Year One sounds even more “biblical” now.

Last month, it was reported that Olivia Wilde was going to star in the Judd Apatow-produced “biblical comedy” Year One as Princess Inanna, a love interest for the Jack Black character whose name, according to Wikipedia, happens to be identical to that of “the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare.”

Then, two weeks ago, it was reported that Hank Azaria was joining the cast as a guy named Abraham. You mean, that Abraham…?

Could be. Today, Wilde told the MTV Movies Blog a little more about her character, and about the film in general:

“I play the princess of Sodom,” she explained. “Michael Cera and Jack Black go on this journey, and they are searching for the meaning of life, essentially; all these crazy things happen to them, and they meet all these characters you’ll recognize from the bible. It’s all these brilliant references to historical things that people will recognize, and some things from other films.”

For those who aren’t up on their “Davey and Goliath” reruns, the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah were two biblical cities destroyed by God because of their rampant sexual activities and immorality – needless to say, a concept rife with comedic possibility. “It’s gonna be really interesting to see the way they set that up, how much we use the Sodom and Gomorrah feeling that they’re completely wicked places; I’m really excited to see Ramis’ vision for that,” she grinned, getting ready to rule over such an orgy of excess. “There’ll be a hint towards [the lead characters falling for me], then Jack Black and I come together. It’s really funny what we do, and what happens next.”

So the film features a character named Abraham and it features Sodom and Gomorrah, two towns that were rescued from a foreign invasion by the biblical Abraham (Genesis 14) and eventually destroyed by God during the biblical Abraham’s lifetime (Genesis 18-19)? Okay, that would seem to settle it. This movie almost certainly will feature biblical characters and perhaps even biblical plot points, even if they are kept to the margins like the biblical elements were in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979).

Oh, and about the reasons for Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction: Those two towns have certainly long had a reputation for sexual impropriety, mainly because a mob there tried to gang-rape a couple of visiting angels. (It’s not just the rape that was bad; sex between angels and humans was a big no-no for the Hebrews too, and was likely one of the reasons the Flood was sent in Noah’s day, as per Genesis 6.) But the one time the Old Testament spells out what, exactly, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was, in Ezekiel 16, sex doesn’t enter into the picture, at least not explicitly:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

Some have suggested that the word translated “detestable” here may refer to certain kinds of sexual activity, and that is certainly possible; but Ezekiel uses that word to refer to a lot of things — such as idolatry — so it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he was only or even primarily referring to sex, there.

But back to the movie. It would be truly impressive if Year One reflected any awareness of the Ezekiel passage. But … I’m not counting on it. Sex sells better than messages against pride and poverty, and it’s easier to get a laugh out of sexual behaviour than it is to get laughs out of those sorts of messages, too.

Canadian box-office stats — February 24

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.

Be Kind Rewind — CDN $471,946 — N.AM $4,050,655 — 11.7%
27 Dresses — CDN $7,660,000 — N.AM $73,108,983 — 10.5%
Step Up 2: The Streets — CDN $4,190,000 — N.AM $41,238,093 — 10.2%
Definitely, Maybe — CDN $2,100,000 — N.AM $21,814,805 — 9.6%
Juno — CDN $12,410,000 — N.AM $130,431,948 — 9.5%
No Country for Old Men — CDN $5,880,000 — N.AM $64,291,179 — 9.1%

Fool’s Gold — CDN $4,510,000 — N.AM $52,717,413 — 8.6%
Jumper — CDN $4,740,000 — N.AM $56,264,386 — 8.4%
The Spiderwick Chronicles — CDN $3,550,000 — N.AM $44,076,043 — 8.1%
Vantage Point — CDN $1,550,000 — N.AM $22,874,936 — 6.8%

A couple of discrepancies: No Country for Old Men and 27 Dresses were #9 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #12 and #15 in North America as a whole), while Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins and There Will Be Blood were #7 and #10 on the North American chart, respectively (the former film was nowhere in the Canadian Top 20, and the latter film was #11 in Canada).

A brief thought about the Toy Story franchise.

I hadn’t planned on exposing my kids to Pixar so early in life — why not wait until they can “appreciate” it more, I figured — but the other kids at church today were watching Toy Story 2, so what could I do.

Then, tonight, while watching the Oscars with my family and some friends, I saw the clips from Ratatouille.

Gadzooks. What incredible leaps Pixar has made in nine years.

I’m curious now to see if Toy Story 3, which is currently slated for release in 2010, will represent yet another massive leap forward in animation technology, or if the Pixar people will feel obliged to go “retro” to keep the new film more-or-less consistent with the first two films — both of which, you will recall, were produced way back in the previous century, back in the ’90s, back in the Clinton era, etc.

It’s kind of like how Steven Spielberg has insisted the new Indiana Jones movie will avoid the newfangled digital techniques wherever possible and stick to the visual-effects techniques that the first three films used back in the ’80s, back in the Reagan era, etc.

But the Indiana Jones movies have always been retro — each film is set about 50 years in the past, and each film is modeled after the cheesy B-movies of those distant eras — so I imagine it would be kind of okay if the new one didn’t feel like the most modern thing around. The Toy Story movies, on the other hand, have always taken place more-or-less “today”, so it could be kind of odd if the new film felt like it wasn’t on the cutting edge any more.

I’d like to think that it’s the story that matters, more than anything else; and I’d like to think that audiences would appreciate an aesthetic decision in favour of the more old-fashioned look. But you never know.

Why the Oscars just don’t “get” foreign films.

The problems with the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film category go way, way deeper than the fact that 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar this year. Robert Koehler, who sometimes writes for Variety, explains why in an informative rant that went up yesterday at

The Muslim Jesus film and apocryphal gospels

A few days ago, ABC News posted its own story on Jesus, the Spirit of God, the Iranian film and mini-series that tells the story of Jesus from a Muslim point of view. The story is a Q&A; with director Nader Talebzadeh, who reveals that the film is based partly on sources other than the Bible and the Koran:

LS: So, when it comes to Jesus, the message and the reverence are there.

NT: Yes.

LS: But the virgin birth, the crucifixion…

NT: The virgin birth was the same. The difference in the Koran, God says Jesus was saved. Instead of having him hung and crucified, the person who betrayed Jesus was crucified. This is how the Koran sees it, through the Gospel of Barnabas.

LS: So, you gave the alternate ending.

NT: Yes, two endings. I thought, the Christians, when they see it, it’ll be important for them. [In the Koran] God says, emphatically, he was not crucified. Somebody was crucified in his stead. In the Gospel of Barnabas, there are explications of this. The majority of [Muslims] say the one who betrayed Jesus [was crucified]. . . .

LS: What is your hope for the movie?

NT: The film is an excuse to sit down and talk. Iran is so consistently demonized. Once an American visits Iran, they know it’s a different story. So, how do we export our thinking? It’s the movies. This is a film for students and for practicing Christians, for people to become curious, and go investigate more.

My hope for the movie was, and is, and will be, to make people think about how God sees the prophets, how God talks about Jesus in the Koran. What was the main message of Jesus? And what was censored out of history? Part of the message of Jesus was censored out, which was the coming of the next prophets.

If you listen to what Jesus said, Jesus talked about the Prophet Mohammad, many, many times. And it was eliminated in the Gospels and the Bibles that [made it through] history. In 325, the Council of Nice was out to destroy all the other Gospels. One of those Gospels was the Gospel of Barnabas, which I used in great detail.

LS: And what did that say that was left out?

NT: It had a lot of sermons of Jesus that you do not see in the Bible; miracles, and at least a hundred references to the Prophet Mohammad, about his coming. It’s one of the biggest censorships of history. So, I thought somebody should say this, and then others might disagree, say, “Ahhh, this could not be! This is blasphemy!” But it’s OK — this is the 21st century. It’s time for information. It’s time for communication. They can go check it out.

The ABC News story is accompanied by a one-minute video, which also states that “there are actually two endings to the movie: one from the Christian Bible, and one from the Koran.” What this means, exactly, I am not sure. Is the film being released in two versions, each with a different ending? Or does the standard version of the film show one ending and then rewind to an earlier point in the story and show an entirely different ending?

As for the Gospel of Barnabas, I know very little about it, but if the article at Wikipedia is correct, it would seem to be a forgery created at some point in the 1500s, with perhaps some earlier materials blended in. So, colour me skeptical.

Then again, this wouldn’t be the first film to “enhance” a biblical story with non-canonical material taken from medieval or modern texts; just think of the Catholic mystics whose visions were dramatized by Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ (2004).

APR 5 UPDATE: Matt Page has discovered a month-old CNN video that includes several clips from this film, including the scene where Judas is transformed so that he looks like Jesus.

Can Matt Damon really be Bourne again?

In a long-ish article on recent developments at Universal Studios, Variety lets slip the news that Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass have agreed to make a fourth Bourne movie. But what kind of story could they possibly tell?

The whole premise of the series is that “Jason Bourne” is the alias of a rogue secret agent who has no memory of his earlier life — but by the end of the third film, both Bourne and the world at large have learned too much about his earlier life to keep that gimmick working. Indeed, he kind of knew too much about his earlier life already by the end of the second film, which is why the first two-thirds of the third film take place before the end of the second film. In a nutshell, he isn’t really “Jason Bourne” any more.

What’s more, all the corrupt government officials who went after Jason Bourne in the first three films have already been vanquished. Indeed, the filmmakers had to invent a brand new set of evil government agents in the third film because there was no one left to chase him by the end of the second one.

So … what kind of story could they possibly tell now?