Sci-fi writers and their toys.

Arthur C. Clarke passed away a few months ago, but that’s no reason new interviews with him can’t keep popping up. posted one yesterday that was conducted in various installments eight or nine years ago, in which Clarke talks a fair bit about the people he has known and counted among his friends and influences. My favorite anecdote is this one:

Walter Cronkite is a man I’ve always admired, since we started working together in the 1960s, I think, when I joined him and Wally Schirra on the Apollo coverage. Walter is, I think, exactly as he appears to be, a real thoroughly nice man. I’ve had the pleasure of showing him around Sri Lanka and taking him for a ride in my hovercraft. He once took me for a trip in his sailboat, off Martha’s Vineyard, and when we got back to land I said, “Walter, I now understand the feelings of the man who said why should you go to all this trouble when you can get exactly the same sensation by standing in a cold shower and tearing up hundred dollar bills.” Today, thousand dollar bills! I was happy to meet him in the Hotel Chelsea in October of 1999—he hasn’t changed a bit!

I had no idea Clarke had a hovercraft — though a bit of Googling turns up the fact that Clarke acquired one because he “was so convinced wheels were on the way out.” Somehow the image of a British intellectual riding around in one of those things strikes me as a bit funny, but in the case of a scientifically and technologically minded person such as Clark, also very appopriate.

BC Christian News — July 2008

The newest issue of BC Christian News is now online, and with it, my film column, which looks at the films of M. Night Shyamalan en route to a brief comment or two on The Happening.

Click on the following titles for my longer reviews or comments on Wide Awake (1998), The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002) and Lady in the Water (2006).

I have never seen Praying with Anger (1992) and I don’t appear to have written any reviews, per se, of The Village (2004).

Canadian box-office stats — June 29

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.

Cruising Bar 2 — CDN $623,946 — N.AM $623,946 — 100%
The Love Guru CDN $2,700,000 — N.AM $25,322,000 — 10.7%
Sex and the City — CDN $14,810,000 — N.AM $140,132,000 — 10.6%

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — CDN $25,500,000 — N.AM $299,936,000 — 8.5%
The Happening — CDN $4,360,000 — N.AM $59,063,000 — 7.4%
Get Smart — CDN $5,560,000 — N.AM $77,266,000 — 7.2%
Kung Fu Panda — CDN $12,820,000 — N.AM $179,330,000 — 7.1%
The Incredible Hulk — CDN $8,080,000 — N.AM $115,508,000 — 7.0%
Wanted — CDN $3,100,000 — N.AM $51,118,000 — 6.1%
WALL*E — CDN $3,090,000 — N.AM $62,500,000 — 4.9%

A couple of discrepancies: Cruising Bar 2 was #6 on the Canadian chart (it does not appear on the North American chart at all), while You Don’t Mess with the Zohan was #10 on the North American chart (it was #11 in Canada).

Helena Bonham Carter joins Terminator 4!

The Hollywood Reporter, via Reuters, is spreading the news:

The British actress is in talks to board “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment in the franchise kicked off by James Cameron in 1984. Roles in the new film have been kept under wraps, but insiders described the Bonham Carter role as small but pivotal.

This brings the number of Terminator 4 actors that I have interviewed up to two, now.

I met Christian Bale, who plays John Connor in T4, on the junket for The New World (2005).

And I interviewed Helena Bonham Carter for the student newspaper The Ubyssey when she came to Vancouver to promote Margaret’s Museum (1995); see page 3 of this PDF file.

I have very fond memories of her cradling my tape recorder in her lap — most interviewees tend to ignore the thing — and at one point, I believe she took it with her into her bedroom while she went to fetch something, talking and continuing to answer one of my questions all the way.

I also recall the sympathetic look she gave me when I tried to take her picture and something went wrong with my camera. Oh well, with any luck, I can try it again, one of these days.

Shyamalan’s cinematic magic no longer Happening

IT’S a common mistake, but still worth noting: Contrary to what many people seem to think, The Sixth Sense was not M. Night Shyamalan’s first movie.

It was, in fact, his third. But virtually no one had seen his first film, Praying with Anger (still not available on DVD), or his second film, Wide Awake (with Rosie O’Donnell as a nun who really likes baseball).

So when The Sixth Sense came out in the summer of 1999 and wowed audiences with its deeply felt drama and its shocking twist ending — becoming such a big word-of-mouth hit that, for the next couple years, it was one of the top 10 films of all time at the North American box office — it was easy for many people to treat the film as though it marked the debut of a brilliant and brand-new talent.

[Read more…]

Movies that taunt their audiences.

He’s only got two examples so far, and normally you need three to make this sort of pronouncement, but Glenn Kenny says he detects a trend anyway:

  1. In Jumper, Hayden Christensen plays a guy who can teleport to any place in the world — or at least any place that he can remember being to before — and in one of his voice-overs, he declares: “I wasn’t always like this. Once, I was a normal person. A chump, just like you.”

  2. In Wanted, which is turning out to have one of the biggest opening weekends of any R-rated film ever, James McAvoy plays a superpowered assassin who can make bullets curve around obstacles to reach their intended targets — and in one of his voice-overs, he declares: “Six weeks ago, I was ordinary and pathetic, just like you.”

The headline that Kenny gives his musings on this trend-in-the-making — “Contempt for the audience!” — brings to mind, for me, recent accusations by a handful of critics that WALL*E, which depicts the human race of the future as a mass of fat and lazy consumers, and which is also doing phenomenal business this weekend, is also “an insult to its customers.”

I have not yet seen WALL*E, so I cannot say whether it merits this criticism or whether it merits being lumped in with these other films — though from what I hear, it at least tries to go someplace redemptive with its satirical set-up. I have, however, seen the other two films, and I think one could point to significant differences between them, too, if one wanted to.

For one thing, the Christensen character makes his statement at the beginning of Jumper, when he is callow and arrogant and unaware of the larger forces that are about to intrude upon his life; he makes his statement, in other words, before the story has given him any opportunity for redemption. (Whether he takes full advantage of that opportunity is another subject for another time.)

The McAvoy character, on the other hand, makes his statement at the end of Wanted, after he has passed through all the training exercises and narrative curveballs that transform him from a wussy office drone to a superpowered hitman. So in his case, the arrogance is something that he seems to earn over the course of his self-actualization, whether you agree with it or not.

This movement towards arrogance on the part of McAvoy’s character is certainly one of the more problematic aspects of Wanted — which is, in many ways, kind of like David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) but without the clear critique of the characters’ own fascist tendencies. But I actually kind of like this problem.

To bring in another Edward Norton movie, the final moments of Wanted are kind of like the final moments in The Incredible Hulk, inasmuch as they show a character finally taking “control” of his life, but they leave you wondering whether he will use this control to remain a hero or become a villain.

They highlight, in other words, the value of autonomy and self-determination, but also the risks that come with those things. Without free will, we couldn’t be good, not in any meaningful way — but without free will, we also couldn’t sin or do evil. So is the risk of sin and evil worth the free will? That sort of thing.

Do I think we should all try to be more than ordinary in some way? Yeah, absolutely. Do I think extra-ordinary people face the temptation to lord it over the ordinary people, and to think that they are better than they really are? Yeah, absolutely. Do I think McAvoy poses a legitimate challenge to the audience, even if he personally seems to represent something that we should try to avoid in our own lives? Yeah, absolutely.

So a part of me likes that tension at the end of Wanted — even if it seems to lend some validity to McAvoy’s claim that he is no longer “ordinary and pathetic” like the rest of us.

Frankly, if it weren’t for Kenny, I never would have made any sort of connection between this film and Jumper. The film that I was reminded of, at the end of Wanted, was Trainspotting (1996), which famously concludes with Ewan McGregor telling the audience that he’s going to blend in and become a part of society, just like the people he mocked at the beginning of the film, and just like the sorry lot of us sitting right there in the theatre.

Maybe it’s because McAvoy and McGregor are both Scottish, I dunno.