WALL-E — the Super Bowl ad

Y’know, skeptical though I may be of Pixar films from time to time — including, for now, the seemingly derivative robot movie WALL-E — I have to say there is a definite cuteness factor to this Super Bowl ad that I find impossible to resist:

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The top ten of 2007 — the list’s up!

The newest issue of BC Christian News is not online yet, but the film column I wrote for it went up on their website yesterday. The first half of the column is a comment on Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men, which I had not yet reviewed in print, and the second half is my belated top ten list for 2007.

Is it censorship if the government withholds tax credits for certain kinds of movies?

The Canadian government is censoring the movies! So say some people, at least, in light of current proposed changes to the Income Tax Act.

First, the Globe and Mail reports:

The Conservative government has drafted guidelines that would allow it to pull financial aid for any film or television show that it deems offensive or not in the public’s best interest – even if government agencies have invested in them.

The proposed changes to the Income Tax Act would allow the Heritage Minister to deny tax credits to projects deemed offensive, effectively killing the productions. Representatives from Heritage and the Department of Justice will determine which shows or films pass the test.

Game and talk shows, news, sports, reality television and pornography are already excluded from access to the tax credits. The proposed prohibition would cover a sweeping range of material, such as anything of an explicit sexual nature, that denigrates a group or is excessively violent without an educational value.

Stakeholders in productions, such as Telefilm Canada, the Canadian Television Fund and the Harold Greenberg Fund, would have to try to recoup millions of dollars in investments, and producers would have to repay banks, broadcasters and distributors. . . .

Toronto lawyer David Zitzerman of Goodmans LLP says the government’s plans smack of “closet censorship.”

“The proposed new initiative, if not properly crafted, could potentially violate the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] and lead to possible legal challenges against the Minister of Canadian Heritage,” Mr. Zitzerman said Wednesday. “Such a provision could potentially lead to the government acting as ‘morality police.’ The existing definitions of pornography and obscenity in the Criminal Code should be sufficient for the government’s purposes.

“Would this committee put money into Juno? It might not want to encourage teen pregnancy. Would the government put money into a film with a dirty title, like Young People Fucking? Would they invest in something like Brokeback Mountain? They might not want to encourage gay cowboys to have sex together in Alberta.” . . .

Variety, however, says the panel with the power to grant or deny the tax credit “will only rule on Canadian projects; American films shooting in Canada, which also are eligible to receive federal tax credits, will be not be bound by the same rules.” So films like Juno — which, despite having a Canadian director, Canadian lead actors, Canadian sets and a largely Canadian crew, was ruled ineligible for the Canadian Genie Awards because it was produced with American money — would seem to be in the clear, no matter what the panel might think of them. Ditto Brokeback Mountain, I suspect.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Press adds:

Canada’s arts community is condemning proposed changes to the Income Tax Act that would allow the federal government to pull financial help for film or television programs that it finds offensive or not in the public interest.

The amendment to Bill C-10 would allow the Heritage Minister to cancel tax credits for such projects, even if government agencies have invested in them. . . .

Stephen Waddell, the National Executive Director of ACTRA, says the arts community is concerned about who exactly would make the decision as to what would be offensive.

Waddell wonders if the standards are of a modern Canadian society or what he calls the “fundamentalist perspective” that has crept up from the United States.

And lest you think that that reference to “fundamentalism” brings in a religious component that is otherwise foreign to this story, the Globe and Mail now gives us this:

A well-known evangelical crusader is claiming credit for the federal government’s move to deny tax credits to TV and film productions that contain graphic sex and violence or other offensive content.

Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said his lobbying efforts included discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and “numerous” meetings with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We’re thankful that someone’s finally listening,” he said yesterday. “It’s fitting with conservative values, and I think that’s why Canadians voted for a Conservative government.”

Mr. McVety said films promoting homosexuality, graphic sex or violence should not receive tax dollars, and backbench Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers support his campaign.

“There are a number of Conservative backbench members that do a lot of this work behind the scenes,” he said.

Mr. Day and Mr. Nicholson said through officials yesterday they did not recall discussing the issue with Mr. McVety. . . .

Conservatives deny that the changes are driven by politics or Mr. McVety, noting the previous Liberal government pledged to review the guidelines as far back as 2003.

Conservative MP Dave Batters recently urged the new president of Telefilm Canada, Michel Roy, to block federal funding for objectionable films, listing Young People Fucking as a recent example.

“In my mind, sir, and in the minds of many of my colleagues and many, many Canadians,” said Mr. Batters during a Jan. 31 meeting of the Canadian Heritage committee, “the purpose of Telefilm is to help facilitate the making of films for mainstream Canadian society – films that Canadians can sit down and watch with their families in living rooms across this great country.”

In addition to the tax credits for labour costs, Telefilm is a second source of revenue for Canadian film producers. Mr. Roy pledged to raise the issue with the Telefilm board, but a spokesman said yesterday that no policy changes have been made.

Mr. Batters said yesterday he does not support censorship, but offensive films should be made with private money.

“If there’s a market for that, let people pay the $11,” he said. . . .

For what it’s worth, I’m of two minds about this. I’m not a big fan of the idea that taxpayers should be compelled to support artists who they may or may not agree with. But I’m also not a big fan of organizations that claim the right to determine which forms of violent and sexual content are acceptable to “mainstream” society and which forms are not. And I especially don’t think it fosters a healthy business climate if the producers don’t know whether their film will get a tax refund until after it has been finished and submitted for the panel’s review.

The Hobbit is safe, for now.

Variety has updated the story I linked to in my previous post a few times now. The current version says this, among other things:

The colorful 40-year run of New Line is coming to an abrupt end, costing the jobs of most of the company’s 600 staffers.

The company — home to “The Lord of the Rings,” “Austin Powers,” “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Rush Hour,” “The Mask” and “Boogie Nights” — will be folded into Warner Bros. as a small genre arm.

But toppers Bob Shaye, who founded the company in his New York apartment, and Michael Lynne will not be part of the package.

No exact numbers have been divulged for how many of New Line’s staffers will stay but the surviving entity will be a shell of its former self, refocusing on the horror, comedy and urban genre pics that helped put it on the map decades ago. . . .

The Hobbit” has Guillermo Del Toro in talks to direct, and the picture will be unaffected by the ouster of Shaye and Lynne. Though the films won’t be scripted until a director is hired, and Jackson wraps “The Lovely Bones,” the expectation is that the films will be ready for release for Christmas 2011 and 2012. Harry Potter will have wound down at WB by then, and the corporation will surely welcome another fantasy franchise that has an eager global audience waiting. New Line will distribute domestically, while MGM has international rights. . . .

Incidentally, it occurs to me that the sequels to The Golden Compass might not be completely out of the question yet. If the first film continues to be a success overseas, and if the new arrangement allows Warner to distribute the sequels directly overseas instead of pre-selling the foreign-distribution rights, then Warner could decide that there is enough money to be made in the franchise worldwide to warrant a continuation of the trilogy. I don’t expect that Warner will decide to continue the trilogy — with two Harry Potter movies and two Hobbit movies to put out over the next four years, they’ve got more than enough fantasy tentpoles to worry about for the next little while — but it is, at least, a possibility that I would not yet dismiss.

It’s official: Warner has “gobbled up” New Line.

Variety has the scoop. More details later.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke has the official press release.

Mel Gibson’s inspiration becomes a movie.

The Passion of the Christ has inspired all sorts of cinematic spin-offs and follow-ups: documentaries such as Sister Rose’s Passion and The Big Question, would-be sequels such as The Final Inquiry, hopeful imitators such as The Nativity Story, sort-of remakes such as the BBC’s The Passion, re-issues of older movies such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and so forth, and so on.

So, do you think there’s any chance Mel Gibson’s film, which was based in part on the visions of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, inspired this other new movie? It’s based on a novel that came out two years ago, and for all I know the novel may have been in the works when Gibson was still making his film, but certainly the success of Gibson’s film must have made the subject matter more appealing to whoever ended up financing this movie.

At any rate, here’s what Eddie Cockrell of Variety has to say about it:

A double-edged 1970s vibe permeates “The Pledge,” a dramatization of a real-life 1818 rural encounter between a stigmatic nun and the devout writer sent to document her beliefs in a book that eventually became the inspiration for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” That footnote may gain the pic fest invites, with smallscreen sales and faith-driven ancillary to follow.

“Reformed libertines are usually boring,” someone observes of philistine-turned-devout-Catholic Clemens Brentano (Misel Maticevic). Poet has been dispatched to westernmost Germany to transcribe ecstatic visions of Christ’s life by Anna Katharina Emmerich, who refers to him as “Pilgrim.” Their encounter proves tempestuous. Stilted delivery style may have been deliberate on the part of helmer Dominik Graf, but the strategy wears thin over time. Tech package is more successfully evocative of 1970s stylistic flourishes, from lenser Michael Wiesweg’s slow zooms to the weird electronic score by Sven Rossenbach and Florian van Volxem, half of experimental band “Victory of the Better Man.” Pic was shot entirely in the North Rhine-Westphalia region. (Berlin fest documentation lists the title as “The Vow,” though “The Pledge” is what appears on the print).

Given that so, so much of the controversy over The Passion was devoted to the anti-Semitism that Gibson supposedly inherited from Emmerich, it will be interesting to see if this film deals with that in any way. (For what it’s worth, as Mark Goodacre has noted, Gibson actually turns some of Emmerich’s anti-Semitism on its head, notably in his portrayal of Simon of Cyrene; in Emmerich’s visions, Simon is a pagan who is offended by how the Jewish Pharisees are treating Jesus, but in Gibson’s film, Simon is a Jew who is offended by how the pagan Romans are treating Jesus.)

I am also curious to see whether this film visualizes any of Emmerich’s visions as Brentano is transcribing them, and thus whether this film dramatizes some of the very same episodes that Gibson has already committed to celluloid. If so, then, at a minimum, we can add this film to that long list of films that have portrayed episodes from the life of Jesus; and who knows, it might be interesting to see how this film’s interpretation of those episodes resembles or deviates from Gibson’s interpretation.