Wag the Dog + Hell House = new satire.

Variety reports:

Mandalay Independent Pictures has acquired screen rights to “Salvation Boulevard,” the upcoming mystery novel by Larry Beinhart. George Ratliff will write the script and direct. . . .

“Salvation Boulevard,” to be published in the fall by Nation Books, has a satirical bent targeting organized religion.

The story revolves around a private detective who investigates the killing of a professor. The exercise proves to be a clash of faiths: The detective is a born-again Christian, the dead man an atheist, the accused killer an Islamic foreign student and the D.A. is Jewish.

“The book uses a mystery to examine the religious process, the mega-churches and how they manipulate minds,” said Mandalay prexy Cathy Schulman. “It is tricky terrain, but George is a filmmaker with a distinguishable voice.

Beinhart previously wrote “American Hero,” which was adapted into the 1997 Hollywood-D.C. satire “Wag the Dog.”

Ratliff, who directed the thriller “Joshua,” covered the hard-line faith biz in the docu “Hell House.” . . .

Whoo-ee. I liked Hell House (2001) well enough, but I have not seen Joshua (2007), so I haven’t a clue what to expect.

The new version of The New World.

Warner Brothers, which recently took over the New Line library of films, issued a press release today stating that they will release an “extended cut” of Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005) on October 14:

This edition of the critically-acclaimed, Oscar®-nominated epic recreating the turbulent first days of the new America now features more than 30 minutes of never-before-seen footage, heightening the viewing experience with more battles, more intensity and more visual splendor.

Jeffrey Wells adds the detail that this new version of the film will be 172 minutes long, or almost three hours.

So, that makes three versions of the film out there:

  1. The 149-minute version shown to critics in December 2005, and briefly to audiences in Los Angeles and New York so that it would qualify for the Academy Awards; this version has never been released to DVD in North America, though I understand it is available as part of a two-disc package in Italy.

  2. The 135-minute version released to theatres everywhere in January 2006, and then on DVD. This version added some new footage, in addition to cutting over 14 minutes of footage from the original version.
  3. The 172-minute version coming to DVD in October.

Now, when you think about the various lengths, you realize something: The new version is only 23 minutes longer than the longest version released to date — so if the press release is correct when it says that the new version will have “more than 30 minutes of never-before-seen footage”, it would seem that some of the footage from the 149-minute version, and perhaps even some of the footage that was unique to the 135-minute version, will remain on the cutting-room floor.

Or perhaps the folks at Warner have forgotten about the 149-minute version, or perhaps they are pretending it doesn’t exist.

At any rate, this is very good news for those of us who have been keen to see the three-hour version ever since the makers of this film talked about that version at the press junket two and a half years ago.

Osmosis Jones dodges a bullet-time list.

Inspired, if that’s the word, by the trailers for the new Angelina Jolie film Wanted, Christopher Campbell at SpoutBlog has compiled a list of “10 Awful Matrix ‘Bullet Time’ Spoofs”, and it covers the bases pretty well — though a few of his specimens, such as Wing Commander (released March 12, 1999) and the Gap’s ‘Khaki Swing’ commercial (debuted April 1998), actually pre-date The Matrix (released March 31, 1999) by a fair bit.

In fact, the people who created this special effect were expressing concern about “the spectre of overexposure” as early as this article from the June 26, 1998 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Little did they know that a movie was about to come out which would hijack the effect and stamp a catchphrase on it forever.

At any rate, I just had to say I am glad that Campbell’s list does not include Osmosis Jones (2001), which is not only one of my favorite cartoons of the past decade, but also — since it stars Laurence Fishburne as the voice of the villainous virus Thrax — features the only Matrix spoof that stars a member of the Matrix trilogy itself. Surely it deserves points for that, at least.

Canadian box-office stats — June 22

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.

Sex and the City — CDN $13,890,000 — N.AM $132,385,000 — 10.5%
The Love Guru CDN $1,400,000 — N.AM $14,000,000 — 10.0%

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan — CDN $7,210,000 — N.AM $84,055,000 — 8.6%
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — CDN $11,570,000 — N.AM $135,467,000 — 8.5%
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — CDN $24,430,000 — N.AM $290,835,000 — 8.4%
Iron Man — CDN $25,280,000 — N.AM $304,788,000 — 8.3%
The Happening — CDN $3,540,000 — N.AM $50,267,000 — 7.0%
Kung Fu Panda — CDN $10,610,000 — N.AM $155,596,000 — 6.8%
The Incredible Hulk — CDN $6,440,000 — N.AM $96,476,000 — 6.7%
Get Smart — CDN $2,420,000 — N.AM $39,155,000 — 6.2%

A couple of discrepancies: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was #10 on the Canadian chart (it was #11 in North America as a whole), while The Strangers was #10 on the North American chart (it was #11 in Canada).

Baby booms and the death of kiddie films.

Demographics, as Mark Steyn likes to say, are everything — or very nearly everything, at any rate. Nine years ago, I wrote an article on the teensploitation craze for Books & Culture that began by looking even further back to a prediction that appeared to have come true at the time that I was writing that article:

There was a time, not too long ago, when conservative pundits liked to argue that family-friendly movies were, from the point of view of the major Hollywood studios, a safer financial bet. Restricted movies played to narrower, restricted audiences, while G-rated movies were free to play to as wide an audience as the market could al low. A number of hugely successful films in the early 1990s—such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin—seemed to prove their point.

But there were voices of caution, too. In 1992, Universal Studios chairman Tom Pollock told Premiere magazine that the movie industry was reaping the benefits of a “baby boomlet,” a natural result of the fact that many baby boomers now had children of their own. Pollock noted further that these children wouldn’t stay young forever: “They’re about to come into their teens, so we’re going to be having a whole raft of coming-of-age movies again. Everybody’s going to lose their virginity again.”

That raft is upon us now. Teen ensemble films are fairly cheap to make, and studios can usually count on at least getting their money back; in some cases, they can reap substantial profits. Clueless and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet were decent-sized hits, but they didn’t prepare Hollywood for the success of Scream, a postmodern high-school slasher flick that opened three years ago and, to everyone’s surprise, quietly amassed a domestic box-office gross of just over $100 million. . . .

I was reminded of that article tonight while reading this paragraph from Mark Harris’s recent article on so-called “niche” audiences:

Here’s a genuinely surprising piece of news about the summer of 2008: In a season expressly designed to appeal to the hordes of kids who are out of school, two of the kiddiest movies so far, Speed Racer and Prince Caspian, have fizzled. And next summer, and for several summers to come, there’ll be fewer kids going to the movies, because there’ll be fewer kids, period. Apparently (this is the U.S. Census talking), we had a mini-baby boom between about 1981 and 1995. And then came a dip — a substantial dip — in the kid population. In other words, that mammoth group of youngsters that has reliably fueled movie grosses for almost 15 years is now looking less kidlike: They’re between 13 and 27. And getting older. And looking for movies that appeal to them. And they’re really not going to like being called a niche.

As Mark Steyn also likes to say, stability is an illusion and there is no such thing as the status quo; things are always moving in some direction or other. Could be interesting times ahead.

(Hat tip to Joe Leydon for the Mark Harris “money quote”.)

WALL*E continues to get mixed buzz

A lot of videos for WALL*E — and for Presto, the short film that plays before it — have been popping up online in the last few days, but I’ve been avoiding them, since the movie opens six days from now and I want to watch it relatively fresh.

However, I cannot help but note that, while everyone seems to love the character WALL*E, early reaction to the film WALL*E has been a little more … mixed.

Oh, sure, Harry Knowles has been his usual orgasmic self, declaring the film not only the best thing that Pixar has ever done but the best thing that Disney has ever done, etc., etc. But others have been a bit more, shall we say, reserved.

Dirty Harry, formerly of Libertas, gives the film 2.5 stars out of 4, and he takes exception to a dig the film takes at President Bush, as is his wont — but he has issues with the story, too:

The first forty-minutes are magical. The introduction to Wall-E and slow reveals of his routine and world are mesmerizing and almost completely without dialogue. Eve’s arrival, their courtship, and those first moments in outer space are equally wondrous. It’s only when we get inside of the ship and meet the human beings that things become routine in that frantic kind of way that hopes to cover for a lack of any real story.

The human characters (and robot supporting characters) are terribly underdeveloped. Much of the latter part of the second-act is spent with the ship’s captain, voiced by Jeff Garlin, but he’s flat, only there to move the plot along. As the plot turns towards the fate of the human characters, Wall-E and Eve are left to chase the Maguffin with a cast of “whacky” robots. Eventually this results in third-act numbness and you just bide your time until it’s over.

Meanwhile, my CT Movies editor Mark Moring included a brief note about the film in his newsletter yesterday:

On another note, the other day I saw one of the films I was most looking forward to all year—Wall*E, the latest from the creative geniuses at Pixar. I’ll say this much: Pixar hasn’t skipped a beat, and it’s a very good movie from writer/director Andrew Stanton—though not as good, I would say, as his last film, Finding Nemo.

Finally, another colleague of mine who was on the same junket as Dirty Harry reports that there was “no uniform opinion emerging from the press corps” and he doubts the film will get the kind of love from critics that Ratatouille got. He also writes:

I’m pretty sure, though, that I’ve never before heard journalists talk about being concerned about reader backlash for writing a less-than-glowing review. Has Pixar become sacred?

I guess we’ll find out when the film opens next week, and then when we see what kind of legs it has in the weeks that follow.

For what it’s worth, my colleague also finds it “offensive” that the film has been given such a massive merchandising campaign; the junket even had a “Merchandising Suite” where journalists had to listen to a marketing pitch before they could pick up their swag. This movie is, remember, set in the future and based on the idea that rampant consumerism has destroyed the planet.