Newsbites: The comics and heroes edition!

Always in development, these projects.

1. Sam Raimi says he may start directing Spider-Man 4 in March 2010 — and, as previously rumoured, he may do it back-to-back with Spider-Man 5. But first, he says, he needs a script. (You mean the last film had one?) So, there is no word yet on who the villain or girlfriend will be. — MTV Splash Page, MTV Movies Blog

2. Terrence Howard says he was as surprised as anyone to discover that he had been replaced by Don Cheadle for the part of Jim Rhodes in Iron Man 2. However, Samuel L. Jackson might be back as Nick Fury. — NPR, Associated Press, MTV Splash Page (x2)

3. Marvel Studios production president Kevin Feige is intrigued by the suggestion — made by various Marvel-related filmmakers — that the Hulk should be the villain in the upcoming Avengers movie. Regardless of which side of the hero-villain divide the Hulk falls in that film, producer Gale Anne Hurd hopes to follow it up with The Incredible Hulk 2. — MTV Splash Page (x2),

4. Daniel Craig says he turned down an offer to play Thor. —

5. After all these Avengers-related movies are taken care of, what big-screen franchise does Marvel plan to launch next? Doctor Strange, apparently. — MTV Splash Page

6. Charles Roven, producer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, says there is currently “no momentum” on the film version of The Flash. —

7. Rumours abound that the film version of Watchmen might have made some changes to the ending of Alan Moore’s original story. However, there is some debate as to the reliability of these rumours. — Cinematical

8. Writer-actor Seth Rogen says the film version of Green Hornet — which will be directed by Stephen Chow, who will also play the sidekick Kato — will be an origin story, despite his previously stated wish that it not be an origin story, because not too many people are familiar with the character. — MTV Splash Page

Walden Media keeping busy without Fox.

Two weeks ago, I speculated on the possible demise of Walden Media. My speculation was based on two things:

One, in August 2006, Walden formed a partnership with Fox which, as I understood it, required Walden to release all future films through Fox. There have been a couple of non-Fox films produced by Walden since then — such as Sony’s The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep and New Line’s Journey to the Center of the Earth — but in all such cases that I know of, those films were well into production before Walden struck its deal with Fox.

Two, it was announced in recent weeks that Fox has shut down Walden as a standalone division and “absorbed” the marketing of Fox Walden films into its regular marketing apparatus, following a short, sparse string of box-office disappointments such as The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising and City of Ember. These developments led David Poland to assert that “the end of Fox Walden as a production entity is unannounced but inevitable.”

Subsequent reports, however, have suggested that Walden Media might not be quite dead yet.

First, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Walden has hired a new vice-president of marketing who will work not only with Fox on the two films that they still have in development together — at least one of which, Tooth Fairy, “originated” at Fox and not at Walden, according to a Fox press release — but also with Summit Entertainment on Bandslam, a high-school rock-band movie starring High School Musical‘s Vanessa Hudgens.

Bandslam was shot earlier this year, according to the IMDb, so it would seem that Walden has been free to make new non-Fox movies after all. Unless, of course, Walden and Summit were to partner with Fox on this film, as they apparently did on Nim’s Island and City of Ember. But so far there is no indication of that at the IMDb or at the Walden and Summit websites.

Second, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter both reported that Walden has bought a script about the Girl Scouts, called Tough Cookies, which it will produce with Kerner Entertainment — and they also reported that this is at least the second collaboration between Walden and Kerner, following a sports movie called The Miracle of St. Anthony, which is still in development.

So it would seem that Walden is staying busy without Fox after all.

It will be interesting to see how these newer films do. Walden’s output has been very uneven, and ironically, its top-grossing films — which are not necessarily its best films — were all released by studios other than Fox. So what was it that sank the Fox Walden venture: the movies themselves, or the marketing? Who knows, but it will be interesting to see if the pattern persists.

Abel Ferrara’s Mary has left New York.

Two weeks ago, I noted that Abel Ferrara’s Mary (2005), which stars Juliette Binoche as an actress who is deeply affected by her performance of Mary Magdalene, was finally coming to New York, years after it premiered in various European countries.

That engagement has come and gone, now, so here are some of the reviews and interviews that have popped up since my previous post.

Most significant is an interview that Ferrara did with FilmMaker magazine, in which he shares his views on the historical Jesus, the Gnostic gospels, and the role of women at the Last Supper, etc. Cinema Echo Chamber has a video interview with Ferrara, as well.

And then there are the reviews, and the sample paragraphs thereof.

Victor Morton, Rightwing Film Geek:

As for MARY, the less said, the better. I have no doubt that the prize it won at Venice was an f-you to Mel Gibson. It is not worthy of a prize at the world second-most-prestigious juried festival (and there’s lots of films I don’t like that I realize are aesthetically distinguished and “prize-worthy”. MARY is not. It is lazy, padded, unfocused and just felt unfinished and phoned-in.

Robert Davis, Paste Magazine:

Louder and more chaotic than its material seems to warrant, Abel Ferrara’s Mary feels like the condensed version of a much larger movie. It includes scenes from a religious epic, TV interviews, street fights, limo rides, infidelity, hypocrisy, apostasy, and conversion, but at a mere 83 minutes the whole thing’s over before it has even begun.

Daniel Kasman, The Auteurs’ Notebook:

When Ted questions the human and the spiritual in Jesus on his television show, when Marie leaves her fame as an actress for a life wandering between the Middle East and her “visions,” when Tony Childress fights to get his film viewed without any pre-judgment, locking himself in the projection booth, and, ultimately, when Ted’s dark night life—both work and play—leaves his wife dangerously alone, Mary is brashly asking the same frightful things across simultaneous scenes. Simplistic dramatic arcs are forsaken for utter and complete immediacy; Ferrara, like Samuel Fuller, delivers earnestness with a rare, complete, and often frightening directness. The vitality, the fear and the ecstasy of such a style, of Mary, makes the cinema of Abel Ferrara one of utter necessity.

M. Leary, Film – Think:

I have never actually liked Ferrara’s work, but I have also had a difficult time forgetting some of his most memorable images – such as the bad Lieutenant at the feet of Christ, which as a Jungian prefiguration of Gibson’s Jesus is one of the most effective Christ images in modern American cinema. Mary is likewise burdened by Ferrara’s “messiness,” but this time that messiness works with the grain of his characters in a realistic scramble for faith and redemption. Faith is messy, the search for the historical Jesus is messy, and fortunately, so is Ferrara’s film.

Leary also makes this brilliant comment at the Arts & Faith forum: “I completely disagree with the historiography and spirituality of the film, but I really enjoyed the way I disagreed with it.”

Other reviews are archived at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

See also the scene analysis that Matt Page posted nearly two years ago, when the film came out on DVD in Europe.

A weak dollar is good for my income.

Last year, I mentioned that the Canadian dollar was getting stronger and stronger, reaching heights it hadn’t seen since the 19th century, and that this was having an adverse effect on my income. It got to the point where every American dollar sent my way came to only 90 cents or so in Canadian currency.

But now things are getting back to, uh, normal, if such a word can be used in the current financial climate. The other day, I cashed a cheque and got $1.23 in Canadian funds for every American dollar. And today, according to the Globe and Mail, our dollar reached a four-year low, however briefly.

So, on the one hand, my income has gone up. But on the other hand, I will be making less purchases from American outlets, for now.

Meanwhile, Variety reports that the falling Canadian dollar is turning out to be good news for the Canadian film industry, because it means American filmmakers are more likely to spend their money here again.

Of course, if the dollar fell so quickly, there is no reason it couldn’t bounce back very quickly, too. And the Globe and Mail does say a “significant snap-back” is quite possible in the near future. So the good news the industry is hearing right now could turn bad again very suddenly. Hoo boy.

Bolt promo annoys theatre owners

If movie trailers can show up on DVDs, then I guess it only makes sense that DVD-ish bonus features should show up on the big screen.

Yesterday, I finally got around to seeing Beverly Hills Chihuahua, more out of a sense of professional obligation than anything else — and I was struck by how, before the film, there was a promo for Disney’s upcoming animated film Bolt, in which John Travolta and Miley Cyrus spoke directly to the camera, as themselves, to introduce two entire scenes from the movie (one of which seems to come from fairly late in the story arc).

This is the sort of promo that we see on DVDs all the time — if memory serves, Ben Stiller did a similar ad for the original Madagascar (2005) on the DVD for Shrek 2 (2004) — but I can’t recall seeing anything quite like this on the big screen before.

The nearest thing to a precedent that comes to mind is the original teaser for WALL·E, which featured talking-head footage of director Andrew Stanton — but only offered the briefest of glimpses of actual footage from the actual film.

Anyway, apparently I am not the only person who finds the Bolt promo a little unusual. John Horn and Patrick Goldstein, both writing for the Los Angeles Times, report that theatre owners are upset with Disney for running such a lengthy promo — thus eating into time that could have been available for other advertisers — and for getting the MPAA to classify the promo as a “short film”, complete with PG rating, rather than as an ad.

Disney says they won’t do it again, but who knows? Even if they abandon the practice, others might follow their lead.

A Bible study guide with no Bible references?

In their efforts to connect with the faith-based market, Hollywood studios sometimes distribute “Bible study guides” based on their movies. Indeed, sometimes these study guides are so movie-based that they fail to make any reference to the, uh, Bible. Case in point: the study guide for The Secret Life of Bees, in which a group of black women help young Dakota Fanning to get in touch with her sacred feminine side. CT Movies has the scoop.