Newsbites: Bean! Horseman! Wilson! Piracy!

And now it’s time for yet another batch of news quickies.

1. The New York Times looks at why Mr. Bean’s Holiday failed to get a bigger audience in the United States, while the Globe and Mail looks at why Mr. Bean’s Holiday was the #1 movie in Canada this past weekend. Incidentally, Mr. Bean’s Holiday has already earned over $189 million overseas, which currently makes it #9 on the overseas chart for the year and, once the North American figures are taken into account, #15 on the worldwide chart.

2. The Hollywood Reporter has a few more details on The Fourth Horseman, and boy does this movie sound bizarre:

The film centers on a young priest sent by his church’s secret order to kill a teenage girl. She is believed to be the future mother of the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, destined to join siblings War, Pestilence and Famine in destroying the world. But when the priest becomes romantically involved with his target and she becomes pregnant, he’s forced to face the possibility that he may have spawned the child from hell.

Let me get this straight: The mother is a teenager and she’s already got three children named War, Pestilence and Famine!?

3. Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door has a great post up in which he reminisces about fellow Dallas native Owen Wilson.

4. Studio Briefing summarizes a news story to the effect that new Canadian anti-piracy laws are having little effect:

New Canadian laws imposing greater restrictions and penalties on theater patrons camcording movies from their seats have apparently had little effect in Montreal, where much of the illegal camcording takes place, according to Bloomberg News. Theater chain owner Vince Guzzo told the wire service, “I caught four people trying to camcord Pirates of the Caribbean. … There are two types of people doing this: One type does it for kicks, then you have the professional criminal.” But Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor and specialist in Internet law, noted that Hollywood continues to pile up enormous profits despite the piracy. “If camcording is a problem, it’s a very small problem.” And even those who acknowledge downloading movies illegally insist that they avoid the camcorded versions. An employee of a Montreal DVD shop told Bloomberg News: “Anytime I’ve seen a downloaded movie that’s a pirated copy, it’s really good quality, and those can only come from within the industry. … Most people aren’t going to watch camera jobs because they’re really bad quality.”

5. Variety reports that Zack Snyder and Alex Tse, the director and writer of the upcoming film adaptation of Watchmen, are also working on a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, a 1951 book that was previously adapted in 1969.

6. The New York Times reports that Shyam Benegal is going to direct a movie about the life of Buddha, based in part on the work of a scholar named Nimal D’Silva. I have no idea what connection, if any, this film has to other recently announced Buddha biopics being developed by B.K. Modi / David S. Ward and Pan Nalin.

7. That Bill Maher – Larry Charles documentary on religion has a working title — Religulous, a fusion of “religion” and “ridiculous” — and a trailer for it will play at the Toronto International Film Festival, which will also host a panel discussion with Maher and Charles. Meanwhile, has posted the film’s first still:

Good News pulls the plug on Christ the Lord

A few months ago, I took out a library copy of Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, mainly to see what sort of material the filmmakers hired by George Barna’s Good News Holdings would be working with. I have only read about two-thirds of it so far, but I was pretty impressed with the book and its mixture of canonical, traditional and apocryphal material; I was also impressed by Rice’s testimony and her commitment to the historical study of Jesus and his times. And while I would love to see a good film based on this book, I figured it would be a real shame if Rice’s book were turned into just another run-of-the-mill “Christian movie”.

Fortunately, it now looks like that won’t happen — at least not yet. CT Movies reports that the plug has been pulled on this film:

GNH president and CEO Christopher Chisholm told CT Moves that “several things came up about Christ the Lord,” including “creative differences” involving the “budget, director and talent.” Chisholm said, “We had an amicable parting of ways, and we decided to release all our rights to Christ the Lord.”

Chisholm added that “some people were worried that we were leading with a movie that was based on the Apocrypha.” Rice’s novel, the first of a series she is writing about Christ, focuses on Jesus at the age of 7, drawing from the Apocrypha and other noncanonical sources. The second book in the series, The Road to Cana, will be published in the spring of 2008.

“The rights to both books are available,” Rice told CT Movies. “I hope some day we will see films based on these books. I’m in no rush, however, as I am at work on a third book in the series. But there is no more I can say about the situation with Good News Holdings.”

I wonder what has become of other recently announced projects, like Benedict Fitzgerald’s Myriam, Mother of the Christ, Tim LaHaye’s The Resurrection, Roland Pellegrino’s The Sword of Peter and Hyde Park’s Risen: The Story of the First Easter.

Newsbites: Horseman! Dissent! Brian! Harry!

Just a few more quick items.

1. Variety reports that Intrepid Pictures, one of the producers of the upcoming Balls of Fury, is making an apocalyptic thriller:

Intrepid Pictures has acquired supernatural thriller “The Fourth Horseman,” penned by Marshall Uzzle and Perry Fair, and set it up with Intrepid partners Marc D. Evans and Trevor Macy along with Mike Karz.

The banner has brought in the writing team of Paul Benz & Steve Tomlin (“Snowblind”) to rewrite.

“Horseman” centers on a young priest’s battle to thwart the rise of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, when three of the horsemen — War, Pestilence and Famine — await the birth of their fourth brother so they can fulfill their destiny and bring about the end of times. . . .

Birth? Brothers? So who’s their mother? Where does she live and what does she do? Will this young priest be trying to thwart the birth of an unborn child? (Just think of the dramatic conflict.) The fourth horseman, by the way, is Death, and the horse itself is pale, hence the term “pale rider“. Maybe Clint Eastwood’s the father.

I wonder what sort of double-bill it’ll make with The Horsemen.

2. Variety reports that AOL’s True Stories will offer free excerpts of the Michael Moore exposé Manufacturing Dissent.

3. reports that a new “immaculate edition” of Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 6. It has some new features, but it looks like the radio ads, deleted scenes and audio commentaries might just be copied over from the Criterion edition, which I commented on here.

4. Alan Jacobs makes some interesting comments on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the newest issue of Books & Culture:

Many readers have already exclaimed that Harry’s final quest marks him as a clear Christ figure. This is wrong, seriously wrong, and I think J. K. Rowling goes out of her way to tell us so. People (characters in the books as well as readers) think that Harry is a unique person of unique power, but at a dozen points in the series we are clearly shown that he is not: he is called the Chosen One, but he is chosen by Voldemort, and Dumbledore emphasizes to Harry the sheer contingency of this choice. The work of the Cross is done by Christ alone; Harry always has help. (It’s worth emphasizing that while each of the Horcruxes is destroyed, each is destroyed by a different person.) At his moment of agony Christ was abandoned; at the end of his quest Harry is supported and comforted. As my friend Jay Wood has noted, if Harry resembles a biblical figure it is not Christ but rather Stephen the Protomartyr. But the comparisons with Stephen are limited too: for a more precise analogue, I encourage you to rummage through your children’s books until you find an old copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Surely you have one. Read the story of the Three Brothers, and pay particular attention to the youngest. You’d be surprised what you could learn.

It should be obvious at this point that the Harry Potter books amount to something more, far more, than your average penny dreadful. But they belong, firmly, to that moral universe, even as they expand it beyond what we might have thought possible. Many years ago Umberto Eco wrote that the greatness of Casablanca stems from its shameless deployment of every narrative cliché known to humankind: “Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.” The Harry Potter books are like that: every trope and trick of the penny dreadful raised to the highest power and revealed in all their glory.

5. Roger Ebert, Jeffrey Wells and Peter Debruge ponder whether the Bourne movies are making people sick — literally.

6. I must agree with Chris at Movie Marketing Madness: the new red-band trailer for Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem is “awful”.

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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.