Hobbit news — the article’s up!

My colleague Josh Hurst got married a few days ago and is off enjoying the perks of newly wedded bliss for the next couple of weeks, so I’m looking after his Reel News column for CT Movies until he gets back. Today’s column looks at some of the latest developments with regard to The Hobbit, including last Saturday’s online chat with producer Peter Jackson and director Guillermo Del Toro, as well as the Times of London‘s recent report that Christopher Tolkien still hopes to “terminate” these films before they are made; he will argue his case in court June 6.

Martin Landau stars in Billy Graham movie.

Two months ago, I mentioned that Hal Holbrook had been cast as Charles Templeton in Billy: The Early Years, a new biopic about Billy Graham — and, since Holbrook is in his 80s, I wondered whether this story might be told from the point of view of the older Templeton, who had lost his faith in his 40s and published a book about his loss of faith when he was 80.

Turns out I was right — though Holbrook has since been replaced by Martin Landau, who turns 77 next month. Today, CT Movies reported:

Billy Graham’s life story has been told a number through various media in a number of ways, but filmmaker Bill McKay wanted to tell it a little differently: From the perspective of a non-believer.

So, for Billy: The Early Years—tentatively slated for release this fall—McKay tells the evangelist’s story from the viewpoint of a dying Charles Templeton. As a young man, Templeton had been one of Graham’s friends and colleagues in Youth for Christ, only to later turn his back on his faith, becoming an agnostic.

Thus, as Salieri told Amadeus’ story, so does Templeton—played by Oscar winner Martin Landau—tell Graham’s, reminiscing from his deathbed.

“I wanted to tell Billy’s life through the prism and experience of an atheist,” said McKay, the film’s writer and producer. “I think we have a film that will make an impact.”

The article goes on to mention that the film will cover two major turning points in Graham’s life, the first being his commitment to Christ at a tent revival in 1934, and the second being the doubt that hit him when Templeton lost his faith a decade or two later:

The second bout with conflict involves Graham’s good friend Templeton, a relationship that began while they traveled together for Youth for Christ. After seeing the devastation of World War II abroad, Templeton—played as a young man by Kristoffer Polaha—questions God and his faith. After attending Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 1940s, Templeton eventually lost his faith and declared himself an agnostic.

“Billy was shaken by this,” said [co-producer Larry] Mortorff. “He questioned whether he should go back and be a dairy farmer and follow in his father’s footsteps, instead of his Father in heaven. He was right on the cusp of shrinking back on his calling. He was wrestling with God. But he came to an absolutely concrete understanding from God to take the Bible by faith.”

Near the end of the article, there is also this somewhat puzzling quote from McKay:

“I wrote this script because I wanted to introduce Jesus again through the experiences of an atheist who betrayed the gospel and betrayed Billy, who in the end understood the only path to freedom and peace, is through Jesus,” he said.

I’m not quite sure what to make of that last bit. It almost sounds like McKay is saying Templeton came back to the faith in the end — unless “who in the end understood” is supposed to refer to Graham. But I have never heard anything to suggest that Templeton did come back to the faith.

Templeton published the book Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith in 1995, at the age of 80, and he died of complications from Alzheimer’s in 2001, at the age of 86 — and while anything can happen in six years, I have no evidence that this particular thing did happen. I wouldn’t mind finding such evidence, though of course I take stories of such deathbed conversions with a grain of salt.

Bill C-10 and that f-word movie, redux.

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

The Canadian Press reports that more than 40 Members of Parliament, Senators, and their staff members have signed up to see a special screening of Young People Fucking in Ottawa on Thursday night:

Among an early list of RSVPs obtained by The Canadian Press are four Conservative MPs. The list included three Liberal MPs and two New Democrat MPs, including Bill Blaikie, an ordained minister. Several Liberal Senators are on the list as are staff from every party on Parliament Hill.

The Globe and Mail adds that Charles McVety, the family-values activist who has been quite critical of the fact that Canadian films such as this one are getting the same federal tax breaks that all other films get, was invited to the screening too — but he won’t be attending, due to time constraints. McVety is president of Canada Christian College in Toronto, and he says he is “up to my eyeballs in processing doctoral theses and masters theses” at this time of year.

The reason the politicians are interested in this film is, of course, the fact that its title — not the content, but the title — has attracted a lot of attention during the recent debates over Bill C-10, the proposed change to the federal tax law that would permit the government to deny tax credits to Canadian films that are deemed to be offensive in some way.

But as commendable as it is that these politicians want to see the film for themselves, they really shouldn’t have to.

If you want to argue about which films should receive government funding up-front, then fine, we can have that debate. But unless I’m mistaken, Bill C-10 is all about denying tax credits to a film after it has been made, which you’d think would be profoundly destabilizing to the film industry as a whole and the financing thereof. Who’s going to want to invest in a film if there’s a chance that they might lose some of their tax credits down the road, based on what the government bureaucracy of the day might happen to think of their movie?

So the content of any particular film is not really the issue here. The issue is whether this is a wise tax policy, and whether it helps or hurts the industry, and the issue is not whether this film or that film happens to run afoul of the policy on any given day or in the eyes of any given civil servant.

Bill C-10 had already been criticized by Sarah Polley, Ang Lee and others the last time I blogged about it here. Since then, other famous — or infamous — filmmakers have voiced their opposition to the bill as well. For example, the Canadian Press covered a presentation that David Cronenberg made two weeks ago to the Senate committee looking into this issue:

Heritage Minister Josee Verner has said that, if the legislation is passed, she’ll spend the next year consulting with industry to find a formula for assessing taxpayer-subsidized productions.

Cronenberg, who has directed a series of critically acclaimed films that cover gory, graphic, sexually depraved and disturbing subjects, said no such formula exists.

“Censorship is always subjective,” Cronenberg told the Senate banking committee. “You can’t pretend that it’s not.”

His film credits include “The Fly,” “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch,” “Crash” and, most recently, the Oscar-nominated “Eastern Promises.”

Amidst an avalanche of criticism, Verner said in March that the proposed tax change would address “only the most extreme and gratuitous material, not mainstream films such as ‘Eastern Promises‘.”

Cronenberg raised Verner’s comment at the committee and laughed that he’s seldom been called “mainstream.” Verner’s observation came after the movie had been widely heralded, he said, when it was “very safe to say this movie is OK.”

He noted the film opens with man’s throat being cut, includes a graphic scene of two naked men fighting to the death with knives and also a scene of a voyeur watching a man having sex with a prostitute.

“I’m not confident at all that the Telefilm money that was invested in ‘Eastern Promises’ – and helped to make it happen – would not have been withdrawn by the minister of heritage, or whatever committee (she delegated to screen the film),” said Cronenberg.

The Globe and Mail also covered his presentation, noting:

Nicknamed the Baron of Blood for his movies that include large doses of violence, sex and horror, Mr. Cronenberg said a Conservative tax proposal would allow a “cumbersome committee” to censor movies that it deems repulsive.

Mr. Cronenberg said he is still shocked by the Ontario Board of Censors’ decision to remove a portion of his 1979 film The Brood, and worries that such subjective decisions could once again be made in the name of “public policy.”

He said the proposed tax change in Bill C-10 would cause an exodus of Canadian filmmakers to other countries, and would shatter Canada’s fragile industry of independent filmmakers.

A few days later, the Canadian Press reported that German shlockmeister Uwe Boll — who has made several films right here in Vancouver — had tossed his hat in the ring as well and said that he, himself, might pack his bags and leave Canada if Bill C-10 gets passed. But, um, considering how awful Boll’s movies are, that could almost be incentive to support Bill C-10.

UPDATE: The Canadian Press says the four Conservative MPs whose names appear on the RSVP list are now denying that they ever made plans to attend the Young People screening — and at least one of those MPs has fired an assistant who RSVP’ed so that she, rather than the MP, could attend the screening.

MAY 29 UPDATE: The Globe and Mail says the Conservative MP in question has said that the staffer was fired for other, “confidential” reasons and not because she RSVP’ed to see the Young People movie. That bit comes at the end of a story that mainly looks at Paul Gross’s testimony before the Senate banking committee.

Canadian box-office stats — May 25

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.

The American Trap — CDN $261,295 — N.AM $261,295 — 100%
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay — CDN $6,990,000 — N.AM $35,908,000 — 19.5%

What Happens in Vegas — CDN $5,450,000 — N.AM $54,246,000 — 10.0%
Made of Honor — CDN $3,870,000 — N.AM $39,061,000 — 9.9%
Forgetting Sarah Marshall — CDN $5,680,000 — N.AM $58,195,000 — 9.8%
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — CDN $7,990,000 — N.AM $91,077,000 — 8.8%

Iron Man — CDN $21,480,000 — N.AM $252,314,000 — 8.5%
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — CDN $8,650,000 — N.AM $126,000,000 — 6.9%
Baby Mama — CDN $2,810,000 — N.AM $52,131,000 — 5.4%
Speed Racer — CDN $1,890,000 — N.AM $36,213,000 — 5.2%

A couple of discrepancies: The American Trap was #10 on the Canadian chart (it does not appear on the North American chart at all), while The Visitor was #10 on the North American chart (it was #12 in Canada).

Animation festival coming to Delta church.

Heads up, anyone who might be in the Vancouver area June 7: Ken Priebe — animator, author, speaker, teacher, blogger and film critic for Hollywood Jesus, among other things — is organizing a four-hour animation festival that day at Cedar Park Church in Delta. A story in yesterday’s Delta Optimist says there will be “different stations with activities including claymation, drawing cartoons, creating simple flip books and more”, as well as “a program of award-winning animated short films ‘from all over the world.'” In addition, “there will be some animators at work so those who attend can observe them practicing their craft.” Sounds like fun.

Is there really a market for this?

Hat tip to Russell Lucas.