Seeing a movie again for the first time.

One more item for Father’s Day: National Post film critic Chris Knight had an article in yesterday’s paper on taking his three-year- old son to his first movie, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!:

When the film ended, we walked hand in hand to the lobby, where he tugged at my arm until he had me down at his level. He has his mother’s blue eyes and his father’s absurdly serious face. “Thank you for the movie, Daddy,” he said gravely and hugged me. You could not calculate a better way to bring tears to a father’s eyes.

In The Film Club, novelist David Gilmour’s wonderful memoir about watching movies with his teenaged son, he repeats this lesson, learned at university: “That the second time you see something is really the first time. You need to know how it ends before you can appreciate how beautifully it’s put together from the beginning.”

If we hold this to be true, it means the first time we really see a movie is often when we share it with someone else. Certainly we see it differently in the company of another. Films can impart knowledge, but they also invite thought, conversation, reflection and dissent.

Part of the joy of filmgoing is to recommend and be recommended good movies. And a joy for any parent is sharing with our children the things we enjoyed when we were young. It starts with fondly remembered books, reading the stories that were read to us; it moves on to movies, travel, philosophy, food and wine. Movies are a wondrous thing to share, for they are forever unchanging, waiting in canisters, video sleeves or discs for the next set of eyes to own them. Like islands, continents, worlds, they exist to be discovered, and there is no limit to the number of times this can happen.

I want my children to discover (as I rediscover) such family films as E. T., A Christmas Story and The Princess Bride; comedies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Duck Soup; adventurous tales like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Lord of the Rings; thought-provokers like 12 Angry Men, Apocalypse Now and Bridge on the River Kwai. No doubt they will not share my love for all of these, and will make their own discoveries and share them with me. The wonder of watching our children grow apart from us includes the opportunity to grow together.

Hear, hear. Knight ends the article by saying that he is thinking of taking the wee tyke to see Kung Fu Panda: “I’ve only seen it once, on my own, which means I’ve never really seen it at all.”

Nemo, Godfather, Holland, Thomas, and me.

I’ve been thinking about doing a weekly series of favorite movie images, and for some time now I have wanted to start with the image above from Finding Nemo (2003) — and since today is Father’s Day, this seemed like as good a time as any.

I love the image above for a number of reasons. First, the luminous translucence of Pixar’s simulated underwater photography. Second, the obvious pro-life resonance. (I’m not saying that that’s how the filmmakers intended it, but it’s there just the same.) Third, the way this image ties into one of my favorite subjects, i.e. the nature and purpose of memory; to quote the relevant paragraph from that three-part lecture of mine on ‘Memory at the Movies’ that I sometimes talk about:

Of course, it isn’t too long after this that Marlin and Dori discover that Nemo is still alive after all, and there is an interesting scene where Nemo, who has just helped rescue a lot of fish, sinks to the ocean floor, exhausted, and Marlin scoops him up in his fin and says, “It’s okay, Daddy’s got you.” And as he says this, there is a brief flashback to the very beginning of the film, when Nemo was just an embryo and Marlin held him in his fin, shortly after the predator attack took away Nemo’s mother and all of Nemo’s brothers and sisters. The flashback is, of course, a memory. But it is not Nemo’s memory, it is Marlin’s. Does Nemo remember being an embryo? Does he remember the attack that scarred him for life? Of course not. But is the Nemo in that fish egg the same Nemo that we see throughout the rest of this film? Yes, of course. And it is through his father’s memory of him that the embryonic Nemo and the child Nemo have their unity. The story of Nemo is a much bigger story than Nemo himself can tell — it is a story that is built not just on Nemo’s memories, but the memories of others, too.

And finally, I like the image above because I am a father myself now, and scenes like this speak very powerfully to my protective instincts, and my sense of the frailty of life, especially in its early stages.

This is my third Father’s Day as a father, and while I love all three of my children and feel a special bond with each of them on various levels, I have a particular set of memories regarding the birth of Thomas.

I have often said that his birth, half an hour after his sister’s, was somewhat anti-climactic; the shock of Elizabeth’s first cries in the delivery room, and the sudden sense that my world really had changed irrevocably and I was nowhere near as prepared for the change as I thought I was, were so strong, that adding Thomas’s cries to the mix half an hour later didn’t really change much.

And yet. From that day to this, Thomas has always been much more easy to disturb, much more prone to crying. And he, like his sister, was born six or seven weeks premature, and spent the first month of his life in a special-care ward. And on the day that he was born, I spent several hours pumped on adrenaline and too distracted to even grab a bite to eat — so that by the end of the day, I was chemically unbalanced, and an emotional mess myself.

And I remember paying a visit to the special-care ward late in the day, and watching the nurses bathe Thomas, and watching Thomas cry and cry and cry — and it was almost too much for me to handle. I had spent months worrying that Thomas and Elizabeth might not make it out of the womb alive — my wife had been on strict bed rest from Halloween to Groundhog Day — but now, suddenly, I was hearing his cries with my own two ears, and I wanted to apologize for bringing him into this world of pain. Standing off to the side, while the nurses did their thing, I felt quite helpless.

So of course, I found myself thinking of a scene from another movie, namely The Godfather Part II (1974; my comments):

I have written here before about how having children of my own has made me more sensitive to the depiction of death and murder in film. To quote what I wrote two years ago:

Last night I finally got around to seeing The Departed . . . and I was struck by how some of the sudden deaths — especially when they happened in rapid succession — made me think about how these people had once been babies like my own, and how lots of love and care, or at least work, had gone into raising them and making them who they were. I was more acutely aware than usual of what a waste death is.

I have not seen The Godfather Part II in its entirety since my kids were born, but I imagine my sensitivity to such issues would be particularly high here, since this film, having shown us the infant Fredo and the clear love and concern that his father has for him, will go on to show the adult Fredo being killed many years later — by order of his brother. Really, just watching the scene from which these images were taken, just now, was involving on a level that I don’t think it ever has been before.

Anyway. When I did hold Thomas myself, I felt an urge to comfort him, to soothe him, and so I began to sing John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ to him — and I was somewhat conscious of, and even a little embarrased by, the fact that I may have been inspired in this minor regard by Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). I don’t own the film, and I have not seen it at all since its initial theatrical release, so I don’t have any images from that film here, but here is a picture of me holding Thomas when he was less than one day old:

Oh, wait, a copy of that scene from the film is up at YouTube; the ‘Beautiful Boy’ segment begins about two minutes in:

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

Anyway. I have no idea if Thomas would want me to sing him this song when he’s 15, or whatever age Cole is in the clip above. But I have a very, very strong suspicion that I will keep thinking the song, and wanting to sing it. And in my mind, I’ll be singing it underwater, in a sepia-toned tenement from the early 20th century.

Finally, to complement the picture of Thomas above, here is a much more recent picture of him, taken a few weeks ago during a father-son trip to the zoo:

Expelled fans stage protest in Toronto

I know Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed created a lot of controversy when it opened in the United States two months ago, but most of that, as near as I can tell, consisted of blog posts and newspaper articles and atheist scientists showing up uninvited at an advance screening and a telephone press conference. I can’t recall reading any stories about fans of the movie actually staging protests against pro-evolutionary museum exhibits or anything like that. And yet that, apparently, is what happened in Toronto last Thursday, after “a multicoloured crowd of 50 prayerful protesters” attended a private advance screening of the film — which opens in Canada two weeks from now — and then headed over to the Royal Ontario Museum, which is hosting a six-month exhibition on Charles Darwin. Incidentally, the exhibition is sponsored by both the Humanist Association of Canada and the United Church Observer, while the protest was led by evangelical leader Charles McVety, who was recently in the news expressing his support for — and even taking credit for — the controversial proposed tax law Bill C-10, about which I plan to post an update in the near future. At any rate, with regard to the anti-Darwin protest, the National Post has the details.

Hulk — reboots, cross-overs, and geography.

Warning: There be spoilers here.

When it was announced last year that Marvel Studios was going to produce a new version of The Incredible Hulk, only a few years after Ang Lee’s film came out to mixed reviews and middling box-office in 2003, many people wondered why they would bother. But now that the film is out there, I think we can safely say that the answer boils down to two words: The Avengers.

For many years, the typical comic-book movie revolved around a single hero and the various sidekicks and villains that are typically associated with that hero — and the producers of those films typically created distinct worlds for their heroes that wouldn’t necessarily have meshed with any of the other heroes’ worlds. Just look at the original Superman (1978-1987) and Batman (1989-1997) franchises: one takes place in a Metropolis that is basically just a regular street-level depiction of New York City, the other takes place in a Gotham City that couldn’t look more fake, more stylized, more confined to a soundstage if it tried. A cross-over between these franchises was basically unthinkable. In what possible universe could these two cities, let alone the characters who inhabit them, have co-existed?

The cinematic segregation of superheroes was even more entrenched for the Marvel characters, because each of them was brought to the screen by a different studio. DC Comics is part of the Time Warner empire, so all of the Batman and Superman films have been produced by Warner Brothers — but until recently, Marvel had licensed its heroes to various different studios, so that Spider-Man (2002-2007) was produced by Sony, Hulk was produced by Universal, The Punisher (2004-2008; my review) was produced by Lions Gate, and so on. So sharp are the lines between these various franchises that, according to the MTV Movies Blog, the new Hulk could not even give a university the name that it has in the Spider-Man movies.

Things sort of changed with the X-Men (2000-2006) and Fantastic Four (2005-2007) movies, both of which revolved around teams of superheroes. But even then, while there was a variety of superheroes within each team, the teams themselves were pretty much hermetically sealed off from all the other Marvel franchises — and even, so far, from each other, even though both of them were produced by Fox.

But now Marvel is trying something new. Instead of merely letting other studios buy the film rights to their heroes, they are producing the films themselves — and this gives them the freedom to cross-pollinate their franchises even when they are distributed by different companies. Hence, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark can have a cameo in The Incredible Hulk, which is distributed by Universal, even though his own movie, Iron Man, is distributed by Paramount.

And instead of creating another “team” franchise like the X-Men or Fantastic Four movies, where all the characters exist only within those teams, Marvel now hopes to create a bunch of separate superhero franchises that can stand well enough on their own two feet, before bringing them together in one monstrous cross-over extravaganza, namely The Avengers — which they announced immediately after the smash success of Iron Man‘s opening weekend last month.

And since the Hulk is one of the original Avengers, the studio needed to re-do the Hulk in a way that would lend itself to this new concept.

Ang Lee’s film was a standalone feature like all the other superhero movies of the past few decades, but this new movie has been written with bigger things in mind. The opening credits include brief glimpses of documents that reference Stark Industries and Nick Fury. And in one scene, General Ross refers to a “super soldier” program that existed during World War II — almost certainly a reference to Captain America. And indeed, it seems that Captain America himself almost had a cameo in The Incredible Hulk, though it ended up on the cutting-room floor — or, more accurately, in the put-it-on-the-DVD file.

And then there is the Tony Stark cameo, which serves the same purpose here that Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo as Nick Fury served in Iron Man — to let the audience know that a much bigger movie is in the works.

So, why re-boot the Hulk franchise so soon? Because we stand on the brink of a major change in how comic-book movies are done. Five years ago, each superhero — or superhero team — stood alone. But now, each hero can have his own franchise and be part of an even larger team. (Though I should note that Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier recently told the MTV Movies Blog that he left the ending of his film ambiguous so that the Hulk could be either one of the heroes or the villain when The Avengers is made.)

It will be interesting to see if DC and Time Warner pick up on this. Their recent ill-fated attempt to make a Justice League movie suffered partly because there was some confusion over whether it would be connected to any existing or future standalone superhero movies. But if they left the current Batman and Superman storylines alone, it is not too hard to believe that they could do some interesting things with the Justice League’s other characters.

And now for something completely different: The Globe and Mail has a story on the fact that the film sees Bruce Banner hiding out in Bella Coola, British Columbia — and it notes that, if the residents of this town want to see the film in the theatre, they will have to drive six hours to Williams Lake. As it happens, my wife’s aunt owns some property in Nimpo Lake, which is between Bella Coola and Williams Lake, and we visited her there last year. The map below shows the route from Vancouver (A) to Williams Lake (B) to Nimpo Lake (C) to Bella Coola (D). Enjoy!

View Larger Map

Jesus anime producers look for feedback

The video below is pretty self-explanatory. The soundtrack is taken from Campus Crusade’s Jesus (1979), but the animatics are brand new.

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

Matt Page has some good thoughts on this new project, and some good links as well. I agree with him that it might be just as well if the filmmakers started from scratch and re-recorded all the dialogue.

I also think that animated films, such as The Miracle Maker (2000), can be an especially interesting way to tell the story of Jesus, since they are capable of some of the same artistic abstractions that you see in traditional icons, which in some ways may be more preferable than the “realism” that people tend to expect from live-action films.

The makers of the original Campus Crusade film, in particular, prided themselves on getting ethnically accurate actors and on shooting the film on location and on making sure that they did not film certain plants that were introduced to Israel in recent years, etc., etc. An opening voice-over even calls the film a “documentary”. But after a while, the emphasis on those kinds of details can get a bit distracting — and do we really want to encourage viewers to expect that kind of accuracy?

Better to keep our focus on the essentials — to get bogged down in the truth, rather than the facts, as it were — and animation, like paintings and live theatre, can sometimes be a better way of doing that than cinematography.

I am aware, by the way, that the makers of The Miracle Maker did a fair bit of historical research themselves, to bring their props and things as close as possible to the way things were in first-century Judea. But the style of animation still encourages us to look for something other than documentary-like realism.

5 blogs that make my day and make me think

One of the fun things about having a blog like this is discovering some of the other blogs out there that link to the things you write — and one of my favorite discoveries has been Carmen Andres’s In the Open Space: God & Culture, a fun potpourri of spiritual ruminations, pop-culture analysis and, um, local weather reports. (Just kidding … sort of. I actually like the photos.)

Anyway, Carmen tagged this blog a short while ago as one of “5 blogs that make my day and make me think”, and ever since, I’ve been meaning to thank her for the nod and pass the meme along by listing five of my own favorite blogs. (Has it really been 12 days since she tagged me? Gadzooks, how time flies.) So, here goes:

Thank you, Carmen, for the nod.

And the five blogs that make my day and make me think — not counting Carmen’s, since I’ve already linked to it here — are:

  1. The Looking Closer Journal. I’ve known Jeffrey Overstreet for over ten years now, and it’s amazing to see how far he’s come, from posting his reviews online and trading e-mails on favorite singer-songwriters like Steve Taylor and Sam Phillips to writing an entire book on film appreciation and a couple of fantasy novels, besides. He’s also got a wonderfully catholic taste for the arts in all their myriad forms: highbrow, lowbrow, written, visual, musical, whatever, you name it, it’s there, etc.

  2. Hollywood Elsewhere. In some ways, especially politically, my sensibilities couldn’t be further from those of Jeffrey Wells — but he’s such an entertaining writer, so gifted at coming up with off-the-wall yet spot-on metaphors, and so candid with his opinions on things, that I feel obliged to open nearly every post of his when they show up in Google Reader. And there are a lot of posts. (His is one of those blogs that only puts the first couple of sentences in its RSS feed.)
  3. Spout Blog. There are lots of movie blogs out there, but something about this one feels just a little more off-beat than some. Let’s just say that sometimes they say things that I only think — or they give words to ideas that I had but didn’t know how to articulate. Case in point: When it was revealed that Bryce Dallas Howard is going to replace Charlotte Gainsbourg as John Connor’s wife in Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins, Karina Longworth wrote: “Good thing the daughters of men who were famous in the 70s are interchangable!” Yes, exactly.
  4. Crunchy Con. Rod Dreher — a former film critic and, like me, a convert to Orthodoxy — mainly covers political and cultural issues here, but he touches on other issues too, and he strikes me as one of the less predictable, more independent thinkers out there.
  5. Rightwing Film Geek. Victor Morton’s film blog would probably rank even higher if he updated it more often, but I’ll take what I can get. There aren’t all that many people who share conservative political views and an interest in foreign and arthouse fare, and I appreciate Victor’s esoteric tastes, as well as his attention to detail in some of his reviews. My eyesight is still recovering from the blinding, epiphanous light that was his analysis of Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

There are lots more I could mention — and I really, really need to update the list of links to the side of my blog — but this should do for now.