Newsbites: Oscars! Trek! Caspian! Antichrist! Bond! Justice! Driving! Xiao’er! Ghoulishly! etc.!

Time to unload some more notes that I’ve been sitting on.

1. My favorite comment on the recent awards season, including the Oscars, comes from‘s Andrew O’Hehir:

It’s no surprise that “No Country for Old Men” swept the three biggest prizes, but here’s how odd the year was: The academy showers its laurels on a film that has made about $63 million in domestic box office, while the big winner at the supposedly independent Spirit Awards has grossed double that amount. Maybe the two organizations should just switch names, dates and locations. I mean, would anybody notice?

2. reports that 12-year-old Jacob Kogan, who recently starred as the creepy title character in Joshua, has been hired to play the young Spock in Star Trek XI — the release date of which has been moved from Christmas 2008 to May 2009. (You mean we have to wait over a year before we can see this movie?) The website says Kogan will share at least one scene with Winona Ryder, who is playing Spock’s mother, and it notes that we have seen the young Spock before, in Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974) and in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

3. When the first Narnia movie came out three years ago, some of us complained about the way it felt like a pale imitation of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, among other things. So imagine how we are reacting, now that Gregory Ellwood of MSN Movies has sneak-peeked the second movie and says it “should win over some moviegoers who wanted more ‘Lord of the Rings’-style scope to the ‘Narnia’ franchise.” Question for the filmmakers: After you’ve finished pumping lots of battle sequences into the first two movies, what are you going to do with Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is supposed to be all about a mystical sea voyage?

4. Lars von Trier has been talking about making a movie called Antichrist for a few years now — and until now, all I knew about it was that it would be “based on the theory that it was Satan, not God, who created the world”. But now the Daily Telegraph adds a detail or two, as part of a broader profile of von Trier himself:

Instead, his next feature is Antichrist, a “psychological thriller that evolves into a horror film”. It features one man and one woman, yet to be cast, will be shot in Germany and in English this summer and deals with the favourite Von Trier topic of cruelty between the sexes: “You have to guess who is the Antichrist,” says its producer, Meta Louise Foldager, mischievously. Von Trier is testing ways of manipulating the image in it.

5. MTV Movies Blog reports that Paul Haggis, who finished the final draft of the next James Bond movie mere hours before the writers’ strike began, has “no idea” why the filmmakers gave it the title Quantum of Solace nearly three months later. Asked what he thought of the title, “he just sighed and said: ‘No comment.’”

6. Now that the strike is over, Variety says Warner Brothers is hoping to get that lame-sounding Justice League movie into production in time for a release sometime in 2009. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald says the production may bolt Australia in favour of Canada due to “a dispute over whether it is eligible for the Federal Government’s new incentive for film production.”

7. The Hollywood Reporter says Max Thieriot, who just played the young Hayden Christensen in Jumper, will star in a movie called Driving Lessons as “the religious, right-wing teenage son of Bunnie (Hope Davis), a woman given a second chance at her unhappy marriage to Jack (Dermot Mulroney) after losing her memory. It conveniently helps her forget an interracial affair with her burly next-door neighbor Simon [Chi McBride].”

8. It’s definitely too late to take part in this now, and I’m nowhere near New York to begin with, but still, a heads-up for future reference: The Revealer recently hosted a screening of two movies that touch on the growth of Christianity in China:

The Cross & The Camera: the films of Gan Xiao’er
In the post-Mao era, religious life rarely appears in China’s new independent films. Gan’s feature Raised From Dust portrays the troubles of a rural Christian family whose father is dying. The documentary Church Cinema shows Christian audiences’ reactions to his feature.

9. Variety reports that horror-and-comedy veteran John Landis is attached to direct Ghoulishly Yours, William M. Gaines, “a biopic based on the life of the publisher of EC Comics and Mad magazine.”

10. Variety reports that The Golden Compass is a hit in Japan, where it just opened, and the film could add as much as $51 million to its worldwide take in that country alone. It’s too bad the struggling studio won’t get to enjoy the extra profits, since it pre-sold the foreign-distribution rights way back when.

11. I haven’t seen the original Starship Troopers (1997) since it first came out, but, ridiculous as it was, I remember loving the satire and the special effects and thinking it was a really good guilty pleasure. I haven’t seen the second film, which went straight to video, but now the third film is upon us, and it reportedly gets into religious matters. io9 reports from WonderCon:

Starship Troopers III is much truer to the original Heinlein book than the first two movies, Van Dien and Neumeier both stressed. We might actually get to see the power suits that Heinlein talks about in the book. “I feel a great debt to the fans of the novel,” said Neumeier. “I adore the novel. I read it when i was 13.”

Neumeier sees the Troopers trilogy as a sort of history of war movies. The first Starship Troopers is sort of a riff on World War II movies, partly motivated by Verhoeven’s desire to deal with the experience of Germans in the mid-1930s, when the Nazis were rising to power. The second Troopers is more of a Korean war movie. And the third one is much more of a Vietnam war film, dealing with issues of religion and politics. It’s also about “how the state can use religion both badly, and for good.”

Gabriel McKee at SF Gospel comments:

I’m not entirely sure what the connection is between Vietnam War movies and religion, just as I’m not sure what the connection is between Heinlein’s novel and church-state relations. It sounds like it will be as satirical as the first film, containing more fake TV news and commercials. But considering that my approach to the first film has always been that it is, specifically, a satire of Heinlein himself, I have to question the wisdom of making the film more faithful to its source material.

For what it’s worth, this is the currently available trailer:

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

This sounds like my kind of thriller.

I have a special interest in movies about memory, amnesia, and so on, so I have to say I am intrigued by Variety critic Jay Weissberg’s review of the French film Cortex:

A high-ranking retired cop with Alzheimer’s suspects there’s a killer loose in his nursing home in Nicolas Boukhrief’s unusual, cerebral thriller “Cortex.” In “Memento,” the protag’s brain is wiped clean every few minutes; here, the detective’s senility floats in and out, leaving auds guessing whether he’s deliberately fooling the staff or simply heading swiftly toward oblivion. Fascinating concept is occasionally crowded out by unnecessary characters, though Andre Dussollier’s complex performance keeps sympathy in the plus column. Late January opening in France has seen modest returns.

Dussollier plays Charles Boyer — a detective, not the star of yesteryear — who knows his memory is deteriorating and doesn’t object to moving into “the Residence.” The surprise death of a patient puts Charles back in investigator mode, though the staff assures him it was a natural death. But when fellow resident Carole (Marthe Keller, reuniting with Dussollier 34 years after Claude Lelouch’s “And Now My Love”) follows suit after a night together with Charles, he’s convinced nature isn’t to blame.

Part of pic’s cleverness is that auds don’t know if Charles is simply suffering from Alzheimer’s-related dementia or if he’s really on to something. The staffers are certainly a grumbly bunch, caught up in their own petty jealousies, but only at the finale is it clear whether someone’s really offing the residents. . . .

It sounds like the film has its share of flaws, but hey, the concept is so interesting, I’d be willing to give it a look.

My daughter likes to touch the sound.

My daughter has really begun to stretch her musical muscles lately; among other things, she loves to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ as loudly and phonetically as she can. Her latest obsession has been Touch the Sound (2004), a documentary that my wife brought home from the library a few days ago. The film is directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer — who also directed Rivers and Tides (2001), which made my top ten list a few years back — and, while I have not sat down and watched the film myself, I gather it concerns a near-deaf solo percussionist named Evelyn Glennie and has some of the same meditative qualities that Rivers and Tides had. I don’t belittle the film at all by saying that the bits of it I have caught here and there have reminded me of one or two of the Mister Rogers episodes that our kids often watch; he, too, was interested in the magic and mystery that could be found in music, and in the possibility of finding music in everyday objects, and I wonder if the similarity accounts for my daughter’s interest in this film. At any rate, my daughter is only two years old, and she reaches for this disc whenever she sees it on the shelf, and she watches it attentively whenever we pop it in the player. Should we be thinking about getting her music lessons already?

Year One sounds even more “biblical” now.

Last month, it was reported that Olivia Wilde was going to star in the Judd Apatow-produced “biblical comedy” Year One as Princess Inanna, a love interest for the Jack Black character whose name, according to Wikipedia, happens to be identical to that of “the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare.”

Then, two weeks ago, it was reported that Hank Azaria was joining the cast as a guy named Abraham. You mean, that Abraham…?

Could be. Today, Wilde told the MTV Movies Blog a little more about her character, and about the film in general:

“I play the princess of Sodom,” she explained. “Michael Cera and Jack Black go on this journey, and they are searching for the meaning of life, essentially; all these crazy things happen to them, and they meet all these characters you’ll recognize from the bible. It’s all these brilliant references to historical things that people will recognize, and some things from other films.”

For those who aren’t up on their “Davey and Goliath” reruns, the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah were two biblical cities destroyed by God because of their rampant sexual activities and immorality – needless to say, a concept rife with comedic possibility. “It’s gonna be really interesting to see the way they set that up, how much we use the Sodom and Gomorrah feeling that they’re completely wicked places; I’m really excited to see Ramis’ vision for that,” she grinned, getting ready to rule over such an orgy of excess. “There’ll be a hint towards [the lead characters falling for me], then Jack Black and I come together. It’s really funny what we do, and what happens next.”

So the film features a character named Abraham and it features Sodom and Gomorrah, two towns that were rescued from a foreign invasion by the biblical Abraham (Genesis 14) and eventually destroyed by God during the biblical Abraham’s lifetime (Genesis 18-19)? Okay, that would seem to settle it. This movie almost certainly will feature biblical characters and perhaps even biblical plot points, even if they are kept to the margins like the biblical elements were in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979).

Oh, and about the reasons for Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction: Those two towns have certainly long had a reputation for sexual impropriety, mainly because a mob there tried to gang-rape a couple of visiting angels. (It’s not just the rape that was bad; sex between angels and humans was a big no-no for the Hebrews too, and was likely one of the reasons the Flood was sent in Noah’s day, as per Genesis 6.) But the one time the Old Testament spells out what, exactly, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was, in Ezekiel 16, sex doesn’t enter into the picture, at least not explicitly:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

Some have suggested that the word translated “detestable” here may refer to certain kinds of sexual activity, and that is certainly possible; but Ezekiel uses that word to refer to a lot of things — such as idolatry — so it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he was only or even primarily referring to sex, there.

But back to the movie. It would be truly impressive if Year One reflected any awareness of the Ezekiel passage. But … I’m not counting on it. Sex sells better than messages against pride and poverty, and it’s easier to get a laugh out of sexual behaviour than it is to get laughs out of those sorts of messages, too.

Canadian box-office stats — February 24

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.

Be Kind Rewind — CDN $471,946 — N.AM $4,050,655 — 11.7%
27 Dresses — CDN $7,660,000 — N.AM $73,108,983 — 10.5%
Step Up 2: The Streets — CDN $4,190,000 — N.AM $41,238,093 — 10.2%
Definitely, Maybe — CDN $2,100,000 — N.AM $21,814,805 — 9.6%
Juno — CDN $12,410,000 — N.AM $130,431,948 — 9.5%
No Country for Old Men — CDN $5,880,000 — N.AM $64,291,179 — 9.1%

Fool’s Gold — CDN $4,510,000 — N.AM $52,717,413 — 8.6%
Jumper — CDN $4,740,000 — N.AM $56,264,386 — 8.4%
The Spiderwick Chronicles — CDN $3,550,000 — N.AM $44,076,043 — 8.1%
Vantage Point — CDN $1,550,000 — N.AM $22,874,936 — 6.8%

A couple of discrepancies: No Country for Old Men and 27 Dresses were #9 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #12 and #15 in North America as a whole), while Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins and There Will Be Blood were #7 and #10 on the North American chart, respectively (the former film was nowhere in the Canadian Top 20, and the latter film was #11 in Canada).

A brief thought about the Toy Story franchise.

I hadn’t planned on exposing my kids to Pixar so early in life — why not wait until they can “appreciate” it more, I figured — but the other kids at church today were watching Toy Story 2, so what could I do.

Then, tonight, while watching the Oscars with my family and some friends, I saw the clips from Ratatouille.

Gadzooks. What incredible leaps Pixar has made in nine years.

I’m curious now to see if Toy Story 3, which is currently slated for release in 2010, will represent yet another massive leap forward in animation technology, or if the Pixar people will feel obliged to go “retro” to keep the new film more-or-less consistent with the first two films — both of which, you will recall, were produced way back in the previous century, back in the ’90s, back in the Clinton era, etc.

It’s kind of like how Steven Spielberg has insisted the new Indiana Jones movie will avoid the newfangled digital techniques wherever possible and stick to the visual-effects techniques that the first three films used back in the ’80s, back in the Reagan era, etc.

But the Indiana Jones movies have always been retro — each film is set about 50 years in the past, and each film is modeled after the cheesy B-movies of those distant eras — so I imagine it would be kind of okay if the new one didn’t feel like the most modern thing around. The Toy Story movies, on the other hand, have always taken place more-or-less “today”, so it could be kind of odd if the new film felt like it wasn’t on the cutting edge any more.

I’d like to think that it’s the story that matters, more than anything else; and I’d like to think that audiences would appreciate an aesthetic decision in favour of the more old-fashioned look. But you never know.