Home with the Keanu Reeves movie Hardball (2001), which was very, very loosely based on the league that Muzikowski co-founded.

Two quick thoughts on High School Musical.


It’s been a slow week, and I’ve been getting some work done, so I haven’t blogged a whole lot lately. But in the meantime, I have also finally gotten around to watching High School Musical and its sequel — mainly because the third film is coming to theatres next month, so although I don’t watch all that much TV, I might need to familiarize myself with this franchise anyway — and two points come to mind that might be worth making here.

First, while these made-for-TV movies do have the word “musical” in the title, the songs that are sung by these characters are produced like regular pop songs, complete with electronically processed background vocals which, in this context, sound a little funny, since there is no one onscreen to sing them. This gives at least some of the song-and-dance sequences the feel of a regular music video — which wouldn’t seem so odd to someone who came across these movies while channel-surfing, but now that the third film is going to theatres first, I wonder if this technique will hold up as well on the big screen. Maybe it will, I don’t know.

Second, it is striking how the first film is all about challenging the “status quo” and overcoming social barriers in order to pursue your heart’s desire, but the second film is all about sticking to your social group and not letting yourself be drawn into alternative social circles that might help you to get what you want. This may be more of a paradox than a contradiction, akin perhaps to the way Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) said the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, while Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) said the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many — but it’s still an interesting thematic tension.

And man, a few days ago, after watching Casino Royale (2006), I had Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name’ running through my head non-stop. And that was fine. But now I’ve got Zac Efron singing “You can bet on it, bet on it, bet on it, bet on it” running through my brain. And that’s after only one viewing. Make it stop!

Ladies and gentlemen, the Fabulous DVD.


Three years ago, I wrote a brief note about a fun, obscure little movie called Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1981). The film starred Diane Lane and Laura Dern, then in their teens, as girl-punk rockers who tour with an all-male band that consists of Ray Winstone, then in his mid-20s, as well as three former members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Even better, the film was shot in Vancouver well before this city became the filmmaking institution that it is today, which lends the film a certain raw suburban realism. Now, Spin magazine, via GreenCine Daily, reports that the film is finally coming out on DVD next week, and I’m tempted to give it a spin, if only to see what sorts of anecdotes get told by Lane and Dern on the commentary track.

We are going to confuse the children.


I don’t plan to make a habit of buying Disney sequels, but the kids like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) so much, and I have fond enough memories of The Tigger Movie (2000) and Piglet’s Big Movie (2003), both of which I saw on the big screen, that I decided to buy a boxed set that includes both of these sequels as well as Pooh’s Heffalump Movie (2005), which I had not yet seen. And what do you know, the kids — my daughter in particular — have become big fans of Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, or the “mommy elephant” movie, as my daughter calls it.

But here’s where things get dicey. The film concerns the fear that Pooh and his friends feel when they hear the Heffalumps from a distance, and near the end of the film, when they finally come across a baby Heffalump in person, they lasso it and try to capture it — and this is after the Heffalump has been caught in a trap made of twigs and branches. What Pooh and his friends don’t realize is that little Roo, whose mother Kanga has been looking for him, has already met the Heffalump and befriended it — and so, as Pooh and friends stand there holding their ropes, Roo makes an impassioned plea to set the Heffalump free, while his proud and understanding mother Kanga also stands there, beaming beatifically at Roo and offering him moral support.

It’s a little more moralistic, and potentially even traumatic, than the stories in the original Pooh film, but I can sort of deal with that. Certainly my kids don’t seem to mind. But I can’t help thinking I am setting my kids up for an even greater confusion when Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! comes out on DVD later this year. Yeah, sure, each of the twins has seen the film in the theatre once, but that’s nothing compared to watching the film again and again at home — and in Horton, if memory serves, a noble elephant is trapped or tied up by an even worse mob, an angrier mob, and in that film, the mother kangaroo is the primary antagonist, and not the defender of good! (I can’t find any photos from this scene online, so I’ll make do with the image below, which at least conveys the antagonism.)

Now, this may not be all that big an issue. Certainly my children have already had to deal with similar species role-reversals; consider how the striped feline creature in the Pooh movies, i.e. Tigger, is a fun, jovial, good sort of chap, whose non-stop bouncing has been a source of inspiration to my ever-jumping son, whereas the striped feline creature in The Jungle Book (1967), i.e. Shere Khan, is an out-and-out villain, whose fights with Baloo always prompt my daughter to yell at the screen, “No pushing! No pushing!” (Hmmm, come to think of it, she does say that to her brother a fair bit, too.)

But, y’know, I think I’ll be monitoring this situation anyway.

Daniel Craig as James Bond, round two.

With two months and five days to go until it opens, the new trailer for Quantum of Solace was released at Yahoo! Movies today:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQW2MtibAmk]
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

Coincidentally, the wife and I watched Casino Royale (2006) a few nights ago. It was the first time I had seen the film in over a year, and in the interim I happened to watch almost all of the previous James Bond films on DVD, so I was struck once again by the differences between this film and those — especially where Bond’s relationships with women are concerned.

First, as my wife pointed out several days earlier, this Bond is certainly capable of using sex to achieve his objectives, but he shows little interest in sex for its own sake, once he has got what he wanted. This is most evident in the scene where he takes the wife of a second-tier bad guy back to his hotel room, fools around with her for a bit while fishing for information, and then promptly leaves the room before any clothes have come off — though he does order some caviar for her, while letting her think that he will be coming back soon. The old Bonds would love ’em and leave ’em, but this Bond can barely be bothered to love ’em first.

Second, as my friend Magnus pointed out a while ago, this may be the first Bond film in which the main villain has a girlfriend, and neither she nor Bond try to seduce each other. Well, perhaps not quite the first, but the only other possible example I can think of right now is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), which features Irma Bunt, who is immune to Bond’s charms but may or may not be in a relationship with Ernst Stavro Blofeld. (In the novels, it seems clear that she is in a relationship with him, but as far as the movie is concerned, she could easily be just a henchwoman, albeit a high-ranking one.)

Third, there is no Moneypenny in this film. So whereas all the other Bonds did some mild flirting with their boss’s secretary, this new Bond never gets around to doing even that.

Fourth, and almost finally, there is, of course, Vesper Lynd — and until things take a tragic turn near the end of the film, her relationship with Bond almost has the air of a romantic comedy. The Bond of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was quite happy to assert his dominance over women, while the self-conscious Bond of the ’90s was often put in his place by the women he met — but the Bond of this film approaches his leading lady as an equal. And so they trade witty barbs, and they come to each other’s physical and psychological rescue, and when they finally do consummate their relationship, their first “bedroom” scene consists of the two of them giddily getting into a tiny hospital bed and then falling clumsily to the floor, laughing all the way. If any of the other Bond films allowed for the fact that sex can be funny, in a joy-filled way that has nothing to do with double entendres, then I’ve forgotten them.

Fifth, there is M. James Bond’s boss is played by Judi Dench, and because she is the only actor in this film to have worked on previous installments of the franchise — specifically, the ones that starred Pierce Brosnan — it is especially interesting to note how her character’s relationship with Bond has changed. In GoldenEye (1995), she chastises Bond for being a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”, while her secretary, Moneypenny, warns Bond that his behaviour towards her “could qualify as sexual harassment.” In the following film, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the two women instruct Bond to seduce an ex-girlfriend of his, and they tease him about the amount of “pumping” he will have to do for them. And so on. But in Casino Royale, with a younger 007 under her command and no Moneypenny at her side whatsoever, M no longer has any interest in emasculating Bond, as it were. Instead, she adopts more of a maternal approach — especially in the scene where Bond speaks ill of Vesper after her death.

I am curious to see how all these themes will play out in the next film, and in the films beyond that. The thrust of the new film seems to be that Bond is seeking revenge for Vesper’s death — but he can’t do that forever. And if he is, indeed, getting sexually involved again, is he doing so for purely utilitarian purposes? Or has he found another woman with whom he can have a meaningful relationship? Or, heaven forbid, is the franchise beginning a slow and steady descent into the sort of casual and empty flings that characterized the earlier films?

I don’t mind if Bond has a different leading lady in every film; that was how the books operated, too. But the books at least made an effort to explain why the relationships kept falling apart, and the film version of Casino Royale has set a precedent for all the films that follow that cannot simply be shrugged aside.

Ah well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Religulous goes to Toronto.


Religulous had its festival premiere in Toronto the other day, so a few new reviews and interviews have popped up.

Karina Longworth, SpoutBlog:

Hopeful that [Bill Maher’s] feature-length collaboration with Larry Charles would offer a similar balance writ large, I went in to Religulous with an open mind –– which is more than can be said of Maher. The comedian-turned-political pundit/committed agnostic, and star and producer of this non-fiction film, explains early in the picture that he thinks organized religion of any kind is “detrimental to the progress of humanity.” Writing off the contents of the bible and all historical narratives of faith as “fairy tales,” he says he’s on a journey in search of an explanation as to how otherwise rational adults can buy into this kiddie stuff. “It’s too easy,” he complains.

Unfortunately, this last line turns out to be auto-critique: as Maher and Charles hop from backwoods America to international holy hot spots and back again. Maher continually flips the script, here using serious questioning not as an end, but a means to immature, unenlightening mockery. It quickly becomes apparent that Maher’s journey is not about finding out what makes religious people tick, but about using the tics of mostly fringe religious people to prop up the thesis Maher came in with. Which is––in a nutshell, but totally without irony––that everyday religious practice will soon result in global apocalypse.

James Rocchi, Cinematical:

But if Religulous were just a series of these kind of confrontations (and there are several of them, with Christians and Jews and Muslims and Mormons and more; Maher goes out of his way to be an equal-opportunity provocateur) it would quickly grow stale. Religulous also mixes in inventively shot and cut digressions about everything from the percentage of the American population represented by non-believers (16%, which Maher points out as a unheard, unfocused minority) to the more ornate points of Mormon theology (where the Mormon idea that Native Americans are one of the lost tribes of Israel is met with a short, sharp shock of a classic Mel Brooks clip). And just as in Borat, there are even great subtitle jokes annotating the matters at hand, like when the film points out the model triceratops wearing a saddle at a “Creation Museum,” or has arrows on-screen indicating the “infidels” in a scene shot inside a mosque, or delineates the similarities between the story of Jesus and the Egyptian god Horus, fact and images cut against each other to the bouncy chords of The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere:

How funny is it? Somewhat. I was LQTM-ing for the most part. There were a few chuckles at the screening I attended, two or three haw-haws, but no horse laughs. But humor isn’t precisely the point. This is a very rational film about a rational point of view.

That said, there are two things that need to be understood about Religulous. They aren’t major stoppers, but they’ve been bothering me since I saw it a couple of weeks ago.

One, Charles hasn’t shot Religulous with an especially vivid sense of style or panache of any kind. . . .

And two, Maher-the-rationalist doesn’t once acknowledge the general feeling known to all humans and animals since the beginning of intelligent life that there’s surely some kind of cosmic connectivity governing this and other worlds.

The National Post covered the film’s press conference, and Rocchi interviewed Maher for the Cinematical podcast.

The film comes to the Vancouver festival later this month, and will be released across the continent October 3.

UPDATE: Reuters also speaks to Bill Maher and Larry Charles.

UPPERDATE: E! Online has a story on the mild controversy that greeted the film and its international poster in Toronto.

SEP 10 UPDATE: Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:

Maher has come not to question religious dogma but to bury it. He’s out to burn holes in the Bible and to trash its literal followers–to declare open season on their contradictions and hypocrisies, heaping ridicule upon all they hold dear. Does he take cheap shots? I’m pleased to report that he does–more than you can count. Yet Maher, who is selling not Atheism but doubt, doesn’t disparage religion with the toxic misanthropy of, say, his fellow faith-basher Christopher Hitchens. Maher may be merciless, but he’s also curious–that’s why he’s such a terrific interviewer–and there’s a divine hilarity to his belief that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are fairy tales for adults. In Religulous, Bill Maher is like a sacrilegious rim-shot Joseph Campbell, ferreting out the links between our tall tales of God.

In addition to being funny as…well, hell, Religulous is a galvanizingly topical movie, since Maher’s ultimate concern is the connection between religion and politics in America today. It’s his view that anyone who is powerful enough to have his or her finger on the nuclear button should not be overly eager for the Rapture. You got a problem with that? Religulous might be called the first official movie jape of the Sarah Palin era.

For what it’s worth, I have no idea what sort of eschatology Sarah Palin subscribes to, but I find it curious that her religious beliefs are often brought up in connection with this film, while Barack Obama‘s religious beliefs — and those of the church he attended until very, very recently — seem to be off everyone’s radar.