Oops — was that another Star Trek XI spoiler?

Chris Pine, who is currently playing the young James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie, was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly while promoting another movie at Sundance this week — and although he told them he would reveal “not a thing” about Star Trek, he did let slip this one little potentially spoilerish tidbit, which would seem to confirm certain rumours about the new film: “I’ve met Mr. Nimoy a couple of times. He’s been on set and we have a couple of scenes in the film, which will be nice, and I’m excited for those.” Remember, Pine is playing the young Kirk, and Nimoy is playing the old Spock. Can you say … time travel?

Six degrees of Iron Man.

I have never been a big Marvel fan — back in my comic collecting heyday, 12+ years ago, I was more of a DC guy — but news like this makes me wish I were. (Hat tip to Thom Wade at In One Ear…)

Canadian box-office stats — January 20

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.

P.S. I Love You — CDN $5,880,000 — N.AM $50,461,000 — 11.7%
Atonement — CDN $2,940,000 — N.AM $31,884,000 — 9.2%
Juno — CDN $6,740,000 — N.AM $85,052,000 — 7.9%
I Am Legend — CDN $19,510,000 — N.AM $247,447,000 — 7.9%
The Bucket List — CDN $3,260,000 — N.AM $41,569,000 — 7.8%
27 Dresses — CDN $1,640,000 — N.AM $22,750,000 — 7.2%
National Treasure: Book of Secrets — CDN $13,070,000 — N.AM $197,492,000 — 6.6%
Mad Money — CDN $477,385 — N.AM $7,600,000 — 6.3%
Cloverfield — CDN $2,260,000 — N.AM $40,037,000 — 5.6%
Alvin and the Chipmunks — CDN $10,750,000 — N.AM $196,280,000 — 5.5%

A couple of discrepancies: P.S. I Love You was #10 on the Canadian chart (it was #16 in North America as a whole), while First Sunday was #5 on the North American chart.

Oliver Stone to tackle George W. Bush biopic

No time to comment, just passing this along. Variety reports:

Oliver Stone has set his sights on his next directing project, “Bush,” a film focusing on the life and presidency of George W. Bush, and attached Josh Brolin to play the title role.

The director has begun quietly shopping a script by his “Wall Street” co-writer Stanley Weiser. . . .

“It’s a behind-the-scenes approach, similar to ‘Nixon,’ to give a sense of what it’s like to be in his skin,” Stone told Daily Variety. “But if ‘Nixon’ was a symphony, this is more like a chamber piece, and not as dark in tone. People have turned my political ideas into a cliche, but that is superficial. I’m a dramatist who is interested in people, and I have empathy for Bush as a human being, much the same as I did for Castro, Nixon, Jim Morrison, Jim Garrison and Alexander the Great.”

Stone declined to give his personal opinion of the president.

“I can’t give you that, because the filmmaker has to hide in the work,” Stone said. “Here, I’m the referee, and I want a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world? It’s like Frank Capra territory on one hand, but I’ll also cover the demons in his private life, his bouts with his dad and his conversion to Christianity, which explains a lot of where he is coming from. It includes his belief that God personally chose him to be president of the United States, and his coming into his own with the stunning, preemptive attack on Iraq. It will contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors.” . . .

Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Josh Brolin’s father, James Brolin, played another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, in a controversial mini-series in 2003. The elder Brolin is reportedly a lifelong Democrat; I have no idea about the younger Brolin.

Cloverfield, memory, and time.

It’s not a very scary film, and it has its share of implausibilities — would a cell phone really work underground, in a subway station, when the city aboveground is being trashed? — but there is something about Cloverfield that really, really works. And that is the way the film makes use of its central gimmick, whereby we are supposed to believe that the entire movie unfolding before us is something that was found on a memory card or a video tape (it’s not clear which) in the ruins of New York City’s Central Park.

The gimmick itself is interesting, and more challenging than what The Blair Witch Project (1999) attempted nearly a decade ago. Back then, we still needed to suppose that the “found footage” was the work of documentarians, i.e. people who lug cameras around and film everything they do for a living; but now, we are asked to believe that a regular average guy would keep his home-video camera running even as he is fleeing for his life — and given that we are now living in the age of YouTube and Google Video, etc., this is not as big a stretch as it might seem. What’s more, Blair Witch was edited together from the footage left behind in two cameras, whereas Cloverfield consists entirely of footage that was found in one camera — and that imposes certain limitations on the filmmakers.

But the filmmakers do something really brilliant with this limitation: they create a back-story, indeed a series of flashbacks, by supposing that the monster attack has been accidentally recorded, in pieces, over another video that was recorded by one of the characters about a month before the monster attack takes place. So even though we are supposedly watching an unedited video, we still get a form of non-linear storytelling, and this pays off in a spectacularly poignant way at the very end of the movie. (Don’t worry, I won’t say how.)

I’ve been thinking about this aspect of the film ever since I saw it last Wednesday. I have written articles and given multi-session lectures on the subject of “memory at the movies” — and how memory is related to identity, free will, the afterlife and movies themselves — and I can sense that this aspect of Cloverfield is resonating with me strongly on that level. I’m not entirely sure how to put it in words yet, so consider this blog post a first-draft attempt.

The original recording, which we see at the very, very beginning of the film, is made by Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) after he and Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman) have slept together for the first time, and it goes on to depict their romantic trip to Coney Island. The movie that is recorded on top of this takes place about one month later, when Rob is about to move to Japan, and his friends throw him a going-away party — a party that is briefly attended by Beth, who apparently doesn’t get along with Rob so well any more. Beth leaves the party. And then, some time later, the monster attacks New York City, and the rest of the movie follows Rob and at least three of his friends as they try to dodge the monster and the havoc it is wreaking on the city. However, instead of simply fleeing the city, Rob goes back to rescue Beth, who has called him and told him that she is stuck in her apartment. And his friends — including the wisecracking Hud Platt (T.J. Miller), who is almost never seen because he is the one actually holding the camera — join him in this rescue attempt.

Every time Hud stops recording what is going on around them, he inevitably starts up again several seconds later on the tape, or whatever memory device is being used here — and for those few brief seconds, we get a glimpse of the happy day that Rob and Beth spent together barely one month before. In a way these scenes are “flashbacks”, but in another way they are not; the past itself is popping up into the present and reminding us of the way things used to be. These happy scenes are not being spliced into the home-made disaster-movie footage; instead, they are all that remains of a happy memory that is progressively being obliterated by a much nastier one. The past was here first; it continues to assert its presence; it begs not to be forgotten.

But the film’s central gimmick runs even deeper than that. At least twice in this film, characters look at the camera and record words for posterity; and when the attack first starts, Hud says he is keeping the camera running because people who weren’t there when the monster attacked will need to know what it was like to live through that experience. So this film has been consciously filmed for the benefit of other people. But who gets to see it in the end? Almost nobody.

The opening title cards tell us that the movie we are watching was found in the ruins of New York City. That, right away, tells us that the characters failed to take the camera with them out of the city — possibly because they failed to survive, period. The opening title cards also tell us that the video we are watching is now the property of the American government. That, right away, strongly suggests that no one has been allowed to watch this video except for a handful of people who have the right clearance. If you’ll forgive the analogy, it is as though our protagonists had aimed for Heaven and now found themselves stuck in Purgatory, or even Limbo.

The old story, the happy day recorded one month ago, is undone by the new story that unfolds at the going-away party before the monster strikes. And the new story is undone by the fact that the recording has ended up in the hands of those who almost certainly will not honour the characters’ intentions. So on at least two separate levels, this movie is about thwarted memories.

Whether our experiences are happy or sad, we typically want them to have meaning — and we give them meaning by holding them in our memories and by encouraging other people to remember them, too, not only in this life but in the life beyond, as well. (Jesus tells his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood “in remembrance of me”; the thief on the cross tells Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”) Cloverfield is a documentation of memories both positive and negative — and a documentation of how those memories are either obliterated or prevented from finding their proper resting place.

Newsbites: Batman! Harry! Justice! Gangster!

Got a whole lot of catching up to do!

1. All the marketing for The Dark Knight has tended to emphasize the Joker, the Joker, the Joker. But a story in the Los Angeles Times suggests the film’s real focus may be elsewhere:

HEATH LEDGER and Aaron Eckhart, welcome to Hollywood’s elite and gaudy Arkham club.

In the highly anticipated new Batman film “The Dark Knight,” which opens July 18, Ledger is stepping into the purple suit of the Joker, while Eckhart will portray Gotham City Dist. Atty. Harvey Dent, who starts the movie as a handsome lawman but ends up as Two-Face, the villain driven insane by disfiguring wounds.

“Harvey Dent is a tragic figure, and his story is the backbone of this film,” says Christopher Nolan, the director of the acclaimed franchise-rejuvenating 2005 film “Batman Begins,” who returns with Christian Bale again playing the caped crusader. “The Joker, he sort of cuts through the film — he’s got no story arc, he’s just a force of nature tearing through. Heath has given an amazing performance in the role, it’s really extraordinary.”

Chris at Movie Marketing Madness responds by wondering if the studio has set itself up for “potential reputation damage” by promising fans more of the Joker than they’re actually going to get.

2. The Mail on Sunday says the makers of the Harry Potter movies are thinking of splitting the seventh and final book into two movies. I’m not sure what to make of this. I have always said that each of the books should have been adapted as a TV mini-series, or as a complete season of a TV series, rather than a movie; but now that they have run with the one-movie-per-book format, a part of me figures they should stick with it. At any rate, if the rumour is true, I wonder what they will call the second movie; will it be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, or will they find some other object to put after the words “and the”?

3. Variety reported on Wednesday that Warner Brothers had put the Justice League movie on “indefinite hold” for two reasons: the writers’ strike, and the tax-break situation in Australia, where they were planning on shooting the film. But on Thursday, the Aussie government said the studio’s decision had nothing to do with the tax breaks and was “absolutely confined to creative issues”.

4. So many of the “historical” films made by Ridley Scott and Brian Grazer have been bogus to one degree or another, that it shouldn’t come as any surprise to read this Associated Press story about their first collaboration, American Gangster:

NEW YORK – In “American Gangster,” which is “based on a true story,” Denzel Washington — as the `70s drug lord Frank Lucas — confidently marches deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia as the Vietnam War rages in the background. He is looking for drugs.

Later, we see police break open the caskets of Vietnam casualties flown back to the States, searching for the heroin Lucas has audaciously hidden beneath the corpses. Then Lucas is shown as the dope dealer-turned-reformer as he exposes legions of corrupt police.

Except none of the above ever happened. . . .

5. Apparently Stephen Fry is writing the script for Dambusters, Peter Jackson’s remake of the classic World War II movie The Dam Busters (1955), and he spoke to the Manchester Evening News recently about some of the things that will distinguish their movie from the original film — such as their use of information that was still top-secret back when the original film was made. (Incidentally, as Fry notes, much of the Death Star battle in the original Star Wars was copied from the original Dam Busters.)

6. As bad as some of the Roger Moore James Bond films might be, I did enjoy listening to Moore’s audio commentaries on those films — so I am mildly intrigued to read in the Associated Press that Moore is now working on a memoir called My Word Is My Bond. Say what you will about his films or his take on Ian Fleming’s character, but Moore is a charming raconteur.

7. Governments are getting involved in filmmaking! Variety reports that the provincial government of Quebec has bought “51% of the voting shares and a 38.5% ownership stake in Alliance Films, Canada’s leading film distributor” — that’s the company that distributes all the Miramax and New Line Cinema films in Canada, among others. Meanwhile, the United Nations “is backing a $100 million film fund aimed at combating stereotypes in movies. . . . Participant Prods., Summit Entertainment, ICM and YouTube are all believed to have signed on as partners to the fund, which has already secured investment of $10 million.” But will anyone actually pay to watch the movies that are made by this fund?