Newsbites: Silent! Errol! Disney! W! Caspian! Satire!

The news, it keeps sprouting, like weeds.

1. Vancouverites, mark your calendars. Silent Light, the Carlos Reygadas film about a love triangle among Mexican Mennonites, is coming to the VanCity Theatre June 5-12.

2. Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris tells the Hollywood Reporter he wants to make a comedy next — a scripted comedy. Morris has been making documentaries for decades, ever since Gates of Heaven (1978), but this would be only his second dramatic film, following The Dark Wind (1991). Meanwhile, Paul Arthur and Kyle Smith have posted responses to Morris’s newest film, Standard Operating Procedure, that critique it from different angles.

3. Disney and Pixar have revealed their slate of animated films coming out between now and 2012. Among the bigger surprises: Pixar is making a sequel to Cars (2006), their lowest-grossing film since A Bug’s Life (1998) — does anybody really want this? — and Disney is adapting King of the Elves, a fairy tale written by Philip K. Dick, of all people. Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew comments on the slate as a whole:

It’s interesting to note that all of the Pixar films have one individual with top billing as director, while the Disney features are structured to have two directors per film. That certainly can’t be coincidence. As Disney regains its footing, hopefully they’ll discover individuals within the organization whose personal vision is strong enough to carry a film by itself.

4. Slate and the Hollywood Reporter have taken their own sneak peeks at the script for Oliver Stone’s W, with the latter inviting responses from four George W. Bush biographers.

5. CT Movies editor Mark Moring has interviewed Douglas Gresham in anticipation of next month’s release of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and suffice it to say that Gresham does not do much to instill any sort of confidence in fans of the book. Meanwhile, Walden Media president Michael Flaherty talks to TheHighCalling.org about the Narnia movies — and also about the in-development film version of The Screwtape Letters.

6. Ron Reed passes on the news that Murray Stiller’s documentary Nailin’ it to the Church: Religious Satire and the Gospel According to the Wittenburg Door — presumably the same project that was once known as Jesus Makes Me Laugh — will be showing at the Regent College chapel in Vancouver April 21.

Ben-Hur to become a mini-series.


First, The Ten Commandments was a silent film produced in 1923. Then, it was a blockbuster starring Charlton Heston produced in 1956. And then, it became a TV mini-series produced in 2006.

Now Ben-Hur looks set to repeat the pattern. First, it was a silent film produced in 1925. Then, it was a blockbuster starring Charlton Heston in 1959. And now, according to Variety, it is about to become a TV mini-series — produced by David Wyler, whose father William was an assistant director on the 1925 film and won an Oscar for directing the 1959 film.

Here’s another trajectory the mini-series will follow: The 1925 film was pretty explicitly Christian, and the 1959 film toned down those elements in favour of a more generically pacifist, humanist message. Now, says Variety, the mini-series “will be based more specifically on the 1907 Lew Wallace source novel than either the 1959 version or earlier 1925 adaptation,” but it “will also likely downplay the religious aspects of the source material.”

Says Wyler: “We want to look at the spirituality within the piece rather than directly relating it to a specific religion. . . . It’s a very complex story. It’s been 50 years since my father’s version and we think we can bring something new and contemporary to it in the same way that ‘Gladiator’ did for that genre.”

So, what, Judah Ben-Hur will now be a generic pagan who dies dreaming of a vague afterlife with his leprous mother and sister?

Oh, and fact-check: Lew Wallace’s novel was published in 1880, not in 1907. However, the year 1907 is significant because that is when an even earlier version of Ben-Hur was produced — albeit a version that didn’t amount to much more than a glorified chariot race. That version is also historically significant because it prompted a precedent-setting copyright-infringement lawsuit.

UPDATE: It turns out someone has posted the surviving footage from the 1907 film on YouTube, in two parts. So here it is:

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Is Malick’s Tree of Life already shooting?

Seems so, according to MSNBC.com’s gossip column ‘The Scoop‘:

Sean Penn and the Jolie-Pitts all living under the same roof? For a brief time, such thing was a possibility.

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and kids set up camp in Texas for nearly a month as Pitt filmed “Tree of Life.” Penn, who also stars in the film, arrived on set last week, and if the cost of Pitt’s accommodations hadn’t been an issue, Pitt and Penn might have both ended up staying at the same place. . . .

Why would Pitt need to cut costs? It’s got nothing to do with his expanding brood, but rather the budget for “Tree of Life.” Despite the film’s big-name stars, “Tree” is more indie film than anything, and gained early notoriety when Pitt stepped in to fill the role that was supposed to have been played by Heath Ledger. In fact, most of the cast and crew are staying in rented homes in historic Smithville, Texas, according to the source. . . .

Feels weird to be reading about a Terrence Malick film in a gossip column, not least because he’s such a reclusive and secretive kind of guy. Then again, you will note that Malick’s name is never even mentioned in this column, so I guess it’s all good.

Newsbites: Sally! Cowboys! WALL-E! Valkyrie!

Here are a few quickies to get the week started.

1. Mandi Bierly at Entertainment Weekly recently watched When Harry Met Sally… (1989) and, as she puts it, “had the surreal experience of realizing that I am now the same age as Sally.” I had that exact same experience seven years ago.

2. STV.tv reports that Cowboys for Christ, the follow-up to the original Wicker Man (1973) that was going to start shooting this month, was cancelled at the last minute due to financing concerns.

3. Anthony Baratta at ComingSoon.net has seen the first 35 minutes of WALL-E and spoken to director Andrew Stanton, and while he notes some positive things about the film, he also echoes what others have said, wondering how the film will play to the masses:

First the potential flaws: The premise of the movie is that Earth was so overrun with rampant commercialism and therefore garbage from all those purchases, that the inhabitants had to flee Earth. The population left in Starship (The Axiom) to wait out the cleanup efforts by the robots left behind. Even the cleanup robots fall into disrepair and WALL•E is the last one left, doing what he his programmed to do.

I’m not sure how the moviegoing public will react to such in-your-face preaching about the dangers of Wal-Mart and Costco. Nor the hints at weather run amok, like the hyper-dust storms that whip up out of nowhere to savage the city where WALL•E lives.

Also, within the Axiom – the logical conclusion of life without the need for physical movement is life as a couch potato – “slugs” plugged into their own personal Xbox/PlayStation.

Sci-Fi movies have preached before — Planet of the Apes; Them, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Soylent Green — and still they entertain. So WALL•E is just following along in a rich tradition. The question is will the love story between WALL•E and EVE stand above the distractions or be dragged down with the weight of them?

It sounds to me like the “premise” of the film should be more than a mere “distraction” — it should be, for better or worse, something that the audience is called to engage with, on some level — but oh well, I guess we’ll find out how it plays soon enough.

4. The Hollywood Reporter says Valkyrie, the World War II thriller directed by Bryan Singer and starring Tom Cruise as a Nazi with an American accent, has had its release date put off again, to February 2009. It was originally going to come out this June, before it got bumped to October. Looks like the studio isn’t expecting the film to be a hit with audiences or with the Academy.

Valkyrie is the second film Cruise greenlit after he got the boot at Paramount and took the reins at United Artists; the first was Lions for Lambs, which flopped. If there is a third, no one seems to be talking about it.

Canadian box-office stats — April 6

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.

Run Fat Boy Run — CDN $841,310 — N.AM $4,463,000 — 18.9%
21 — CDN $4,860,000 — N.AM $46,533,000 — 10.4%
10,000 B.C. — CDN $9,220,000 — N.AM $89,323,000 — 10.3%
The Bank Job — CDN $2,740,000 — N.AM $26,732,000 — 10.2%
Superhero Movie — CDN $1,640,000 — N.AM $16,887,000 — 9.7%

The Ruins — CDN $639,724 — N.AM $7,840,000 — 8.2%
Stop-Loss — CDN $658,769 — N.AM $8,213,000 — 8.0%
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! — CDN $9,340,000 — N.AM $131,060,000 — 7.1%
Nim’s Island — CDN $857,861 — N.AM $13,300,000 — 6.5%
Leatherheads — CDN $657,643 — N.AM $13,485,000 — 4.9%

A couple of discrepancies: Run Fat Boy Run, The Bank Job and Stop-Loss were #8, #9 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #16, #14 and #11 in North America as a whole), while Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, Drillbit Taylor and Shutter were #7, #8 and #9 on the North American chart, respectively (the first film was nowhere in the Canadian Top 20, and the other two films were #12 and #11 in Canada).

The Year One — anachronism alert?

ComingSoon.net has posted a report from the set of The Year One — the Judd Apatow-produced, Harold Ramis-directed “biblical comedy” formerly known as just plain Year One — and while they don’t reveal all that much, a few new details do leak out:

Essentially, it’s a biblical epic road comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera as Zed and Oh, two primitive hill people who travel across the globe encountering various characters from the book of Genesis, all handled in a very funny way. Eventually, they end up at Sodom and what Ramis and his production team did was build a nearly five-acre recreation of the city of Sodom atop a desert-like sandlot, a pretty amazing feat that’s probably even more impressive when filled with the hundreds of local extras that make up the various inhabitants of the city from centurion guards to lowly peasants and slaves, not to mention dozens of live animals! . . .

We spent the majority of the day on the set surveying the different buildings, shops and alleyways, plus we got to watch a couple scenes being shot with Cera and Black. We also got to sit down and talk with both of the actors, as well as with Ramis and Oliver Platt, who plays the high priest of Sodom, and comedian David Cross, who plays Cain. . . .

Cain? As in, the Cain? The Cain who lived thousands of years before Abraham and the Sodomites? Oh-kay. Hmmm, and now that I check the film’s IMDb page, I see that this information has already been posted there — along with the news that Christopher Mintz-Plasse, best known for playing “McLovin” in Superbad, is going to play Isaac, while someone with the wonderfully churchy name of Gabriel Sunday is going to play Seth.


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