Canadian box-office stats — August 26

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.

Mr. Bean’s Holiday — CDN $1,870,000 — N.AM $9,889,780 — 18.9%
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — CDN $31,270,000 — N.AM $283,230,934 — 11.0%
The Simpsons Movie — CDN $18,930,000 — N.AM $173,354,858 — 10.9%

Stardust — CDN $2,800,000 — N.AM $26,374,432 — 10.6%
Hairspray — CDN $10,990,000 — N.AM $107,271,846 — 10.2%
Superbad — CDN $6,780,000 — N.AM $68,616,643 — 9.9%
The Bourne Ultimatum — CDN $18,180,000 — N.AM $185,253,615 — 9.8%
The Nanny Diaries — CDN $688,384 — N.AM $7,480,927 — 9.2%

War — CDN $801,728 — N.AM $9,820,089 — 8.2%
Rush Hour 3 — CDN $8,020,000 — N.AM $108,469,646 — 7.4%

A couple of discrepancies: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was #9 on the Canadian chart (it was #12 in North America as a whole), while The Invasion was #10 on the North American chart.

Keanu barada nikto. Whoa.

Variety is reporting that Keanu Reeves will play the alien Klaatu in Scott Derrickson‘s remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951; my comments). I haven’t got time to comment on this at the moment, but I wanted to get that out there while it’s still news.

Is the Fox Faith label the kiss of death?

Terry Mattingly’s latest column for the Scripps Howard News Service looks at what happened to The Ultimate Gift, which came to theatres back in March and is now out on DVD:

There were other reviews, good and bad. Still, the nastiness in strategic corners of the media caught veteran producer Rick Eldridge off guard, in large part because he thought that he was producing a mainstream movie, with mainstream talent, that was going to have a chance to reach a thoroughly mainstream audience.

What he didn’t count on was getting stuck with two dangerous labels — “Fox” and “Faith.” Those words can turn your average media insider into a pillar of salt.

That’s what happened to “The Ultimate Gift,” turning this quiet cinematic fable into a cautionary tale for others who want to make movies that can appeal to viewers in Middle America, including folks who frequent sanctuary pews.

“I really felt this story had strong values that would hit home with the general market,” said Eldridge, who is now pushing to promote the DVD of his movie. “I thought this was a moral-message film, but I was determined to make a movie that would speak to a wide spectrum of people. … Then we got pigeon-holed into this little ‘Christian’ niche that really limited who would get much of a chance to see this movie.”

The pivotal moment was when this 20th Century Fox project was moved to the new Fox Faith division, which meant “The Ultimate Gift” was sent to theaters with all kinds of faith-based strings attached. As the Fox Faith Web site bluntly stated: “To be part of Fox Faith, a movie has to have overt Christian content or be derived from the work of a Christian author.”

Thus, mainstream critics were determined to find the moral messages and make sure potential moviegoers were warned in advance. This also meant that mainstream performers such as Academy Award nominee James Garner, veteran character actor Brian Dennehy and the young actress Abigail Breslin of “Little Miss Sunshine” discovered that they were — surprise, surprise — starring in a “Christian movie.” . . .

There is no need to deny that the movie contains religious and moral themes, said Eldridge. But for generations, Hollywood executives made successful mainstream movies that contained these kinds of words and images. These movies were aimed at a broad, mainstream market, not a narrow, political, sectarian, “Christian” niche.

“I told the Fox people this movie was going to resonate with the Christian audience and that’s fine with me, because I am a Christian,” said Eldridge. “But I was worried that this movie would get tagged as a little ‘Christian’ movie, like that was some kind of Good Housekeeping seal for the Christian marketplace. …

“I think it’s obvious that this is what happened and that caused some people to distance themselves from this movie. There was no need for that to happen.”

For what it’s worth, Fox Faith Movies has not released any new movies theatrically since The Ultimate Gift. The website still lists two movies as “coming soon”, but one of them recently went straight to TV, while the other one was originally scheduled for an Easter release and has since been put on indefinite hold.

In fairness, it is not only Fox Faith that has had to deal with the problem of turning away audiences simply because they target the Christian niche. Recent box-office disappointments such as New Line’s The Nativity Story (2006) and Universal’s Evan Almighty also quite possibly turned away as many people as they might have attracted, precisely because it was perceived that those films were catering to the churchgoing crowd. More and more, it makes sense that the makers of The Chronicles of Narnia (2005) made a point of downplaying their own film’s Christian connections.

AUG 26 UPDATE: Mattingly’s column is now archived here, too.

Ben Stein tackles Darwinian science!

Ben Stein, the former speechwriter for Richard Nixon who became famous for his cameo as a droning high-school teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), is starring in a new documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — which, to judge from the film’s official website, will tackle Darwinian evolutionary theory and promote the so-called Intelligent Design theory.

The trailers play up the idea that Stein is a “rebel” and make heavy use of George Thorogood’s ‘Bad to the Bone’; the website also claims that “Big Science has expelled smart new ideas from the classroom.” (“Big Science”? Cute.) In addition, says the film, which comes out in February 2008, is being promoted by Motive Entertainment, the firm that earned its rep selling The Passion of the Christ (2004) to the faith-based market.

Incidentally, one of the film’s writers is Kevin Miller, who used to write reviews for Hollywood Jesus and The Joy of Movies.

Meanwhile, a recent documentary that presumably comes at this subject from the exact opposite point of view — Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus (2006) — is coming to DVD on September 11. I’ve got it in my queue.

AUG 25 UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube version of the trailer:

YouTube Preview Image
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

Denyse O’Leary at the Post-Darwinist blog adds the detail that this film will actually be released on February 12, which is Charles Darwin‘s birthday. Darwin was born in 1809, so if the filmmakers had waited an extra year, they could have released the film on his bicentennial. Maybe they’re saving it for the DVD release.

AUG 26 UPDATE: PZ Myers, a biologist and “godless liberal” who writes at the Pharyngula blog, says the filmmakers misrepresented themselves and/or their movie when they interviewed him.

September Dawn — the review’s up!

My review of September Dawn is now up at CT Movies.

Newsbites: Commandments! Poole! Kubrick!

Time for a few more quickies.

1. Remember that animated version of The Ten Commandments? Variety reports that it is the first in a series of Bible cartoons:

Promenade Pictures — the family-oriented banner headed by former studio topper Frank Yablans — has set the release of its first project, a CG-animated version of “The Ten Commandments.”

Promenade announced Thursday it will open “Commandments,” the first of a 12-pic “Epic Stories of the Bible” series, on Oct. 26 at 500-800 playdates.

Promenade, which has stayed under the radar prior to the announcement, said it’s positioned to distribute four to six pics a year from its own slate, acquisitions and service deals with independents. Promenade pics will carry budgets in the $5 million-$20 million range.

Each film in the “Epic Stories of the Bible” series will be produced by Promenade along with partners Huhu Studios of New Zealand and Singapore-based iVL Animation, owned by ST Electronics. . . .

2. Cinematical says Luke Wilson and Jessica Walter are currently shooting Henry Poole Is Here, a film about “a depressed and terminally-ill man whose life is changed by a miracle — seeing a stain on the wall that looks like the face of Christ.”

3. DVD Active says the upcoming Stanley Kubrick boxed set will include the first-ever North American release of the uncut version of Eyes Wide Shut (1999). What on earth took them so long.

4. The Globe and Mail says movies like Superbad are encouraging more public displays of affection between regular guys:

McKenzie Smith and Josh Parsons love each other.

The 15-year-old Toronto boys admitted as much after leaving a recent showing of the film Superbad, a hit comedy two other Canadian friends started writing when they were just 13. . . .

Swearing to stay friends forever is usually the domain of teenage girls, who promise weekly phone calls and undying devotion.

Adolescent boys, on the other hand, are notoriously tight-lipped about their feelings, especially when it comes to their same-sex friends.

But Superbad may have tapped into a shift in the male dynamic, an era when “bromance” is proudly put on display and men feel comfortable giving each other hugs even if they haven’t just won the big game.

After seeing the movie, McKenzie and Josh said they saw themselves in the characters Seth and Evan, and recognized many of the problems they worked through in their own lives.

“I’m Seth and he’s Evan,” McKenzie said.

They even have a friend, Graham, whom they regard as the movie’s notorious party nerd, McLovin.

The two boys have even said “I love you,” albeit in a manly, nonchalant manner, they joke.

Their willingness to discuss their relationship openly, and to prioritize their bond, is something that contradicts academic studies that have historically found a lack of real connection among adolescent male friends. . . .

5. The Globe and Mail says a new survey found that more than half of all Canadians may be opposed to a ban on smoking in films.