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. —

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days… if only!

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days — the Romanian abortion drama that won the top prize at Cannes six months ago, and is easily one of the best films of this year — may be running into some trouble, audience-wise, as it leaves the festival circuit and moves into more mainstream venues.

Jeffrey Wells, the Hollywood Elsewhere blogger who called the film a “masterpiece” a few weeks ago, says he has heard rumblings from within the Academy’s ranks that the film — which opens in the U.S. in January, during awards season — might not even be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award:

“Some felt it was a masterpiece and others didn’t,” according to a publicist. The journalist says he heard that some complained that Cristian Mungiu’s film is “too slow” and that some “didn’t like the fetus on the floor shot.” The publicist says that “some complained about Oleg Mutu’s static camera work” as well as “some of the hand-held tracking shots.”

In related news, I was surprised today to discover that the film has already left Vancouver. It opened here two weeks ago and its first week was pretty standard — matinees, evening shows, the works — but then, in its second week, it was relegated to one screening per night at 10pm. And now, it’s gone. Yikes.

Fortunately, it seems to be playing still in Toronto and Montreal, and perhaps it’s playing in other Canadian cities as well. But I’m still a little shocked to see that it’s left my town so quickly — especially since I was planning to see it a second time before revising my review for an American outlet or two.

Robots infiltrate cockroach society

A story that was reported this week in the New York Times and the Associated Press, on robots infiltrating a group of cockroaches and influencing their behaviour, is as good a reason as any to post a couple of 10th-anniversary links to my review of Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997) and my interview with its director, Errol Morris. I haven’t watched the film in years, but I think of it often, and fondly.

Angels & Demons hit by writers’ strike

Variety reports that Angels & Demons, the “prequel” to The Da Vinci Code (2006) that was going to begin filming in February, has “become the first major casualty of the ongoing writers strike.” The original release date was set for Christmas 2008, but has now been postponed to May 15 2009 — two weeks after the current release date for X-Men Origins: Wolverine and one week before the current release date for James Cameron’s Avatar — because there were “insurmountable problems” with the script, which was written in a rush just prior to the strike. At the moment, the only actor attached to the film is Tom Hanks, no new start date has been set yet — and it is possible that the film could be postponed again if the actors’ and directors’ guilds go on strike in June.

Comings and goings.

Just a note before I return to all the errands and distractions that have been keeping me away from the blog for the past few days.

Assuming I can find my passport somewhere in the piles and piles of boxes that my wife and I are still unpacking, it looks like I will be in Los Angeles for a junket the weekend of December 1-2.

Four weeks later, on December 29, I will also be in Renton, Washington for the Hollywood Jesus Annual Gathering 2007, where I will be one of the speakers — as will my friend and colleague Jeffrey Overstreet, as well as several members of the HJ staff. I spoke at a similar event two years ago, and it was a blast. (And, hmmm, come to think of it, my wife was pregnant at that time, too.)

If anybody in either of those areas wants to meet, let me know! Just leave a comment below, or — better — write me at the contact address linked at the top of this page.

The Golden Compass — a quick update

Between work and screenings and settling into the new place, I haven’t had any time to blog for the past few days. But here are a few items related to The Golden Compass that came up while I was otherwise occupied.

First, and perhaps most trivially, there is a new featurette on Dakota Blue Richards, the girl who was picked out of thousands of would-be actresses to play the lead character Lyra Belacqua, at Yahoo! Movies and YouTube.

One or two of the interviewees mention that Richards had no prior experience in front of a camera and didn’t really want to be an actress — she just wanted to be Lyra. Hearing those words, I thought it might be neat if Richards never played another character again — kind of like how Carrie Henn, who played Newt so memorably in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986; my comments) when she was nine years old, has never appeared in any other film before or since. It would preserve a certain mystique. But I see that Richards is already working on another film, The Secret of Moonacre — which, incidentally, is being directed by Gabor Csupo, whose last film was Bridge to Terabithia. Ah well.

More substantially, MTV Movies Blog has posted the first part of a weekly interview with writer-director Chris Weitz, and right off the bat, he deals with the religious issues. Some excerpts:

So, how does one go about adapting a book that has controversial elements into a film that a very wide variety of people can enjoy, without betraying the original? One tries to be clever about it. I realized that the overt stating of some of the themes in “The Northern Lights”/”The Golden Compass” would never — this is important to make clear — never EVER get across the goal line. There isn’t a wide enough audience for that — yet. If I wanted to popularize this series of extraordinary books and open them to a wider reading public than ever before, I was going to have to make some compromises. But I also knew that as a filmmaker one has more means of expression than dialogue, and that dialogue is a more subtle business than characters saying exactly what the characters say in the book. Sometimes I transpose elements – for instance, the biblical ideas that Asriel addresses towards the end of the book are voiced in a different context (and at shorter length) by Mrs. Coulter at Bolvangar in the film. Sometimes I turn textual or narrative arguments into visual ideas. . . .

Now, one thing that some of the extremists who have attacked the film are right about is that I would be happy if it made more people read the books – not because I am pursuing any sort of atheist agenda (this is a ridiculous idea), but because they are great works of literature, beautiful, permanent, and unassailable. They’re not going anywhere. And as for those who are concerned that I have not used the word “Church” but only the word “Magisterium” for the bad guys, and that sort of thing, I would advise them to do a little research into the meaning of the word “Magisterium” for starters. Some people will only be satisfied if the film I’ve made is an outright attack on religion, which to me shows that they have misapprehended the meaning of Pullman’s books as much as the “other side.”

It’s true, though, that “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” tread in territory that is much more controversial than the first book. This is also addressed by a bunch of questions that I will lasso under the heading “what next?” Well, though I saw it as my duty to build the franchise of “His Dark Materials” on as solid a grounding as I could, it would all be in vain if the second and third films did not have the intellectual depth and the iconoclasm of the second and third books. The whole point, to me, of ensuring that “The Golden Compass” is a financial success is so that we have a solid foundation on which to deliver a faithful, more literal adaptation of the second and third books. This is important: whereas “The Golden Compass” had to be introduced to the public carefully, the religious themes in the second and third books can’t be minimized without destroying the spirit of these books. There is simply no way to adapt them without dealing with Lyra’s destined role, her secret name, and the war in the heavens. I will not be involved with any “watering down” of books two and three, since what I have been working towards the whole time in the first film is to be able to deliver on the second and third films. If I sense that this is not possible, there’s no point my continuing to work on them. . . .

I have to say, I completely respect and understand the way that Weitz is trying to remain faithful to his source material while satisfying the studio and broadening the story’s appeal. He seems more like Peter Jackson than Andrew Adamson in that regard. But quotes like these just confirm, for me, what I have said before: I hope The Golden Compass is a great film, and I hope it flops.

Finally, MTV News has a story on the reasons behind the decision to move the original ending of The Golden Compass — which has already been filmed — to the beginning of The Subtle Knife.

UPDATE: Oh, I almost forgot, it was also announced that Kate Bush has recorded the song ‘Lyra’ for the movie’s soundtrack. The recording apparently features the Magdalen College Choir, Oxford, which if I’m not mistaken would be the same Oxford college where C.S. Lewis taught for most of his professional career. Hmmm.