Newsbites: Trek! Demons! Aquarian! Rowling!

And now for a few smaller items.

1. Ben Cross, who played the Jewish athlete Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire (1981), has been tapped to play Spock’s father Sarek in Star Trek XI. Mark Lenard, who played the character in three TV episodes and three movies, was 42 when the original series began, and less than 7 years older than Leonard Nimoy, who played his son; Cross turns 60 in a few weeks, and is thus 30 years older than Zachary Quinto, who is now playing the young Spock. Matters are complicated further, though, by the fact that Vulcans can live for two centuries or more; Sarek himself was 103 when Lenard first played him during the original series. —

2. Producer Brian Grazer wants Angels & Demons, the sequel or prequel to The Da Vinci Code (2006), to be “less reverential” than its predecessor. Well, that only makes sense, I guess, since the book did give me a good laugh or two. Then again, weren’t some audiences already tittering during The Da Vinci Code as it was? — New York Times

3. The Aquarian Gospel will not only take a peek at the so-called “missing years” of Jesus’ adolescence and early adulthood — it will also be “a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus’s life with the three wise men as his mentors”! And although “the producers say the film will feature a ‘young and beautiful’ princess, it is not clear whether Jesus is to have a love interest.” And it will be “shot using actors and computer animation like 300“. This has the makings of a really tacky camp classic. — Guardian, Bible Films Blog

4. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has given one of her most interesting — and most spiritually-inclined — interviews yet, to a Dutch newspaper. A translation is available at The Leaky Cauldron. It covers many bases, but the bits about her beliefs and upbringing are rather interesting. —

5. Shantaram is the latest film to have its plug pulled thanks to the writers’ strike. When I mentioned it here two years ago, it was going to be directed by Peter Weir; now, the thwarted director is Mira Nair. One constant, though, has been star Johnny Depp, who was attached to the film under both directors. Whether he will still be around when all the strikes are over, and whether the film will ever get made, who knows. — Variety

6. Big Fox strikes again! Seems they’re getting YouTube to yank reviews of their films that include fair-use clips from their trailers. Bad, bad Big Fox. — The Movie Blog

The Golden Compass — the reviews begin!

My goodness. The Golden Compass doesn’t come out for another two and a half weeks, and already the Daily Telegraph has a review up. A few excerpts:

But an early screening of The Golden Compass in Los Angeles reveals that the investors who put up the £90 million cost of the film can rest easy – though it lacks the impact or charm of The Chronicles of Narnia, the special effects are extraordinary and the film is sure to be a success with young audiences. . . .

Newcomer Dakota Blue Richards was chosen for the pivotal role of Lyra from 10,000 young actresses. She does her best to carry the human portion of the film, despite an unconvincing “cor blimey” accent, but it is the computer-generated animals and rodents which are the real stars – rarely has so much human talent been so overshadowed by digital effects. . . .

The Golden Compass was made by New Line Cinema, the studio that struck gold with its Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is doubtless hoping to attract the same fantasy-loving audience, and while adults may wince at the jumpy editing and stilted dialogue (“We’ll set it right – just let them try to stop us,” declares Lyra), younger audiences are likely to be enthralled at the wonders Lyra encounters on her epic journey through a metaphysical universe. . . .

Now that the Telegraph has broken whatever review embargo this film has, it probably won’t be long before the trades — i.e., Variety and the Hollywood Reporter — post their own two bits. For my part, there have been no announcements yet regarding any screenings in Vancouver, so I may have to wait a bit longer.

Reviews have also begun trickling in for Alexandre Desplat’s score, which comes out on CD in two weeks. Film Music: The Neglected Art is fairly impressed with it, while Ryan den Rooijen at has an interesting interview with Desplat himself.

Finally, has posted two brief scenes from the film, both of which center on Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear voiced by Sir Ian McKellen.

He’s not the Messiah, he’s a former child actor.

Back in 1998, a child actor by the name of Joseph Cross appeared in three films that, to put it mildly, did nothing to make me a fan of his. He might very well have been a good kid to hang out with, but his performances in Desperate Measures, Jack Frost and M. Night Shyamalan’s Wide Awake were all designed to pull just a little too hard on the audience’s heartstrings, and I found them all off-putting to one degree or another.

In the near-decade since then, Cross has worked almost exclusively in TV. But two years ago he began to appear on the big screen again, with bit parts in films like Strangers with Candy (2005) and Flags of Our Fathers (2006), and a starring role in Running with Scissors (2006), where I thought he did pretty well. Not that I remember his performance vividly or anything; I just remember thinking he had grown into a decent actor.

And now he’s got a few more films on his roster. In my review of Wide Awake, which starred Cross as a kid who goes looking for God in all of the world’s religions, I suggested his name was “auspicious” for such a spiritually-themed movie, but that assessment may be doubly true for his next project. Reports Variety:

Joseph Cross, Heather Graham, Barbara Hershey and Tim Curry will star in the indie satire “Son of Mourning.” Yaniv Raz will direct from a screenplay he wrote.

Story, set amid an international climate crisis, centers on a dissatisfied ad copywriter (Cross) who returns home to a resort town in Florida to mediate his parents’ divorce. While there, he is mistaken for the Messiah and must decide whether to use his newfound celebrity to indulge his own selfish desires or to do some good in the world.

I can’t begin to imagine how such a character would be mistaken for the Messiah — and in his hometown, no less — but I’m curious to see what this film does with the concept.

Canadian box-office stats — November 18

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.

No Country for Old Men — CDN $564,074 — N.AM $4,907,572 — 11.5%
American Gangster — CDN $9,150,000 — N.AM $100,650,615 — 9.1%
Bee Movie — CDN $8,220,000 — N.AM $93,570,695 — 8.8%

Lions for Lambs — CDN $957,366 — N.AM $11,584,339 — 8.3%
Saw IV — CDN $4,790,000 — N.AM $61,766,718 — 7.8%
Beowulf — CDN $2,130,000 — N.AM $27,515,871 — 7.7%
Fred Claus — CDN $2,560,000 — N.AM $35,712,980 — 7.2%
Dan in Real Life — CDN $2,600,000 — N.AM $36,931,806 — 7.0%
Love in the Time of Cholera — CDN $132,776 — N.AM $1,924,860 — 6.9%
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium — CDN $621,672 — N.AM $9,630,085 — 6.5%

“They’re trapped! Trapped in a soft, vice-like grip of robot lips.”

One recent news item deserves a post all to itself, if only because it gives me an excuse to post an image from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Last Thursday, the Globe and Mail posted an interview with David Levy, author of Love + Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. The newspaper introduces it by stating: “In the book, he predicts that by 2050, men and women will be enjoying physical and emotional bonds with extremely lifelike, apparently conscious and remarkably suave robots.”

A couple of sample questions and answers:

Which is harder for people to imagine with robots: sex or love?

The love aspect. Most people seem to acknowledge that there are sex dolls that sell at high prices and people clearly enjoy using them, which is the start of the sexual functioning of robots. Since vibrators sell so well, clearly a male sex doll with a vibrating penis will sell better than one without. But I think people will have to wait until the middle of the century to experience true love with robots because conversation is one of the most difficult problems facing artificial intelligence researchers. . . .

Does the issue of consent come into it at all? Are sex robots anything more than just possessions?

Consent hasn’t really come into it much. Would it be rape if your robot said no? If a robot has consciousness, then I believe that how we treat it is important. If we treat a conscious robot in a negative way, then that sends a message that we believe it’s okay to treat conscious entities in that way.

Hmmm, I don’t think Bugs is interested in “loving” the “mechanical” female rabbit above. Maybe an image from a Star Trek episode — especially one from The Next Generation or later, when the franchise got used to the idea of Data and other artificial lifeforms becoming romantically attached and not just sexually involved with humans — would have been more appropriate for this post. But I don’t have any of those shows on DVD, so oh well.

I also don’t have the third season of Futurama on DVD, or else I’d have a picture to go with the quote that forms the title of this post. It’s taken from a robophobic instructional video that appears in the episode ‘I Dated a Robot‘.

This topic also brings to mind A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001; my BCCN review; my CT review), which featured Jude Law as a robot who provides sex and Haley Joel Osment as a robot who supposedly provides love. It’s been a while since I linked to the article that I wrote for the Vancouver Sun on that film, and on the question of whether robots can love — so here is that link again.

Newsbites: Tron! Galactica! Darkness! Siblings! Terminator! Desplat! Confucius! Rollers! Etc.!

Time to unload some more recent and semi-recent news items.

1. Jeff Bridges says he has been approached about appearing in Tron 2. Woo-hoo! —

2. Nikki Finke reports that Battlestar Galactica, which was shooting its fourth and final season until the writers’ strike got in the way, may be one of several series that ends up being cancelled altogether, now that a “brawl” is beginning to brew between the studio and the actors whose careers have been put on indefinite hold without pay. — Deadline Hollywood Daily

3. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), the documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now (1979), is out on DVD now, and the reviews are middling. Apparently the master was taken from a 16-year-old videotape, and thus the DVD looks no better than the VHS version. — Hollywood Elsewhere,

4. Films about adult brother-sister relationships are a rare breed, and somehow Laura Linney has managed to co-star in two of the better ones: You Can Count on Me (2000), which prompted me to write this article on cinematic siblings for the Vancouver Sun, and The Savages, which I saw at the local film festival a month or two ago; it begins its regular theatrical release November 28. So I was tickled to read that Mark Ruffalo and Philip Seymour Hoffman, her “brothers” in those two films, were both on hand to pay tribute to Linney at the AFI Fest last week. —

5. McG, of all people, is still attached to direct Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins for release sometime in summer 2009. A videogame is already being developed to coincide with that release. —, Moviehole, Hollywood Reporter

6. Alexandre Desplat is easily one of my favorite film composers these days — in the past 12 months alone, he’s written some great music for The Painted Veil, Lust Caution and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium — so I’m looking forward to the music he’s whipped up for The Golden Compass. A track listing for the soundtrack album is now online. —

7. The Confucius Foundation is teaming up with two Chinese media firms to make a series of 13-minute cartoons on the life and teachings of the legendary philosopher Confucius, who is apparently “undergoing a major revival in China these days.” The first of a projected 100 episodes is set to air in 2009. — Variety

8. The Squid and the Whale‘s Jesse Eisenberg and National Treasure‘s Justin Bartha will play “drug-dealing Hasidic Jews” in a “comic drama” called Holy Rollers. “The film, one of the first to emerge from the burgeoning ‘Jewsploitation’ genre, is ripped from true-crime headlines and follows an impressionable youth (Eisenberg) from an Orthodox Brooklyn community. He’s lured into becoming an Ecstasy dealer by a friend (Bartha) with ties to an Israeli drug cartel.” — Hollywood Reporter

9. Jean-Marc Vallée, writer-director-star of the Québécois hit C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), is now directing Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria, a movie about the early days of the English queen who came to embody 19th-century Britain. Vallée has brought a number of key production crew members from Montreal, and he says it feels like “a French-Canadian invasion of Britain.” — Globe and Mail

10. The crackdown on movie piracy has begun: a man in Montreal has been arrested under the new Canadian law banning camcording in movie theatres. — Canadian Press

11. Violence in Baghdad has dropped as much as 77% since the “surge” began in February, so the locals are staging their first film festival in two years in mid-December. Most cinemas remain closed, but it is hoped that the festival will get people going to the movies again. — Variety

12. Sylvester Stallone explains again how John Rambo has lost faith in his country, God, and humanity in general when Rambo IV begins: “He realizes his entire existence has been for naught . . . Peace is an accident, war is natural. Old men start it, young men fight it, everybody in the middle dies, and nobody tells the truth. He says, ‘You think God’s going to make it all go away? What has he done and changed in the world? He has done nothing. We are an aggressive animal and will never be at peace.’ That’s how he feels.” The Christian missionaries who reach out to him for help “somehow touch the last remaining nerve in Rambo’s body”. — USA Today

13. New Line Cinema has set February 13, 2009 as the release date for its remake of Friday the 13th (1980). That happens to be my 4th wedding anniversary, and the 6th anniversary of the second date I went on with my wife-to-be. I have only seen the original Friday the 13th once, and it was with her. —