Paint a picture on a subway train, carve my name in a video game.

Because it was a big Hollywood movie with a serious message, the publicity campaign for Evan Almighty included a number of do-good projects. One of them was the Almighty Forest, whereby fans could sponsor the planting of a tree and get their names on the DVD. At the junket for Evan Almighty, we journalists were told that the studio had already planted trees in our names — and therefore our names would be on the DVD, too. So when I got a review copy of the DVD this week, this was the first thing I looked for. (This almost, sort of, not quite makes up for the fact that I never signed up for that fan club, the members of which got their names on the “extended editions” of The Lord of the Rings.)

Newsbites: Joan! Chariots! 11th Hour! Lives!

Another day, another handful of news and blog links.

1. Variety reports that Sönke Wortmann has been tapped to direct Pope Joan, now that Volker Schlöndorff is out of the picture.

2. The Scotsman reports that Rich Swingle has written a sequel to Chariots of Fire (1981) called Beyond the Chariots and hopes to have trailers ready for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Both films concern Olympic runners Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, the former of whom went on to be a missionary in China who died in a Japanese concentration camp. (Hmmm, will China’s Communist government embrace the film for showing how they suffered under the Japanese, or will they reject it for depicting a Christian missionary positively?) Presumably this is an entirely different project from With Wings as Eagles, the proposed sequel that Amazing Grace co-producer Ken Wales has talked about.

3. Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore takes issue with aspects of Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary The 11th Hour:

As a lifelong environmentalist, I say trees can solve many of the world’s sustainability challenges. Forestry is the most sustainable of all the primary industries that provide us with energy and materials. Rather than cutting fewer trees and using less wood, DiCaprio and Berman ought to promote the growth of more trees and the use of more wood. . . .

To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less. Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to grow more trees and to produce more wood. That means we can then use less concrete, steel and plastic — heavy carbon emitters through their production. Trees are the only abundant, biodegradable and renewable global resource.

4. The Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck talks to Entertainment Weekly about the late star Ulrich Mühe:

How did Mühe’s upbringing in communist Berlin contribute to his portrayal of the Stasi agent?
This film allowed him to close a chapter in his life, to work through things again that had not yet been processed fully by him. The movie’s about the leading artists in the GDR around 1984, and that’s exactly what he was. He had been under surveillance from the moment he left high school. [He gave a speech] on the 4th of November [1989, just days before the Berlin Wall came down]. You could feel the political turmoil, but people didn’t know…[if] this could turn into another Tiananmen Square or Prague Spring. He was one of the organizers of the big demonstration [at the Berlin Wall] and talked before half a million people saying, ”Look, we have to make sure that this turmoil that we’re going through at the moment is used for something positive.”

It’s crazy that the scenario is exactly flip-flopped — that he plays the Stasi agent here.
It was strange — he was an incredibly courageous man in spirit and in will, but he didn’t have the physical constitution of a hero. He was positioned at the Berlin Wall as a sniper during his obligatory military service, and that got to him so much that at age 19, he collapsed on duty with stomach ulcers. He lost half his stomach — that was the origin of the ailment that killed him 35 years later.

So it all comes back full circle…
Sometimes I’d ask him, ”Why does all your anxiety always express itself in illness?” And he said, ”I tend not to be outward going that much. All my emotions go back in.”

5. Remember how Bryan Singer promised to “go all Wrath of Khan on” the sequel to Superman Returns (2006)? Film Ick claims to have received some very spoiler-ish information about Singer’s sequel, and if there is any truth to one of the bigger spoilers — and I do take this with a huge grain of salt — then I have to say this next film sounds more like The Search for Spock (1984).

6. The New York Times has a story looking at how the fortunes of New Line Cinema are now resting on The Golden Compass.

Radio interview heads-up.

I just got off the phone from an interview on Ave Maria Radio regarding the movie September Dawn. If anyone wants to hear it, an audio file should be available here in the next day or two.

Newsbites: Bean! Horseman! Wilson! Piracy!

And now it’s time for yet another batch of news quickies.

1. The New York Times looks at why Mr. Bean’s Holiday failed to get a bigger audience in the United States, while the Globe and Mail looks at why Mr. Bean’s Holiday was the #1 movie in Canada this past weekend. Incidentally, Mr. Bean’s Holiday has already earned over $189 million overseas, which currently makes it #9 on the overseas chart for the year and, once the North American figures are taken into account, #15 on the worldwide chart.

2. The Hollywood Reporter has a few more details on The Fourth Horseman, and boy does this movie sound bizarre:

The film centers on a young priest sent by his church’s secret order to kill a teenage girl. She is believed to be the future mother of the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, destined to join siblings War, Pestilence and Famine in destroying the world. But when the priest becomes romantically involved with his target and she becomes pregnant, he’s forced to face the possibility that he may have spawned the child from hell.

Let me get this straight: The mother is a teenager and she’s already got three children named War, Pestilence and Famine!?

3. Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door has a great post up in which he reminisces about fellow Dallas native Owen Wilson.

4. Studio Briefing summarizes a news story to the effect that new Canadian anti-piracy laws are having little effect:

New Canadian laws imposing greater restrictions and penalties on theater patrons camcording movies from their seats have apparently had little effect in Montreal, where much of the illegal camcording takes place, according to Bloomberg News. Theater chain owner Vince Guzzo told the wire service, “I caught four people trying to camcord Pirates of the Caribbean. … There are two types of people doing this: One type does it for kicks, then you have the professional criminal.” But Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor and specialist in Internet law, noted that Hollywood continues to pile up enormous profits despite the piracy. “If camcording is a problem, it’s a very small problem.” And even those who acknowledge downloading movies illegally insist that they avoid the camcorded versions. An employee of a Montreal DVD shop told Bloomberg News: “Anytime I’ve seen a downloaded movie that’s a pirated copy, it’s really good quality, and those can only come from within the industry. … Most people aren’t going to watch camera jobs because they’re really bad quality.”

5. Variety reports that Zack Snyder and Alex Tse, the director and writer of the upcoming film adaptation of Watchmen, are also working on a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, a 1951 book that was previously adapted in 1969.

6. The New York Times reports that Shyam Benegal is going to direct a movie about the life of Buddha, based in part on the work of a scholar named Nimal D’Silva. I have no idea what connection, if any, this film has to other recently announced Buddha biopics being developed by B.K. Modi / David S. Ward and Pan Nalin.

7. That Bill Maher – Larry Charles documentary on religion has a working title — Religulous, a fusion of “religion” and “ridiculous” — and a trailer for it will play at the Toronto International Film Festival, which will also host a panel discussion with Maher and Charles. Meanwhile, has posted the film’s first still:

Good News pulls the plug on Christ the Lord

A few months ago, I took out a library copy of Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, mainly to see what sort of material the filmmakers hired by George Barna’s Good News Holdings would be working with. I have only read about two-thirds of it so far, but I was pretty impressed with the book and its mixture of canonical, traditional and apocryphal material; I was also impressed by Rice’s testimony and her commitment to the historical study of Jesus and his times. And while I would love to see a good film based on this book, I figured it would be a real shame if Rice’s book were turned into just another run-of-the-mill “Christian movie”.

Fortunately, it now looks like that won’t happen — at least not yet. CT Movies reports that the plug has been pulled on this film:

GNH president and CEO Christopher Chisholm told CT Moves that “several things came up about Christ the Lord,” including “creative differences” involving the “budget, director and talent.” Chisholm said, “We had an amicable parting of ways, and we decided to release all our rights to Christ the Lord.”

Chisholm added that “some people were worried that we were leading with a movie that was based on the Apocrypha.” Rice’s novel, the first of a series she is writing about Christ, focuses on Jesus at the age of 7, drawing from the Apocrypha and other noncanonical sources. The second book in the series, The Road to Cana, will be published in the spring of 2008.

“The rights to both books are available,” Rice told CT Movies. “I hope some day we will see films based on these books. I’m in no rush, however, as I am at work on a third book in the series. But there is no more I can say about the situation with Good News Holdings.”

I wonder what has become of other recently announced projects, like Benedict Fitzgerald’s Myriam, Mother of the Christ, Tim LaHaye’s The Resurrection, Roland Pellegrino’s The Sword of Peter and Hyde Park’s Risen: The Story of the First Easter.

Newsbites: Horseman! Dissent! Brian! Harry!

Just a few more quick items.

1. Variety reports that Intrepid Pictures, one of the producers of the upcoming Balls of Fury, is making an apocalyptic thriller:

Intrepid Pictures has acquired supernatural thriller “The Fourth Horseman,” penned by Marshall Uzzle and Perry Fair, and set it up with Intrepid partners Marc D. Evans and Trevor Macy along with Mike Karz.

The banner has brought in the writing team of Paul Benz & Steve Tomlin (“Snowblind”) to rewrite.

“Horseman” centers on a young priest’s battle to thwart the rise of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, when three of the horsemen — War, Pestilence and Famine — await the birth of their fourth brother so they can fulfill their destiny and bring about the end of times. . . .

Birth? Brothers? So who’s their mother? Where does she live and what does she do? Will this young priest be trying to thwart the birth of an unborn child? (Just think of the dramatic conflict.) The fourth horseman, by the way, is Death, and the horse itself is pale, hence the term “pale rider“. Maybe Clint Eastwood’s the father.

I wonder what sort of double-bill it’ll make with The Horsemen.

2. Variety reports that AOL’s True Stories will offer free excerpts of the Michael Moore exposé Manufacturing Dissent.

3. reports that a new “immaculate edition” of Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 6. It has some new features, but it looks like the radio ads, deleted scenes and audio commentaries might just be copied over from the Criterion edition, which I commented on here.

4. Alan Jacobs makes some interesting comments on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the newest issue of Books & Culture:

Many readers have already exclaimed that Harry’s final quest marks him as a clear Christ figure. This is wrong, seriously wrong, and I think J. K. Rowling goes out of her way to tell us so. People (characters in the books as well as readers) think that Harry is a unique person of unique power, but at a dozen points in the series we are clearly shown that he is not: he is called the Chosen One, but he is chosen by Voldemort, and Dumbledore emphasizes to Harry the sheer contingency of this choice. The work of the Cross is done by Christ alone; Harry always has help. (It’s worth emphasizing that while each of the Horcruxes is destroyed, each is destroyed by a different person.) At his moment of agony Christ was abandoned; at the end of his quest Harry is supported and comforted. As my friend Jay Wood has noted, if Harry resembles a biblical figure it is not Christ but rather Stephen the Protomartyr. But the comparisons with Stephen are limited too: for a more precise analogue, I encourage you to rummage through your children’s books until you find an old copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Surely you have one. Read the story of the Three Brothers, and pay particular attention to the youngest. You’d be surprised what you could learn.

It should be obvious at this point that the Harry Potter books amount to something more, far more, than your average penny dreadful. But they belong, firmly, to that moral universe, even as they expand it beyond what we might have thought possible. Many years ago Umberto Eco wrote that the greatness of Casablanca stems from its shameless deployment of every narrative cliché known to humankind: “Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.” The Harry Potter books are like that: every trope and trick of the penny dreadful raised to the highest power and revealed in all their glory.

5. Roger Ebert, Jeffrey Wells and Peter Debruge ponder whether the Bourne movies are making people sick — literally.

6. I must agree with Chris at Movie Marketing Madness: the new red-band trailer for Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem is “awful”.

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